How Roddy Ricch Went From Compton 'War Baby' to Grammy-Nominated Star

Roddy Ricch
Chris Parsons

Roddy Ricch

Roddy Ricch loves his cartoons. Whenever he's in the studio, he watches Family Guy to help loosen his creative juices. Today, the 21-year-old is flipping through the channels inside Jue Lan's plush Forbidden Room before we gorge on our hearty entrees. Famished, Ricch is a bit vexed and quickly becomes disinterested by the dull jokes dished out by the characters of The Cleveland Show, a Family Guy spin-off. 

"This s--t ain't funny to me. I'm changing this," the Compton native says. Within seconds, Ricch's mood shifts, as his eyes instantly glow at the sight of DMX and Nas on the restaurant's big screen. "Ahh s--t. They're playing Belly," he exclaims. Just before his happiness plateaus, a waitress emerges with multiple orders of chicken satays (Ricch's favorite dish), shrimp fried rice, vegetable spring rolls, sweet and sour chicken, and more, drawing a pearly smile from the biggest star in the room. 

With his eyes fixated on the chicken satays, Roddy stretches his hands across the table and grabs a fistful to devour. He's more than content with his lunch and watching DMX's slick acting skills on this frigid November day. 

For a kid out of Compton, who admittingly suffers from PTSD due to his harrowing experiences in the murder-plagued city, the little things continue to matter for Ricch. After witnessing his share of tragedies, including the death of his fallen friend Nipsey Hussle in 2019, Ricch quickly became a vehicle for the troubled youth with his poignant war stories. 

In 2018, Ricch gained traction when he released his sobering track "Die Young" -- a chilling street tale that speaks to his paranoias of being shot, killed, and arrested by the police. His penchant for icy hooks continued when he paired up with Nipsey Hussle for the rapper's final single "Racks in the Middle," a song that was released six weeks before his untimely demise. 

"Nipsey could respect the fact that I was who I was -- I was never trying to be anything that I wasn't," explains Ricch. "If you really noticed, the n---as that Nipsey cosigned from the West, all them n---as are not gangbangers, all them n---as are not him. They not trying to be Nip."

After Hussle's death last March, "Racks in the Middle" zoomed into the top 30 of the Billboard Hot 100. Shortly after, "Die Young" became Ricch's second Hot 100 hit, his first as a leading artist. Success continued for the budding star when he led the West Coast-leaning bop "Ballin'" for star producer Mustard. The earworm spent months climbing on the Hot 100 before peaking to No. 20 last month. Ricch's notable wins this year caught the eyes of the Grammy committee, who awarded him with three nominations, two for his appearance on Hussle's "Racks in the Middle" and one for "Ballin'." 

And just before Ricch closes the chapter on his storybook year, he will release his debut album Please Excuse Me For Being Antisocial Friday (Dec. 6) with 16 tracks featuring A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie, Gunna, Ty Dolla $ign and more. Billboard spoke to Ricch about his relationship with Nipsey, how his grandmother influenced him to get into real estate, and how the streets of Compton almost killed him. 

When did you decide to take music seriously? 

I feel, not so much tragedies, but turning points in my life [pushed me to music]. Like, going to county jails and really experiencing that. Wrecking a car and not really having anything to show for being in the streets and doing bulls--t. I had nothing to show for that. I just wanted to do something positive. I feel like music was the talent that I had, I just had to tap into it.

You cite Future, Thug and Wayne as some of your inspirations. What did you learn from each rapper to help build your sound and creativity?

With Wayne, I can say it was more of the double entendre, the bars. That s--t, I really f--k with s--t like that. With Future, it was the way he attacked music. He always just figured out a way to speak about his lifestyle. It was so different, even though it might of been the same thing that everyone who was coming up with him was experiencing, he spoke about it in such a way where you can just see it. It was just visual. With Thug, it was his melodies and how he attacked his music. With all them three and just hearing music, helped me when I was making mine. 

How did you and A Boogie get so tight? 

That's my n---a. We saw each other when I was setting up my partnership with Atlantic, and I was just trying to figure what I was gonna do or whatever. I had seen him in the office and we ran by each other. It was like, I seen him and we didn't say too much. He knew who I was and I knew who he was. Fast forward, I came to New York and I'm working on my album, he hit me like, 'S--t, what you on?' Where y'all at?' I said, I'm at the studio. Pull up.' So they pull up deep and we just caught a vibe.

When I started talking to Boogie, we just shared the same experiences being from the same generation -- like, being your own man, holding down family s--t -- and we really just became cool off that. I made nine songs that night and we were going back and forth on four. He ended up going to shoot a video and then he came back. Ever since that night, we been tight and just been tapping in. People like him, Gunna, [Lil] Uzi [Vert], that's who I f--k with on some personal s--t.


imagine the east and west all stars on the same team @artisthbtl ----

A post shared by @ roddyricch on

What about your relationship with Gunna?

I met him at ComplexCon years before he was ever on. That's why we're cool to this day. I was tapped into his s--t and he seen that I genuinely f--ked with him. I was telling my manager Bird Gunna was gonna be big and he was like, "Who's Gunna?" This was back then. Fast forward, and he's really a heavyweight as far as young n---as. I share his struggles. He got a song called "Phases," and it was my life. When I listened that s--t, I thought he was talking to me, almost.

With "Start With Me," I sent it to Gunna and he sent it right back. I didn't have to ask him. If I send you a song, you gonna vibe to it and if you don't, it's cool. It's natural. I never have to ask.

Then he pulled up to the video shoot with no security, too, right?

Of course! But n---as know the company I keep, and the program that we run is different from a lot of rappers. I'm not gonna say that I'm the solo dude that's running around, but just the company I keep and how we move, n---as know. I had PnB Rock in the projects when "Die Young" came out, and he was running around. N---as ain't touch him. N---as know when you come to my home, it's gonna be love at all times. 

How did you get on Nipsey's radar for "Racks in the Middle"?

I got pictures on my phone of when Meek [Mill] was in jail and I pulled up on Nipsey at Encore in L.A. I threw on the All Money In chain and the DC chain, and I stood in front of Nipsey's Maybach when I took the picture, because them was the two n---as that wrapped  their arms around me and embraced me as who I was. Nipsey could respect the fact that I was who I was. I was never trying to be anything that I wasn't. If you really noticed, the n---as that Nipsey cosigned from the West, all them n---as are not gangbangers, all them n---as are not him. They not trying to be Nip. A lot of them n---as are just themselves that he wrapped his arms around and that's probably why he f--ked with me.

You've already decided before  turning 21 that you want to invest in properties. Was that instilled in you prior to you having a relationship with Nipsey?

My grandmother is originally from Louisiana. She moved out here when she was 14, 15. She always worked a minimium wage job stuffing cotton inside of chairs and s--t. Just imagine how much money she made doing that. Fast forward to her 50s and 60s and she owned two properties on my block: my mom's house that she currently owns and her house that she owned on her own. So I always looked at it like, if I ever got some real money, I couldn't be stupid enough to waste it -- because my grandma saved her money and did good with it.

I'd seen men in my family have more money than my grandmother and blow it. That mentality instilled in me [that] even with barely much, if you manage your money right, you can do something with it. It don't matter if you have pennies. Now that I saved my money, I have some properties in Compton. But I don't really show that on Instagram, because you don't let people know. That s--t ain't really smart. But we moving in the right direction. 

You have a track on the album called "Forbes" where you admit to struggling with your move from Compton to The Hills. How's that transition been?

I've been moving around a lot, so I haven't really had time to settle, but it's a little different. Like when I walk outside and ain't nobody looking at me crazy or bothering me. It's like people walking their dogs and s--t [Laughs.] It's crazy, but I just try to keep it all in. I still go back to where I'm from and stay connected with my people and s--t. That's how I got here, basically being the voice of the streets. So I still battle s--t everyday, even if it's not so much monetary. I go back home and still connect with people who still are going through what I was going through. That's how I just keep moving. I just appreciate everything. 

Another song on the album is "War Baby"? What makes you a war baby? 

Just explaining having to go through PTSD with being in the streets. I done had to walk through Compton in the middle of the night at 1:00 in the morning and walk through six hoods, just because I left where I was from and where I was staying at. I was roaming the streets, and I felt like I was going to die, or police was going to pull up on me and I was going to get f--ked with. I seen cars circling multiple times, and I felt like I was going to die. If you know how dangerous Compton is at the middle of the night, you wouldn't come outside. 

The last house party I went to go shot up and s--t. It was almost like a movie. N---a, I was running down the street and one of the homies pull up in the car like, 'Hop in!' It was really some movie s--t. That was the last house party I ever went to. [Laughs.]

Talk about how you've been able to showcase your versatility because you came out the gate with such a morbid song in "Die Young" but returned with a club banger in "Ballin'". 

As we go on, people are going to have to be surprised. I've always known that I have a different mentality. I can move in different ways and that's for people to realize. We do this s--t everyday. We talk s--t. All the music that's going to come out where people are like, "Oh, he can do this, he can do that," we been knew that. We been knew that life. You can't just talk about struggle. Some people wanna turn up and talk other s--t, live and be happy. As this s--t continues to grow, people are just going to have to tap in. They'll see for themselves. 

2020 Grammy Awards