Russ loves his haters. No, seriously, he relishes the thought of bludgeoning his detractors with his success. While giving his foes a good tongue-lashing on Twitter normally tickles his fancy, winning trumps all of that for the 25-year-old artist.
Last year, Russ defied all odds by meticulously crafting his debut effort, There’s Really a Wolf. With no features, Russ rapped, sang, wrote and engineered the project all on his own, a feat he gladly takes pride in. “Humbly speaking, there hasn’t been that many recent debuts this successful in hip-hop. That’s just number-wise,” he tells Billboard after completing his 40-minute set at Coachella. “You don’t have to like me or the music, but on a number-based thing, name 20 more successful hip-hop album debuts as far as number-wise?”
Despite being drunk off confidence, Russ has a good reason to be feeling himself. First, he earned two platinum plaques for his singles “What They Want” and “Losin Control.” Last week, he punctuated his fiery run by hoisting his newly-minted platinum plaque for There’s Really a Wolf. Rather than celebrate all of his new-found accomplishments, Russ is already back in the studio, plotting his sophomore album.
Last weekend, the indomitable workhorse nabbed Canadian songbird, Jessie Reyez, for “Basement,” before unleashing his scathing track “Sore Losers” aimed at new wave MCs. With a bulletproof swagger and multi-faceted skill-set to match, it’s hard denying Russ his spot in the conversation for best new rappers. Billboard spoke to the platinum artist about the success of his debut album, who he deems as his competition, Drake being the “GOAT” and why he’s the Stephen Curry of rap.
There’s a line that caught me on “I’m Here.” You said: “Last June I was broke, this June I made a hundred/ Before and after, didn’t change me though I stayed a hundred.” Your net worth is not $100K, at least not anymore, obviously. [Laughs] How have you been able to be so level-headed even now as your net worth has increased?
The way I stay kind of just regular, part of it, is who I have around me. My best friend who I’ve known since I was 12, and I started the DIEMON company together. He’s still with me everyday. My mom still goes with me fuckin’ everywhere. I stayed in Atlanta. I didn’t get on and move to LA and hang out with weirdo rappers, trying to be on the scene. I didn’t do that shit.
Another part of it is what age I got on. If I would have got on at 19 or 20, I would have been reckless. I did pretty much as long as you need to do as a regular person, I did that. From the time I was born until 23 and 24, regular. I did all those years. I did the high school years and the college years. I think mentally, I was mature and ready for it. Like I said, if I was 19 or 20, I might have dipped to LA and been reckless. Because it happened when it happened, it’s a blessing. I thought I wanted it to happen at 17 or 18, but I’m so glad it didn’t. Mentally, I wasn’t prepared for it.
Your debut album is platinum with no features. How does that feel?
That’s real life goals. That’s what we used to always talk about. That’s the pinnacle, the zenith for an artist. Especially for the debut and especially for how I did it. There was no features and I produced it, mixed it, mastered it, engineered it and wrote the entire thing by myself. That shit is not regular. Six, seven songs on that album have plaques. Humbly speaking, there hasn’t been a debut in hip-hop that successful in a long time, period. That’s just number-wise. You don’t have to like me or the music, but on a number-based thing, name 20 more successful hip-hop album debuts as far as number-wise.
With the album being a year old now, looking back on it, what’s your biggest takeaway?
Every time I put out music and it goes well, it’s a confirmation of your taste and your gut. The way I do everything, I base it off my gut and what I fuck with. I’m going to make a song the way I want to make it and what I want to do so when I put it out, if it doesn’t do well, it’s only on me. Then, I can learn. If it does do well, then I’m like, that’s on me, too. If it doesn’t do well, at least I can be like, “It wasn’t his fault.” I’m not the type of person to put my eggs in this other person’s basket and it fucks up, I’ma blame someone else? Nah. If I fuck up, it’s on me. You learn better that way.
How have you grown as a man and as an artist since your debut?
As a man and as a human being, you start having more and more foresight, especially when you start and buy your mom a house and take care of your family and shit. I was telling my homies, when you start getting money, you might go to the store and buy jewelry and shit, but then all of a sudden you look around, and you have enough money for everything, your priorities change. Yeah, you can buy the Rolls Royce in cash and buy your mom a beach house, but you’d rather buy your mom a beach house then have it all upgraded, like that’s a new stove. You can do both but for me, I get over shit quickly. After I bought some jewelry, I was over it. I haven’t bought any new jewelry. I bought it, it was dope and I’m over it.
That struggle got you here, but do you miss any aspect of it?
The aspect of the struggle that’s dope is the fire that it creates. I’m not on, but I know I should be on, and I’ll be damned if I don’t get on. That fire is ill. The fire is still there but it just comes from a different place. That shit’s real.
Everything in life is relatable. When people ask me for advice, I say embrace the fact that you’re broke. When I was broke, I was talking about being broke, and talking about being on — that’s the most relatable shit in the world. Once you get on, the content gets a little trickier to write about because they can’t relate to me like flying on a private jet or staying in a million-dollar mansion.
Has that been a challenge for you?
The further successful you get, the less relatable your everyday life is. Everyday life is not relatable to the average person as it was two years ago. Two years ago I was sleeping at my mom’s house, broke, whatever the fuck it is. Me flying private and staying in mansions, getting crazy money and not having to worry about money at all is not relatable. It just forces you to dig deeper, and it’s dope because it’s a challenge.
How would you rank yourself as a producer, rapper and engineer?
I’m the illest at everything.
So you think you’re a better rapper than producer?
I’m just nasty at everything. [Laughs] I don’t even know. My raps be crazy and my hooks are nasty. My engineering could be a little better but it’s still fire though. Over two billion streams and a lot of platinum plaques. Everything I did was fire. It all got confirmed.
On the “Act Now” record you say: “A few legends but way too many trends these days.” Which new legends would you say are keeping you on your toes competitively?
J. Cole, Kendrick, and Drake. Those were my favorites since 2010. They’re super inspiring. Me living in my own other world, it feels like sparring partners. It just makes me want to get better. The fact that Drake is now about to be what, like 32? And he just dropped arguably the biggest song of his career is fucked. To drop your biggest song now is like, “This is fucking ridiculous.” Look at all the big songs he’s already had. “Started From The Bottom” was huge. “Hold On We’re Going Home.” “One Dance” is massive! That’s the GOAT.
Which trends would you kill in hip-hop?
You know what’s funny about trends? I don’t have to kill a trend. Trends die. That’s the natural thing about a trend. It’s natural for people to be followers and be sheep and go with a trend. That’s why Kendrick, J. Cole and Drake last. They’re the biggest and last the longest. They create the trends. I mean we all know the trends right now and the people who follow them, they never make it past a year. I don’t gotta do shit to them. They’re going to kill themselves off.
Abusing xanax and other pills drugs etc in private cuz your depressed/other mental issues is one thing(still not good)..constantly recording yourself doing drugs and putting up pics and videos of doing it is when you start CHOOSING to publicly glorify it and make it an image.
— Russ (@russdiemon) November 18, 2017
A couple months back, you had that shirt on Twitter and you were speaking on the Xanax situation and its effect on the rap game. At what point do you think artists will go back to the fundamentals and not have to overly emphasize their drug usage?
I think it’s a phase. At the end of the day, in 20-30 years, however long it takes, I think you’re going to look back at this time of rap and be like, “That was a heavy druggy phase.” That’s what’s going to happen. It’s a phase, and phases pass. That lifestyle is not sustainable and it’s not healthy. It’s a shame. If you want to do the right thing and take care of yourself, cool. You’re playing with yourself. I’m still going to be here.
I hope your hoops knowledge is solid.
Bro, I’m ill.
If you could compare yourself to any NBA player in the league, who would you pick and why?
Steph Curry. Everyone was looking at LeBron and no one knew Steph was coming. Steph was super like, “He’s too small to play me in the game,” “He came from Davidson,” and “He’s barely 6 feet on paper.” He was this thing that was getting dead nice over here, and all of a sudden he’s just nasty. I feel like that. Everyone will come around. You don’t have to like me or whatever the fuck it is, but the music is fire. I don’t give a fuck. The music is dope.
If you could pick a song or album as the soundtrack to your life right now, what would it be and why?
The first song that came to my mind was “Energy” by Drake. I don’t know. “People tryna drain me of this energy” just keeps running in my head. I feel like people are trying to drain me of my energy. Fuck y’all. You can’t win. At the end of the day, people need to realize, what I’m doing is a culmination of years and years of time and energy spent on this one dream coming to life.
Lastly, if you could pick one word to chapter this moment of your life, what would it be and why?
Hmmm, interesting. That’s a great question. Honestly, I would say new microscope.
Why new microscope?
It’s just way different now. Before, you’re making music in your own corner of the world trying to get everyone to look at you. Now, in the new phase, everyone is looking at you. So now make music, now live your life. It’s different with every tweet, every Instagram post. You really get to see how much the world is on eggshells. Yeah, I would say New Microscope, two words.