Mr. LA runs a tight ship. This is the first impression that I get of RJ as we sit in a practice studio watching him do a full medley of highlights from the last few years with his DJ as they prepare for a sold out appearance at the Observatory. Surrounded by a small crew of close friends intensely watching and giving feedback on his track selection, the feeling of family in the air makes it clear why everyone is in this room. Within the last 2 years alone, since the release of his debut mixtape On My Mama I’m On, the South Central native has built a credible resume for himself with featured work on the debut albums of both YG (My Krazy Life) and DJ Mustard (10 Summers).
His sonic relationship with frequent collaborator, Mustard, has allowed him to push the parameters and truly showcase himself as a forerunner of where the LA rap scene is going. A few artists also coming out of the mixtape scene have been able to A&R and sniff out a hit record, as was the case for last summer’s hit with IamSu!, “Get Rich,” or his collaborative mixtape with Choice off 10 Summers Records. The captain of his own ship, RJ chatted with me over a plate of wings about his plans for his OMMIO collective, why so many people are “tardy” to what’s going on in the New West, and how limiting it can sometimes be to grow outside of your local scene.
“YOU CAN’T FORCE YOUR SEASON TO COME; IT COMES WHEN IT COMES. SUMMER AIN’T NEVER LATE.”
SENAY KENFE: So we’re here in the studios watching you prepare for your show [at] the Observatory. How do you feel about doing a lot of live shows outside of your traditional LA demographic? How do you feel about branching out?
RJ: Santa Ana is damn near like LA to me, so that’s not too much of a stretch. We’re trying to get further out—Arizona, the Bay, down south, East Coast, shit like that. Right now, Santa Ana is almost like a second home to us. Prior to OMMIO, the homies that I was rocking with, we [did] that all the time, that’s nothing. Santa Ana Observatory is damn near how the Key Club used to be until they closed that down. I was one of the last performers to perform at the Key Club, too. I performed at the Key Club with YG and Mustard, one of the last ones.
How’d you feel about playing in front of a different crowd like [at HARD Fest]?
That’s what we want. We want stuff like that, we want to be in different crowds and stages like that. It’s not about bread, but that’s where the fun is at. They go up non-stop—as long as you got that right beat that they’re nodding to, they go up non-stop. And for me to come in on a hip-hop note and perform and do what I do best, that was dope. That was real dope, I like shit like that.
How you feel about the way that 10 Summers and Pushaz Ink has brought attention—not just influence-wise—towards LA hip-hop?
I’m thankful for that. I’m thankful that the shine is on the West Coast—LA mainly. I’m thankful for that.
Do you think it’s a little late?
I get a chance to let the world see what I got. I’m thankful for that.
For the last couple of years, a lot of people feel like the West Coast has been fueling a lot of the club anthems and hits and hasn’t been getting the attention that it deserves. How do you feel about that?
I mean, you can’t force your season to come; it comes when it comes. Summer ain’t never late.
You are literally on the cusp, if not already, blowing up. How do you feel about the time it’s taken you to become RJ the star?
The longer they wait, the greater I get. We trying to get out to the South and the East Coast, flood the West Coast too. So I’m just getting season, the longer they wait, the greater I get. By the time they see me shining, they’re going to be blind. It’s going to be a crazy sight. Some are going to miss it and some are going to catch it, but I’m here and I ain’t stopping. When it comes to rap shit, I feel like I’m God’s gift on everything. Come to this music, I feel like I’m really put on here to make a difference with this shit. The pattern—my flow pattern—my content, my choice of beats, it’s all natural. Some people work hard for this, but me, I work hard at perfecting it. It comes naturally.
Why is it important for you to be such an individual?
Because there’s too many followers out here. Even with the whole drug usage, the drug use music, it’s tight. I like the sound, but I don’t like the mentality in the music. I like the sound in the music, I like how when it touch the mic, it sounds good, but I don’t like that mentality. The whole sip and lean shit is some followers to me, real shit. Niggas is followers, everybody’s just following shit. Even when everybody was getting tattoos. See, me, I don’t got no tattoos. No offense to the niggas that got tattoos because when girls be wearing tattoos, I like it and shit. That shit be tight. But I don’t even got that shit, I don’t follow nobody, I ride my own wave. I know there’s a lot of people, a thousand million out there just like me that ride their own wave, and that’s who I speak for.
All this following shit—that shit be tight, I sip and leaned before. I didn’t like that shit, I didn’t like being asleep all day. I didn’t like that shit, I don’t like being slow, I’m in the streets for real. I’ve seen niggas die off the lean and shit, niggas got smoked. Niggas be followers, real shit, that’s how I feel. I like the sound of the music and all that shit, but if it wasn’t for niggas like me, then the world wouldn’t move right. That’s how I feel because I’m original. That’s how I feel.
I think that’s a good position, as an artist, to stand on because you’re supposed to be your own man and bring your own specific viewpoints on not just music, but life, into your music instead of just following other people. In terms of your music and sound, do you feel like you are setting trends?
I don’t know. I feel like some people late, so they might not catch on this year or this decade. I feel like I’m stuck in the ‘90s right now with this ‘90s vintage. I like shit like that because too many people is wearing what everybody’s wearing and shit. Everybody’s wearing the same shit, everybody’s talking the same. Even East Coast niggas sounding Southern, never been to the South. Me personally, I’ve spent years in the South, I know the difference, I know the slur, I know the slang, I know the cuts and crevices in the South. I’ve been in LA, I’m born, I’m in Mr. LA, I know the cuts and crevices, what’s going on. I can’t talk about the East Coast because I ain’t never been out there too long. I’ve been out there a few times like the Fashion District and shit like that, but I ain’t never been out there too long, so I don’t talk about that shit. I talk about what I know. Some people are just late. They just tardy. Me? I know what’s going on, everything, for real.
“WHEN I DIE, YOU’RE GOING TO KNOW RJ WAS A GENUINE MOTHERFUCKER.”
A lot of niggas aint bosses, a lot of niggas is workers. If you’re a worker, just be a worker, don’t act like a boss. I don’t like that either, I be off that fake shit. I be off niggas faking like they’re bosses or faking like they millionaires or faking like they got all this bread or faking getting bitches. Nigga, we know you, you’re not.
It’s not a bad thing either.
It’s not a bad thing if you’re not. Look at all the rappers that made it that talked about geeky shit. Niggas talk about not getting bitches or not having money. Be you, that’s what my shit is: originality; genuine. When I die, you’re going to know RJ was a genuine motherfucker. I just don’t like all that fake shit.
How do you feel about the attention you got towards “Get Rich” with Iamsu!?
“Get Rich,” for one, was my idea, my beat, my flow—you feel me? So I’m thankful for Iamsu! getting on that, I’m thankful for [DJ Swish] coming through and making something happen, I’m thankful for Choice coming through. Without them, it would’ve just been me. Let’s talk about that song, people hear that song and on the surface, it’s like, “I’m going to get rich off of you.” That’s what niggas is thinking, but that’s the tardy people, the people that aren’t rich mentally. The whole thing is about being rich mentally first.
Like me—I was rich before I even touched a dollar, I’ve always been rich. It’s a mentality, it’s a way of life—being a boss. That’s what OMMIO was about, being a boss. Being a boss in your mind and in your field, but doing boss shit, not just saying, “Oh, I’m a boss,” and then not showing action. It’s about action, about being a boss, that’s what we’re about. “Get Rich” is like feeling rich in your soul, your mind, your mentality. There’s a lot of quotes out there, but you can’t really judge a man off of how much money he got, but you can judge a man on how he thinks. The physical part is going to come, once you’re rich mentally, all the riches are going to come. It’s like meditation and manifestation.
When I was sitting here listening, I heard your music cross a large of amount of diverse topics. Whether it’s talking about the mentality of the streets, whether it’s talking about your interaction with women, whether it’s talking about positive themes or whatever people want to label it as. I’m just curious to see why you think a lot of West Coast artists get particularly labeled as, “Oh, this is street rap. This is gangster rap. This is club records.”
Yeah, it’s like how it started. Originally, off the top, the pioneers of this shit was gangster. They brought that shit to the rap scene. Me? No offense to nobody else, I’m a real gangster though. But being a gangster don’t mean that you’re the hardest nigga all the time.
Or stupid. You gotta be flexible in this world. If you ain’t flexible, you ain’t going to matter. Let’s say Def Jam, look how long the fuck they lasted being gangster. They gangstered a lot of motherfuckers in this world. Look how they did it, those motherfuckers is gangsters, but they’re flexible. They’re not just coming out with gangster music or gangster sounds or hardcore lyrics and shit like that. They’re coming with different types of artists, real shit. If you wanna talk about some other real gangsters—the Capones and the Godfather families and all that shit, the TV shit. Or the Gottis and shit. They’re gangster. They were doing some other shit, blowing brains out and shit like that. We’re in a different era where all that gangster shit and hardcore blowing a niggas brains out—there’s a different way to do it these days. You can kill a nigga without touching him these days. That’s what I be on; thinking. Having my mind rich, a rich mentality and shit like that.
People are going to judge you how they judge you. Me? I don’t judge with my nose up. Nigga can come in, come in the door, everybody’s going to judge him. I’m going to judge him off the bat, but I’m not going to judge him with my nose up. I treat the greatest man like the smallest man: with the same respect—until they lose it. Other people, they’re tardy, they don’t get what’s going on. They don’t get that my music is all different types of shit all in one mixtape. They don’t get that shit. They don’t get that I can be over here with some gangster shit because I really be with some gangsters. I could talk about the females because I really get the females. No, man, they don’t get that shit. They don’t get that I can switch it up, speed it up, all in one track. They don’t get me, but that’s cool, they’re just tardy.
It shows that I got real fans that get that shit. I’m selling out shows—2,300 capacity and I ain’t been out of LA? Are you kidding me? What the fuck is wrong with these people? They’re tardy. Labels? Tardy. Cross country, tardy. Different genres is tardy. They need to get hip to Mr. LA RJ and know what’s going on before it’s too late.
What was it like when you were driving around in LA and you first heard your record on the radio?
What kind of radio? Like, in somebody’s car? Because I remember one time, I had this one song called “Bitches.” I think I got my car impounded and a girl pulled up in a Benz and I’m walking. She was playing my shit and that was the first time I ever heard my song from somebody I didn’t know. I felt like, “Damn.” It gave me hope, but it was also a sense of, “Goddamn, I don’t want her to see me.”
Then I had my song on the radio, which was “Ride with Me.” It wasn’t “Get Rich.” Carisma was spinning that shit, shout out Carisma. Got some CRTs in there and they were fucking around with the 2 o’clock mix and shit and they were mixing it in and shit. My mom was calling me, sister was calling me, girls calling me, everybody calling me and all that shit.
But to me, it’s more like, “All right. What’s the next one? Ya’ll like this? Watch this shit. I only did this shit to put this shit out there, watch this next shit.” But it’s a good feeling, God is good. I’m real humble too, it may seem like I’m not, I’m just fed up sometimes. But I’m real, I pray every morning and night on my knees.
I believe. I don’t think people can say you’re not humble just cause you love yourself and know what your worth is.
People be saying that you need to be humble. To who? Another man? I’m humble to God, why do I have to be humble to another man? Breathing the same air I breathe. You’re the same nigga I am, I don’t gotta be humble. What the fuck? I know I’m the shit, I don’t gotta be humble to you. People commenting saying that shit, “Stay humble.” What? Do you hear the shit I’m saying? The lives I’m changing? Do you see this shit? I’m humble to God. People is tardy.
…It’s a humbling experience when fans come up to me and be like, “Man, I love you. I bang to your shit, I wake up to your shit.” But it be rappers and artists and shit that I’m not humble to. Fuck. For what? Get the fuck outta here. You the same nigga talking behind my back. We came out of nowhere, we didn’t step on no toes or nothing. We didn’t step on no toes and we didn’t come up begging nobody for nothing. Me and Lemmie did that shit and we made that shit pop, OMMIO. Shout out to Mustard, that nigga fuck with us. But nobody’s paying me. We’re getting on this shit off strength, our team, OMMIO. You can see Sasha right here, Les right here, K. Wynn fuck with us, it’s OMMIO shit. See all these people? It’s OMMIO. Look at Ty right here, see that shirt? That should say OMMIO. Because nobody else be right here in the trenches with us like that. Shout out to Mustard, he fuck with us. But nobody really be in the trenches with us. OMMIO, that’s it, that’s all. Ain’t nobody do shit for us, I feel like we’re the only real independent niggas as an artist that are really putting on like that. Everybody else—think about it. Think about every artist out of LA that’s cracking.
“I WAS RICH BEFORE I EVEN TOUCHED A DOLLAR, I’VE ALWAYS BEEN RICH. IT’S A MENTALITY, IT’S A WAY OF LIFE—BEING A BOSS.”
I feel like especially within this art form, which is a very black art form, a lot of the artists are treated as employees while they’re presenting their creativity towards these labels who don’t really want to partner with you, but they recognize that you have a buzz. And they want to leverage you to make money off of you and not with you. But as an independent artist, how important is it to you that you are making your own money?
Oh, that’s real important. I like making my own money, but I want to make more money. I know fucking with a major label, you’re going to make more money, period. I know that, I’m not dumb, I’m not tardy, I’m on point. I’m a gangster, but I went to school. I’ve been out here. Come talk to me like a boss and let’s make some money together. We’re tired of making money on our own, we want to make more money. I think a lot of people be like—they thought I was signed. Bro, I’m not signed… I’m just saying I’m not saying for no bullshit. Can you respect that? Real shit.
Is that why you’re slowing down on the mixtapes and working more towards your EP? You want to talk about the EP?
We can talk about the EP.
What’s it going to be called?
It’s not finalized, it’s in the air. We’ve been working on an EP because we want to really show motherfuckers that we can make it happen. That’s the only reason why I’m slowing down the mixtapes, I don’t want to be another one of these artists that all he had was mixtapes. I know the game, I know you gotta sell albums regardless of if albums sell or not. I know you have to sell albums, and that’s what we’re working towards. We’re gearing towards that. I’m not dumb, so we’re working for it. As far as really trying to make money off of people, that’s not what it’s for. It’s just to show people that we can do it, we can make it happen.
Is that why you’re spending more time developing OMMIO as a collective and as a brand?
Yeah, we got clothes. This nigga right here, he be coming with gear ideas and shit. He comes with all kinds of ideas for our brand. The fuck? We’re trying to make that shit work, we’re branded. These labels is crazy, I don’t get why I’m still here. I’m for the people, I’m always going to be for the people, but why am I still stuck in LA? Real shit. I sold out two major venues that major artists can’t even do.
That’s true, a lot of people can’t pack out Nokia.
But I’m still in LA? That shit’s crazy to me. That’s the pigeonhole that I don’t like.
So you feel pigeonholed into being just an LA artist and connected to the LA brand instead of being worldwide?
I feel like the world needs to see what LA is about, not LA. LA knows what LA is about, we live it every fucking day. I’m Mr. LA! Born and raised in this shit, I know what’s going on here. I’m trying to show the world what LA is about so the world can see that we ain’t all just Pendletons and Dickies. The world need to see that, we don’t just drive fucking lowriders, we don’t just only wear Chucks…The world need to see that instead of seeing this bullshit they always see.
It’s dated. That’s one thing I’m going to take back, not bullshit because it’s pioneered, it’s stamped, it’s stapled. I feel that, I fuck with that, it’s tight, for real. But Snoop don’t even wear Pendletons all the time. Can we just be seen as something different that the norm? We got great minds out here, that’s why I want to get out of LA. Not just because, I want to show the world what LA is about. I’m ready.
It’s definitely been a maturing within the music and within the culture here. Now more than ever you can see people—whether they come from a Blood neighborhood or a Crip neighborhood—working on music together, which never ever happened before.
I like that.
You, obviously, are a part of this new, maturing generation that isn’t like, “I’m not going to fuck with you because you’re from that hood or from this hood.” How do you feel about coming together with people that, five or ten years ago, maybe you never had a positive interaction with?
I feel like that’s more God’s work. I feel like there should be more unity. I’m a strong believer in society and media fucking our mind up, making us believe we’re enemies. I’m a strong believer in that. But I feel like we should click up more, tame our egos. A lot of that gangbanging shit is over territory anyways. But there’s bigger territory to fill, I think people see that now.
Especially when you work together.
Especially artists that work together that are from different neighborhoods and stuff like that. It’s not just—let’s put that out there, not different gangs, they’re from different neighborhoods, that’s what it is. That’s their territory, they’re protecting it. Some, when it come to power, like to venture out. That’s why you got some hoods that are bigger than a lot of hoods. That’s how it is. But I respect the artists from different hoods clicking up and making music together and showing people that it’s bigger than their small minds and their small thinking.
So we’ve been talking about RJ the artist, let’s talk about RJ the man. What do you do when you’re not in this realm as a musician? What do you do with your time?
I’m mainly fucking with my daughter. I just said this the other day, niggas want me in the hood more, but I’m like, “Damn, I got my daughter growing up. She needs me every day.” Look where I’m at right now, she’s at the house. She’s learning how to walk and shit. She’s starting to walk, standing up on her own, she’s eight months. I gotta be there every day, these are important years of her life. Real shit. I had a father, why can’t she have one? He passed away, so there’s a lot of my manhood that he didn’t witness physically. But I don’t want that for her, I don’t want that for my kids. I don’t want, later on when she’s older, I’m not there because I was in the hood and some shit happened. I don’t want that. I’d rather me be there for her.
That’s an interesting balance that you have to play between maintaining your family life and also maintaining your connections to the neighborhood you came from.
It’s maintaining a connection to the streets, maintaining a connection to the industry, and it’s maintaining a connection to my daughter. Granted I’m going to go to the music first because that’s where the business is, that’s how I feed her. That’s how I feed my woman, so I gotta be there first, then it’s my daughter. You guess what order you’re going to come in after that. That’s what it is. It’s a simple balance, you just gotta be smart about it. I ain’t no dummy. I’ll get to the hood when I get there. You look around, these is niggas from the hood, real ones from the hood with me. They know what’s going on, they understand, they’re not tardy. They understand what’s going on, so they’re here, they’re trying to represent. We all represent. Some niggas be stuck and they don’t get it. Maybe they’ll get it in a decade—hopefully.
Do you ever feel like there’s this draw from people from your past who don’t understand what you’re trying to do with your future? And there’s altercations and problems that come from it because people are like, “Why aren’t you helping me out with blah, blah.” And you’re like, “Yo, I’m trying to do this, I’m trying to be here,” and people just don’t get it?
Yeah, I had an issue like that. They were tardy, but they get it now. They understand as a man, you gotta stand on your own two. You can’t wait for the next man to go fishing to feed you. Even if you’re supplying him with the fishing pole, you gotta go fishing on your own. Even if you’re supplying him with the bait, you can’t expect to wait around for him to catch the fish. Go get your own fishing pole and maybe ya’ll can share that bait and go fishing.
It’s like how you say with OMMIO, you’re putting the people that you know and grew up with in positions of power, but also in the position to be their own people.
Take Les for example—he’s an artist from OMMIO. He got his own chain, he got his own car, he make his own music, he has his own studio time. Granted, he probably ain’t got the shine that I got, but that nigga fishing on his own. But he’s still Ommio. He stand on his own two and you gotta respect that. That’s what we’re about. He rap completely different from me, but we’re still Ommio and he’s still fishing and I’m still fishing.
And you’re not competing, you’re building together.
We building together. Then I got a homie like Mike Wayne, he from OMMIO too, an artist. Me and him compete more as far as songs. Me and him go at it, we compete, friendly competition. That’s what we show people, it’s friendly, like, “You’re damn right I want my song to be better than yours. Hell yeah, I want motherfuckers to bang my shit. I helped promote your shit and all that shit, but I want peope to love my shit more. I want my shit to be in the motherfucking phones!” That’s the competition, but as far as dog eat dog? It ain’t like that with OMMIO. We ain’t eating each other.
It’s been a successful series, On My Mama I’m On, which is what OMMIO stands for—
OMMIO 1 and OMMIO 2. On My Mama I’m On. And that’s what we’re really showing people, I’m really on. I’m showing you why I’m on. To be on, it’s like a feeling, sometimes it’s a feeling. It can be about your pockets, it could be like you’re getting it, getting to it, on your shit. Or it can be a feeling you get—say you get a paycheck or something. “I’m on today! I’m on right now!” It can be that shit. But when we put things on our mama, it’s a testament. We mean it. We die by that shit.
Photos by Graham Walzer