Rikki Blu: From the Field to the Booth

 

“We had a whole family rap group. My dad, he taught me how to rap. My dad was Blu from the Grove. Him, my cousin, my uncles, all did music together as Niggas from the Grove, so growing up, we were given this weird indoctrination of how a youngster from The Grove should move.”

Growing up in the Pleasant Grove neighborhood of Dallas, Texas, Rikki Blu never expected that he would be known as a “rapper.” Rikki’s father, Blu from the Grove, commanded crowds as the frontman for two different rap groups, Niggas from the Grove and Southern Kingdom. In addition to being a lyricist, Rikki’s father also made a name for himself as radio personality in the Dallas sports scene, even finding his way onto a Miller Light “Man Law” commercial.

 

Music wasn’t Rikki’s initial career choice though. His older brother, Rodney Blu Jr., was the musician amongst his siblings. Rikki chose to focus his attention on football, aspiring to go to a D1 college and, eventually, to the NFL. However, with a family of entertainers, it wasn’t long before music became an active part of Rikki’s life. After receiving an MPC from his older brother during junior year of high school, Rikki found his time off from football consumed by music production, pushing him to look for a college where he could hone his skills further.

“Middle Tennessee State was the only school that had a Music Production degree and a D1 football program, at that point I was playing football, and I thought, I might go to the league, you know? And that’s how I met Isaiah and them.”

Middle Tennessee State University proved to be one of the most important decisions of Rikki’s career. Rikki Blu, Isaiah Rashad, Tut, Black Metaphor, D. Sanders, Free P, and Michael da Vinci all went to MTSU, taking prerequisite classes together in the Music Production program.

“Black Metaphor that’s my patna patna. He’s the first dude I ever met at MTSU. It was a blessing for all of us. We were able to build on so many levels. Black Metaphor was having beats played on “Love N Hip-Hop” and getting these big placements. He was never able to just walk a nigga through the door, but he was throwing us some crazy beats at a very early time.”

As for football, Rikki’s career was cut unexpectedly short. His hopes of walking onto the team at MTSU ended when a drunk driver crashed into him, and with dreams of making it to the league dashed, Rikki had to find a new path.

“I stopped producing. Cold turkey. Never produced again a day in my life.”

More curveballs came Rikki’s way though. In a disastrous one-two punch, Rikki had his MPC stolen at the same time that his laptop broke down. His career as a producer stopped immediately, and he had to pivot to a path that did not require a computer or sampling equipment.

It sounds like horrible luck, but for Rikki, this event was a blessing. He found himself able to express his ideas in a way that he had felt unable to as a producer. Now that Rikki was on the other side of the track, he could work with beatmakers and rappers. It was more organic for Rikki to collaborate as an MC, and the tracks that came from working with his MTSU peers helped pave the way for his national following.

“My mom passed when I was a junior in high school, and so at that point, I felt like, I don’t think I wanna be here. I wanted to figure it out, or find whatever the fuck I’m looking for.”

Across all of Rikki’s releases, his mother remains a constant motivation. Rikki debuted his first project, XXXIII, on his 21st birthday back in 2013, and right from the intro track, listeners get an idea of the kind of passion that Rikki puts into his raps.

“My first project you saw it was called “Thirty-Three” and that was because my mom’s basketball number was 33. She played for university of Tennessee with Pat Summitt.”

Rikki delves into the pain of losing his mother while still conveying the confidence that Pleasant Grove taught him. In a genre where emotions are often masked by materialism, Rikki balances his ego with a unique sense of self-awareness, creating tracks that are amazingly candid while still far from bashful. One listen to “Hey Mama” reveals how much Rikki’s mother meant to him. She was the most important person in his life, and she remains his inspiration to succeed.

A year after his first project, Rikki found himself backstage at the 2014 SoundCloud Clubhouse, where Isaiah Rashad was performing alongside other TDE artists. In the greenroom, Rikki ended up chopping it up with Soundcloud’s Director of Content at a time when the streaming platform was not paying artists yet.

This connection proved extremely fruitful, and Rikki was invited to join the Soundcloud Creators program, the first opportunity for artists to monetize their music on the platform. With traditional revenue channels drying up across the music industry, this invitation provided Rikki with the financial freedom to continue pursuing his music career. SoundCloud even helped promote Rikki with their network, interviewing him for a piece about being an independent artist on their blog.

“I started living in a studio on Jefferson. I had $60 dollars and a one way ticket. I had been to New York, I did my own thing in Tennessee, been to Atlanta.”

These days Rikki resides in Los Angeles. When he’s not working on music, he’s growing his brand INFY. Although some of the faces have changed, Rikki still collaborates with his MTSU colleagues regularly. It’s not unusual to see tracks with Free P, Black Metaphor, D. Sanders, and Cody Jordan (ThankGod4Cody), but it’s also not unexpected to see Rikki do a track with Cardo as well.

For Rikki, it’s almost surreal being able to collaborate with producers that he admired before he was a rapper. Kush & Orange Juice was one of Rikki’s favorite projects, and working with producers like Cardo only reinforces how far he has come. The eclectic production across Rikki’s projects keeps his sound fluid and unconfined, but even so, Rikki’s talent as a lyricist connects all of his tracks.

It’s not superficial, but it’s certainly not backpacker material either. Rikki combines storytelling with woofer-thumping energy to create a sound that is brutally honest while still extremely confident. From hard-hitting tracks like “Jordan” to smoking songs like “Class Reunion,” Rikki Blu never fails to deliver. At 24, he has a discography that would make you think he has been rapping since 2008, and with the talent he has access to in Los Angeles, it’s exciting to speculate what major move Rikki will make next.

 
Nathaniel Heller