Rich Boy and the Alabama rap reign you probably missed
In the last full week of August, The Ringer celebrated the great U.S. region I've always called home with "The South Week." The Ringer staff and affiliated writers rolled out an impressive series of articles about The South, including pieces about Southern entertainment, culture and politics. They even tackled the oft-asked question: "Which states are actually Southern?" The series kicked off with a ranking of the best Southern hip-hop albums; a topic that I, coincidentally, have tackled in order to try and earn my salt.
I wasn't expecting many surprises on the list. But, I found many. And, though you might imagine the entries I found most shocking are the ones I disagree with, the album on the list that stood out most to me was in fact a wildcard I included in my own list of "Southern Hip-Hop albums that should have been classics."
At number 18 on the list, I was delighted to see Alabama rapper Rich Boy's self-titled debut. That was, until I read the commentary. The Ringer editor Chris Ryan gets right to the point when writing about the reasoning behind the potentially controversial inclusion, writing, "Rich Boy is not what makes Rich Boy important. I am really into his voice and flow, but that’s beside the point." Unfortunately, it looks like Ryan, like most fans missed what I consider to be one of the quietest kept rap reigns in the history of the Southern side of the genre.
In The Ringer article Ryan offers that instead of Rich Boy, himself, executive producer Polow da Don is album's star. He goes on to say, "Rich Boy was a canvas, and Polow da Don was the painter. And you can’t tell the story of Southern hip-hop without mentioning Polow da Don." It's an easy argument to make on the surface, but I disagree. Rich Boy's career is much more than a vehicle for his producer's success. It's a campaign that should be notable for a string of unrivaled consistency; even if the masses failed to pay attention.
It goes without saying that Polow da Don's impact on Southern rap is worthy of regarding his luminary status. In fact, I've gone as far as to explicitly say it before. His verse on "Rich Boy" lead single "Throw Some D's", a platinum seller, remains his most magnifying musical moment. But, his membership in the group Jim Crow is a footnote worth revisiting for fans of late '90s Atlanta rap. Similarly, his appearance as "male love interest" in the video for KP & Envyi's classic video for "Swing My Way" is an "Oh! I never noticed that was him" cameo that's only rivaled by Omari Hardwick in Floetry's "Say Yes" visual.
In 2007, after the wave of the infectious "Throw Some D's" wore away, I, like many rap fans, wasn't necessarily impressed with Rich Boy's follow-up single, "Boy Looka Here". The song's overpowering drums clutter the rapper's lyrics in a way that best exemplifies a point contrary to what Ryan proposed in his review of the album. At times, it feels like "Rich Boy", the album, is held back by the lack of attention to Rich Boy, the rapper. Polow's love for blasting bass and over-the-top samples can feel suffocating.
It's a point I've actually brought up directly to Rich Boy in one of our numerous conversations, since my move to his hometown Mobile, Alabama, in late 2015. I remember sitting in on a session of his in which he was offering mentorship to upcoming Mobile rapper, Pikasso. When confronted with the idea that Polow might have held back his major-label debut, Rich Boy, a man I've known to typically have a lot more to say than most people in the room, looked at me as if I had just cursed him out. He never really offered a response, other than a flippant, "You think so?"
My interest in Rich Boy's deeper catalog came from a post I read on the Hypebeast forums that championed the fourth single from his debut album, "Let's Go Get This Paper." A stripped-down version of Polow's signature bombast, the song finds Rich Boy switching from the flashy demeanor found on his first three singles to a more personal, raw emotional plea. The song's lyrics are rooted in the frustrations commonly found in reality rap tunes as the Bush-era came to a close. Rich's approach wasn't nearly as on-the-nose as Jadakiss' "Why" or Eminem's "Mosh". Here, he opts for a more metered approach, infusing the song with street intelligence, a surprise interlude from Pastor Mason Betha and clever turns of phrase like, "Preachers in the pulpit sit and preach that bullshit, say how we know it's bullshit? - same n*ggas I went to school wit." Before the song closes, we get a pastorly interlude from Ma$e and a church choir that accentuates the final measures of the composition.
Shortly after, Interscope released a remix to a similarly crafted solemn song from Rich Boy's album, "Ghetto Rich". On the remix, Rich Boy proves again that there is more than what meets the eye with abundant social commentary in his concise opening verse. Even more, he doesn't get buried by guest artists John Legend, Nas and a Lil' Wayne who was in the midst of his career-defining run of standout mixtapes and featuring appearances.
In 2009, Interscope released "Drop" begin the hype for an eventually aborted sophomore record on the label. Part "A Milli" clone, part Timbaland-esque bhangra banger "Drop" finds the producer-rapper combo at their peak powers. In the year's fourth-quarter, Polow and Zone 4 released the official soundtrack for LeBron James biographical documentary "More Than a Game." Rich Boy and Polow connected on the star-studded album one final time for the aspirational, "Top of the World."
While fans were awaiting a 2009 retail project, what they got was a series of mixtapes, beginning with April 2008 mixtape "Bigger Than the Mayor". With Rich's former producer nowhere to be found on the various projects, the bulk of the productions are instead handled by Gulfport, Mississippi, artist Supa Villain, who Rich Boy is credited with discovering. As Rich Boy and Supa Villain began to build a sound, several other mixtapes arrived in the years leading to Villains untimely death in 2014.
It's clear, with Supa Villain, the Alabama rapper hit his stride, extending his album's underappreciated pastiche into a half a decade worth of music most rap fans missed. To catch up, below is a break down of the most memorable songs from each of Rich Boy's major and minor projects, as well as a few loose ends you'd be better off throwing into your musical rotation.
"Bring it to the Block" (2006)
Best song: "I Kno You Heard It B4"
Notable songs: "Bring it to the Block", "Get Ta Poppin'", "Country Livin'",
"Rich Boy" (2007)
Best song: "And I Love You" ft. Pastor Troy & Big Boi
Notable songs: "Lost Girls" ft. Keri Hilson & Rock City, "Ghetto Rich" ft. John Legend, "Let's Get This Paper", "Throw Some D's" ft. Polow da Don
"Bigger Than the Mayor" (2008)
Best song: "Haters Wish"
Notable songs: "Ghetto Queen" ft. Lloyd & Trae Tha Truth, "Supafly" ft. 334 Mob, "Rollin' Rollin'", "Wrist out da Window" ft. Shawty Lo, "Out the Hood" ft. Yo Gotti & Starlito, "Chevy a Monsta"
"Pacc Man" (2009)
Best song: "Thank the Lord"
Notable songs: "Ferrari Motor", "Da Pacc", "High Designer"
"Kool-Aid, Kush & Convertibles" (2009)
Best song: "I'm in Love"
Notable songs: "Send for Me", "It's Over", "Come and Get Me" ft. Fiend, "Drop Top (Remix)" ft. Al Myte & Supa Villain, "Country Club"
"Gold Kilo$" (2011)
Best song: "Game Proper"
Notable songs: "Gold Kilos$", "So Slow", "Ghetto Boy"", "Cappucino"
Best song: "Wide Open"
Notable songs: "Gwap" ft. Trae Tha Truth, "Struggling" ft. Lowlife & Mambo
Outside his series of mixtapes, Rich Boy has released a several features and loose singles worth checking, as well.
- "Gutta Chick" - Trae Tha Truth ft. Rich Boy & Twista
- "Pharaohs and Kings"
- "Nights Like This" - Curren$y ft. Rich Boy & Tiny C Style
- "Must Hate Money" - Drake ft. Rich Boy
- "Sexy" ft. Yung Bleu
- "Hard Work" - Dom Kennedy ft. Rich Boy & Slim Thug
Frequent collaborator Supa Villain released an extensive mixtape catalog of his own before his passing. I recommend "Antwan Swisher" ("High Times" and "On 49") and "VILLrizon Wireless" ("Activation Fee", "Hotel Vouchers", "Bill Bellamy").