May 03, 2017 4:27PM

Smoothest Rapper Russ Reflects On Ten Years In The Game

"Make what you think is cool and be persistent with it."

Russ is truly a one-man show. Rising out of Atlanta, he writes his own music, lays down his own beats and produces, mixes, masters and engineers everything. He also defies expectations of a hip-hop artist from the ATL with catchy melodies and lyrical hooks that will play on loop in your head for days. After independently releasing 11 projects over the last 10 years, Russ signed to Columbia Records last year and has just dropped his new album There's Really A Wolf. We caught up with "psycho confident" (his words) artist to talk about speaking the truth, superpowers and his very wise mum.

Darren Luk: Hey Russ. So this your first time in Australia, how are you liking it?
I love it! I was telling my manager that if this city was in America, I would live here. It reminds me of LA — downtown Sydney is like downtown LA and Bondi Beach is like Santa Monica.

How does it feel to have a sold out show in Sydney?
Super tight! And we could've done so many more people if we did an all ages show.

When did you realise music was your calling?
I don't know, I always felt like music was in me. I always tell people I don't think I got into music, music got into me. It was kind of a natural thing and I just kept doing it.

You take on so many roles — writing, producing, mixing, singing andrapping — what's the most challenging?
This is the thing, it's going to sound super fucking arrogant, but the music-making process is the easiest part of this entire thing. It really is, because it's the shit I've been doing the longest. A challenging thing would be learning how to not harp on all the negative shit that comes your way. There's no training for that, there's no class and there's no rubric for that. All that is learning as you go; you be seeing so much shit on social media or whatever and you be wanting to respond but you can't.

I'd imagine there would be so many internal conversations and arguments going on in your head.
No, you know what, it's kind of funny but I think when you're in tune with yourself, the chemistry between you and yourself is better than the chemistry between you and anyone else. Actually for me, it's so much easier to make a song when it's just me doing it — if I have to go and get a beat from someone else, I got to worry about that person's mix and that's when the conflicts happen… working with yourself is super easy.

Usually creative people feel the need to ask someone else's opinion.

Oh no, I'm psycho confident!

Where do you get that from?
I think my dad. I always say I get my confidence from my dad and my heart from my mum.

You've toured a lot, what's usually in your rider?
Water, a tonne of water.

Is there anything else you must always have?
Toothpicks! Mint/tea tree toothpicks, not just regular toothpicks. Do you want to try one?

Yeah okay, I'll try one.

Exactly, that's always the reaction. People are always thinking I'm chewing a toothpick to be a fucking shmuck.

This is...
It's a vibe — it's mint, it's tea tree.

So you've put out 11 independent projects over the last 10 years…

Yeah, I'm glad you got the number of albums right. You're probably the first person, most people are like, eight or nine.  

What keeps you going?
I think what inspires me to keep going is probably the same thing that makes it hard for me to stop, which is the insatiable desire to be better than myself. What inspires me to keep going is that I want to make a better song than what I just made. It's always like that because I think if you get to the point where you're like, "Alright, that's it!" and you can't make anything better than that, then you would stop. I just never feel like that. I'm always like, "Nah, I'm going to make something better than that". It's like a thirst I can't quench, it's probably going to be self-destructive in 20 years but it's good now.

Obviously you're musically gifted, do you have any other hidden talents?
Yeah, I can solve a Rubik's Cube super well.

Really? I wish we had one with us.
I usually take one around with me everywhere. I mean, it's in my bag, but it's not with me right now. I've been doing it since high school.

I feel like you've become a spokesperson forother independent artists, especially with your new 'Exposed' video. Why is it important for you to address that stuff?

I just think it's important to say the truth at all times. I think if you're not willing to stand up to say the truth, whatever it's about, then you're just part of the problem — you're just sweeping shit under the rug. So I just want to say the truth, and a lot of people are like, "Why are you keeping on saying this shit over and over?" Because it's the fucking truth! Like what do you want me to do, not talk about it?

What's the biggest misconception peoplehave about the music industry?
That labels are terrible. I use to have that, up until a year and half ago. Any artist that tells you labels are shit and labels are the worst, probably signed a shitty deal … My deal is fucking epic! Columbia has never told me shit about the music making process, I have a whole catalogue that they don't even touch.

There was a time when you released a song a week for almost three years on SoundCloud.
Oh yeah, it was like end of 2014, top of 2015 when I did that. I mean, I was still doing it last month, but it just slowed down.

I saw that you listen to Lil Wayne to get inspired.
Oh, that was in a line: "listening to Wayne to kill my writer's block". If you rap, and go listen to '07 or '08 Lil Wayne, it's like, if you don't feel inspired to rap after that, then I don't know…

So I know you're super close to your mum and she's a life coach?
Yea, she is a life coach.

What's the best advice she's ever given you?
Hmm... there's so many, every day.

What would she tell me, if I had to go to her for life advice?
You should call her! We should've brought her, she's at the hotel.

She totally should've come!
I think just be a good person and above everything do the right thing, and have integrity. It's so easy to do the wrong thing and be a shitty person, but don't intentionally try to hurt other people's feelings. My mum is very big on being a good person and making other people feel good. Oh, that's what she's always telling me, "Your job is to make people happy, and your job is to change people's reality".

When you were starting out, did you have other jobs?
Yeah, I had some funny jobs. I worked at a couple of restaurants. I was a busboy, bussing tables, which was super hilarious. I worked a shoe store, like, stacking shoes. That was hilarious because we had these walkie-talkies with earpieces that we used to communicate with other staff, and I figured out a way to hack the system so that it could plug in my iPod. So everyone else had earphones in listening to staff members and I would be listening to music the entire time. My manager would be coming up to me asking, "Do you not hear that I was calling you?" I was like, "I really didn't" [laughs].

What advice would you give to aspiring independent creatives?
Follow your gut. Make what you think is cool and be persistent with it.

If you were a superhero, what would your power be?
I want to teleport. I think the act of travelling sucks — having to spend 14 hours to get somewhere is, like, damn I wish I was there right now! Or if you want to meet your girl or instantly help somebody in need, teleporting would be fresh.

Who's on your radar to watch out for?
Rexx Life Raj is super dope and my best friend Bugus is going to blow up super huge.

How does it feel to be supporting Eminem in Glasgow later this year?
So epic. Have you seen the DMX and Rakim video? DMX meets Rakim and he's completely fanning-out going crazy. I'm probably going to have that moment with Eminem.

You need to video it when it happens. 
Yeah! If DMX isn't too cool to fucking fan-out then no one else is!

Agree, it wouldn't be real if you didn't.
Absolutely. Like, are you supposed to meet Eminem and be like, "What's up brah?"... I'm going to lose my fucking shit.

Describe Russ in 3 words.
Real life human. 

Words: Darren Luk
Photo: Courtesy