Why Russ Belongs in the Top Three New School Conversation

at 4:42 pm | By
Russ performs at the Fitz's Stage during the 2017 Hangout Music Festival

Credit: Matt Cowan/Getty Images

I was reading a Billboard online article, and I came across a Russ interview. I’ve been a fan of his music for a while. A lot of people aren’t familiar with his work; If you haven’t listened to him, I recommend you check out his underground hit, “Exposed,” and his radio song, “Losin Control,” which shows not only his potential, but his versatility as an artist. In interviews, Russ can come across as seeking validation, or even being arrogant. So in the Billboard interview, I wasn’t surprised to read him say, “I’m just nasty at everything.” He then goes on to say:

My raps are 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.

While reading the article, I’m thinking, “this guy never stops bragging about how much he’s winning.” Equating the number of streams or plaques to success may sound preposterous, but as an avid listener of music, I can’t help but somewhat agree: Russ is, without a doubt, an incredible artist; But if we are discussing top three new school artists you have to throw Joyner Lucas and Logic in the conversation as well.
 I would never equate sales or plaques with talent because one can name a laundry list of rappers who had excellent skills but never had mainstream success, like Cormega, Ali Vegas or even Tragedy Khadafi. One can also name just as many rappers who sold but weren’t that talented, like Silkk the Shocker, Chingy, or Playboi Carti.

As far as having met the prerequisites for being a great emcee, Russ has. His lyrics, while not necessarily being the most skilled, have proven that he is more than capable with his rhyming ability. For example, on “Pull the Trigger” off his debut album, There’s Really a Wolf, he raps:

Yeah, why you believing the propaganda?/Why everybody sound like they want to be from Atlanta?/Are you the voice or the echo?/Are you the nail or the hammer?/I be talking while chewing my beats, I don’t mind my manners/Choruses that fit the opera, that’s why I need phantoms/I got my doubt at gun point, that’s why I need ransoms.

In the Billboard interview, he goes on to stunt by talking about making money and flying in private jets. I think if he had just a tad bit of humility, people sometimes would focus on his music opposed to his sometimes unlikable persona. It comes off as posturing and that Russ is seeking acceptance — which, I believe, he would get if he wasn’t so full of himself and let the music just speak for itself. However, it’s nothing wrong with being confident. But continually bragging and proclaiming artists such as J. Cole, Drake, and Kendrick Lamar are his only competition, he is only creating more dissonance in the industry from other artists and fueling more contempt. Russ’s music has the potential to be as good as the aforementioned artists, it’s just that those artists have way more likable personas.


Russ performs at the Fitz's Stage during the 2017 Hangout Music Festival

Credit: Matt Cowan/Getty Images

As crappy as Russ personality is in interviews, he is no doubt just as talented as the aforementioned emcees if not more. I’m basing that off of one official album, but keep in mind that he produced, wrote, and engineered There’s Really A Wolf. In the interview, he also claims that he is the Stephen Curry of rap. “Everyone was looking at LeBron and no one knew Steph was coming,” he told Billboard. He continued:

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 f**k it is, but the music is fire. I don’t give a f**k. The music is dope.

That’s a great analogy, considering Stephen Curry is a selfish player, who only cares about himself, but managed to win 2 NBA championships because he shoots whenever he gets an opportunity and doesn’t play defense. Regardless, if you haven’t been checking for Russ, you need to because whether you like it or not, this is someone who, if he keeps up the momentum, should easily be in those top three conversations. Here’s why:

Respect His Grind

Me and Scott Storch been makin a lotta 🔥

A post shared by Russ (@russ) on

Russ came up through a grind whereas, if you don’t like his music, you have to take note and respect the work that he’s put in to be in the position he’s been blessed with. For starters, he put out 11 independent projects before he even had a Soundcloud page — that in itself shows an incredible amount of faith. When he first got a Soundcloud, he was dropping a song a week for three years straight; That shows discipline and hard work. A lot of artists could learn a lot from Russ because he is an example of not giving up and persevering until you reach your goals. Also, when he finally did start buzzing, he didn’t take the first deal he was offered. He waited until he had leverage before partnering with Columbia.

Maybe the one thing a lot of people don’t like about Russ is that he is authentic in an industry full of haters. He’s addressed the fakery that goes on within the industry on “Exposed” and in a VladTV interview, where he calls out the illusions of the music industry. “Popping artists are broke,” he said. He’s bent on telling the truth in an industry that has been built on a lot of lies and illusions and it would only make sense that individuals who don’t want the truth to be exposed would have an issue with Russ. But this also endears him even more with his fan base. His story is not only impressive but its also inspirational, especially for struggling artists. He didn’t have a co-sign from a major artist, or a deal with a major record label or independent label initially (now signed to Columbia), or even a financial backer like Chance The Rapper. He was just in his basement, at home, recording songs and uploading them to Soundcloud and because of the quality of his music it organically spread. Even before he did an official album, he already headlined five tours. A lot of artists can’t sell out shows on their own, which is why you see so many artists on certain bills.

Russ, through the buzz of his music, has created a fan base where he can almost do a show anywhere on a map and sellout arenas. Don’t believe me, check out his recent Coachella performance. In addition to doing great live shows, his fans know the words to all of his songs, and he has really good music. It’s really motivational and not exactly your typical rags-to-riches story. Russ even references it in his music on tracks like, “I’m Here,” when he raps, “Last June I was broke/this June I made a hundred.”

His back story sounds almost too good to be true, like a Disney script. Even with accusations of him being an “industry plant” because of his fathers marketing status, the buzz for an artist hasn’t been this big since that Canadian Rapper signed with Cash Money; Which goes back to the issue of not needing a co-sign, considering J. Cole benefited from his Jay-Z endorsement, and Drake obviously from his alignment with Cash Money/Young Money. Even Kendrick Lamar benefited from a co-sign from Drake when he invited him on the Club Paradise Tour in 2012.

Russ has climbed to the top without any assistance and that is worth commending. Hip-Hop can be a clique-filled genre where sometimes artist who aren’t the best rhymers get placed on hit songs (remember Baby Bash?). However, Russ put himself on through hard work and dedication, and maybe that explains why he has such a huge chip on his shoulder. While he may not be winning any personality contests anytime soon, the music definitely shows that you need to put some respect on his name. He went Platinum with no features, which, in his school of emcees, is something that only J. Cole can claim. That’s kind of humorous considering so many people have been criticizing Cole for being boring with the release of his new album, KOD, and tackling important social issues in his music. Russ is the polar opposite, and while absent of a social message, his music definitely gives you some bangers for the car on your way home, and heartfelt love songs that are relatable. The last thing that Russ’s music will ever be called is boring, and I think that is a testament to his production and songwriting ability.

Haters

For every fan that Russ has gained, it would be safe to say that Russ is probably gaining two haters. For instance, in an old VladTV interview where Russ blamed the state of hip- hop on producers recently surfaced on Twitter, Metro Boomin decided to share a photo holding a sign that says “Russ is Whack.” Some of hip-hop’s biggest producers, including London on Da Track and Cardo, jumped in, in defense of their producer community. Atlanta producer, Southside, responded on Instagram Live, bringing up the biggest point that has been an obstacle for Russ’s career: “Don’t speak on black producers at all. And I’m gonna say this sh*t the last time, ’cause you’re not black. Don’t speak on black producers, bro…”

That raises a key point: The demographic Russ appeals to isn’t necessarily the same as Kendrick or Drake. And if we’re being completely honest, part of the reason Russ isn’t getting the respect that he deserves within the industry has a lot to do with race. To be honest, I’m not even completely sure of Russ’s ethnicity, but I do know that he isn’t black and that has been an obstacle in getting the acceptance that he desperately craves. The race issue isn’t solely to blame, as Russ does a good job of alienating people on his own. It’s no secret that many people in the industry have been rubbed the wrong way by something he’s said. During a 2017 appearance on Everyday Struggle, he called out Nadeska for being a liar. He also has his share of haters online, like any successful artist, and his tweets can take on a life of their own whenever he expresses his opinion.

As arrogant as he comes across in interviews, on social media he comes across as a true man of the people and someone who is gracious for the fans and position that he has been placed in. His I See You Tour, which starts towards the end of May, has dates through Canada, the East Coast, Midwest, and parts of the South. Russ is making the most of his momentum, and regardless of whether you acknowledge him for his contribution to pushing the genre forward, he is reaping the benefits of a successful artist. In hip-hop, we are accustomed to seeing artists come and go (whatever happened to Trinidad James?), however, if you and I were placing bets on artists who would be around in five years, Russ might not be a bad artist to place some money on.

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