This piece ties in to a podcast I recorded with Rucka Rucka Ali, available here.
For our final interview of 2017, we invited Rucka Rucka Ali to speak to us about his creativity and craft. Since 2006, Rucka has carved out a significant legacy as the internet’s most offensive parody artist. In his music, he often makes use of racial stereotypes and observations. All too often, and erroneously, his songs are accused of racism. In fact, his output is a cleverly constructed dissection of the culture politics we all drown in. They’re also incredibly funny, with a “no holds barred” attitude that starkly contrasts the safe-space mindset of modern liberalism.
For most of his career, Rucka Rucka Ali used the bravado of his character as a smokescreen; obscuring the reality of his everyday personality. Over the past year, he’s made a conscious effort to wave away some of that smoke. Through several expansive interviews, podcast appearances and commentary videos, Rucka has widened the parameters of his persona in some surprising ways. His thoughts on philosophy and politics have come more to the forefront, without the cipher of hyperbolic rap to obscure them. It’s been a refreshing and intriguing change of pace, and a final, obvious proof of his intellectual leanings.
Following that trend, his conversation with us at Secret Cave is both personable and dense. In just under an hour, he discusses the process behind his parody, his background in both music and comedy, the use of the internet and more. His insights are as compelling as they are numerous, proving that the inspiration behind his provocative material is deeper than many assume. You can hear our talk in full by clicking here, or on the YouTube embed below. Alternatively, scroll down for some selected transcripts of the interview.
What got you started off with music? With it being your main source of content, I’m interested in your background and beginnings.
I always loved music. I started playing guitar when I was twelve, and played in a couple of bands as a teenager. Then, [I] started doing comedy rap. In 2005/2006, I started messing around. Like, [I] officially posted a track onto Myspace in 2006. It was November of 2006, so we just passed the eleven year anniversary. Congratulations everybody, let’s smoke some crack!
I guess that’s the background; I’m not classically trained or anything. I’m not super knowledgeable with reading music, or anything like that, but it’s a passion.
Has there been anything besides the rap and parody over the years? I heard you express in another interview that you once wanted to be a rock star.
I played in a couple of bands in high school, and I was kinda hoping that would go somewhere. But, never as an adult; never played any other type of music. Although I guess, at this point, I’m doing parodies of rock songs, so I’m basically… I do all different types of music, but it’s typically a parody. Or not! My albums have certain songs on them, I think, that are not parodies and their genre blends.
So, was there ever a young Rucka who wrote songs as opposed to beats and production?
Yeah! If you were to ask me back then, [when I was a teenager], I would have told you rap sucks and that I’m punk. I had this very “Us vs. Them” mentality. Y’know, there’s punk and there’s rock, and fuck everyone else. So, it’s funny. White people always try to tell me that [they] grew up listening to Public Enemy. Then, black people are always like, “Yo man, I like Blink-182!”.
I have, like, one song. It’s instrumental, it’s just on guitar, and it’s meant to be, I think, just a musical piece with no vocals on it. I only know it by heart, it’s not recorded anywhere. I was a teenager and I always would go back and work on it a little bit, into my early twenties. Maybe someday… Maybe someday the world will hear it!
Your comedy, and the parody and playfulness of it, is very much a conscious part of the character. Was this always the case?
Yeah, I would say so. Once parodies became what I do, it’s almost always gonna be comedy. I love parodies. I used to always make them up as a kid. Like, as a teenager, I would always, every time I’d hear a song, start changing the words. To me, it’s like you get to show what this song could have been. You get to write it in a way that still rolls off the tongue, and still sounds like those lyrics belong there. So, it’s more than just throwing words over the music.
There is an art to it. I realise not everyone thinks what I do is art. I get that. I’m not even saying it is art, but there’s an art to it. It is a genre, it is a type of craft.
Why wouldn’t someone consider it art?
The definition of art can be a little bit tricky at times. So, if you look at a wallpaper that has a certain pattern, would you call that art, or is that just a decoration? The definition of art can vary, so I guess that’s what I meant.
I think what I do is art, because it’s musical and then it stylises the world. It, kind of, presents reality with a certain twist.
Were some of the more thoughtful and contemplative aspects of your music deliberate from the beginning, or did they evolve in the process?
Maybe, in some cases, there’s explicitly a point. But, for the most part, it really just is funny to me. Like, “Here’s what I thought would be funny to say”. Once there’s a theme selected, the lyrics need to revolve around that.
So, if we’re doing [What Does the Fox Say?], What the Black Says is, to me, the obvious parody for that. Then, every line [and] every lyric needs to be consistent with that. You can’t do that half-assed. You can’t compromise whatsoever. It needs to be the most bold presentation of that theme possible, or else it’s an abortion; an insult to the integrity of the composition. So, as you can see, there is a very strict discipline that goes into these!
A lot of your output tends to use the internet as a platform, be it through YouTube, iTunes, Spotify or so on. How would you have put yourself across, and constructed your character, without the internet?
I think I would still push boundaries; I would, maybe, try to be like Howard Stern. He always would get in trouble for “going there”. I wanted to be like Adam Carolla, like I wanted to complain, rant and be over-the-top and hyperbolic. You do have to take into consideration what’s acceptable when you have a boss; when you’re on the airwaves.
It’s hard for me to really imagine that, because I lived in the age of the internet. I grew up with chat rooms, where everyone’s swearing at everyone. So, to me, being offensive with no filter was a legitimate form of expression that I always wanted to turn into an art-form. In a strange way, what I’m doing now is packaging and commercialising the “shitposting” culture of the early internet.
How much do you consider the criticism you might receive when creating something deliberately offensive?
[It] depends on the context. When it comes to being offensive, I think I’m pretty much numb to that; you know, people calling me racist or whatever. At this point, I don’t even notice it’s happening anymore.
Recently, I’ve been talking about ideas. I’ve, sort of, let my guard down [and] been out in the open, talking about what I truly believe. That, to many people, is much more offensive. Once you enter the world of ideas, especially when it brushes with politics (although politics are not my main focus)… I’ve always known, that’s like a whole new world of hate and hostility that I’m entering into.
I think that I was bracing myself. Part of what took me so long to get into that world was not wanting to deal with that hostility. I’ve been learning as I go. Me getting into the world of commentary really is just about me speaking my mind [and] getting things off my chest. Like, if it’s passing through my head, I might as well just say it and see how it sounds!
I’ve noticed an element of sheepishness in your recent commentary videos (available through his Rucka Reacts channel) that I wouldn’t have expected.
I don’t think I’m coming at it from the point of an entertainer. To me, it really is just about the content of the ideas that I’m explicitly saying. There’s elements of entertainment; I’m getting more lighthearted and I’m having more fun the more I go. But, it’s just so different.
Part of the sheepishness might be that I’m not used to being on display, and I’m not used to just giving my opinion. Who knows if there’s some deep-seated, psychological shame from a long time ago that’s coming to [the] surface? Like, who knows? But, also, what it is is that these are very unpopular ideas.
What I’m expressing, when I talk about Ayn Rand, is radically different from both the left and the right. What I’m talking about here is just such a tiny, niche audience that would agree with me. I know enough about the world to know how unpopular these opinions are, so I think that’s part of it.
Was there a clear point when you decided to open up the character of Rucka Rucka Ali a little more with these commentaries and interviews? For me, I first noticed it in your appearances on The Best Debate in the Universe.
Doing that podcast got me to break character. The first couple of times I was on that show, I was doing the whole over-the-top, shouting thing. Then, I think when Benghazi came up, I just got really pissed and started talking about how the government has one job, and that’s to protect us. To minimise what happened at Benghazi just pissed me off so much. From then on it was just, “We’re here to talk philosophy and politics”. Definitely, going there was like a gymnasium, where I learned a lot.
Watching guys like Sargon [of Akkad] and the journey he was on… I really wanted to talk to him. So, I ended up giving him a book; The Ominous Parallels, which he read. Then, I wanted to talk to him about it [and] I wanted to talk to him on YouTube. So, we had that podcast and it’s like, “Why stop here? Let’s go further!”.
I heard Jordan Peterson say something that I disagreed with, and I thought to myself, “You know what? Instead of just thinking it, and just dwelling on it, why not just say it? Why not record myself talking about it?”. Of course, with each one it got more and more personal and extravagant. The editing, the post-production, became more and more extravagant. It’s still not a giant production, but it’s clear at this point that I’m taking it more seriously.
Would you say this transition within Rucka Rucka Ali’s character is something you planned out, or was it accidental?
Everything’s, kind of, an accident! If you just follow your inspiration, and you go where you’re uncomfortable going, you can never project where it’s going to take you. The original plan was just to do music, and be like Ali G. You know, be like Borat. Be, like, always on; never let anyone see who’s behind the scenes.
I used to do a podcast, many years ago now, which was, like, half in-character. It was frustrating, because I had a lot to say but I couldn’t really quite say it, unless I made it “gangster”. So, you know, enough is enough. It’s time to just be me.
At this point, we’re a decade into this. The original fans, a lot of them, have grown up themselves. I probably have fans that have kids that, in a few short years, are themselves going to be getting on YouTube and looking for entertainment. You’ve got to evolve. You can’t just stick with this two-dimensional type of gig. You got to go where’s uncomfortable, if you’re inspiration is taking you there. So, I feel pretty good about where it’s going.
The Rubin interview was, sort of, the epitome of that. It was like, “I’m not here for any theatrics. I’m really here to just give you my opinion”. And, as it turned out, it was a little bit theatric, because that’s me. Anything you’re afraid to do, just do it. That’s what I say.