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RIOTUSA on Ice Spice, Clearing Samples, and Influencing NY Drill

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Straight up, Ice Spice "Name Of Love" is my pick for the song of the summer. It's addictive, and such a fresh sound for NY drill. So I got on the horn with its producer, RIOTUSA (son of Hot 97's DJ Enuff), and talked about beats, rhymes and life. It was a quick chat but should give you some background on an artist you're going to hear a lot from in the future, who on one hand is just getting started, but on the other hand has been building something gradually and carefully with Ice Spice, wisely putting their relationship at the center of making a unique sound together –– which incidentally is also a lot about relationships.

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So you just graduated right? Where did you go, and what did you study?

Facts, yeah I just I just graduated. I was going to SUNY Purchase, it’s kind of an art school, and I was doing communications but I was mostly undeclared through my time there. The last year or two I decided. Lowkey I went just to go, and they had studios and shit like that, so I spent lots of my time there in the studios with people who were in the music system. But I didn’t really take music courses myself, I was just there, trying to meet people and trying to make connections. That’s actually where I met Ice. She dropped out, but we met in freshman year. She was a communications major first. So just taking basic courses, we crossed paths. We ended up getting introduced by a mutual friend but we had classes together. Intro to Communications, same class.

And you’re from the Bronx?

Yeah, facts.

What kind of hardware/software do you use to make beats?

I first started when I was 10, fucking around on laptops. I’m an only child so I had a lot of time to play around with programs growing up. I used Garageband, putting together loops. But when I was 15 I actually got Reason, and that was the first DAW I used. When I was 16, I got hip to FL Studio, which I had to crack on the MacBook –– it was all glitchy and shit. But I’ve been using it ever since, that’s my main DAW to this day.

What’s your story with music? Did you take piano lessons, is your family musical, what’s your backstory?

My pops is a DJ so I was always around music, all types, soul, R&B, hip-hop… My mom was into music too, she had a job in the music industry when I was a baby. She put me onto other types of music, like alternative, rock, stuff like that. Growing up I had a pretty vast palette of music to listen to. When I was eight I took drum courses for a month. I think that’s why my drums are hard to this day, because that was my foundation.

Did your dad have a DJ name?

DJ Enuff on Hot 97, that’s my pops. Shout out to him.

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Do you feel like you’re part of a music community, or are you just out here solo dolo?

I feel like I started off solo dolo but now it’s a community thing. There’s a whole lot of talent coming out of the Bronx, and I’ve been connecting with a lot of my peers. Like chrissaves, A Lau, EMRLD, Goldin…I would say there’s a community. I would say that with me and Ice, the origins of everything, was definitely dolo vibes. But I’m open to working with people if it makes sense.

Are there any people in the NY music community that mentored you, or have been particularly supportive?

Yeah, definitely A Lau, shout out A Lau. Two three years ago when drill was getting popping, his beats with the Bizzy Banks shit inspired what I got going. And when he hit me up, earlier this year, he immediately let me into the studio, let us collaborate with the people he’s around, helps me with placement opportunities, a really cool guy, cool to talk to. He looks out for people. He stuck his hand out, definitely.

I interviewed him for BRICK last year and we talked about how he basically A&Red 26AR and Rocko Ballin, and now they’re both signed to majors, so what he’s doing is working.

He’s definitely the heartbeat of the city. Shout out to A Lau.

I love Name of Love and No Clarity. How do you get your drums to hit so hard?

Honestly for me simplicity is key. Knowing where to put the kicks. Always have to have a hard kick, hard 808. I like having sounds that can mesh together well, sharp hi-hats but I space them out. I space out the rhythm. I don’t really like using – I’m not gonna say the traditional drill drums, because I have influences from that too – but I try and keep my shit a clean sharp sound, that cuts through speakers, cuts through a phone, cuts through a laptop. And match that with a nice sample, or an original melody I made. But I always make sure the drums are carrying the track.

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Do you feel like people buying drums or sample packs waters down production?

Nah I don’t think so, I think producers should be able to get their bag and get their creativity out. Do whatever you need to get that sauce. I thought about doing a drum sale, it’s something I’m considering. You gotta keep up and know what’s hot. I get all my kits off reddit for free. If you wanna buy somebody’s shit though, go ahead, let’s support each other.

But do you feel like that marketplace leads to beats that sound the same, because everyone’s using the same stuff?

Nah, I think what makes a good beat is the creative behind it. It’s all about how you freak it. What are you going to bring to the table? How is your melody different? If it’s the same drums, how is the artist bringing it alive? At the end of the day it’s the creativity of the producer, how are you able to take these sounds to the audience in a way that’s new. That’s what separates a good producer from just a beatmaker.

Are you a fan of Bebe Rexha and Zedd? Is that what you’re naturally listening to, or were you looking for a certain type of sample?

Yeah, nah, facts, when I was 12 thats when the original Clarity came out. Foxes’ voice was super dope, shout out Zedd, I heard he’s a fan of the record. We’re actually in the works of clearing that record right now. Shout out Zedd. I definitely fuck with that sound. In the early 2010s, that was the staple sound. So to bring it back a decade later is dope, to give it a twist on some New York shit.

How important is clearing samples?

When we first dropped these songs, we didn’t clear it. It’s a risk, but I feel like you gotta just do it and worry about that shit later. Because you never know how big the song could get. Even if it gets taken down, if it makes a cultural impact, you still had your footprint there. You can always clear it later, or switch the beat out later. And if you’re not gonna sample this song, someone else is, so you might as well just do it. It keeps it fun and keeps it interesting. It’s good to hear familiar songs rebirth again. If someone sampled my song, fuck it, a new audience heard my shit. That’s how I look at it.

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Why do you think you and Ice Spice click so well?

We’re just from the Bronx. Our whole clique at the time at school was people from the Bronx. She wasn’t making music yet when I met her. When I found out she could rap, i was like, Yo you should really take this shit serious. She was like, Yeah? I was like, Yeah. She was like, Give me a beat then! I’m not gonna lie the first couple beats I sent to her, the drill wave wasn’t really a thing yet, and I didn’t know what the fuck to send her. I was sending her shitty 30-second beats, not shitty, but you know I didn’t know what to send. But when Sleepy Hallow and Sheff G started to come out, that Brooklyn wave, then I had something to base the sound off of. Because I knew that was the sound she was trying to go into. So I started sending her beats directly for her. As I was growing, she was growing, and we just kept it in-house and are growing together. She’s the one that told me to sample In the Name of Love, so it’s definitely a collaborative process.

What do you appreciate about what she brings to the table?

When it comes to rapping, I respect how she’s not afraid to be vulnerable. We’re in the drill scene where people wanna be tough, people wanna portray an image, but Ice keeps it relationship based, keeps it about her life, shit she seen growing up. Without having to flaunt gangs she’s not part of, or show shit. And her tone of voice is different. But she’s not afraid to say something to catch people’s attention, but that isn’t totally false to who she is as a person. Image wise, she’s very marketable, clean image, she’s beautiful. It all works together. A year ago, we knew it was going to get to this point, but we’ve been working for a whole year, because you have to form something together. She had to learn my strengths, I had to learn her strengths. When No Clarity came out, I was like, ok this seems like a formula that’s one step close to what the Ice Spice sound could be. Sample, hard drums, relationship based lyrics, shit that’s relatable. She’s relatable and bringing a new voice for the women. Not just women, for everyone.

Interesting. I can see how you came back with Name of Love and just hammered what worked, and struck gold again.

Exactly. That sound is slowly leaving its mark for the women in New York right now, influencing the new shit that’s coming out. From guys, too. I’ve been seeing way more shit about relationships and trust issues in the drill scene. I know she’s leaving her mark. That’s what we wanna do, influence, inspire, leave our mark in the city.

Is it common in drill for there to be these strong producer/rapper relationships?

I feel like from the surface it might seem that there are duos out here. What makes it different for us, a lot of the biggest drill songs that past few years you can look it up on YouTube and get the same exact beat. Which, that’s cool, that method can help blow up a song. We saw it with Shake It, shout out Elias Beats. Between everyone else and Ice and I, you can’t get my beats like that. I don’t really sell beats, I got like 10 up on my store. I’d rather build with an artist and build a sound. You got the 26ARs and the A Laus, but there aren’t too many duos that are exclusive. I would say it’s pretty rare. It’s good to have someone you can trust creatively, and ask, What do you think about this?

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I’m sure you have a lot of people wanting to sign you, and give unsolicited advice about where to take your career. What are your own goals though?

Facts. I just want to make hits. Before I locked in with Ice I was making my own music, and I still have 100 songs I haven’t released yet. But I’ve been focusing on Ice’s EP right now. But for myself, I want to make good music, make good beats, help Ice, release my own shit, stay creative. Never look back. Get out the Bronx, get out the city, and travel the world. See new things and know that I did it off something that I love to do.

Have you ever performed?

Yeah when I was 16 i did some show in Canal Street, forgot who was on it, I think it was like Five Finger Posse…it was underground shit. That was my solo shit. But last week Ice and I did a SoundCloud event, and I was her DJ. I was on the mic and everything, we had a whole routine. We got more shows on the way, a lot of these shows are last minute as fuck. Last month B-Lovee hit up Ice to do a show the day of, drove to Boston the same day. A lot of this music shit I realize it’s not organized, you gotta be willing to go with shit on the fly.

As a fan of rap in general, what are some trends that you’d like to see go away?

Taking the same lines. People copy and pasting the same lines. Be a little original with the lyrics, people be copying and pasting the smallest shit. Lowkey, especially with the drill shit, a lot of shit be sounding the same because of that. When Pop Smoke came out everyone wanted to sound like Pop Smoke. Now that the Bronx got it everyone wanna sound like Flock. Gotta be original, how you can.

What do you think about drill long term, is it a permanent part of rap now?

Yeah. Every year they say drill’s dying but every year it gets bigger and bigger. It’s international, and been here since Chicago. It’s gonna be here. I feel like there’s more evolution possible within drill, too. I think there could be more people like Fivio, mainstream artists whose records are predominantly drill. Gunna and Lil Baby have gotten on drill records as features, but imagine if they had drill records on their own. And for smaller artists like Ice, I wanna see her on the top, as a top girl. Her being able to get closer to that every day, is bringing drill to a bigger place.

Who are your top five producers?

Kanye, Tyler, the Creator, Wheezy, ATL Jacob, and myself. For real for real.

Top five rappers?

Kanye, Tyler, Jay-Z, Biggie and Ice Spice. Gotta keep it home team! I honestly only listen to her music, deadass. If you listen to her lyrics, she be saying some shit!

And she introduced me to the word “smoochie.” That’s what she should call her fans, like Nicki has Barbies…

That’s facts, that’s a marketing play right there.

That one’s free.

Nah facts, ha ha.


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