Russ, The Wild Card #TopProspects
When we announced our new Top Prospects, I stressed that the series wasn't about predicting who will blow up next. If we were trying to do that, we'd take a look at what's currently popular, find all the artists doing something similiar, figure out which ones are the most connected, and call it a day. But that's not music, that's the stock market.
Instead, we're far more interested in artists we're frankly not sure will ever "blow up," at least in the cliched sense, because no one's ever really done what they're doing. (Although it should be pointed out, the biggest stars tend to be the ones who shatter the mold.) So Russ may someday be playing to sold out arenas, he may not. We didn't select him because we're predicting he'll one day go platinum, we picked him because he's so unpredictable.
What does Russ' music sound like? It's hard to say. He's sings, but he's not a singer. He raps, but he's not a rapper. He produces, but he's not a producer. Or rather, he's all of those things all the time. As he explained when we spoke, he was raised in a household largely filled with classic rock and R&B, from Boston to Earth, Wind & Fire, and the melodies in that music remain ingrained in him today.
"I was always heavy on melody, even in hip-hop. A lot of people don't hear that even when some artists are rapping, they're always in the key of the music. 50 does it every time, Eminem does it, Cole does it, Drake does it, Cudi does it. Those people are always on top of the game because they sound the best, sonically. The best rappers, the ones that really do it, are the ones who sound the best musically. Just rapping isn't a universal language, but music is a universal language."
Describing an artist's sound as universally melodic has to be infuriating for those who need their artists neatly labeled. Never fear though, while I've failed to clearly define Russ' music, maybe I can help those uneasily searching for a box to place him in by detailing where he's from. After all, this is hip-hop, a genre obsessed not only with what city a rapper is from, but what block, what corner.
Unfortunately, I've got some more bad news for those obsessed with definition; you're not going to be able to figure out who Russ is in relation to the addess on his driver's license. Although the vast majority of his music, and the music he's made with his DIEMON crew, has happened in Atlanta, it doesn't particularly help to think of him as an Atlanta artist or as a part of any scene.
"People ask where I'm from and I don't know what to say. When they ask that, they ask so they can put a box on you. 'Oh, you're from Atlanta, you were raised in the South, you sound like this.' But no, I was just raised by my parents, and my parents are from New York and New Jersey. If anything I'd say I was mentally raised in the North, with that mindset. Even that though...I don't like saying I'm from anywhere. I'm just from the universe."
So how is an artist with no easily defined sound and no easily pinpointed geography supposed to make it in an industry obsessed with both? For most artists it would be a problem that a major label A&R would advise them to fix immediately, but Russ doesn't need fixing and he certainly doesn't need the approval of an A&R. All he really needs is himself. That's all he's ever needed.
"It's just about crazy self belief, like delusional self belief. As Will Smith said in this one interview, to be successful you have to be delusional, because you have to believe in something that's never been done before. That's why every song, every beat I've made, from my first to my most recent, I think it's the greatest beat in the world. And if I could go back and talk to me during those first beats I would laugh my ass off, because now I know they were terrible, but that delusional belief that I was the greatest is what made me keep making music, that's made me love this and keep going."
Ultimately, it's that passion, that self-belief that has us believing too. When an artist is trying to become the latest version of someone else, they inevitably only end up becoming no one. Russ is far to unpredictable to allow us to make any predictions about his future, but we can guarantee that Russ will continue to make music for as long as he's breathing, and if you're the kind of person who wants more of the unexpected in your life, you can keep up with all of his music right here and follow @russdiemon.
[Nathan S. is the managing editor of The DJBooth and a hip-hop writer. He also occasionally talks in podcast form and appears on RevoltTV. His beard is awesome. This is his Twitter.]