Fresh off the heels of his new album release, the homie Riz Self Made caught up with us to talk about his latest drop, Deaf Ears Blind Eyes, the “Self Made” movement that he’s pioneered, the follies of the music industry, and how our generation can become independent leaders. Get ready for some serious wisdom.
Heather: Riz you’re reppin’ Harlem right, in an area where so many have come before you — where do you get your inspiration from? Any Harlem rappers that you look up to?
Riz: Yep I’m from Harlem, NY. I mean I basically get my inspiration from more or less the big New York City rappers, those guys that took music and transformed it into a big brand: Jay, Puffy, 50 cent, to name a few. They took it beyond music and took it into the corporate world, those guys dealt with these same issues but took it to a new level.
H: I love that you’re all about taking it to the next level beyond the music itself. How did the “Self Made” movement begin?
R: See what actually happened is – years ago I just came up with this mentality, this whole “Self Made” mentality, because I just got tired of waiting for other people. A lot of people didn’t have the drive or push to be better or bigger than what they’re actually seeing in front of them. The whole motto for Self Made is “born alone, die alone, hold your own,” and that’s just what I’ve been living by this whole time.
So I’ve just been taking that momentum from all of these years and just growing and studying the music industry, as far as where it’s going, you know, studying the digital side of the music industry. I spend most of my time just monitoring what’s happening, I don’t really try to be out there too much. I watch the game evolve. Now I’m at a place where I see that we’re living in a digital era; people aren’t going to the stores to consume music anymore, people aren’t watching TV in their houses, people aren’t on computers – they’re physically consuming things from their cell phones.
The Internet is so powerful that I just retracted from trying to become mainstream; I was getting so much resistance in the mainstream! Those guys were basically trying to protect their position. They would do records with me, but they wouldn’t do videos with me. And so it was like ‘well if you can do a record with me, why can’t you do videos with me’? Haha. They basically forced me to become more of an independent person and I started reading books on branding and social media marketing. So I basically started applying that knowledge to the following that I already had, and here we are talking. It’s like everything that I’m doing is just based on being digital. I don’t have a team; I do all of my marketing alone. And it’s working.
H: So, most people know you from your song with Drake, “Waiting Up.” How did that partnership come about? Do you consider that your big break?
R: Matter of fact what happened was…two years ago, before he actually broke out to be the big star that he is, we met. And we met because at the time I was connected to a company by the name of Diamond District Entertainment; they were my investors at the time. We actually went out to dinner and we spoke and I asked him ‘how does it feel to be in this moment?’ This was right before his first album was coming out; it was a really cool experience for me as an up and coming artist.
We kicked it and we basically grew a relationship through the investors. The investor was always pushing my music onto other artists, and he gave Drake some music and Drake actually liked a record that I did and that’s how it started. So, when it was actually time for us to do the record, the investor called me and was like ‘yo, Drake’s gonna email over some records and we’re gonna get them done.’ That was like real cool to me, I was happy about it because at the end of the day, I was still an up and coming artist. On the first day it dropped it got like a hundred thousand views, and it started to spread on the Internet. The next thing you know my video comes off of Youtube, and it says ‘taken down by Drake.”
And I’m confused like why is my video taken down? It was my record, they paid $50,000 for the record, I don’t really know what’s going on. Next thing you know the record is put back on Youtube and boom, the whole world knows me. That was my big break. People always want to know why I have all of these big records, with all of these big artists, but I don’t even have a record deal. Like, why I’m not even being considered to have a record deal. But then they see newcomers coming in ¾ months in the game, and boom this guy has a record deal, he’s all over the Internet. People are confused as to why I’m getting so much resistance from the industry.
I have guys that take the titles off of my mix-tapes and turn them into their albums, trying to steal the whole Self Made movement and run with it. So much has been taken from me publicly because my voice was minimal. But now that my voice is getting stronger, people can’t take from me anymore, so yeah that record [with Drake] basically broke my career to be independent, to not to have to deal with a record company.
R: Yes, I’m completely anti-mainstream because I don’t appreciate the way they tell people to listen to what they want them to listen to. They’re not giving people the actual choice. When you listen to the radio it’s the same redundant songs over and over again and now mainstream artists can’t even sell records because record sales are poor since the substance of the music is poor and the visuals are poor. Everybody’s doing the same thing: standing in front of a camera with cars, jewelry, and girls.
And it’s not helping anybody because all they’re doing is telling everybody to take drugs, use drugs, sell drugs – and all of that stuff is only hurting my generation. If you listen to the people who are actually perpetuating this in their music, they’re in their 40′s! Carrying on like they’re in their 20′s and they’re manipulating these kids that are growing up consuming this music.
There’s a lot of things in mainstream music that I don’t think is helpful to today’s generation; they’re not trying to show kids that they can be generation leaders, it’s like they’re trying to keep the generation down. I’m anti-mainstream because I believe that you can be independent artist and make it, you can be an entrepreneur and make it, you don’t have to do it the way that other people told you to do it. You don’t have to have a major corporation behind your music that’s going to flip your image and your messages. That was my problem, I couldn’t fit the image of what they wanted me to be. I want to show kids to stay away from this; read books, and educate yourself before you jump into this business with just a dream. I’m just trying to bring the kids closer. I want to be able to speak to them instead of just rap to them.
H: Were there any specific influences or inspirations on the album you just dropped, Deaf Ears Blind Eyes? What’s your favorite song on the album?
R: The inspiration behind it came with me being at 7 or 8 major labels this year with my record and it was almost like they were deaf and couldn’t hear. “Like, what does it take for an artist to make it? The music is good, the image is there, the person is of quality, what is it that this situation is lacking?” I took that energy from those people at the industry that were telling me that I couldn’t do it and used it as my fuel. Deaf Ears Blind Eyes. My manager and I came up with it because we couldn’t understand why I couldn’t get a shot.
My favorite song right now would be People’s Choice. It explains what’s going on. I have people reaching out to me, skyping me, I’m texting them giving them pointers, they’re rooting for me, and I’m the people’s choice. That’s how I feel and right now that’s the best song to me on the album, People’s Choice.
H: There are tons of features on the album — can you talk a little bit about your relationship with Fab or other artists that you feature?
R: The song with Fabolous is 2 years old, it was actually getting tons of radio play last summer. A lot of the relationships I’ve had with these artists weren’t really genuinely about my music and that’s always been a problem for me. I’m at a point in my life where I like to see who likes me for me not because I’m paying them or they’re going to get a watch or a chain or something from my investors.
H: What do you think about all of the songs and artists that are out now? Do you have any advice for upcoming artists?
R: It’s not about the music at all. If you look at it you’re seeing the same faces in each video: Drake, Rick Ross, Lil Wayne, etc., all of these guys are standing next to each other and that’s how they’re keeping other people from getting in. Now you have major label artists putting out mix-tapes like they’re underground! These guys are basically killing the independent artists. Now blogs want you to pay $700 to post music on there or $5000 for a skin and we can’t afford this. I’m confused like, where is this music going? I’m just tired of seeing people being taken advantage of. These kids are spending $5,000 on a dream that’s never going to happen. So the industry tries to ban and keep out who ever and they bully all the time.
H: I think that you leading by example is going to change that. What’s one thing you want your fans to know?
R: Be yourself at all times and never compromise your integrity for money. Be Self Made, be independent, be entrepreneurs, because a lot of kids that graduated school aren’t getting jobs that they got degrees in.
H: Seriously! Self Made…there’s this quote by E.B. White that I love. He says, “Luck is not something you can mention in the presence of self-made men.” In talking to you, I can tell that “Self Made” is way more than an adjective that was just slapped on.
R: That quote is just so me, it’s all about being in line with the universe. I don’t believe in luck I believe in me being intact with myself and my inner being, letting things happen as they should, working hard to be a better person every single day. At the end of the day no one can speak for me or push me or promote me the way that I can do it. I read a lot of books. I’ve read The Secret and other books and it’s all about being in line with the universe. Being hands on in every facet of your career ‘cause it’s imperative in your growth and just having that knowledge is just important. Where I come from a lot of people have given up. I’m not rich. I work hard every day like everybody else. Other people are watching it happen and it’s inspiring to them because they know my struggle. I feel like this is my purpose and I’m just walking a path that’s already been paved.