In 2009, sassy Baltimore Club MC Rye Rye, a then-recent addition to M.I.A.’s N.E.E.T. Recordings entourage, was set to release her debut album to an eagerly awaiting audience. Her work with Blaqstarr on earlier tracks like “Shake It to the Ground” and “Hands Up, Thumbs Down” (a version of which eventually morphed into M.I.A.’s “World Town”) promised witty dance-floor provocations, hometown pride, and off-the-cuff jokes set to the tune of sweaty, fast club music. But then, after an unexpected pregnancy, Rye Rye told her fans that they would have to wait just a little big longer. Three years longer as it turns out.
She’s spent the time well. Released on May 15, Go! Bang! Pop! (Interscope) has benefited from the rapper’s growing musical tastes, an arsenal of heavy-hitting producers, and the music scene’s current embrace of melting-pot, rap-meets-pop open-mindedness. Not to mention her budding stardom: Rye Rye acted in 21 Jump Street and launched her own brand of nailpolishes for POP, this year. But those are just the perks. What sells Rye Rye is Rye Rye — her schoolyard charm, sharp rhymes, and “I can do it all” state of mind. We spoke with her on the day of her album’s release.
Go! Bang! Pop! features so many big producers and collaborators: Pharrell, Diplo, Blaqstarr, Robyn, and Akon make appearances. How did you manage to keep your own style and voice while working with so many different people?
I feel like a lot of the other people catered to my style. They used my vibe and the type of stuff I was born for. I had my own personal connection with each of them. I had the most fun recording when I was originally recording with M.I.A. and Blaqstarr. When I was re-recording [some of the album’s material], it was different. I don’t know, it was just more chill, I think.
You’ve kept a lot of Baltimore in the record, both in production and lyrical references. Why was that important to you?
At the end of the day, I’m all about staying true to me. I’m all about staying true to who I am and where I’m from. My whole objective and goal is to expose Baltimore. I want to do that as much as I can.
Choreographed dance routines have kind of become synonymous with you and your style now. References to them show up throughout your album on tracks like “Shake It to the Ground,” “Rock Off Shake Off,” “Dance,” and “Shake Twist Drop.” Why is dance and club culture such a big part of your music?
When I came up, my first songs were about that. And I think that’s what first moved people and makes people feel drawn to me. Because my music was so grimey and street and had that minimal bass but was still hard-hitting. That’s what my fans loved and what they expected to hear from me. I feel like the songs that make people dance, at the end of the day, that’s what this is all about. Now they expect that from me all the time. It’s hard. It’s hard because I will make a different type of song and people will come back with like, “I want to hear something like ‘Shake It to the Ground.'” So there are ups and downs to it. Music nowadays, it wasn’t just really fun like that. With the new generation, I feel like we’re trying to bring the fun back to hip-hop.
When you talk about this “new generation,” I immediately think of a younger group of women like yourself and Azealia Banks that have been able to crossover between hip-hop and pop. Do you feel like you’re part of a movement of some kind?
I do feel like I’m a part of it. I don’t necessarily do pop music but there are certain instances of it. Like [single] “Boom Boom,” that will cross over into the pop world. All together, it’s like a big movement. Any female that makes fun music, that’s what they’ll become a part of. Because that’s what it looks like to the outside world looking in, that everybody becomes a part of it.
A lot of huge things have happened for you over the past few years. Considering you got into the game pretty young, did you find all the activity moves overwhelming on a creative front? What’s been the hardest part?
I don’t know. I feel like nothing was the hardest. Everything has been surreal for me. The only thing that was kind of hard was waiting for the record to come out. When I had my baby, that was a tough time for me because I had my heart set on putting this album out, but that ended up being more rewarding. You were on BET recently and LOGO’s “New Now Next” awards a week earlier. Is there a connection between your musical open-mindedness and your social and cultural open-mindedness?
Yeah, I really feel like I can do it all. That’s what it was like when I first came onto the scene too. I didn’t want to be classified into a genre or be known for the same things. That’s how it was at first, but now I’m like “I can do it all, so why not?” And it’s a big world with tons of different people who like tons of different stuff. If you can do it all then you have an advantage in this world. Go for it.
You have younger sisters and a kid, too. Do you feel pressure to be a role model?
Yeah. My first thing with myself is to be a role model. I mean, of course my music is grime. It’s gutter. It’s explicit. But my first job is to be a role model. Not even being an artist. I try to make sure that the first thing that comes out of my mouth, no matter what people are talking to me about, is positive. I’m trying first to be a role model and a good person.