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Ed. note: Less than two weeks after we conducted this interview, Rx Papi was arrested. You can support him and his team by purchasing a T-shirt and his new EP here. Tickets for his upcoming show in Brooklyn are on sale now.
UPDATE: Pap has been bailed out.
Rx Papi is pacing around a Manhattan studio, listening back to a verse he just laid over a bustling No Limit / Veeze type beat. He’s got on a thick Dawg Shit Records chain, a gold grill and frames, crisp white AF1s and a navy blue Yankees hat. An engineer is mastering Pap’s vocals on the spot. Pap sounds hungry, energized.
It’s Pap’s third day out after a year-long stint in an upstate New York prison for a robbery charge. These next few days, he’ll hole up in various studios, scour the internet for beats and get as many ideas to tape as possible. When I ask Pap how he picks beats, he cracks a smile and raises his blunt, then his double cup. After a pause, he mumbles, “Whatever mood I’m in.”
On his last album, the barren Foreign Exchange, released November 2021, Pap rapped over a pack of beats from Gud, of Yung Lean’s Sad Boys. The more internet-fried experiments that have emerged from the Pap-Neph crossover have been shaky (see: Rxk Nephew’s underwhelming dance tape Slitherman Activated). Not this one. Pap had previously dotted songs with shards of his unforgiving past, but something about the Swede’s production unlocked a new side of him. Cold and cavernous, this tape contains Pap’s most chilling introspection and vocal takes; every punch-in seems to rattle through a frigid tunnel. The devastating opening track “12 Stout Street” somehow packs a lifetime of generational trauma and familial relationships into its two-minute runtime. It’s a picture of Pap’s childhood home broken by his father’s death and the grip of the streets, referred to only by its address as though it is not a living, breathing place but a hard, detached fact. (“I wish that fucking house would burn down!” Pap erupts midway through.) His trick is to pulverize you with blunt truths instead of developing a unified theory, to pose rhetorical questions instead of finding answers, allowing you to piece together his complex world view yourself. By the song’s close, it feels like Pap has lifted an immeasurable weight off his chest. In a previous era, “Stout Street” would function as an album cut, but its haunting beauty has mesmerized thousands of TikTok creators and catapulted it into a viral hit. While Pap was away, he received countless DMs on Instagram from fans saying his music helped them through tough times and steered them away from suicide.
“Stout Street” isn’t an exception to the rule. Scour the depths of Pap’s YouTube and you’ll find humor, sorrow, resilience and compassion, guided by Pap’s tasteful and omnivorous ear for beats. Critics often note how Pap seems like a descendant of Lil B. Certainly some of his more eccentric songs wouldn’t sound out of place on a Based Freestyle mixtape. But Pap’s true gift is his ability to color just outside the lines. In his most innovative songs, like his soulful records with Rx Brainstorm, he’s neither a traditionalist nor a provocateur. He’s somewhere in-between and off the grid. Sure he’s a student of Max B, various Atlanta stylists, the new Michigan rappers, but beyond surface, there are no one-to-one comparisons. He studies these styles and folds them into his own world. For example, on his excellent, No Limit-indebted EPs with Detroit producer Top$ide, instead of burrowing into those beats, he lets them breathe, his voice wafting throughout. You can almost hear the fogginess of a blurry, late night cruise as he narrates tense missions like he’s writing a Blaxploitation screenplay.
Pap is a bit more relaxed this evening. As soon as that first track is bounced, he finds another electric Michigan beat on YouTube. After vibing out to it for a minute or two, he races into the booth. Like his kindred spirit Rxk Nephew, Pap doesn’t write songs in the traditional sense. He “punches in,” line by line, welding a verse together. (Typically, the rapper needs to direct the engineer to start a new take every few seconds. This engineer didn’t need prompting. He was on it. After the session, he revealed to us he was a Pap stan.)
Pap finishes this song in 10 minutes, conjuring bars in seconds, nailing almost every single one on the first take. (“Auntie OD’ed and came back, she told me this my best work” takes us all out.) He tells the engineer to name the file “Trailer Park Blues.”
Satisfied with the mix, Pap takes a seat. His manager pours Hennessy into all of our cups. Then Pap plays us some music by his protege Rx Lil Cuz. His artist sounds shrill and staticky, like a little mini-Pap. Where’d Lil Cuz get his name from? “That’s my little cuz!” Pap says. “Everybody call him lil cuz.”
The others file out of the room, and Pap and I sit down for his first interview post-release.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
Mano Sundaresan: What’s good, how are you feeling?
Rx Papi: Feeling good, I’m feeling happy. I feel…blessed.
I heard that you want to be really active for the next few months.
What does that look like?
Everything…everywhere…in everybody face. Whatever, wherever.
Yeah. Was there anything on your mind specifically while you were away, as far as where you want to take your sound?
I just want to get my music heard by as many people as I can, and just open the door for me and my label.
Talk about your label.
I got Dawg Shit Records. I got a couple of artists on the label. I got Lil Cuz, 2Doe, Luck… couple of my artists, they on my page, all they music, they got their own page. They should do numbers. They got their little sound, everybody, all different… that’s my label so far.
I know with Lil Cuz, you named him that cuz that’s your lil cuz.
Yeah, that’s really my little cousin.
Did y’all grow up together or something?
Nah not really. But out of my little cousins he’s my favorite little cousin.
What did you guys do together?
We used to do just dumb shit, I don’t know, like fucking dumb stupid shit. Kid shit. He was mad little. I probably throw him in a bank of snow or some shit. I don’t know, that’s my lil nigga though…yeah.
Do you feel like you have a responsibility to put on for the next generation as far as helping some of these new artists?
Once I’m more established, hell yeah I’m with that. I’m with seeing niggas get money, I ain’t trying to have nobody not get no money. That ain’t it.
Take me to the very first day out. What did you really wanna eat?
I had really wanted a Five Guys burger early in the morning, I don’t know why I wanted that. But Five Guys was nowhere near open. But I knew my mom had already cooked for me. So that was the first thing I ate, my mom cooked a big ass meal. And then it’s desserts.
When was the start of your stint?
October, ok, so just like a little bit over a year. What was on your mind those first few months? What were you thinking about?
I ain’t gon’ lie, I just really wanted to rap. I just wanted to fuckin’ get in the studio. That’s really all I thought about.
Were you writing?
Hell no. I probably caught myself writing a song two or three times. Throw that shit right out, I don’t know… Writing ain’t my thing. Like, I can write and shit, but writing music, that ain’t my thing. That shit just gotta flow.
How do you come up with new ideas then? Because one of things I really like about writing is it’s like a practice thing for me, you know what I mean? Were you practicing ever?
No, I just go in there and I just be saying how I feel. I always feel different. Like one of my mans, I was locked up with him, he would just be like, “Yo man, you bugged out man! “You up, down, left, right and I never know which way you going man. I don’t know what you’re doing but you crazy.” I say how I feel because I always be feeling something different, I’ll always be in a different mood. My mood be switching dumb fast.
When you hear one of these Detroit, Veeze type beats, what’s your mood on those types of beats?
I just be having flashbacks sometimes. It’s like, me kind of just telling you about me. It’s like a different type of energy when I hear shit like that.
I feel like the tape where like everybody started to realize that about you—I mean, you’ve been doing it for your whole career—but the tape where everybody started to be like, Damn, you really are saying shit, talking about your life type shit was the tape with Gud, Foreign Exchange.
How did that tape come together?
Bro had sent me some beats. He sent me a bunch of beats and I was just rapping on them shits like, one by one. I wasn’t taking my time on purpose, but it was just like, every time I had a strong feeling or I was going through a strong little whatever, at that low point, I would rap on one of them beats. So like, maybe over the course of a month, that tape was made, and that was just because I was just like…know what I’m saying…like, I was just going through shit.
What drew you to Gud’s beats? I feel like they have a lot of space in them. There’s not a lot of low end, you know what I mean? It’s a very interesting sound.
Yeah, them shits was different as hell! And my style, like, my swag, the way I do it, like…I’m like nah, he’s just raw. So I gotta be raw on these shits. And then, the way he sent them last year was the perfect setup. Like did the song “Rahkel,” that’s about my girl. So I’m like okay, he got his song for shawties, you feel me. I got turnt shit, “Teflon Don.” I got real shit, “12 Stout Street.” Like, that shit was just set up like a book. That shit had a good Chapter One, Chapter Two, Chapter Three, ended good. You feel me?
Yeah. I always think about how every great rapper has had a song that’s like their autobiography, almost. Like Biggie has “Juicy,” Nas has “NY State of Mind,” and I feel like “12 Stout Street,” it’s your story in a lot of ways, you know what I mean? Do you remember where you were in the booth mentally when you recorded that song?
I was in my kitchen at like 2:30 in the morning. I don’t know why I was in the kitchen when I made that. It was late when I did it.
What was going through your head?
I don’t know…bunch of shit. I don’t know, the beat just said some shit to me. Feel me? I ain’t really one of them type of dudes that be telling how I feel and shit. So I’d be like, fake using music to say what I gotta say. So that was just some shit I just had to say. Yeah. Like fake get that shit off. I ain’t know it was gonna turn into what it did.
How do you feel about that?
I mean, I love it, like, appreciate everybody that played the song, made a TikTok to the song. I’ve seen some funny ass TikToks to that shit. [laughs]
It’s a crazy contrast between the seriousness of that song and the way it’s been used by people on the internet.
The internet is crazy…the internet is crazy right now.
Yeah. Has your family heard that song?
Hell yeah, man, my little brother play that shit for anybody who gon’ listen. My mom heard it… she liked the song, feel me. Me and my mom’s super good too by the way, don’t think…that’s my dog. But everybody heard that song. They like the song. It’s cool.
Do you ever feel nervous getting so vulnerable in songs?
No, hell no. It’s how I feel. You don’t want to hear my shit, play the next song. [laughs]
Tell me about your upcoming album with Brainstorm.
That’s like a collection of songs from over the course of two to three months, I would say. So it was like, I would link up [with him] we would do one or two songs or whatever, but I didn’t really know what the tape was going to be or like any of that. We were just making music at this time. And then, while I was in prison, him and Los got together, figured some shit out and they put together this tape while I was locked up. It’s really them two that made it happen and put it together the way they came together. Some of the songs were dropped as singles, but the album is like…I like the album. I ain’t even hear the whole album. Nah for real. On JPay you’d get 30 second videos, so Los sends me a snippet of every song, so I just got like, a good 30 seconds of every song on the album and I loved it.
It’s like the iTunes preview, you got like the 30 second preview of every song, remember that shit?
Hell yeah. So I used to lay in my little mat or whatever and just bump snippets all day like Damn, this album fire. That shit felt crazy. But yeah, I still didn’t hear the whole album. All I heard was those snippets somewhere else.
You gotta listen to that. It’s hard. [laughs]
Yeah, well, I’m gonna take some time out and listen to it. It’s one snippet on there, I really love it. I don’t remember making none of the songs.
Is that how it goes with most songs? You don’t remember? Do you have to relearn your lyrics if you ever have to, like perform it type shit?
Nah once I hear it like once or twice I’ll be like, oh I remember this shit. Even if I don’t remember it, I just listened to what the fuck I’m saying. I noticed the shit I talk about, and I just relearn that shit in 10 minutes or whatever.
Wait so anybody that you met over the past year or so in prison, did they fuck with your music, did they hear any of it?
It was so many people in that joint that knew who I was, that shit was kinda like trippin me out. Prison is like…it’s different. You gotta be. You gotta be what you are, man. You are what you are. You’re not what you’re not. So you just got to be what you are, that’s why you can’t fake nothing. You just got to be what you are. People was knowing me, people was shouting me out every time you see me. “Yo, Pap, Rx!” I’m interacting with some of them like, “I really rap,” like my shit lit. And then out of nowhere like the nigga would be in the yard like, “Yo Pap, your shit fire.” I don’t know who that is, but there you go, proof is right there.
Well, I have like a Twitter account, this No Bells thing with probably like 1700 followers, nothing huge. We just posted that you were free and it went viral.
Millan Verma: Let me say something. Mano, he’s been preaching about you all year on Twitter to all his followers and media and stuff saying you’re the truth. Like, at least once a week he’ll come out with this new Pap thought.
Nah, that’s fire.
Nah it’s honestly like, the music has helped me a lot, the last few tapes especially.
That shit be real.
I had a few more questions…one thing I’ve been thinking about is the way you punch in. I feel like you can hit so many different feelings with that style. You can make a really funny song one day, and you can make a really dark and deranged song the next day and make a really sad song the day after that. The punch-in method is very useful in a lot of ways, and I’m just wondering what inspired that for you, going back to the early days of trying that style out?
I really came up with that style by just not giving a fuck. I ain’t give a fuck what you thought, I ain’t give a fuck how you felt, this me, and either you gonna play the shit or you gonna skip this shit, but I’m finna talk my shit and I was just talking shit, really. Just talking a bunch of shit. I’m talking my shit though. I’m not telling nobody else story. I’m not fabricating nothing. Certain things might have been altered that was based on true events. It’s all props.
You feel like it’s a style that you’ve honed over the years?
You always got room for improvement. But my shit is like, when I say it’s raw, I don’t mean it’s raw. My shit raw as in like, my shit is pure. I be trying to make that shit even better every day though, just the way I do shit, good etiquette, good mannerisms.
What do you think hip-hop in general is missing right now?
I don’t know man, cuz the internet is fucking crazy man. The industry is like…if everybody stayed in their lane and just got money, this shit would be smooth, but it’s too much weird shit. And I get it, you know, you like who you like, you don’t like who you don’t like. Like it’s certain rappers that I don’t like. I don’t listen to ‘em. Shit like that. lt just need to be more unity in this shit. it be mad people, like rappers dying.
Just this week alone. [Ed. note: Takeoff and Edot Baby died that week.]
Couple of rappers that I liked died. That shit kind of like…what the fuck? I just found out earlier today this morning that Trouble died. Damn…that was my nigga. I liked that nigga. Lil Keed died…I ain’t know Lil Keed was dead. I don’t know them personally but long live them. I met Trouble in the Strokers parking lot. Long live them boys man.
Do you ever get nervous about that shit?
Nervous? No, I just be knowing I gotta move tact, like I gotta be sturdy. But my focus don’t even be on that. I used to be a person that would rob me now. So I be knowing how to see certain shit, I know when to get out the scene. I don’t really put myself in situations where I even feel like—if it’s iffy, I’m out. But anything happened to anybody, but I just be trying to be as sturdy as possible. That shit getting wicked though.
I have a couple of very random questions cuz I was thinking about your music taste and the people you shout out on songs. What’s your favorite Stack Bundles song?
It’s actually a song that he got with Max B. It’s called “Situations.”
That’s a great song. What about your favorite Max B song?
Favorite Max B song [chuckles] oh man. It gotta be one?
Is there anything else you want to say as far as what you got coming, what you’re trying to be?
I’m trying to be the biggest me I could be. I just want to be the biggest me. I got a lot of music coming. I got a lot of projects I want to do. I got a lot of EPs, tapes that I want to do with individual artists that I fuck with, like I like their sound, I like their style.
Who are some of the artists?
10kDunkin. That’s my nigga. Me and him and Tony Shhnow probably might do like a trio tape. Them my boys. I wanna do an EP with Shordie Shordie, I like dude. He got some fire hooks. He like a West Coast Max B to me, I fuck with dude. He don’t sound like nobody. I be hearing niggas fake trying to do that and I be thinking that’s slime shit.
I just want to drop my music. I’m finna go Gucci Mode with the tapes. I’m finna just keep dropping tapes. I’m finna drop another Dominic Toretto. I ain’t gonna drop that til I buy my car. I don’t know what kind of car yet but it’s gonna be really fast, really sporty, it’s gonna be blue. I’m definitely going to shoot some videos to some classics. It’s just because them the songs I like and I have plans. Like certain songs, when I be making them, I know like, ok, this the one. I want to make a plan for this one. I want the video to be like this. It’s certain songs I never got to fully get through on them plans.
Like “Johnny Tran Wit Da SnakeSkin Pants.” So I want to shoot a guy in LA in front of the Fast and Furious house. Get some cars out there, this fire ass outfit. This shit will be tough.
You got a lot coming.
I got an album too. Yeah, Ima drop an album…do you want me to tell you what it’s called?
Give me $50 and I’ll tell you. [laughs] I’m fucking with you, my album is called 21-B-2159. That’s my album
What’s the title mean?
That was my DIN number in prison. That’s the name of my album. It’s going to be a good album though, it’s going to be a well thought-out album. It’s not gonna be nothing rushed. There’s no way I could lose this shit, this shit like riding a bike. I was on the phone with Neph, he was like, “Man, I hope your ass still can rap!” I was like, ‘Alright whatever nigga.” I went to the studio last night talking my shit. I just dropped it, that shit called “Kiss The Ring.” Matter of fact, let me look right now, let me see something.
The First Day Out freestyle?
Yeah. [checks YouTube on phone] This shit got 7000 views in nine hours.
That’s what I’m saying, people really care.
I can’t lose this shit. And I love my fans. Like, I got NBA Youngboy type fans. I seen that on Twitter. Somebody was like, “Yo, Rx Papi got NBA Youngboy type fans, he got a cult-like fan base.” So I got the best fans. My fans will probably punch you out in the crowd if you don’t like Pap. My fans will rob you bruh. My fans…it’s giving Black Air Force One Activities. That’s what it’s giving. That’s the new lingo I found out. I found that out the hard way. I mean, everybody is talking about “it’s giving,” I’m thinking a bitch bout to give me some—bitch, what you got for me good? It’s giving…who giving me something? I found out that’s the new lingo. So I’ve been on “it’s giving.” My fans is giving genuine love.