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Standing shirtless on a wooden porch with a blunt hanging out of his mouth is Rx Papi. He’s staring blankly at his phone, not having altered his expression since I began walking towards the house from my car. When I finally approach him, he says, as if in a state of total disbelief, “Damn bro, Lil B just shouted me out on Twitter.” Papi then runs into the two-story suburban McMansion and calls for his partner, brother, compadre, ride or die, and sole contemporary, RXK Nephew. “Neph!” Papi shouts, “Lil B just shouted us out on Twitter!” RXK Nephew, who has a tall, muscular build and dreads hanging past his shoulders, strolls down the hall in just his shorts, having clearly just woken up.
“Oh for real? That’s crazy. What’d he say?”
“He said, ‘Shoutout Rx Papi, Rx Peso, Rx Hec, and the whole Rx.’ But any shoutout for me is a shoutout for you. Neph and Pap. My fucking brother. You know this.”
It’s 11 a.m. on a Tuesday in June. We’re in Marietta, Georgia, a large suburban town just 10 miles north of Atlanta. When RXK Nephew and Rx Papi agreed to do an interview at their house, I assumed it would look how their music sounds: some place grimy and untethered. I was wrong. The spacious, wood-stained house is tucked deep inside an affluent family neighborhood. Both the front and backyard are vast, surrounded by towering Georgia pines that give the home an aura of earthly bliss. From the outside, it looks like it belongs to a Bible-abiding carpet salesman. But inside, it’s clear that it belongs to two unfettered rappers.
Empty bottles of Hennessy line the living room fireplace, arranged by size like Russian nesting dolls. Two enormous studio monitors stand next to the central coffee table where a microphone with a pop filter the size of a kickball rests. Scattered throughout the house are rolling trays, blunt roaches, and plastic Minute Maid juice bottles. RXK Nephew is in the bathroom brushing his teeth, listening to a song on his phone that he recorded the night before. Rx Papi is back on the porch finishing his blunt. And three women are in the kitchen preparing a massive pancake breakfast. This appears to be standard procedure for hip-hop’s most impromptu pair.
Throughout the past year, RXK Nephew and Rx Papi have established themselves as some of the most prolific, unpredictable, and ingenious rising rappers in the game. Their philosophy about rapping has remained the same since the start, and is best encapsulated in a line from RXK Nephew’s mind-bending nine-minute sermon “American tterroristt”: “Imma get on the beat and say what I want.” Papi and Nephew could get on a beat and talk about their mundane trip to the grocery store and it would somehow become a hilariously endearing song.
On top of releasing monthly mixtapes, both of their YouTube channels are chock-full of hundreds of singles and videos unavailable elsewhere. For well over a year, they have each uploaded upwards of five songs per week. There are 52 weeks in a year and two of them — you do the math.
In many cases, releasing so much music so frequently leads to stagnancy or a decline in quality. This isn’t the case for these two. Sifting through either of their YouTube channels is like opening an enchanted music box: it may play a crack dealer’s rendition of Estelle’s 2009 pop-hit “American Boy,” or a bat-shit crazy 19-minute freestyle that belches out an extremely complex and estranged man’s entire psyche. The only thing you can expect is to be left awestruck. They have no formula, no gimmick — just their flesh, voiceboxes, and warped sense of creativity.
Critics and fans have drawn comparisons between them and Lil B, the godfather of Internet-rap, who gained notoriety just under a decade ago by releasing whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted, and brushed against traditionalism with his off-the-cuff rapping style.
However, while the ethos of Lil B’s music is rooted in enlightenment and love, Nephew and Papi’s is rooted in dodging death, surrendering to necromancy, and suffering through omnipresent paranoia. It’s all undercut by a sadistically absurd sense of humor that allows them to turn infected throat wounds and fiending paper-skinned junkies into comedy. It’s how they try to brighten their haunted reality of life before rap.
Before rap, they were down-bad and broke. They robbed people — both friends and strangers. They sold drugs — mainly crack, as they make clear in their music — as if their lives depended on it. And they did whatever else they needed to do to get by in their hometown of Rochester, New York — a place that few in poverty manage to escape.
Rochester, New York is a forgotten city. It resides in America’s blindspot, tucked just under Lake Ontario, 100 miles south of Toronto and 350 miles west of New York City. The winters are relentlessly harsh and the summers are depressingly short. For about seven months of the year, the snow-grey skies and sub-zero temperatures suck the life out of residents, making menial tasks feel like harrowing excursions due to cutting winds and ceaseless snowfall. Ever since Kodak — the once-titanic, now-irrelevant Rochester-based camera company — lost economic prominence, the city has been on a steady course towards damnation. What was once a city bursting with opportunity is now the murder capital of New York State. What was once living proof of how American industry can turn a small city into an economic giant now bears some of the nation’s highest poverty and infant mortality rates.
Yet against all odds, Neph and Pap made it out. After multiple stints in prison, then barely beating a robbery case together, they put their heads down and dedicated themselves to music. Day-in and day-out, they invested as much money and time in the studio as they could. They built a national following brick by brick, then slowly — but in recent months quite rapidly — a global one. It is clear that their hard work is paying off. During our interview, I note that it doesn’t seem like they need to sign to a label because they’re making good money already. Papi spreads his arms out, signaling to the house, and says, “Shit, we’re doing more than good. This ain’t no Airbnb. This is me and my brother’s house.” RXK Nephew softly adds, “Don’t tell nobody, though.” But Papi objects, saying, “Nah, put that shit in bold.”
Millan Verma: How did you two meet?
RXK Nephew: We always lived down the street from each other so we always knew each other.
Rx Papi: Alright he’s lying. He’s lying his ass off right now. I didn’t like nobody from his hood and he didn’t like nobody from my hood.
Nephew: But we still lived down the street!
Papi: Yeah, yeah, yeah, that’s true. You right, he’s not lyin’. But he’s holdin’ back a lot of shit. I ain’t like nobody from his hood, he ain’t like no nigga from mine. I’m the only nigga that was halfway cool to him. And he’s the only nigga besides Bandz, free Bandz, who was remotely close to being cool in his hood.
When did y’all become friends?
Nephew: When I got out of prison and he came back into town from Atlanta. He had done some hot shit in Rochester, booked somebody, then moved to Atlanta. That was while I was in prison. So when I came home from prison, he was coming back home from Atlanta. So we both were in the same situation. He was coming back into town to get right, and I was comin’ out of prison fucked up. Then we just linked! And ever since that day bruh!
Papi: Everyday! Everyday, bruh. It don’t matter if you got parole, I’m comin’ with you. If you’ve got to go there, I’m comin’ with you.
Nephew: If you got to go to court, shit, even the doctor’s office.
Papi: Anywhere, and we’ll be there waiting outside for each other. If something go wrong bro, that’s who I know will be sitting in the hospital with me. No matter what happen.
Nephew: And we was always rapping but didn’t take it seriously, we wasn’t making nothing from it, we didn’t make one dollar off rap. So we was just sellin’ drugs a mile a minute and trying to rob folks. Then we fell back and went to jail together. For robbin’ people, nigga. But we beat the shit. We really sat in that courtroom and fought the case hard as a bitch. Then after we beat that, we was like, “Alright we got to chill now.” That shit had us shook, brah. ‘Cause the individual that it happened with was full-fledged tellin’, trying to put us away. If we hadn’t beaten that, we’d be some slaves. There’d be no Neph-Pap, they wanted to give us 15-20 years, bruh. So after that year we were like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, we done with the robbin’.” So we embraced the drugs full time. But we would still go to the booth … Then we started havin’ fun with it. We started gaining attention in the town. They was like, “Yo, y’all goin’ hard together!” Then we made Instagrams and started getting followers from all sorts of different places. People from Alaska, Arkansas, wherever, started tellin’ us our shit was hard. Then we made the DistroKid, dropped an album, and saw that we could make a couple dollars off it. Then it was over, bruh. We said, “Fuck the trap, fuck the robbin’, we need to do this.” As soon as we made 14 to 1500 dollars off the music shit we went, “Oh yeah, we finna do 100 thousand.” I just knew off the rip, brah.
Do y’all ever go back to Rochester?
Papi: For a couple hours. We be in there for like 24 hours max.
Nephew: Yea, ‘cause we always seein’ some opps or somethin’.
Papi: Yeah we always gettin’ into shit. Always.
I noticed that people in the Rochester rap scene don’t really work with each other. It feels like everyone is doing their own thing.
Papi: Yeah, nobody fuck with nobody. That shit’s segregated, like, bad. Here’s the perfect example: Somebody might be like, “Yo Neph’s shit is hard as fuck, listen to my son Neph this my man,” and then nigga might be bumpin’ your shit right? Bumpin’ your shit! “Yo he hard! He got a video? Let me watch the video! Oh this Neph?! He did this and that to my people, he’s ass!” ‘Cause he did somethin’ to your people make him ass now? What? That’s how the city is, bro. If they fuck with you as a person, they gon’ support you as an artist.
I follow a couple of Rochester rap promotion pages and they don’t post anything about y’all, even though y’all are probably the hottest thing coming from Rochester right now.
Nephew: That’s ‘cause all them suck dick. We know about them though.
Papi: We tell all of ‘em, every cameraman, everyone, “Eat a dick.”
Nephew: Every single one of ‘em.
Papi: Fun fact: I fucked like four of the cameraman bitches in my city. That’s why they really don’t shoot us no vids or do nothin’ for us. They’d rather dick ride. The town is full of dick riders. That’s what they do. If you pull up with a big chain, big watch, nice car, the same niggas who was just talkin’ bad about you will say, “Big bruh! Big bruh!”
Nephew: I ain’t gon’ front, most of the opps is becoming fans and saluting us. That’s crazy. The same people who wanted to kill us and do all this hatin’.
And now they’re just trying to dickride?
Papi: Word. It’s like niggas just trying to get in where they fit in. ‘Cause niggas know they don’t have shit goin’ on. There ain’t shit goin’ on in the city.
Nephew: We try to help everybody though.
Papi: Try. We try to help people with their financial situations, we try to help niggas take care of their kids, we try to help niggas get money so they bitch don’t be callin’ them broke and kickin’ them out. We try to help people. That’s what we do. Me and my fuckin’ brother by ourselves, brah. There’s not one big homie, there’s not one big bruh, there’s not one nigga who I’m going to look out for. Any nigga who looked out for me, I robbed him. Don’t care. Don’t need you to look out for me. I’m a grown man. I got two feet, I got two hands, I’ll swing my dick. I don’t need you. I’ll beat your ass and rob you. That’s how it go in this city. We them boys. It shouldn’t even be called Rochester, New York, bruh it should be Neph and Pap, New York. Swear to God. That’s how we comin’.
What’s a day in the life for Neph and Pap like?
Papi: Now? Wake up, smoke, get fresh, record, shoot a video, go to another video shoot, come back, smoke, record some more heat, get drunk, record some more. Do a feature.
Sounds like a good life.
Papi: It’s the best life. When you can sit back and think, “Damn, if I really want I could make $750 to $1000 a day just off rappin’,” that’s a beautiful life.
Nephew: Shit, in an hour if you wanted to.
Papi: We bust down three, four features in an hour and that ain’t nothin’.
Nephew: I don’t even want to be doin’ them shits, bruh. Somebody just sent some shit that was so horrible, bruh. You think Slitherman Activated was somethin’, bruh, that shit was crazy. You know what’s crazy? I like Slitherman Activated. I thought it was crazy after I recorded it. The beats is different as a bitch. Then I got Pap on like three of them shits.
Papi: On one of them beats [“Squabble”] I ain’t did shit but talk about the nigga who made the beat. I said, “This beat so fuckin’ dumb! My AP dumber than this beat!” I was blackin’. That nigga was trippin’. That nigga was on bath salts when he made that beat.
How’d y’all link up with Color Plus [the main producer] for that?
Nephew: I met him through a beat placement. He hit me with the blue check. Every time somebody hit me with the blue check I be thinkin’ they’re going to expect some free shit ‘cause they got a blue check. So I tax the fuck out of them. So we did the beat placement, then he had a whole team of friends who wanted beat placements too. Then they just said, “Let’s do an album, let’s do an album.” Then we got that shit together.
Wait, so they’re paying you to rap on their beats?
That’s a good hustle. A lot of people don’t do that.
Nephew: They can’t.
RXK, why’d you change your name from Rx Nephew?
Nephew: Because there’s a whole bunch of people who were just taking everything that we did. We was embracing Rx, but people were just taking everything we do. We embraced the “Real Drugrxch,” the “Real Rx,” “back-to-back-to-back.”
Papi: Hold up bruh you missin’ mad shit! You missin’ mad shit! You got niggas ‘round here trying to take my man’s name! … Ain’t no other Rx Nephew that ain’t sanctioned! This the only Neph. And that’s why his name RXK Nephew. To differentiate. This the real nigga. This ain’t that other nigga Nephew from Zone 3.
Nephew: … Ain’t that Slitherman nigga from Texas. This nigga from Texas call himself Slitherman and did a song, then started commenting on my video saying I can’t come to Texas and that he the real Slitherman. I don’t even feed into it, though. He’s just trying to bite me and start beef.
Papi: Let a nigga come on and say his name Rich Papi or Rx Papi. Bitch watch how fast I go to RXK Pap!
Nephew: [cracks up]
Papi: And people be like, “Oh how you stand next to him while he scream, “Real RXK?” Because if somebody pull out a gun on me and he’s standing right next to me, that’s the same nigga who’s going to still be standing right next to me. Everybody else going to leave.
Nephew: The “K” is silent. Say it like “Rx Nephew” but know that the K is there and that I will X a bitch out.
Papi: We’ll take you down bitch. We will take you down! We don’t play like that. A lot of shit be like, perception. You ever play that game in elementary school? When you sit in a circle with all the kids in the class, then somebody whispers something and you got to spread it all the way back around. By the time it gets back to the middle brah there’s some whole different shit bein’ said. I might’ve told this nigga, “I got four bags of crack.” She might’ve whispered, “He got four bags of crack.” Then another dickhead might be like, “He got four bags of crack, a gun, and some weed.” You feel me? It’s just going to be some different shit by the time it gets back around.
We them niggas who not about to sit here and explain ourselves. Unless it’s an interview. But I’m not about to sit here and go “whoop-de-whoop-whoop” with you niggas. Hell nah. If you feel like that then you feel like that. Suck my dick.
Nephew: They hate us together, bro. I think they be trying to split us up. They hate us, they trying to infiltrate. But we strong as ever now, bruh. Too strong.
RXK, what’s the difference between Slitherman and Nephew?
Nephew: Slitherman is crazy. Slitherman do molly, cocaine, ecstacy. He takes over everyone’s body. If you sit here and tell me you don’t smoke cigarettes and don’t drink and you stay here and chill for two days, you’ll be drinkin’ and smokin’. That means Slitherman got you. He took over.
Papi: Slitherman is an entity.
Nephew: … If you can’t control your regular self and you get out of control then who controls you? Slitherman.
Do you remember recording “American tterroristt?”
Nephew: Hell yeah. I was at the crib on the couch. I started off angry. I was mad at the whole world. But once I got to the fourth bar I started having fun and I was like, “I’m about to black, bruh. I’m going to take the whole world down, I don’t give a fuck. I’m going to say everything I got to say.”
What do you mean when you say you’re about to black?
Nephew: Like, you can’t stop me. Once I get started you can’t stop me. I’m blacking out. No breaks, I’m just about to keep gassin’. I got a lot to say. I could’ve made it longer, but I had to run to the store and take a piss or somethin’. When I got to do shit like that I just end the song.
There’s a lot of conspiracy talk in both of y’all’s music. What made you start believing in that stuff?
Papi: Like what?
Nephew: Yeah, like what? Everything we say is on Google and shit.
“The government wrote the Bible.”
Nephew: [laughs] He said, “The government wrote the Bible.”
Papi: Nah but like, if there’s one Bible, one truth, one story that we’re all supposed to believe and that we’re all supposed to come from, why the fuck is there five different versions of the Bible?
Nephew: People never think about that, though. How do you feel about the government writing the Bible?
I wouldn’t put it past them.
Nephew: I read a conspiracy book that gave me the line [on “American tterroristt”], “In the first religion they worshipped the sun.” It was a bullshit story but it scared the people. And it stayed that way until someone smart, like us, realized, “What the fuck? The sun going to go up and down regardless, brah. I sinned for a whole year and it still went up and down.”
A lot of times when I show people that song [“American tterroristt”] they laugh on the first listen, then on the second go, “Oh shit, he’s not wrong.”
Nephew: It’s not wrong or right, but honestly I never would’ve thought that people would embrace that shit, or really believe it, too. But I guess some people think the same things as me too, fuck it.
Papi: Somebody just DM’d me and said, “What if Adam never fucked Eve.” I swear to God I can’t make that shit up. Someone in real life just DM’d me that. Boy what if Adam never fucked Eve?
Nephew: [laughs] I would’ve never sold crack.
Papi: I wouldn’t have been here, boy.
Nephew: Word, it’s easy as that. It’s crazy how the Virgin Mary got pregnant at 16. And that shit makes so much sense as to why she held onto her lie. You know what I’m sayin’? Her penalty probably would’ve been death. Or the person who raped her also would’ve faced death. Or she probably loved the person she was fuckin’. It just wasn’t sanctioned for her to do that back then.
Papi: It’s either that, or … [laughs]
Nephew: What? She was sellin’ pussy?
Papi: [laughs] Yeah bruh! She was sellin’ pussy for water and bread and shit! To feed the family!
Nephew: That’s what they say! She was a prostitute, brah! Nah for real though. She was a prostitute. She ended up gettin’ pregnant, then the big folks were like, “Hold the fuck up,” then she was like, “I don’t know! I don’t know! I did not have sex! Not one time! I’m tellin’ you!” Then they said, “Oh this baby magical.” Then they kept believin’ her. In the whole Bible, niggas end up believin’ in God then gettin’ fucked up … As an adult when you read [the Bible], it’ll sound like some Doctor Seuss shit. You’re gonna be like, “The fuck?”
Papi: If I’m bein’ a hundred son, I read like the first two pages of the Bible, and I never get further than that.
Nephew: Yeah, we always talk about that shit, though.
Papi: Yeah that’s how I know the Bible, from him. But then I’ll go back and read certain stories that he be talkin’ about. That’s how I learned the Bible. I can’t make this up. I have never read the Bible, bruh. Matter of fact, I’m lyin’. I ain’t even read the first two pages. I read the first two stanzas where it goes, “In the beginning God created Heaven and Earth,” and that was that.
Do y’all believe in God?
Nephew: Yeah. Everybody should believe in a god. But it doesn’t have to be the same god that the Christians or the Muslims believe in. But something like that, though.
I agree. My view is to believe in a god but not look too deeply into the religion. The details can be muddling.
Nephew: There’s one thing for sure and two things for certain. One thing for fuckin’ sure, for a fact, is that God made a deal with the devil, brah. There’s no way around that. He shook his hand and said, “Okay.” Multiple times. God told the devil that he could rule the world for a thousand years. How do we know those 1000 years is up? Who been alive since the first day he sanctioned that? How you know? God sanctioned that, though. He said that the devil has 1000 years to try to turn God’s people against him. That happened after the deal with Job. So like, God’s doin’ all kinds of deals with the devil. It’s like me sayin’, “If you can get Pap to turn against me, I’ll give you a million dollars.” Then you just try your hardest for the rest of your life, for a thousand years. Yeah so it’s like, “Damn, God did a deal with the opps, bro.”
Papi: That’s damn near the same as doin’ a deal with the police. That’s like sayin’, “Yo I’m going to let you out, only if you bring this nigga to me, but if you don’t bring this nigga to me, I’m going to put you back in jail.”
Nephew: After he already kicked this nigga out of heaven, though. God kicked the devil out of heaven, took his wings, all that. God said he couldn’t be a part of Heaven, ‘cause the devil was goin’ ‘round fuckin’ bitches on planet Earth. It’s a fact! He was gettin’ bitches pregnant, and their kids was comin’ out disformed, extra long, just lookin’ weird. So they called them heathens. So the devil was down here gettin’ some pussy then God kicked him out for that. And then made a deal with him! So I was like, “Damn, I don’t know what God y’all prayin’ to, but this one triflin’, bruh.” And he’s still triflin’. With this COVID thing, Ebola, AIDS, blamin’ Eve. How you going to blame a bitch for your problems, brah? How you going to blame her for the rest of the world’s faults?
I think God is really a female and the world knew it, but they tried to turn it around and make God a man. They try to say, “He, he, he.” Fuck no. God is a female. She goin’ through periods, raining, being bad. The Earth is so beautiful but she’ll come down and knock trees down — Euh! Make a flood — Euh! Make a fire — Euh! You know what I’m sayin’? A female. God is a straight female. They all knew that God was a female. A bad bitch, too.
Knowing where y’all came from in Rochester, how does it feel to have made it this far already?
Nephew: We still got more to go, and it’s like, “Damn.” We got the family dependin’ on us, we got the opps dependin’ on us, and they’ll hate us if we don’t do the right thing. We got the weight on our shoulders from the city and now we trying to put it on our back. There’s mad pressure now … They think we should be excited about everything: every show, every mention. I get mad as a bitch. If I’m not in the mood, I’m not in the mood. If somebody calls me and says, “Yo Drake just shared your shit on Instagram!” If I ain’t in the mood I’ll be like, “Fuck that nigga, brah. Why he share my shit? Tell him to suck dick!” Then niggas be like, “Why you did that? You fuckin’ up opportunities!” Fuckin’ up opportunities for who? Us or you? So with that bein’ said, there’s just mad shit now. We just want to be able to do what the fuck we want to do and just keep that freedom, and that’s when we’re going to feel good. But right now we got all this weight on our shoulders.
Papi: That shit’s just … look, us niggas sold dope. So there really ain’t much a nigga ain’t been through. There ain’t nothin’ a nigga mind can’t adapt to and get right with. Niggas been in jail, niggas been in life or death situations. So with this shit, you just got to have that mindset. This shit goin’ great, but like bro said, you going to start feelin’ like, “Damn I got to do this, I got to do that. Then I got to get me right.” So it’s like, “Damn.” Makes you scratch your head a few times. Makes me think sometimes, “Is this shit even worth it?” When I was sellin’ dope, ain’t nobody called my phone like this. I had mad money and ain’t nobody called me.
Alright this is my last question, I’ll ask y’all separately. What is important to RXK Nephew?
Nephew: Happiness. Self-happiness. Mental health. All that shit. The mental state. That’s what’s most important because if I don’t have that together nothing else is happening. As long as I got that together, I’m good. We rich, we ain’t stressin’ about nothin’. If you got a good mindset, then you good. I’m appreciative and grateful for everything. We really was dirty as shit, bruh. We really hung our clothes out, waited for them to dry, then put them bitches back on. So I’m grateful for everything.
What’s important to Rx Papi?
Papi: Piece of mind, shit. My mother, my daughter, my brother. My sisters, my little brothers. Sanity. Happiness. And my dead brothers. All of ‘em. That’s it. Wait–and music. Whether I’m makin’ it or just listenin’ to it. That shit’s important. And, and — this the last one. It’s important, it’s important — in order to get what I’m about to say, you really got to have been in some cold situations and just been able to think alone — it’s important to — man. Fuck. I forgot what I was going to say. Next time. I forgot every fuckin’ thing I was about to say.