Reintroducing, RiTchie

Reintroducing, RiTchie

Triple Digits [112], the debut record from RiTchie, sees him build on a blockbuster decade with Injury Reserve by introducing something new — more of himself

Image credit: Patrick Driscoll

RiTchie arrives on sparkling synthesiser trills and disorienting groans, all loud confidence and invulnerability. It’s RiTchie Valens, his powerful debut single, that heralds the arrival of a well-heeled emcee, with RiTchie deigning to take a break from his quiet excellence to put the competition in its place.

When the Arizona emcee comes swinging on his first track — “This shit like pulling teeth when you try and sell tickets / This shit is just a breeze 'cause I been here for a minute” — it’s bravado well-earned. As a member of Injury Reserve, RiTchie went from demos to mixtapes to major-label records, cultivating a devoted fanbase and staging one of the most electrifying live shows in hip-hop. In 2020, following the sudden and tragic death of friend and IR member Stepa J. Groggs, RiTchie and IR producer Parker took some time, released their haunting final LP, and slipped into a quiet uncertainty.

RiTchie’s debut is, alongside the arrival of By Storm, the roaring return of a cult rap presence. It’s a sunny Arizona day when he hops on a call with us, speaking on how he’s been spending his time: namely, living life in Arizona, recording the inaugural By Storm record with Parker, and keeping fresh by cutting tracks for his own satisfaction. At some point — and it happened slowly — those self-started sketches became songs, and those songs became a record of their own. The result is Triple Digits [112], borne of solitary exercises and years-long habits, set free by a simple and slow-burning realisation: RiTchie finally felt he had something worth saying.

I feel good about it,” says RiTchie of the record. “This was definitely not something that I’d pre-planned, it was kind of something that I was just doing, that I've almost always done,” he explains, speaking on the “sense of therapy” that comes with unencumbered creative expression. These songs, testament to passion and craft, usually remained personal exercises. “Sometimes some of the looser stuff ends up on the Injury Reserve records,” he says of his once-secreted solo work, “but this time around, it kind of turned into something that I felt was interesting.” That new tack — one he described as a “new side journey [he] stumbled into” — was slow-going, with Triple Digits [112] taking hold as RiTchie felt “comfortable, then confident, and now excited” about his own music. “Well, maybe not interesting,” he modestly clarifies, “I felt like it was something that was at least worth releasing.”

In order to make RiTchie’s grade of “worth releasing,” the songs that comprise Triple Digits [112] had to pass a steep self-imposed standard. “If I would have done something that felt like it was too adjacent to what we've been doing and building over the years, then I would feel like that would be kind of a waste,” he says. “When I had this body of work, I was just like, 'Okay, we have this, and it's still me, but this is very much a different vibe,' especially with where we've been within the last quarter of a decade.” The last record from RiTchie, Parker and Groggs — 2021’s By The Time I Get To Phoenix — traded in darkness, dissonance and death, pushing the trio to new avant garde heights; Triple Digits [112], less abrasive and existential, explores a different kind of personal.

I am a fresh and a brand new artist to a lot of people,” he offers, “so in regard to that, it feels extremely vulnerable.” It’s a vulnerability that cuts from content to form, with RiTchie’s rollout largely foregoing his connection to his old trio. “Over time with Injury Reserve, we've kind of built this sustainable core following, and we know at every point, whenever we release something, at least that core is going to get touched,” says RiTchie. “I don't want to feel entitled to that fan base, and I want to grow my own base,” he explains. “Obviously I want a one-to-one conversion, I want everyone to come over, but I don't want to come off as entitled in that.”

In Triple Digits [112], the uninitiated are almost as wise as the familiar, with RiTchie revealing a new musical and personal palette. “It's a bit more of an introduction to my personality,” he says, sketching the distinctions between the personal and the persona. “I think a lot of the IR stuff is a bit more personal than what this project has been, and has been tapped into maybe more of me, but I do think that the direction of this is a little bit closer to who I am on a day-to-day basis.” The light nuances of RiTchie’s everyday permeate the fiercely first-person record, but one detail defines the experience: the inescapable heat. “It's not necessarily a concept album,” he says, nonetheless aiming “to build some type of world that I felt like I could imagine while listening to this record.” The world that swirls about Triple Digits [112] bears a resemblance to the one in which the record was made. “It wasn’t trying to make a record that was necessarily local, it was just kind of recreating this environment that I was making the music in, because a lot of the music was made in the middle of the summer.

If I'm going to do this, I kind of want to build something that is a little bit more of my everyday life,” explains RiTchie of the overarching image. In a city that can regularly hit 112 — that’s 44.5 celsius — the heat becomes an adverse condition, with life adapting and persevering through dizzying spells. “If I tried to build this world and make it like built out of Phoenix or Arizona, people can only imagine it a certain type of way… but if I speak on it more as the weather, and I speak on trying to live an everyday life while it's 112 degrees outside, then I think it's a lot easier for people to start to imagine things.” Reminders break through in tags and quips — “oh my god, it’s 112!” — but also in the hazy beats and simmering, hypnotic drawl. It’s offered most literally on Triple Digits [112], which is “about people still trying to have a nightlife or regular life while it's so damn hot outside,” but comes through just as strong in tracks like WYTD, explosive and confident; Get a Fade, a surprising cover of Radiator Hospital’s Cut Your Bangs; and How!?, which sounds like a sunset soundscape laced with intricate percussion.

That focus on RiTchie’s own experience breaks through on Dizzy, which furnishes his story with an impressive ‘day in the life’ point-of-view music video. “That was my first video I ever did,” says RiTchie, handling his own directorial duties. “Parker's been shooting and editing them… we've been working together on the whole process, it's been nice.” We open in RiTchie’s home studio — the same emblazoned on the album art — and bounce through his local spots, pestered by that one guy who’s always switching it up.

Armando is a good friend of mine, he runs a streetwear brand called Neighbors,” says RiTchie of his friend-turned-actor. “Him and Parker are doing all the creative direction for the record… he's been a part of the process this whole time, and for the video he really got into being the guy.” Every iteration, from woodworker to beatmaker to dog breeder, came with lore. “He was really into the outfits, every character had a different screensaver, had a different phone case,” he happily recalls, that devotion culminating in a tailor-made zine, impressive even in its blink-and-you’d-miss-it appearance. “He's crazy for that,” says RiTchie fondly.

That devotion speaks not only to RiTchie’s vision, but the commitment his friends and collaborators have in facilitating it — or, in the case of Aminé, complementing it. “Sometimes with features, I like building this whole entire song up and then bring someone in to kind of anchor in the song,” he says, comparing the guests role to immersing themselves within a specific scenario or role. It’s no surprise that a friend and collaborator like Aminé, sharp and charismatic, would slip so easily into an offhand dressing-down of some Mr. Me Too. “What's funny is, the video was actually done before the Aminé verse,” explains RiTchie. “I wrote the video and was just like, it's going to end up in a urinal, and then he wrote the verse to the video… it works really hand in hand, that was nice and fun and easy.

There’s a similarly easy rapport with up-and-comer Niontay, who cuts a fleet footed appearance on How!?, and alternative stalwart Quelle Chris, who graces The Thing with a dense verse on “kudos and props.” “Whenever you get features, nothing ever sounds how you expect it to sound,” says RiTchie. “This one was not one of those cases. When it happened, it felt like the song was done.” The ease of listening betrays the intricate and sometimes arduous process behind the music, outlined in album track Looping, a panicked telling of creation itself. “It's one of the few times on the record where it's literally talking about kind of the process of creating music,” he eagerly explains. “It's basically me being haunted by a particular beat,” a fear brought on by “either not living up to the expectations” it entails, or “not being able to escape some type of rhythm or tone or reference that I've already laid down for myself.”

I'll create a lot of vocal references when I first hear something, and a lot of times, I do that to try to get that first emotional reaction,” says RiTchie, describing those first passes as a sort of “instant gratification.” There’s an ease to the initial vision, one countered by the challenges of revision. “At the same time, if I'm trying to drift away from that, sometimes I can't because… my brain is like muscle memory, trying to bring me back to where I first was when I heard it.” It’s a new challenge, one posed by converting these once-therapeutic recordings into something for an audience. “The hardest part is kind of going in and tinkering and being like, 'Okay, now it's my job to kind of translate this for other people to listen to,'” he adds, referencing “the one thing machine” skit from The Thing, which provides instant gratification at the push of a button. “When you hear me write about things, a lot of it is me also critiquing myself.

If revising and refining poses challenges on wax, it holds a whole host of others on the stage. “We're so stressed out about it,” he admits of his upcoming shows. “I decided I was going to be up there by myself, I thought it'd be weird to just have a DJ out there, so I still got to figure all that shit out.” It’s a big leap for RiTchie, who’s used to sharing a stage not only with Groggs and Parker, but the atmosphere that well-worn rapport fostered. “I think that’s one of the biggest… challenges for me, because the Injury Reserve live show is so good, and it's so good 80% because of Parker and what he does, auditorily, but also the environment that he creates on the stage.” If there’s anywhere to establish his live show, it’s Phoenix, where Triple Digits [112] will be reflected back on the city that shaped it. “I think that the best thing that I need to do is exactly what I did with this record,” muses RiTchie, “which is not try to compare myself to that process, and just try to have my own experience and be comfortable with what it is.”

Triple Digits [112], from outsized braggadocio to reflective meditation, brings new insight into the mind of the man behind it. In a career that’s incorporated early Kanye worship, electro-tinted stunting, and serious ambient unease, RiTchie’s solo statement feels like a large step on the small scale: a fun catalogue of tastes, truths, and tribulations nestled within a world he knows and loves; an auspicious reintroduction to an honest and versatile artist.

RiTchie's new album Triple Digits [112] is out now

RiTchie Artwork

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