Or at least, that’s the way it looked from the mainstream point of view: A home-grown rapper came out of nowhere, dropping a self-titled album that hit No. 3 on Billboard’s overall pop album chart and topped the rap chart. The lead single, “Throw Some D’s,” made it to No. 6 on the pop chart and No. 2 on the rap singles chart. And then … nothing.
There’s more to the story. But no matter how you tell it, the punchline is this: Rich Boy is back. On Tuesday, April 9, he unveils “Break the Pot,” his long-awaited follow-up. His second shot at mainstream notice will be just as hard to ignore as the first: It might have been a long time coming, but the album is a forceful, hard-edged assertion of Rich Boy’s talent and intensity.
Prior to 2007, there were hints big things were coming. Richards hadn’t been very active on the Mobile scene as a performer: He was a college freshman before he got serious about making music, and then he got into it more as a producer. The beats and tracks came first; he only starting rapping because they needed some words. But that early work led him to a development deal with Interscope Records and a relationship with Polow Da Don, an Atlanta-based producer who helped craft his debut.
Then, boom, Rich Boy was in the jet set, flitting from BET’s “106 and Park” to MTV’s “Total Request Live” to showcase a video filmed partly in Mobile.
Looking back, he admits the ride had its scary side. “It was so much so fast,” he says.
On the new album, “Break the Pot,” Richards is relentlessly assertive, at home in rap’s darker seams, gritty and profane, projecting swagger like a lion making his way through a particularly rough section of the jungle. In person, he’s wiry and conversational, so soft-spoken that he almost whispers.
Rich Boy never really went away; over the last few years he released a series of mixtapes, doling out enough new music to keep fans interested. They didn’t make the charts, but did help him maintain credibility with publications and websites focused more tightly on rap. Reading between the lines as he speaks, it’s clear Richards has had to work through some industry-related frustration to get to a point where he could release the music he wanted to release.
“Most of all, I’ve been working on the business part of it,” he says. “I had to back up and learn the business.”
He’s no longer with Interscope. Last year he announced a deal with eOne, a large independent music company with a broad roster.
“I knew they would give me more freedom, because they’re independent,” he said. Better yet, he said, the company supported his larger ambition to develop his home region’s talent. Assuming “Break the Pot” does well, that’s his next focus. “As far as the label I want to start here in Mobile, they gave me the opportunity to build it from the ground up,” he said.
But first comes “Break the Pot.” It opens with “Gangster,” a track that illustrates Richard’s affinity for doing things a little bit differently. His familiar ability to generate an almost hypnotic flow, with an insistent, chantlike delivery, is on display. Behind it is a track so stretched out and warped that it sounds almost like slowed-down techno music. And that is not an accident.
“That’s where music is going now, I feel,” says Richards. He likes trance and ambient music. He’s noticed the way that electronic dance music has moved out of the nightclubs and into festivals, the way it now is blended with other genres such as jam music and rock, forming hybrids that would have seemed weird a few years ago. Why not rap? “If it’s just a sound, you can’t put a label on it,” he says.
Next up is the title track, with its insistent refrain of “Throw a hundred on a fifty/ try and break the pot.” It’s a metaphor straight from a poker game: Go big or go home. (The video, like Rich Boy’s past clips, features a lot of hometown flavor. You can see it below.)
“Don’t even get in the game if you’re scared to lose,” says Richards. “That’s what it means, risk it all to win it all.”
Overall, “Break the Pot” is an album full of tough talk and pervasive sexual imagery; even the titles of some songs can’t be reprinted in this context. But beyond the badder-than-thou manifestos, the album seems to have enough standout tracks to give it some staying power. Two that particularly stand out are “Monster” and “Kiss the Moment.” The first is a good-natured boogie custom-made to get the ladies out on the dance floor; the second is a sultry ballad with a good bit of R&B feel.
For Richards, this has been a long time coming. He has the sense that his home-state fans have stuck with him, and this is for them: an album designed to make people feel like it’s time to get up and go, time to get to work.
“They’re holding it down for me,” he says of his Alabama supporters. “I got a whole state of people waiting on it.”
He’s already looking ahead to the next album. The one thing he knows for sure is, it’ll be different. He’s not interested in repeating himself.
“I’m trying to catch all different kinds of emotions,” he says. “That’s my goal before I retire, capture every human emotion.”