Welcome to 2018, when everything that was bad in 2012 is somehow worse. Back then, rapper/social media personality Riff Raff was having a moment, collaborating with a number of high profile artists and producers and earning the title of “cult phenomenon.” The rapper’s over-the-top, built to go viral brand was even the infamously un-acknowledged inspiration for James Franco’s Spring Breakers protagonist, Alien.
A 2013 Grantland piece on the Harmony Korine film explored the Riff Raff of it all, noting, “Franco’s character, Alien, is a hustling ‘cosmic gangster,’ and the actor joyfully commits to the role; it’s a knockout performance. Cloaked in mismatched tattoos, grills, beaded braids, and a perma-shirtless state, he also happens to look exactly like Riff Raff.” Korine and Franco maintained in interviews that the character was based on several people, however, including Dangeruss, a little-known rapper from Florida.
While this erasure was perceived as a lack of respect, complete with legal threats, Riff Raff ultimately promoted the film on his social media, and even made nice with Franco in a 2016 music video. Given this complicated web of performance and impersonation, art imitating life and all of that, it feels significant that Franco and now Riff Raff have both faced accusations of sexual misconduct, with new allegations against Riff Raff threatening to bring the artist’s window of relevance to a final, disturbing close.
On Thursday, a Melbourne resident named Eliza Stafford used Facebook to issue a statement on her own assault, seemingly inspired by the news that Riff Raff was set to tour Australia. Stafford wrote, in part, “In 2013 I was raped by a man whose stage name is ‘Riff Raff’…I was asked mid-show to come backstage, and as a 19 year old I was flattered and complied. When I got backstage I was offered a shot from a (branded) vodka bottle that was sitting on the table. I was offered a 60ml ‘party’ shot. I took the shot, it was syrup and I immediately asked what it was. Riff raff and his support act told me that it was codeine and started laughing. I don’t remember anything from that point.”
Stafford continued, “I woke up as Riff raff was pulling out of me and getting in to the shower. I crawled - truly, on all fours -out of the hotel room and managed to get outside where I booked a taxi who wouldn’t take me because I was ‘too drunk’…I was raped and blamed myself for 5 years. I got a notification today because I work in Richmond, and he is performing at the corner hotel next Friday night. I will be 50 metres from my rapist all night.”
“If you are planning on attending the riff raff show at the corner next week I urge you to reconsider,” she concluded.
The response to Stafford’s story was swift and decisive, with several venues, including the Corner Hotel, reportedly cancelling their shows. Promoters Audiopaxx issued a statement canceling the tour, writing, “We have been made aware of allegations made against Houston rapper Riff Raff. Audiopaxx takes these matters seriously and does not condone any of this alleged behaviour. In light of this, we have spoken to his management team and the scheduled tour of Australia and New Zealand has been cancelled, effective immediately.”
Riff Raff’s Twitter account still directs followers to a URL to buy tickets for the now-cancelled Australia tour, and his cover photo advertises the string of shows that would have kicked off tonight. The rapper has set his Instagram account to private.
Riff Raff’s quick cancellation bodes well for an industry that has struggled to center survivors and deal with known abusers. The conversation around sexual misconduct in hip-hop has its own nuances, with rappers like XXXTentacion thriving not only in spite of, but quite possibly thanks to gruesome accusations. Some attempts so far to handle accused artists—looking at you, Spotify—have only led to more confusion.
As we continue to struggle with the question of how to most effectively mute bad men, taking accusations seriously and shutting down shows seems like a pretty good start. Of course, it’s worth noting that this all might have gone down differently if the currently washed up Riff Raff was still enjoying his Spring Breakers-era infamy.