RiFF RaFF On Being James Franco’s Alleged ‘Spring Breakers’ Inspiration

The gonzo rapper-performance artist RiFF RaFF opens up to Marlow Stern about Franco’s snub and more.

Jordan Strauss/AP; A24 Films

There isn’t much biographical information available about Jody Christian, the white Houston-area rapper who goes by the name RiFF RaFF. What we do know is that he claims to be 26 and, with his cornrows, silly tattoos, sparkly grill, and wacky persona, he’s a strange rap caricature.

RiFF RaFF first gained notoriety after appearing on the 2009 MTV reality show From G’s to Gents, an equally outrageous series hosted by Farnsworth Bentley that sought to teach thuggish rhymers some manners. He was known as MTV RiFF RaFF back then, thanks to an MTV logo tattoo on the side of his neck. (He also, apparently, got tattoos of the logos for BET and WorldStarHipHop.com in the hopes of getting their attention.)

He eventually gained traction in the rap game after linking up with producers Diplo and Harry Fraud, and his song “Bird on a Wire,” released this past year, landed on a few end-of-year lists for the best rap tracks. His debut label album, Neon Icon, will be released later this year on Diplo’s Mad Decent and features collaborations with luminaries like Wiz Khalifa, Snoop Lion, Future, A$AP Rocky, and Drake. He also has a side project called Three Loco with Simon Rex, a.k.a. Dirt Nasty, and the diminutive ex-MTV reality star Andy Milonakis.

But RiFF RaFF has been making headlines recently for the film Spring Breakers, in which James Franco portrays a rapper named Alien with cornrows, tattoos, a grill, and a Southern drawl who both looks and sounds an awful lot like RiFF RaFF. Franco—who is fantastic in the film, which is one of the best movies of the year, by the way—claims he got the idea from a little-known Florida rapper named Dangeruss, but RiFF RaFF begs to differ. (He even has an alien-head tattoo on his inner bicep.)

RiFF RaFF is in Austin, Texas, for SXSW.

When I enter his room at The Embassy Suites, far from the action of downtown Austin, I spot a little pile of weed on the counter, boxes of unopened Beats by Dre headphones, and a pair of Gucci-printed sneakers. He says he isn’t ready yet, so he jumps in the shower. When he’s done, he enters the bedroom and starts laying out his clothes on the bed, an assortment of neon tank tops and board shorts, all the while waving around a Jambox wireless speaker blasting Nelly Furtado’s “All Good Things (Come to an End)” on repeat. The whole ordeal takes a little over an hour but is par for the course for the rapper, who has a tendency to clown around with journalists.

What was growing up in Houston like?

I dunno, man. Honestly, I don’t even know how the fuck I fell asleep and just woke up just now.

When did you know you wanted to be a rapper?

I never wanted to be a rapper. I want to be in the movies. I want to own buildings. I want to own a hotel, like Donald Trump. While everybody was asleep, I went through the back window and broke in, in the rap game. They wouldn’t let me in the front.

What about early rappers you were into when you were getting started?

Jon Bon Jovi ... Billy Idol ... Ultimate Warrior ... Shawn Michaels ... WWF ... Anna Kournikova ... Joe vs. the Volcano.

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OK. How would you describe your look?

Unique. Neon. Iconish … Neon Icon. [Points to beard.] I started this in 1976. I left prom, I was a little pissed, wasn’t feelin’ too good. I jumped in a Dukes of Hazzard ’79 Trans Am, jumped in headfirst, looked in the rear view, and decided to shave it and lightning-bolt it up.

How many tattoos do you have? And your favorites?

About 37. This one here [points to left arm] is probably my favorite. Alien. I’ve had that for about seven years. Alien. Spring Breakers/James Franco/RiFF RaFF.

Well, now that you’ve brought up Spring Breakers, you’ve got the alien tattoo on your arm, his character is named Alien in the movie, and he looks just like you …

For real? Dang! We should have a press conference and have everybody there … Hey, I guess it’s not for me to decide. Whatever. My lawyers and stuff care. My lawyers have been blowin’ me up, wakin’ me up in the middle of the night talkin’ shit. [Spring Breakers writer-director] Harmony [Korine] showed me parts of the movie, and I’ve seen the trailers.

You were supposed to be cast in the movie, right?

Yeah. I get hundreds of emails a day—thousands—and I had somebody who watched my calendar, went through, weed-and-feed, and take what ones were the best, and I guess they overlooked [Harmony’s] email. I have the email. By the time I responded back to him 10 days later, I guess they had someone else who was cast. Whatever the case was, my team responded 10 days late and he didn’t want to cut … make what was necessary to put me in the movie. At that point, I probably would’ve done the movie for free!

You did mount a campaign on Twitter accusing Franco of stealing your look, with the #WHYJamesFrancoWhy.

Why, James Franco, why?!? Just foolin’ around, I don’t know.

So lets talk some more about Spring Breakers.

Why don’t we just get Selena Gomez, James Franco, and all them in there to talk about it in front of the whole world. I bet they’d refuse to even ask or answer any questions. You can’t sweep me under no damn rug. In fact, you can’t even have me in the same room with them and with some shit that involves me because I’ll fuckin’ … I’m my whole team, my whole self. I’m Don King and Mike Tyson. Rap game Floyd Mayweather. I don’t need anybody to talk for me. I’m going to tell you what it is.

So tell me.

No, I’m not going to tell you, I’m going to tell them. Give me a press conference with all them people and I’ll come out and I’ll win. They know it. Everybody knows it. That’s why they can’t bring me to no shit like that, ’cause I’ll steal the whole damn show. They know better than that. I’d probably walk in and they’d be askin’ me questions thinking I’m James Franco from the movie. Or they’d think James Franco is James Franco and they’re like, “Hey, that’s RiFF RaFF, and RiFF RaFF should’ve been in the movie.” Bottom line is: I don’t have to say nothin’. People got eyes. Look at me. Go watch the movie. I don’t have to say nothin’.

You started out rapping as MTV RiFF RaFF. Why that name?

I watched a lot of MTV growing up. I love MTV. I watched Beavis and Butthead, Wayne’s World, Yo! MTV Raps. And they used to have music videos on there. When I got the chance to be on MTV, I took the first opportunity. It was a bullshit-ass show, I hated it, that shit was weak, but I wanted to get on MTV.

What was your time like on From G’s to Gents?

I don’t even want to talk about that shit. But I got a lot of big stuff going on with MTV. I started from the bottom, now I’m here. I will be on an episode of Ridiculousness comin’ up, but I can’t tell you what shows I’ll be on because I don’t want to fuck it up. Three Loco has a show comin’ out … we like to have fun, do shit, and do music too.

How did you and Diplo hook up together?

Diplo just said he wanted to, ugh, sign me and do an album. Whole album’s almost done and it’s coming out in July. Neon Icon. It’s a variety. I’m gonna have rock songs, rap sounds, country songs … It’s a variety pack of whatever beats I like. Like one of the 27-packs of potato chips … but Versace. Versace shit.

How’s SXSW been going for you so far?

Movin’ around … you know, it’s not like how it used to be. I used to come down here as a kid, and I was like, “Damn!” But it’s fun … I think I like Texas real life better. Shit’s changed. It’s fuckin’ packed and there’s a lot of traffic, so it’s hard for you to get where you wanna go. I don’t remember so many damn 50- and 60-year-olds walkin’ around. I don’t remember there bein’ so many damn ugly girls walkin’ around. No, I don’t know. It’s good to have RiFF RaFF in town.

So what are your goals in the industry?

I want to own a hotel, Jody Highroller. Got two big-ass neon dice on top of the thing. A sculpture with crystallized, color-changing, holographic colors with black lights. Upstairs is a sweet-ass club with a big-ass Jacuzzi room. You can rent the whole top floor for the night for like $50,000. Then each room would be different-themed … but luxury, though. You might walk in and the whole room might be a big-ass rainforest, like [makes monkey sound]. That might be one of the rooms. First step is billionaire, then hotel.