Last March, when Disney pop-star turned pop-tart Selena Gomez Instagrammed a picture from the set of Harmony Korine's eagerly awaited film Spring Breakers, plenty of people quickly noted a resemblance between James Franco’s colorful character and rapper Riff Raff. For his part, Riff Raff quickly claimed the character was based on him, and that he'd been tapped for the film by Korine himself, but was out of the country, and therefore unable to participate.
"The role I would have played would be like a drug dealer, or the friend of a drug dealer, Gucci Mane" said Riff Raff. I asked him if James Franco was originally supposed to be in the movie as a different character. "James Franco was in the movie, but I was supposed to be in there also. Now James Franco is playing me."
A few days later, Franco himself swatted down Riff Raff: “None of that’s true.” Also:
I would say the biggest influence on the role was this local Florida rapper named Dangerous [sic]. He's fairly unknown, but he was down there in the place, living the life, and he became the biggest model for me and he's in the movie.
Russ “Dangeruss” Curry grew up on the south side of St. Petersburg, a predominantly black area known for high crime and a lack of opportunity. Danger, as he's known to his friends, compares it to “the bad parts of Chicago and Miami and New Orleans.” His father left when he was young, and his mother was often absent. “She had her vices, so to speak,” he says. He and his brother were raised by his grandmother, who became ill when he was sixteen. “I became man of the house, you know,” he says. “As far as taking over everything, paying bills, so on and so forth...I got caught up in the streets making good money, and music became secondary."
He became a local star only recently, with the minor viral success of his street hit “My Fork” and his partially-self-produced mixtape, Armed and Dangeruss. The song, named for a key utensil in the crack-mixing process, attracted more attention locally: “It was to the point I was going to shows and people were coming to the shows with forks."
“My Fork” also caught the attention of Harmony Korine, who discovered the video when it was sent to the director by JJ Henry, also known as Hard White, a Florida-based rapper. Russ admits to not being familiar with Korine prior: “I’d seen [Korine's film] Kids when I was in middle school. That used to be my shit when I was in middle school. I didn’t know till I got older that he was the one who wrote the actual storyline for it.”
And that was how things began. I spoke with Dangeruss in a series of phone conversations; he has a strong slurred Southern accent, ("man" is always pronounced "mane") and occasionally peppers his speech with n-bombs. He’s a humble person, and just in the beginning stages of his career, but has an extremely honest, open personality. He unabashedly mentions that he has 'earned stripes' in the street, and seems willing to share whatever is on his mind at a given time, without apology.
Interview conducted by David Drake (@somanyshrimp)
Dangeruss, "My Fork" (2011)
On why Harmony Korine got in touch:
"From what I understand, they were in Florida and they were looking for an authentic white guy that was really from the hood, that was really from the ghetto. You know what I mean by the ghetto, the black ghetto, the real hood-hood, that had tattoos and whatever, that really lived that lifestyle. First and foremost, there was another rapper in the city [JJ Henry, aka Hard White] who was contacted by Harmony Korine’s staff, to ask and help scout, and I know [Henry]....He submitted like six or seven different people to Harmony, and from what Harmony told me in the meeting I had with them, he was going through them, and when he got to mine, [Korine] saw my video, and he saw me and told everybody just stop, this is him, go get this guy right now. That’s kind of how I was found.
"I spoke with Harmony, I had a meeting with Harmony. He was real cool. He told me he could tell everything was authentic and this and that, that’s kind of how it initially started, you know. He said he was looking for that authentic—he kept using the word, authentic—he didn’t want a fake version or—he wanted the real deal, he saw that tattoos, he saw the people that was in the videos with me, and he could tell that it was 100% real, you know."
On meeting James Franco in Florida:
"James, the day he flew into Florida, he came straight to my house and him and two of his representatives....It was actually one of my [trails off] … apartments that I had...[pauses] going on...things were kind of strange, man. I had things [emphasis his] going on in my apartment, when I brought them through. We sat down, I locked the doors and just kind of blocked it off for a little while. We sat in there for, I dunno, maybe two, three hours. I read out the lyrics to his people, so that he could study the lyrics. I performed the song for him in my living room. I kind of did a mini-show for him, to get my idea how to move, how to hold the mic. The gestures that go along with the song, stuff like that. We hung out for a good part of that day. He a real cool, real cool guy, real down to earth. It surprised me. He seemed like just a normal dude which was real cool, we actually kind of clicked immediately.
A couple days later he picked me up and we rode around the city for a little while. He just filmed me, him and his people filmed me. We went to the studio. I rolled up a big blunt about the size of a baby arm. And I know James, I know James a smoker, mane, everybody knows that. We went to the studio and I had a big old blunt. My partner had three of them already rolled up when I got there. He didn’t even know I was bringing James with me, he just smoke a lot of weed.
My partner had three different blunts rolled up. Three different kinds of exotic kush. We got there, we’re smoking. Me and my dogs smoking. James, because like I say James a smoker, everybody know that, he can smell the kush, and he was like, "Man what the hell is that?" Because it smelled crazy. I went to pass him the blunt, and he kinda reached up for it and then stopped, and he looked at his people, and they were like, "No no no, don’t do it, don’t do it," and he started laughing and he was like "Awww man," put his arm back down like, "I can’t do it, they’re telling me no, they’re telling me no."
"He came to my house for about six hours one day. He came to my house another day about nine in the morning. We hopped in my car. And him and two of his people, they followed me all day til like seven at night. They wanted me to take him to the hood, but I didn’t feel comfortable with that. A lot of people where I’m from, they don’t know who James Franco is. I know who he is because I love Pineapple Express, that was my shit. I didn’t feel comfortable because they all had cameras and shit. I can’t bring all these upscale looking whitefolks to where I go with a bunch of cameras, it’s not gonna work. That’s just being realistic. I can’t walk into the places I go and these people got cameras, they’d be like, "Danger, what the fuck you got going on, boy, what’s going on?" They gonna think it’s police or something.
"Actually, we hit it off so good, he called me a couple weeks after he left, after he was done with the movie, after he left, he called me, said he wanted me to fly me out to Hollywood, California, he wanted me to be a part of something else that he was doing for a Se7en jeans campaign. He flew me out to Hollywood, put me in a five-star hotel, had private drivers. It was real nice, man, that was a whole separate project from the movie. So we hit it off pretty good, man."
On why “My Fork” wasn’t used in the film:
"We went out to my car to hear some of my music. I played him a couple tracks. Initially, he wanted “My Fork.” I told them I couldn’t let them get that one. It probably would have been a better play for me, because I’ve gotten more recognition off that song since the movie than the actual song that’s in the movie [“Hangin’ With the Dope Boys”]. To me [“My Fork”] is kind of like my little gold piece, my little gold nugget, it’s real catchy. It’s one of them songs you either love it, or you hate it.
A lot of people don’t understand it. They don’t like it because they think I’m rapping about a fork. They don’t understand the context. That’s the song they initially wanted, but I couldn’t let them get that one. So I went to another song called “Pots and Pans.” Which is a little more uptempo, but they felt like James couldn’t keep up with the lyrics on that one because it was so fast. And then I went to “Hangin with the Dope Boys,” and he was like, “If I can’t get ‘My Fork,’ I want ‘Hangin with the Dope Boys.’” I was like, yeah, we can work something out on that one. And then he even later on tried to go back to “My Fork,” he was like, you sure you don’t...? I’m like, yeah man, I can’t let that go."
On why “My Fork” is special to him:
"[“My Fork”] is one of them songs. You make a song and you know, when you’re an artist. When you’re a good artist and you have an ear for music, not just your music but music in general. You know what’s going to be a good song, and what’s going to take off. The second I wrote “My Fork,” the second I heard the beat, the song came to my head immediately. Like the beat talked to me. That tell me, hey, this is what I want you to say, I hear it, I hear my voice. It came together so quick and, to me, so perfect.
I really wish I would have put a better video to it, I just kind of rushed it and put a video together because I wanted to get it out there. If i was to get a record deal tomorrow, I could push that song again and get just as much positive feedback or recognition. It would take off the same way it’s taking off right now. But times ten. Because there’s millions of people who haven’t heard it. The crazy thing is, in the ghetto, in the hood, the people love it. But also it’s a lot of suburban people that really love it too. I don’t know why."
On recording his mixtape Armed and Dangeruss:
One of the songs that’s on there is called "Straight Up Out the Ghetto," and that song is actually about an incident that happened next door to me, where this guy who lived next door killed two U.S. Marshals and two St. Petersburg Police officers, and he did it while I was in my house. They had the streets yellow-taped off, they were throwing concussion grenades in the house, they had helicopters, they had ATF, FBI, homeland security, armored tanks. They ended up tearing the house down with a bulldozer while he was inside. It was crazy, man, it was absolutely crazy. All you heard was AKs firing for hours and hours. I actually produced that beat too, if you ever get a chance to listen to that mixtape. It’s called “Straight Up out The Ghetto.” That song was based on an actual incident that happened, so that was a little bit of reality on the mixtape.
On Dangeruss’ appearance in the film:
"We have a scene in the movie where we’re on the beach. And they had a stage set up out on the beach, and they had five hundred people out there, extras. And James and I are singing the song together. The scene is him and I, we’re kind of going back and forth on the song, he had the first verse, I had the second verse. We ran it all day, we probably did like forty or fifty times we sang the song, you know what I’m saying. And it was crazy because we had the earpieces in. So the crowd, they couldn’t hear the actual beat. All they heard was us singing. We could hear the beat in our earpieces. So it was kind of strange, but it worked, you know. That shit worked."
On Riff Raff claiming credit for the character:
"I heard about it. My initial reaction was...See, the way James’ appearance is in the movie, you can’t really dispute that that’s kind of Riff Raff’s style. Had it been based on me completely, 100%, James wouldn’t have dressed like that. He dressed kind of strange in the movie, for me, for my liking. He’d have looked a lot cooler if I would have had a part in that, which I believe I could have, but I didn’t take the initiative to say, “hey, don’t wear that goofy-lookin’ shit,” you know what I’m saying. As far as—you know, he got the braids, I got dreads, I got big dumb dreads, dreads is a whole—you know, dreads is a lion in the jungle type shit, he had braids, which is like a deer. His appearance, I can’t take credit for that, and I wouldn’t want to.
"But his actual character, as far as being a gangster, i told him a lot about how to do that. I’m like, look: You tote guns—I had a gun on me at the time when he was hanging out with me, you know what I’m saying, I keep one on me for my own personal reasons, you know, as far as how shit go in the hood and this and that. Just the lifestyle. Stuff like that. And like I said, I haven’t seen the movie, so I don’t know exactly what the outcome was. Riff Raff had no part in the movie at all, as far as I know. The only thing that I can say that that character played the part in was maybe Harmony Korine used his appearance, his clothes and shit, but other than that, i know for a fact that he had no parts in the movie, he didn’t speak to anyone about the movie, he had nothing to do with it, you know what I mean. Gucci Mane said that, in a recent interview I was reading, Gucci Mane even said that. I know for a fact that he ain’t have nothing to do with the movie itself. He had no parts in the movie, he had no say-so. The most credit he could get is saying, you know, this dude is dressing like me. Which to me, I don’t understand why they would even want him to dress like that."
On meeting co-star Gucci Mane:
"Gucci Mane probably one of my favorite artists ever. I was rocking with Gucci back when he was not even—people didn’t even like him. Back before he came out with “So Icey” and all that. I was always a fan of Gucci because I could relate to what he was talking about, and I could tell it was real, you know. So I was always a big fan of Gucci. I met him at Hollywood Nights, the strip club for a scene that they did. I didn’t get a chance to really talk to him too much. I wish I would though, but I’m not a groupie-type of dude, I’m not gonna be all on a dude’s nuts, just trying to be all, “hey your music...” and everything, I approach him like he’s in there, the man. I got to speak with him for a couple seconds. Like I said I’m not a groupie type of guy. As much as I like his music and I would love to work with him, it’s just me, man, I just can’t be all up on him. I’m a big fan of Gucci Mane, he’s one of my favorites ever."
On the neighborhood’s response to his growing profile:
"It’s all 100% love, man. I could call 50 real street niggas right now and they’ll tell you “boy that’s my nigga, Dangeruss, man I’m proud of that nigga,” you know what I’m saying. I get posts on Facebook when I post something, you’ll see comments, “hey man, the city proud of you, cuz,” and these are certified street gangsters, man. I’ve received no hatred at all. Because everybody that know me, they know that I’ve dealt with everything that they’ve dealt with, and then some. Because I had to earn stripes that some of these dudes ain’t have to earn.
"There was a point in my life when I was young, when I felt I had to prove myself. I’m talking about 13 years old. And I really probably didn’t have to. But I chose to, just to let these motherfuckers know, hey this shit is for real, man. You know what I’m saying? So from a very early age I established that I was certified. And for anybody that knows me personally will tell you that everything is 100. There ain’t no cuttin’ corners. And I don’t think anyone would be foolish enough to hate on me publicly, knowing me. And knowing the people that associate with me. I’m sure there’s people that might be undercover hating, I don’t know. But if they are, they have enough intelligence to keep it to theyself.
"Because like I say, man, I put in work, I’ve received probably as much if not more harassment from the police, for being me. The police don’t like me because I’m a white guy in the hood. I can get pulled over all the time, just for driving. I done had my car torn apart for nothing, for nothing. Just torn apart and then they don’t find nothing, and then they’re like, “alright, go ahead.” And I’m like, what about my car, you done torn my car to pieces! You ain’t gon put the shit back together? So everybody understand that I’ve done been through it all.
So everything is love, man. I get a lot of love, a lot of respect, a lot of love, man. If anything, I’d say that they happy, they happy because they know that if I was to make it, then I’m going to give back, I’m going to put the city on, I’m not going to disappear and get a bunch of money and forget where I come from. And they understand that, and that’s why they support me. And they push me. They share my interviews that are online. The shit’s all love, man. All love."
On concerns about the film’s quality:
"I can’t lie. There’s a part of me that believes that it’s not going to be as real as it should be. A lot of it has to do with the way he was dressed in the movie. You would never catch a gangster dressing like that. And the way he talks in the movie, you can kind of tell it’s not real, it’s not authentic. Harmony Korine could have found me and put me in James’ role. I love James Franco, that’s my dog. He called me the other day, two, three days ago, he called me, just checkin’ up on me. I love James. But if Harmony wanted that real, Harmony should have came and when he found me, he should have been like, you know what, tell James I’m gonna get him on something else, we need this guy. I think Harmony knew that. That’s why he wanted me to be a part of it so quick.
"But if I had more time to really school James on that shit, I feel like it could have been better. So yeah, I do have some concerns about that, because I told him what to do, I told him how to do it, but I wasn’t there to be like, naw, that ain’t right. Here, this how you do that. And have him do it. So when I get credit for his actual character, I kind of have to take a blessing and just hope he listens to what I told him. Because like I say, I wasn’t at every single shoot to be like, “hey James, we don’t do that. We don’t do that." [laughs].
"But I have faith. I have faith in James, I have faith in Harmony. I think it’s going to be a good movie. I don’t take nothing away from the movie. I believe it’ll be a great movie. But as far as the question, yeah, I have mixed feelings. I just hope for the best, because, you know. We’ll see what happens."
On how things have changed for him since the film:
"There’s been a couple of articles, ten to twelve articles online. Every couple days I’ll google it, Dangeruss, Spring Breakers. And some of them are good, some of them are bad. You’ve got the Riff Raff fans out there, they fully support him, you know what I’m saying. They’re badmouthing me. They don’t know me, so I don’t take offense to it. Like I say, my views on YouTube have jumped. They say any exposure is good exposure. I don’t believe that 100%, but there is some truth to that, you know what I mean? So yeah, it’s definitely been a lot of ears that have heard my name. A lot of mouths that have talked about me. I’m fortunate for it and I appreciated it. I still do. I just hope for the best, you know? I just hope the right ears can hear me. And I can take off."