In February, the Internet discovered RMR by way of a seemingly innocent yet brilliant take on Rascal Flatt’s “Bless This Broken Road.” The song itself, simply titled “Rascal,” focused on the same form of trials and tribulations as the Ohio country band’s original, but in RMR’s eyes those trials and tribulations were fixated on subjects closer to home. It became an instant viral earworm.
Many immediately saddled RMR in a catch-all bag of country trap, following the path of whirlwind success stories like Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” and Breland’s “My Truck.” Instead, with the release of his debut EP DRUG DEALING IS A LOST ART, RMR established something different, a melodic drive through the haze of living fast, heartbreak, and emotion. In that risk-taking, RMR found a supporter and newfound friend, UGK rap legend Bun B.
RMR cites Bun B as an influence, having grown up listening to UGK in the early 2000s, and the two men met one another in person for the first time in late May in Minneapolis. It was days after the police killing of George Floyd and right as the world’s gaze fell on the city due to police brutality, racial inequality, and social injustice.
“I just happened to be out there supporting Stephen Jackson who’s a longtime family friend,” Bun says of his time in Minneapolis. “I saw how much pain he was going through dealing with the situation and making sure that his friend got justice. We get to City Hall for the press conference, and I see RMR in the building. I make a beeline to him. Because obviously, he’s unmistakable. Even in the era of everybody wearing masks, he’s still unmistakable.”
Since that day in Minneapolis, RMR and Bun have stayed in contact. In the conversation below, the pair discuss their time in Minneapolis, RMR’s DRUG DEALING IS A LOST ART, their thoughts on artist mystique in 2020, and whether or not they believe there will be substantial change across the board in the wake of numerous Black men and women killed by law enforcement.
As told to Brandon Caldwell
On Minneapolis, the protests and the people:
Bun B: Minneapolis was tense. The wounds were very fresh. People were still trying to get arrests and fight for justice. Unfortunately it wasn't an isolated incident in Minneapolis. They had been dealing with this for a while. I went over to Cup Foods, which George Floyd was murdered in front of, and there was a young lady there talking about how the police had recently killed her cousin and that the same cop that killed her cousin was still on duty.
What people don't realize is that when the police commit these crimes, when they murder people in a line of duty, there's no ramifications for it. There's no arrests. There's no charges. There's no prosecution. These people are even, in certain cases, allowed to continue to patrol the streets of the neighborhood in which they have killed someone. That’s what people have to see. They don't see cops in their neighborhood. They see killers roaming their neighborhoods. For Minneapolis, it was really the straw that broke the camel's back because they had been tired of this continuing process of police being allowed to kill people in their communities and then go back on the job.
RMR: I seen a lot of... it's post-traumatic. You hold law enforcement to a certain standard. You don't want them to be a criminal organization. When they start acting as crooked cops and getting away [with it], you start treating them like that. You start fearing for your life because it's almost like, who do you call? I was speaking with a few citizens in Minneapolis, and they were tired of it.
Bun B: That's why Minneapolis reacted the way that they did. Even when they tried to march peacefully, they marched in the vicinity of the Target, everyone was like, "Oh, they're rioting. They looted the Target."
The people went in there trying to get water and get food from marching and protesting in the heat. The store wouldn't serve them. In their minds, the store was on the side of the police killing the people in the community. People just reacted in the moment. This is something that the city of Minneapolis unfortunately has been dealing with. They got to the point that they were fed up. They were done with it.
RMR: What they did for the marches, it was amazing. Even to be a part of that, to be a part of everybody as a whole, I feel like it was great and it was beautiful—white, Black, Latino, Native Americans [were involved]. They went ahead and they marched.
I'm very happy to be on the forefront where we're making change. I'm trying to impact growth. I'm trying to impact growth on our society because so many people from politics to music are just ignorant. I don't mean ignorant as a slur or nothing, but ignorant isn't cute anymore. It's not bliss.
It was great just to see everybody come together. It was beautiful in a sense that civilians, the people are actually going to stand up and unite and speak and actually have a voice and actually try to make a change.
On whether the change in the world behind Black Lives Matter feels real:
Bun B: For me, it doesn't matter if they're just doing it to appease people, because the money that these companies are donating is going to put some of these communities in a position to actually change themselves. We, as a culture, as a community, have to hold people continuously accountable. When they say they're going to start these initiatives, we have to demand transparency. Where does the funding go?
RMR: I completely agree.
Bun B: You've got Bank of America. Bank of America has put up $1 billion. That's $250 million a year for a four-year initiative. We have to constantly stay on their necks and be like, "Okay, where's this first $250 million going?" Make sure when the time comes with the next 250, we have to have the transparency for that. That goes for all corporations. We need to make sure that the money is going where it needs to go and that there’s transparency.
We can't just allow them to do with the money what they will. A lot of people are asking that, when these corporations do this, that they put a team of people in place to dictate where that money goes. They may not... For example, there's two Black Lives Matter organizations out there, right?
Bun B: There's the Black Lives Matter Foundation, which is not what people think it is. It does not represent Black Lives Matter. The foundation, which is the fake one, has already received over $4 million in donations. [Editor's Note: read more here.] We have to make sure that people know exactly where they should be sending the money and who they should be sending the money to.
RMR: That’s the business side, the corporate side. For the social side, like when they put up the squares? I would say it's a little bit cheesy, but it's a step. It's a step to at least send a little light on the situation.
Let's say somebody who doesn't know what's going on in rural Oklahoma, or rural Utah, he doesn't know what's going on. He actually clicks on the celebrity, #BlackLivesMatter, and he actually looks at it. He grows a little from that. He changes a little bit from that. Even if he chooses not to support it, I feel like he at least acknowledges it. Acknowledging it, I feel like that's a step towards the right direction. Of course we gotta keep [up the pressure] for real reform and real change and donations and everything. I feel like the change is decent. It’s a little step.
If you open up yourself to different cultures, if you choose to grow a little bit, if you can put yourself in that person's shoes; then you can see a little bit from their perspective. Maybe you can choose if I'm going to judge or I'm going to react or something.
On RMR's DRUG DEALING IS A LOST ART EP and pushing music forward:
RMR: Half of the records on the EP, maybe 75% of the records I made before “Rascal” even dropped. You feel me? Before that video even dropped, I had different pools of music that I always dabbled with. I have a lot more records that are way different. We chose to put the selective few on there just to show exactly where music could be stepping to. Not to even just say me, but I feel like I'm the blueprint of the artists of the future because a lot more artists, not just kids, but a lot more artists are going to turn things around and start experimenting. Not just experimenting, but growing.
Bun B: I think that really surprised a lot of people. Once you see the [“Rascal”] video cut on and you see the imagery in the few seconds before it starts, you're like, "Okay, I know..."
Even with the screengrab. Even when you hear his voice, and you're like, "Oh, wow. I did not see that coming." It's a pleasant surprise. That's the beauty of it. It's a pleasant surprise. Everywhere you went, every comment about it was positive. "This is amazing. I can't believe I'm seeing this right now. I love this." Everything was supportive. I think it's a beautiful thing when culturally, we're open to see these merging of the genres.
It shows, for one, that our young people are not always what we assume they are. They're very forward-thinking. They're progressive, and they're willing to take chances. He took a big chance, presenting himself in the way that he did. I think it paid off. I think it was refreshing for people to see. It wasn't the same old, same old that people normally hear with hip-hop.
I encourage young people taking a chance on themselves, not just wanting to do what everybody else is doing. The black experience, it has similarities, but the expressions are usually different. That's the beauty of RMR. He details the black experience in America, but from a totally different aspect. We need to encourage when young people want to take chances on their art and take chances on themselves out here right now. I'm glad that everybody was receptive to it like I was. That's what we want to do, is encourage more artists like RMR to go out on a limb and try something that separates them.
I get asked dozens of times a day by young people, "What can I do to get my music and my sound out there?" I tell them, "Be different." Present yourself in a different way. Don't try to be the next so and so. Young people tell me that all the time. I think I'm the next Lil Baby. I think I'm the next Future. I think I'm the next this and that. You don't want to be the next nobody. You want to be the first you.
RMR: Thank you. Thank you so much. The consciousness is going to grow. For an artist to just sit, like he said, and stick to one box because, "Oh yeah, I want to be the next woo, woo, woo, woo, woo." That's already been heard before. That's already been done time and time again.
But for artists like me, a few of the people that he just named to step out of the box and then to continuously do it. They keep breaking grounds for the new people coming behind them and pushing the culture forward.
The whole genre-bending thing is, I see no lines. I'm going to do what I want to do. You and I could put out an opera record tomorrow. Oh, this is Beethoven being black and what not. I could put that out tomorrow, and obviously there's going to be a message behind it because I like something in my records.
On artist mystique and dealing with record labels in 2020:
Bun B: Probably for the first time in the history of the music industry, the power is in the hands solely of the artists as far as the majority of the industry is concerned. For years, people had to go to record companies, sit in front of a room full of people who didn't come from the culture, probably didn't have a good frame of reference of the culture, and try to tell them that this is what I think people want to hear. I think this is something that's revolutionary. I think it's a game-changer, and I think, if the people heard it, they would embrace it. Whenever music was brought to these people and the people didn't understand it, they rejected it. What happens is, people never get a chance to hear it and make a decision themselves.
We've cut out the middle man. We've taken it directly to the people. And the people have decided what it is they like, what they feel best represents them and who they want to support. I remember when we first went to Jive Records in 1992, and we told them, "This is the kind of album we want to make." And they were like, "No, we don't like this. We don't want to pay for these samples." And all this different kind of stuff.
RMR: The whole thing with mystique is people need to fall in love with the music first and start liking the music, and then the transition of your brand and whatever else you want to establish later on. It just comes down to good music. The artists are in charge of their own destiny because they do have creative control. Like me, I bring something to my team and whatnot. If they don't like it, not to be rude or anything, but I’m still gonna go with it. And if I'm there to bump my head…
Bun B: Yeah, I don't think failing is a bad thing. I think people should be allowed the opportunity to try things. If they fail, then now they're in a position to regroup. But if they never try...
RMR: Yeah, because they grow. They grow from their failures.
Bun B: Exactly, you know what I'm saying? Now, people don't have to go through a buffer. They can take it straight to the people. If the people are receptive, the record company's going to come anyway. Do what you do. Put it out there. Take a chance on yourself because if it do hit... One, now you're in a position to directly start making money immediately. Right? You can start selling it immediately. You can start streaming it immediately.
Then, the record company will still come because if you're a musician that's in a position to make profit, record companies are going to come. Now you have a decision as to whether or not you even want to embrace that. Like, "You know what? Nah, we just go through this. We're going to do this our way." You know what I'm saying? "You weren't feeling it anyway, so don't come around trying to co-opt this shit now."
RMR: Talk that talk!
Bun B: People have to remember, UGK was not embraced in the earliest inception. It took years for people, outside of the immediate area, to really understand what we were doing and embrace it. I know what it's like to be on the sidelines, fighting just trying to get in, just trying to be heard. I'm glad that we, as a group, made the proper sacrifices that we did at the time so that other artists could come behind them and be given the benefit of the doubt that we weren't given.
RMR: People like you came down and laid down a proper foundation. Me and a lot of other artists can grow. I thank you for that. I commend you for that.