Beats, rhymes and life are three of the corners where hip hop intersects. Few other TV shows have been able to cover all of these angles in-depth and authentically quite like REVOLT TV’s “Drink Champs,” which thrives on its candid conversations with the biggest and most influential figures in the game. In honor of such a one-of-a-kind show, REVOLT will be recapping each weekly “Drink Champs” episode, so you can always catch the gems that are dropped in each lit interview.
In the latest episode of “Drink Champs,” rapper Russ slides through for a couple of shots of tiger bone with N.O.R.E. and DJ EFN, who pick the young star’s brain about his rise to prominence. Born in New Jersey, the Sicilian-American and his family made pit-stops in Kentucky and North Carolina before settling in Atlanta. Striking an alliance with partner Bugus, Russ began to embark on his quest to become a rap star during his teens, recording constantly while honing his talent and learning the tricks of the trade. In 2014, he began posting his music on SoundCloud and gradually built a fanbase off the strength of his weekly releases. The buzz beckoned the call of Columbia Records, which partnered with the indie-minded firebrand and released his debut album, There’s Really a Wolf, in 2017. Supported by the singles “What They Want” and “Losin Control,” the project peaked at No. 7 on the Billboard 200 and was ultimately certified platinum, making Russ an undeniable success story. Despite his brash demeanor and polarizing views on the state of hip hop, Russ has established himself as one of the most enterprising and forward thinking minds in the game today — with hits to match.
To help give fans a recap of the conversation, REVOLT compiled a list of nine things we learned from the Russ episode of “Drink Champs.” Take a look at them below.
1. On Getting Bit By The Rap Bug
At the beginning of his interview, Russ sheds light on what inspired him to pursue rapping as a profession. “It was like ‘06,” the “Best on Earth” rapper recalls. “I was like fourteen, a freshman in high school just making beats. Before that, I was like five or seven listening to 50 [Cent] and Eminem. I remember writing raps from the perspective that I was from of Queens because 50 was my favorite. At the time, I was in North Carolina. So, we moved around, but I just felt like I knew who I was before I knew who I was. The bug bit me before I knew it bit me. Why else is a 7-year-old standing on his mantle-piece performing raps he’s writing from the perspective of Queens? For no other reason than like, ‘I think he just really fucks with that shit.’”
2. On Lil Wayne’s Influence On Lean Culture
Lean has been prevalent in the hip hop community dating back to the days of the late DJ Screw, but has seen an uptick in popularity over the past decade. Russ points to Lil Wayne’s influence as a proponent in the drug becoming trendy. “Lean went mainstream with Lil Wayne,” Russ opines. “And Lil Wayne is one of my favorite rappers ever, but that’s the thing, you’re looking currently at a rap game that is a bunch of babies of Lil Wayne. From the face tats to the dreads to the lean, it’s all a bunch of Lil Waynes. Look at everyone of these little 21-year-olds. It’s all Lil Wayne wannabes.”
3. His Reaction To Nipsey Hussle’s Death
Like many rap artists, Russ was deeply affected by the death of Nipsey Hussle, who passed earlier this year after being gunned down in his hometown. The cocksure spitter details his reaction to receiving the news, which was delivered by his mother. “I’m a really huge, huge fan of Nipsey and I have been since I heard The Marathon in December 2010 when it came out,” he says. “But, when you have a death like that, it kind of puts it all in perspective because it’s very, like... that was the real. I just couldn’t believe it. I woke up ‘cause my sleep schedule’s fucked, so I was asleep. And my mom knows how much I fuck with him. So, she called my manager to tell him, ‘Go wake him up.’ So, I woke up to like fifty group texts and I’m like, ‘What the fuck?’ like there’s no way. I cried every day for a fucking week. For a week straight.”
4. On What Drives His Work Ethic
During his exchange with N.O.R.E. and DJ EFN, Russ shares the driving force behind his relentless grind and thirst to improve in all facets. “My quota is my own personal satisfaction,” he explains. “Like, I need to feel like my jump-shot just improved, every month. The money, I know, is ancillary. That’s cool, whatever. I understand that hustle, too. But, then it’s like, I’ll never stop because I’m never content with the level I’m at. I always think my overall [rating] can go up. If I get to a 91 overall, I’ll be like, ‘Yeah, but if I go hard in the studio, I’ll be a hundred.’ That’s what keeps me going.”
5. On Big Pun Forcing Studio Engineers To Drink
As longtime viewers of the “Drink Champs” may know, N.O.R.E.’s close friend, late rapper Big Pun, was notorious for his light-hearted hijinks, one of which the Animal Thug shares on the latest episode of his show. “Big Pun used to make everybody [that] walked in his session drink a whole Coors Light and then a fucking shot of Hennessy,” he reveals. “But, this was horrible ‘cause it was this engineer guy, he walks in. You can tell this engineer is scared to death, Pun’s got a gun on his waist. He’s a crazy guy, but he’s so funny that you forget that he’s crazy. So, Pun goes to the guy, ‘You know, everybody’s gotta do it.’ So, we all drink a Coors Light can, the whole joint, and you take a shot of Hennessy and then he’ll just let you go. I felt so sorry for the engineer ‘cause the engineer’s looking at me like, ‘N.O.R.E., I don’t drink at all.’”
6. On Utilizing SoundCloud
Before the platinum plaques and sold out shows, Russ was one of the first artists to break on a national scale largely off the strength of SoundCloud, the streaming app which also helped produce stars like Lil Pump, Juice WRLD, and others. After unleashing music via file-sharing sites and TuneCore without gaining much traction, he changed course, reverting to hitting line-drives instead of swinging at wild pitches for a home-run. “My goal was to get heard, not bought,” he explains. “So, that was 2011 to 2014. End of 2014, I’m like, ‘Yo, I’ve done eleven projects and I still have a thousand followers, so I need to switch something up.’ Most people would quit, I was like, ‘Nah, I know I’m ill.’ Self belief. I just need to switch it up. And I realized people are not trying to hear an album from someone they don’t know, but people are always down to click on the first song. So, I was like, ‘Cool, I’ma drop one-song albums every week until I blow up.’”
7. On Becoming An Author
After conquering the music industry with his self-contained debut, Russ is looking to tap into the breadth of his talents, which has led to him becoming a budding author. “I wrote a book,” the “Losin Control” rapper reveals. “Harper Collins published the book, the name of the book is It’s All In Your Head. It was always in me, it was definitely always in me and then when Nipsey passed, it just kinda reminded me of me... It’s about what you leave behind and what you’re just given, and It’s All In Your Head. It’s a tool book. I don’t want it to be an autobiography [or] ‘How I wrote this melody.’ It’s not that.”
8. On Being A White Rapper
One of the more poignant topics of Russ’ chat with the “Drink Champs” was his position in the industry as a white rapper and how that’s affected his career — for better or worse. “If I was black, more black people would fuck with me,” he says in response to N.O.R.E. broaching the subject. “But, less white people would fuck with me. So, the reality is I’m not black, I’m white. So naturally, more white people fuck with me. It just is what it is. We can just address that now... Being white in hip hop makes it way easier to reach the masses, [but] makes it way harder to reach hip hop.”
9. On Visiting The Marathon Store
Since first opening its doors, Nipsey Hussle’s flagship The Marathon store has become a mecca within the hip hop community with an innumerable amount of fans and artists having made the pilgrimage to the now iconic strip mall on Crenshaw and Slauson in Los Angeles. Russ shares his own account of visiting the store nearly a decade ago. “2011, we’re in California, we go to Nipsey’s shop. I’m eighteen, he’s eighteen, we buy clothes. Bugus had on an all red hoodie with a big ‘B’ on it, and I had on black Air Force Ones with red laces and we pulled up... We’re just moving off the music. And I was like, ‘Man, he got a song about ‘Blue Laces,’ it’s probably not a great idea to go in there with red laces.’ So, we go in there. Bugus takes off the hoodie. It’s like a black tee. I take out the laces in my fucking Air Force Ones and we go in. But, it was such a cool memory for me ‘cause Blacc Sam was there, and everything and it was dope. We saw a lot of ourselves in that and it was such an inspiration.”