Originally published November 29, 2016
While eyeing two bags of unopened Skittles and an untouched fruit platter in the greenroom of Emo's in Austin, TX, I await the arrival of the main attraction of the Yung God Tour.
Upon entry, Russ, 24, sports a smile and a burnt orange University of Texas football jersey paying homage to Roy Williams. After a quick survey of the backstage quarters, he modifies the sleeves with a pair of scissors borrowed from his hotel’s concierge.
As his crew members busy themselves with last-minute preparations, Russ settles in and prepares for a barrage of questions. His responses are deliberate until a unified “We want Russ!” chant erupts from the anticipating crowd and lassoes his attention.
“That’s epic,” he says, relishing at the moment.
This, along with his name on venue marquees across the country, posh hotel stays and a Billboard-charting single is all a part of the vision he waited for 10 years to manifest.
Though eager to take the stage in front of a sold-out crowd of 1,500, he refocuses his attention. His conversation is riddled with vivid memories of self-reliance that led him to his tipping point. He recalls basement-ridden hours of producing, recording, mixing and mastering 11 albums that he admits on-record flopped.
It took three years before he realized that blindly releasing full-length albums online was a fast route headed nowhere. Instead, the self-proclaimed DIY pioneer adopted a game plan that consisted of working smarter, not necessarily harder. Towards the end of 2014, Russ pivoted his efforts to uploading a song per week via Soundcloud. The repetition lasted over a year before he accumulated a following large enough to capitalize on.
According to Russ, he was an opening act performing for less than 50 people at the top of 2016. However, after acquiring industry vet Cara Lewis as his booking agent he embarked on his first European tour in May, followed by two sold-out North American runs.
But before he could demand $20,000 per show, or gross $3,000 per night in merchandise sales, he wrote, produced and recorded a song aptly titled “Forbes List” in 2015 - following our interview, he made no secret of his aspirations to be on the FORBES Cash Princes list sooner than later.
“I have an unremovable stain of self-confidence,” he admitted, candidly.
To level the terrestrial radio playing field with hip-hop's current cash kings and princes, Russ partnered with Columbia Records in July of 2016. He stresses that his arrangement with the label is mutually beneficial due to his accomplished resume that predates Columbia’s imprint, including an extensive catalog that brings in an estimated $100,000 in royalties per month, according to his retinue.
The Russ-produced debut single “What They Want” cracked the top 10 of Billboard’s Rhythmic charts, and will continue to rise past its current accumulation of over 48 million Spotify streams; its corresponding visual sits at over 21 million views on YouTube.
“Came a long way from 100 views,” he often tweets, referring to past releases.
Needless to say, the bootstrapping rapper resents when an up-and-comer’s business model is predicated on independence, only to find out that a record label has been a secret support system. His mild disdain for the falsified transparency prompted “Exposed,” a song that aims subliminal shots at the guilty. Though some industry insiders may take offense to Russ’ lyrical callousness, his suspicions of the characters in the business remain.
What was once a free service rendered by Russ for 10 years is now lucrative testimony of relentlessness. His commitment is a byproduct of a life’s ethos centered around his Diemon collective, an acronym for “Do It Everyday, Music Or Nothing.”
In spite of his determination to achieve more, he confesses that the accouterments of becoming a successful rapper “feels like what I always was envisioning in my head coming true.”