From D-Boy to Def Jam, Richie Rich has remained a fixture on the Bay Area Hip Hop scene for more than two decades. In that time, the Oakland rapper cut his teeth with underground favorites 415 and cut national classics alongside the likes of The Luniz and 2Pac. Still he’s remained something of an elusive figure, periodically dropping off the Rap map for years at a time to focus instead on his street hustles. Fresh off his latest hiatus, Rich recently linked up with HipHopDX to discuss the early days of Bay Rap, his relationship with Pac and his new underground tape, Town Bidness.
HipHopDX: How did you get into rapping?
Richie Rich: I used to play around with Rap when I was super young. My brother used to play all the Sugar Hill Gang stuff around the house. You know, the old school Hip Hop. And I remember learning all the words to [Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five‘s] “The Message.” From there, I would rap along with shit and before you know it was tinkering around trying to write my own first rap.
It’s a trip you say that, because I was talking to one of my homeboys the other day about the first rap I ever wrote. It was called “Strivin’ To The Top.” It seems kinda corny, but it was the first rap I had wrote that was actually mine. I was telling my man I need to try and find that song. I know it’s somewhere but I don’t know exactly where it’s at. After that, “Don’t Do It” was the next rap I wrote and I [later] released that on my first album, the first Richie Rich album [called Don’t Do It]. The rest is history.
DX: Where does the formation of 415 come in?
Richie Rich: I was trying to do my own Richie Rich thing for a minute and then the shit got a little out of hand. Once I finally got an executive producer who was willing to put some money behind the raps I found myself in the studio all by myself. It was just too much work. Every day it was just me, my dude DJ Darryl, my dude Darrin Harris and shit got overwhelming. I needed to start a group so I could split the load with somebody else. So we went on a quest to check out some different cats to rap with. I interviewed a few guys, I probably went through maybe four or five dudes before I actually bumped into D-Loc in the neighborhood. I’m from 106th [Street], he was on 104th and he was at his uncle’s house. His uncle was a friend of my executive producer, J.E.D., and [he] had told him “my nephew is tight.” So we pulled up on 104th and we got out the car, I’m looking at the guys standing around and I’m like I know it ain’t none of these dudes, because they was all old dudes. His uncle’s name was Calvin so I was like, “Calvin, what’s up?” and he was like “Loc!” and then D-Loc comes sliding from under the car. He was down there putting the transmission in. So he comes sliding out on one of those little roll away dolly joints. And he slid out, and [his uncle] was like “they want to hear you spit something” and the boy he just took off. The shit was so clean it was damn near intimidating to me. And that’s how 415 formed, D-Loc was the dude.
DX: Did it take some time for you two to gel creatively or did you just jump right in?
Richie Rich: Well when we first started going to the studio D-Loc was a little more edgy as far as his whole demeanor in the street and I was a little more outgoing. D-Loc, he played the back a little bit. It probably took about a month of hanging out and going to the studio to [get to] where we was talking and being cool with each other. D-Loc is a quiet guy, so it took us a minute to start gelling. But the music took off instantly because what we’d do was, we’d go in, DJ Darryl would throw us a beat and a topic and I’d put a verse down down. Then Loc would hear my verse and he’d write something. We used to talk about this shit later on in life, [we’d say], “Them verses you used to spit used to be so intimidating to me they just made me go harder.” But what made us cool was the differences in us. Because he was more like a butcher, that boy was hard. All his shit was hard and edgy. Most of my shit was more player-ish. I had hard shit too but I wasn’t taking life as seriously as D-Loc was at the time. So the shit came together good.
DX: How did people respond when you started putting out the music?
Richie Rich: Well on [41Fivin’], that first 415 record, we didn’t know what the hell we was doing, man. We was just going to the studio, coming off the turf. [We’d] spend all day out grinding then get to the studio. We didn’t have a clue that people was gonna take to the music they way they [did].
I think the first thing we put out was a little EP, 415in. It had three or four songs on it. And I kinda had an idea that the shit was good because my homeboys were stealing the music. My homeboys was stealing the tapes. I would have my tape in the deck and we would hang out at the stereo shop that I used to get my music for my cars hooked up in. And I’d come back to the car and the damn tape would be gone. So I’m asking around, “Who took the tape out the car?!” Didn’t nobody want to fess up. That’s when I knew we was on to something when over and over niggas was stealing the tapes. I was like, okay, people must like this shit.
So when we actually released it, I think it was the summer of 1990. I remember vividly because Too Short was putting out that Short Dog’s In The House album. And Short was holding shit down. We was kinda new to the scene. Some of my boys from Sobrante Park had a detail shop and everybody used to stop there. Anybody who was somebody got their shit detailed up there. So I remember being up there one day, playing the 415 record. It was maybe like 15 to 20 dudes up there just vibing and feeling the music. Short pulled up and was like, “Hey, take that out and put this in real quick.” So my homeboy took the 415 out and put Short’s cassette in. He played like maybe one or two songs and then they was like “Short, that’s cool but put that 415 back in.” And we was like, “Woah!” I remember Short came over to me and was like, “Y’all got the town right now. Y’all got it locked.” Short had played his whole record for us over the course of the day. But when he played it, the album didn’t have the songs “Short But Funky” [or] “The Ghetto” and it was two other songs that wasn’t on there. So we had sent the Dog back to the drawing board. He went and added them songs. And that’s when I knew we was on to something. Because we always looked up to Short, [he] was like the only dude rapping from Oakland back then. If you was trying to rap, Short was the dude to try to get with.
DX: So it was a pretty tiny scene in those days?
Richie Rich: Back then, music was not like now where you have ten thousand motherfuckers rapping. It was Too Short, Dangerous Dame and 415. That was it. The Hip Hop freeway [was] clear. We patterned ourselves after the N.W.A. niggas. That’s the shit that we listened to and we was like fuck that we fin’ to make us some gangsta shit. Because Eazy E was a bad motherfucker back then.
DX: Did you guys tour off that album much?
Richie Rich: No. Our executive producer [J.E.D.] was a gangster. He had a problem with being seen in a lot of places. He didn’t want to go a lot of places. He was very big on not moving around. So we was just a local legend. We did little shows around the Bay Area, around Oakland but back then, Rap wasn’t at the stage when we was doing a lot of shows. People would just buy the cassettes and bump your shit. I remember Short performing at places like the East Bay Dragons and shit like that but if I remember correctly, it wasn’t a lot of performances back then. I remember they wanted us to perform in a few places and our executive producer was like, “Naw man, we ain’t finna be over there,” so shit we kinda just was putting out tapes. Motherfuckers was buying the tapes and that was about it.
DX: But the music must have been getting out of the Bay then if you guys were getting these requests.
Richie Rich: Well you know what, the music moved real fast. It moved down the highway to L.A. The shit was huge in L.A. and we didn’t even know it. I found out a lot later on that guys like Snoop [Dogg] and Warren [G] and Nate [Dogg], they grew up on that shit. Snoop is my dude, me and Snoop real cool. All them L.A. guys – Snoop, Daz [Dillinger], Warren – they some stand-up type of dudes. I remember the first time I bumped into Snoop, he was like, “Man, you’re Rich from the 415? I know all the words to all that shit! Y’all the reason I started rapping, we used to listen to that shit every day on the block. And then one day we was like, ‘Man, [out of respect for] 415, we [will call ourselves] 213.'” They patterned their shit right off of us. And that shit is trippy when you think about it, Oakland is about 400 miles from L.A., so for him to be that far down the highway and feeling the 415 shit, that shit was big. Because, like I told you, we didn’t know what we was doing. We was just going to the studio. We’d leave the turf from grinding, get in the car, drive out to the studio and just rap about what happened that day.
DX: Do you know how many copies 41Fivin’ sold?
Richie Rich: I think we sold close to 50,000. And at the time we didn’t know how to chart and check what was moving. But I do remember our distributor [Priority Records] was like, “We sold like 50,000 pieces of that first record.” We was like, “50,000! Shit, who bought the motherfucker?” People bought that shit all over the place. It did good in the midwest. That’s back before the South was on and the Midwest was on, it was really just west coast and east coast people rapping, so the South and the Midwest used to be fans of west coast music before they actually got they own shot.
DX: Was it always your plan to spin off into a solo career after 415?
Richie Rich: Not really. My executive producer was the brains on all that old shit. We did not know what we was doing. He was like, “Okay we got that down, let’s do this.” All the ideas as far as business went was coming from J.E.D. He was making the business decisions, we was just a bunch of knuckleheads coming to the studio and making the music. We didn’t have a clue about the packaging, the artwork, we wasn’t really tripping off that. We didn’t know the shit was gonna do nothing, we was just in there rhyming. So he was handling that shit. All them ideas with the solo projects and what songs went where, he was on top of that.
DX: And then you got locked up a little after that, right?
Richie Rich: Yeah, 415 was ’89 and I locked up in ’91. I can tell you how that happened too. Back when we was doing the 415 shit, I was [a] D-boy, I was grinding hard, I was heavy in the street. D-Loc wasn’t really rocking like that. He had his hands in some stuff, but he wasn’t as heavy as I was. I remember when J.E.D. used to pay us. Every two weeks he would have me, DJ Darryl and D-Loc meet him at this hotel in Fremont, because everything he did was top secret. So he’ d have us meet him at this hotel, he’d break us off some money. He’d give us like $2,000. Give D-Loc two grand, give DJ Darryl two grand. I never took no money. Everytime he had us come out there I’d tell him to hold onto mine. I’m cool, I got some paper, put mine’s in a pot and hit me when it get big. Because I was getting money. I was hustling trying to keep up with this persona that had taken off, this Richie Rich dude.
Because the Richie Rich thing didn’t come from the raps. I got that name from this chick I used to work with at McDonald’s. I used to work at a McDonald’s when I was a youngster, and I was a short dude. When I graduated from high school I think I was like 5’2″, maybe 5’3″. So when I worked at McDonald’s, people used to call me Tiny. Linda was a chick who worked with me and Linda was a woman. Compared to how small I was, she was grown. I was a nerd at the time, I wasn’t really fooling with females like that. We down there dressing up and I remember Linda taking her street clothes off and changing into her McDonald’s uniform right in front of me. That’s how much of a square I was with females! She just stripped out of her street clothes and got dressed right in front of me like I was totally harmless. And she told me, “Why you be lettin motherfuckers call you Tiny? I don’t like that shit. Your name is Richie Rich. You don’t even have to have no job, your parents got paper. You was born with a silver spoon in your mouth.” Because I come from a hilly area of Oakland but all my niggas was from the flatlands. So Linda gave me the name Richie Rich and bam, I had painted that shit on the back of my Capri, right on the tail. That’s where the name came from. So then when the Rap shit came about I was trying to keep up with the name. So that’s why a nigga was out there hustling like that.
So one thing lead to another and I fucked with the wrong dude. I should have known better too, because he had a homeboy who was hustling and he wasn’t fucking with his homeboy, why would he be coming to cop from me? But this nigga was a rat. I think he bought an ounce from me, and I should’ve known. When he came to buy the motherfucker, he’s trying to save like $40. Back then they was like $700 and he was like, “Can I give you $660?” This money he was giving me was police money and this faggot ass motherfucker was trying to keep $40 of it. Snitch-ass motherfucker, you can put his name in the article, his name is Dirty Derrick. So Derrick snitched on a nigga and that’s when I got busted. I was pulling up to my mom’s, I had an ’89 [Ford] Mustang 5.0 convertible. I used to ride BBS [rims] on the weekends and Vogues during the week. That’s how cold I was with it, I used to take my rims on and off myself. Anyway, to make a long-story-short, the police rolled up to my mom’s house and I had a bag of dope. I just took it out of the car, went and put it in the garage off to the side. We had a piece of sheet rock that was missing, I used to throw the shit in there. Then the motherfuckers rolled up on me and that was that. They caught me with 19 ounces of hard cocaine. I didn’t think I was never coming home, I thought it was over.
DX: Now how did you make the transition from being a nerdy kid at McDonalds to being that D-Boy?
Richie Rich: Well this is the thing, I was always into all kinds of shit. The McDonald’s [job] was some shit to pacify my mom and dad. I was always dipping and dabbling. I’ve been a hustler. My first hustle was a paper route. I didn’t have it, my homeboy had the paper route, my homeboy, Willie Right, rest in peace. I used to fuck with Will on the paper route. Then from there, me and Willie started hitting meat trucks. I had a [Chevrolet] El Camino, my dad had gave me an El Camino after the Capri. We used to run out to Hayward and Will was sharp, he knew the trucks with the freezers had the meat in them. So I went from hitting meat trucks and selling meat to selling beepers. So I was always fuckin with something. I was hustling even when I was working at McDonald’s.
DX: So you get locked up, and what does that mean for the fate of 415?
Richie Rich: Well this is what happened: when I got locked up they attempted to keep the group going without me. They had gotten signed to Priority [Records]. I had a few different connections and they went and played some music for Bryan Turner over at Priority. They attempted to keep it rolling without me.
This is the coldest shit. My executive producer [J.E.D.], the dude who I told don’t give me no money wait until my shit get big enough, I called this dude when I got arrested. I remember being in the jailhouse and people on the otherside of the jail are holding up this newspaper in the glass and it’s me on the newspaper. I didn’t know how serious this shit was. I knew I had gotten busted for selling some dope, but I didn’t know serious the shit actually was until I saw this newspaper. I was on the cover of The Oakland Tribune. So I remember calling my executive producer. I ain’t trippin, that boy got hella money. He was a boss. He had been arrested with a million dollars in L.A. before; he was a force to be reckoned with. So I wasn’t really tripping. I was like, “He gon’ come get a motherfucker and I’ll be outta here real quick.” I called this dude and told him I got arrested. He was like, “Who is this?” I was like, “It’s Rich.” He says, “Aye nigga, don’t call me, I’m asleep,” and hung up the phone. That was the end of me and 415. I was done, I was finito.
But the jail shit turned out better than I thought. I ended up getting a year, it was my first offense. California law, they’ll slap you on your wrist as long as it’s your first offense. So I ended up doing 240 days. I remember coming home from that shit and they had added a different dude, Brother Broski, to the group, they fucked that shit all the way up.
DX: Did you check the album they did without you?
Richie Rich: Yeah, Nu Niggaz On The Block. That shit was garbage, it was a whole different sound. Basically it was D-Loc carrying the weight. And one thing about D-Loc, a lot of people didn’t even believe there was a D-Loc. A lot of people thought it was me. Because back in the 415 days, I used to have alter egos – “Rodney The Geek,” “The Hypeman.” And, like I said, D-Loc was so low key that people didn’t even believe he existed. He just wasn’t no up-front, loud type of dude. So I guess it was D-Loc trying to hold down everything and that shit just didn’t work.
I remember Priority had me come to L.A. and tried to reinstate me in the group, and Bryan Turner offered me $100,000. And at the time I think I might have had about $1,400 to my name. He was like, “We wanna get you on a remix and then you can be on the next record.” I told them no-can-do. Now how do you have $1,400 and you turn down a hundred G’s? I don’t know. I’ve always been that kind of dude. I done made some cold decisions in my life that I look at now and I’m like, damn, how did you do that? But to me I feel like I made that 415 shit. I went and interviewed them guys and I put that shit together and for a motherfucker to do me like that I was like, “Man, I can’t fuck with you anymore.” That’s just how I am. You burn me, I ain’t gonna wish no bad on you, but I’m not gonna be fuckin’ with you on nothing. You could be in the middle of street on fire and I’d be the last motherfucker with water. I would not come put you out. That’s how I rock.
DX: When you got out were you at all concerned that you might not be able to do it as a solo artist?
Richie Rich: When I first got out, Rap was the furthest thing from my mind, I’m such a hustler. We was doing that shit and people was liking it but it had never really hit me what was really going on. We was in Oakland with it. It wasn’t like we knew people in L.A. was liking it. So I really wasn’t tripping off Rap. My first four months I was like, “Shit, I’m not touching nothing, I’m never breaking no more laws.” And in about three or four months that shit wore off. I was back in the streets.
DX: What brought you back into the Rap world then?
Richie Rich: The Luniz. The Luniz brought me back to the Rap shit. I remember being out and I kinda wanted to rap, I was cruising around, hitting a couple of studios, seeing what people was doing. I was still a little bitter with the 415 shit and I remember The Luniz. They did that “I Got 5 On It,” Yukmouth and Numskull they got at me like, “We need you on this record.” At the time nobody would touch me because I was under contract with J.E.D. still and he was rumored to be whatever in the streets. So didn’t nobody want to fuck with me. They had me come to the studio, [E-40] was in there and Dru Down. I got on [“I Got 5 On It (Bay Ballers Remix)” and all hell broke loose.
And that wasn’t even a verse I really liked! Everybody else in the world love that shit. But from there the labels started coming and the rest is history.
DX: Did you have any idea when you hopped on that record that it’d become this iconic remix?
Richie Rich: Not at all, man. My whole career has been driving with painted black glasses on. You do this shit because you love to do it and you’re fucking around with your homeboys and they doing it. But I for damn sure didn’t have a clue. I knew it was a nice song when I went there and listened to it, but I didn’t know it was gonna be this super super thing.
DX: Now you were on 2Pac’s All Eyez On Me around the same time. How’d that come to be?
Richie Rich: Me and [2Pac] was close homeboys [already]. He wanted me to get on his record and I expressed to him “I’m under contract.” ‘Pac was like, “I don’t give a fuck about none of that, I want you on my shit. [That] nigga gonna have to sue me.” And between The Luniz shit and the ‘Pac shit, it just set off a bidding war.
DX: How had you known Pac prior to that?
Richie Rich: I met ‘Pac through this chick named Theresa, a chick from Berkeley that I used to sleep with, she was my little [homie]-slash-girlfriend. I think ‘Pac… well I know ‘Pac was sleeping with her. But she was just a real motherfucker. She was like, “I met this dude, I think you and him maybe could click. He raps too. He’s from New York or Baltimore or wherever, he just moved out here and he doesn’t really know anybody. I think you and him should hook up.” And I met him over at her house one time, we smoked and he was my homeboy from then on.
DX: Could you have predicted then that he’d go on to be as big as he did?
Richie Rich: Naw. ‘Pac was real militant back then. He was more like a Black Power rapper, so I didn’t have a clue. He wanted to get down with us, 415. We was the shit back then. I always tell people all the time, he was like the little homie-turned-big homie.
DX: So let’s talk a little about the Def Jam situation. How’d that come to be?
Richie Rich: I was at a hotel with E-40 one time, he was in there and one of his homegirls Tina Davis, who was an A&R at Def Jam [Records], was in there listening to music. I put my cassette in and the shit was playing and she was like, “Who is that?” and we just started talking. One thing lead to another and next thing I know I was over at Def Jam about to get signed. Tina Davis put that whole play together. She manages Chris Brown now – or I don’t know if she still manages him, I know she was managing him. But she’s the whole reason I made it to Def Jam. She liked that litlte music she heard in that hotel room and she stepped up and did it.
DX: You were the first Bay Area artist on Def Jam, right?
Richie Rich: Mmm hmm.
DX: Were you worried they wouldn’t properly know how to handle your record because of that?
Richie Rich: At the time I wasn’t looking at that but it did become an issue later on. People were like, “That’s a New York label, you a west coast artist.” But they had Warren G and Warren’s shit sold. So I just assumed that it’d be good. But I wasn’t taking in the context that [Dr.] Dre’s [The Chronic] had just did four million and Warren spawned off of that. I just wanted to be on Def Jam, I mean, come on. Def Jam was the biggest shit moving. So [Seasoned Veteran] came out, [it] did pretty good, we were slated up to do the next one, I started recording. And then the merger shit happened where they were about to sell the company to Seagrams and Edgar Bronfman. So me and Russell [Simmons] and Lyor [Cohen] were always pretty close and they respected me as a hustler because they knew what type of nigga I was. I mean, when I signed my deal with them I had a Presidential Rolex, a [Mercedes] Benz, all that shit, so they already knew what kind of nigga I was. So they told me, “We about to sell this company, we don’t know who’s gonna own it and we don’t want you over here stuck. So we gonna give you the option – you can stay if you want to, but if you want to go we’ll let you keep this record we’ve been working on and we’ll also give you $100,000.” So once they told me the record and $100,000, in my mind, I was ready to leave [and I did]. Come to find out, when they sold it, the people they sold it to wanted to keep Lyor working there. If I would have known that, I would have stayed, Lyor’s a stand-up motherfucker. But, shit, you can’t see around corners. My manager was like, “Don’t worry about it, we’ll get you another deal quick.” That didn’t happen, we didn’t get another deal.
So I ended up falling back into the street, not really tripping off music again and that lead up to my little independent string. I released The Game on Ten-Six [Records], that was the Def Jam record that they let me keep, Nixon Pryor Roundtree and a couple other independent releases. The record that’s out now is called Town Bidness. We labeled it a mixtape, but it’s not a mixtape, it’s an actual [album]. Basically I waited that Hyphy thing out. Oakland went through that Hyphy movement and everybody was on that. I didn’t partake in the Hyphy. The new record is classic Richie Rich, hood shit, street nigga shit, real life stories. It’s a dynamite record. I got two [volumes] coming behind it. By then hopefully people will be like, “Okay, this nigga’s actually back rapping for real.” Because a lot of people been wondering where I was at. I take them hiatuses every now and then because, like I said, I’m a street nigga first, music nigga second. The streets done always took care of me. But I’m trying to get back to my music because it’s a lot of people out there who like what a nigga do. I can’t just leave people hanging like that.
DX: You were never tempted to jump into the Hyphy thing at all?
Richie Rich: Naw. They begged me to get on and do that shit. I couldn’t fuck with it, that just ain’t what I’m about. To me, that shit wasn’t never gonna do nothing. The yellow bus? Come on, man. In the era I come from, if you [were] on the yellow bus, then something is definitely wrong.
DX: Well it seems like the Bay is moving back towards the more lyrical street stuff you came up doing.
Richie Rich: Yeah and I hope that’s where it ends up at. That’s what I’m doing now. Rich is back.