Last month, Drake posted an Instagram story with a mighty claim: “None of us would be attempting this sound if it wasn’t for @ramriddlz.”
« This sound » he’s referring to? Presumably, it’s the free and easy, dancehall- and Afrobeat-tinged vibe that’s permeated pop music for the last five years (see: Drake and Rihanna, « Work »; Justin Bieber, « Sorry »; Ed Sheeran, « Shape of You »). It’s a sound Drizzy now famously got inspired to dabble in back in 2015 after hearing Ramriddlz’ debut song « Sweeterman »—a silly, summery jam boasting dancehall grooves, a mishmash of multicultural Toronto slang, and teenage horndog lyrics (« She can’t handle me, she’s a screamer/She can’t handle my wiener »). Turns out the track made quite the impression on The Boy—so much so he recorded his own (less skeezy) version of it, in effect launching a suprise music career for Ramriddlz, a graphic design student at the time. It was also among Drake’s first flirtations with dancehall; a sound he’d further explore on 2016’s Views and 2017’s More Life, arguably causing a ripple effect that would see the day’s biggest pop artists attempting « this sound » as well.
Born Ramy Abdel-Rahman to Egyptian parents in the Toronto suburb of Mississauga, Ramriddlz hasn’t quite become a household name since his seismic Drake co-sign. It’s not for lack of talent; the 25-year-old’s bouillabaisse of global sounds and post-regional slang has only become more flavourful, even displaying shades of artistic growth on his trap-dabbling 2019 LP Ramreaper. His words, however, have remained resolutely perverted. He admits his NSFW lyrical content is probably the biggest obstacle preventing him from transcending his meme-rapper status and becoming a mainstream success. In fact, he says he plans on reining in the smut on his next full length for a « subtler » approach.
But before all that, Ramriddlz has one more serving of the freaky shit for us. He’s reamed his new five-song EP Ain’t Shit Sweeter full of crotch-raw, effortlessly lecherous punchlines (« Rosy raspberry lips, cherry cheesecake jiggle/She too hot, she need banana popsicle »). It is no coincidence that the tape’s acronym is ASS. Over sun-drenched, neon-hued, dancehall-meets-electro pop sonics (thanks to longtime collaborator Jaegen, who handles most production duties here), Ram lets his fuck flag fly. Consider it a sexorcism—his attempt to purge himself of all that pent-up, giggity-giggity energy.
« This tape is like one last hurrah, » says Ramriddlz. « Well, I wouldn’t say one last hurrah, but it’s like dipping my toes into the dirtbag stuff one more time, you know? And then with the new album, I’m trying to take one step into the more mature direction. Not taking too many steps forward, but I’m moving forward. »
Ahead of his intimate, COVID-friendly show at Toronto’s El Mocambo tonight, we caught up with Ramriddlz to chat about Drake’s kind words, his influence on modern pop, and growing up.
What’s the story behind Ain’t Shit Sweeter?
I was actually going to release an album, which is the sequel to my previous album. So it was going to be Sweeter Dreams 2. But I felt like I kind of needed something more for the fans. Pretty much what I’m doing with this EP is trying to go back to my original sound that I created back in 2015. So I tried to regress a little bit and and just think about where I was in that point of my life. I just went off of those vibes, where I wasn’t thinking too much about what I was creating, you know? I was just having fun with it.
That’s cool. What made you decide to go back and revisit those vibes?
You always read comments and shit and they’re always like, “Aw, I want 2016 Ram. I want old Ram.” And I didn’t even know what the hell that was, you know? I’m not that guy anymore. But then I just thought about what I was doing those days and how my creative process was, and I just tapped into that a little bit, where I just didn’t worry too much about what I was doing. When when I first started making music, I didn’t know what I was doing. There was no method. I just did it.
Interesting. On your last album Ramreaper, your sound seemed to be heading in a darker, trappier direction.
Yeah, exactly. That was just me trying to fucking experiment with things—with different sounds and stuff. But in the creative process this time around, there was no thinking about anything. It was just about having fun, like just fucking laughing in the studio.
So you’re going back to the sweet stuff. What’s up with your sweetness obsession, by the way? It’s a pretty big recurring theme in your work.
Well, it all stemmed from “Sweeterman,” you know? That was the term that was created and from there I kind of just ran with that. I ended up going into sweeter sounds, and then everything at that point was just like “sweet, sweet, sweet. » It’s not that deep, you know? [Laughs] There’s no science behind it. The whole term ‘sweeterman’ was just like, you eat pineapples, then you’re sweeter, you know? It was just a joke at the beginning.
You’re talking about the semen thing, right?
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Exactly.
Okay. I just wanted to be sure. So is that why the pineapple is your symbol? Because of the semen thing?
Yeah. But then like, you know, it’s evolved over time. Now it’s [about] healthy habits and, you know, positive life choices. Healthy living. It just kind of all ties into eating nutritional foods and staying active.
Wow. You’re growing up.
Yeah, exactly. I’m evolving. You know, just keeping it gluten-free over here.
« It’s not like dancehall music is something new. But I kind of brought it back into—not that it went anywhere—but I would say more into the mainstream, especially with Drake doing his take on it. »
Right on, man. That’s good. Choose life. Would you say your songwriting has matured since those days, too?
Matured? Well, let’s just say I’m trying to mature. I would say yes. But with this new tape, I would say no. I would say the opposite of mature. I don’t even know what the opposite of mature is. Like, you’re not gonna hear this and be like, « Ah, bars. He’s going in.” It’s not one of those. It’s just a vibe.
You were telling me earlier that you want to move away from the dirtbag stuff. Why? It’s gotten you so many fans already. People seem to like it.
There was a point in time where I just didn’t listen to anybody. And now I’m starting to listen to what people have to say. Like, « Oh, your voice is nice, but your subject matter is kind of crude » or « I can’t really play it around certain people. It’s kind of like a guilty pleasure. » So I’m trying to see how I can say certain things without…. I’m just trying to polish what I’m doing, you know? Not be so in-your-face. A little more subtle. There’s always going to be a splash of dirtbag, here and there. It’ll never totally [go away]. It is what it is. I can’t fully change who I am. But it’s definitely a step in the right direction.
How did ridiculous horned-up lines become your signature, anyway?
Damn. The thing is, at first, I wasn’t really trying to be funny. I was just kind of being myself. And I guess people thought it was funny, but I was being serious, you know? I wasn’t trolling or nothing. I was in studio being serious, writing these bars down. « She can’t handle my wiener.” I was being serious! I wasn’t trying to be a comedian or anything. For real. It just happened like that, I guess.
And at first I was like, “Oh, they’re laughing at me » but then I was like, “Oh, if I just laugh too, we could just laugh together.” It wasn’t a joke at first by any means. I didn’t know how to make songs. I didn’t know what I was doing. I wasn’t trying to do anything. I just did it.
We all know now that Drake picked up on « Sweeterman » and even recorded his own version of it. What was it like having him shine a spotlight on you at the time?
Oh, that was epic. I’m definitely very grateful for that. That was a huge blessing, and it came out of nowhere. Obviously I would never have expected that. It was cool. It was like damn, to have somebody like Drake, doing huge things and being the biggest artist out of Canada and in general, noticing it. He himself had inspired me a lot leading up to when I made « Sweeterman. » So it was really cool to see him take a liking to my music.
I don’t know if you saw, but he posted an IG story recently, saying, “None of us would be attempting this sound if it wasn’t for Ramriddlz.” Did you see that?
Yeah, I saw that. I appreciated it. That was really cool that he gave me some recognition. That was really nice. Back in those days, I was just doing what I wanted to do in terms of music creation. And I guess me just experimenting inspired someone. That was really cool, just because, like I said, he inspired me before. And then it came full circle, you know?
It’s crazy how that works.
Yeah, it’s really cool. You know, the whole thing with the dancehall music, at the time, I didn’t know what I was doing. I was just a big fan personally of Vybz Kartel and dancehall music in general. So I was like, “I need to try this.” And it was cool that, like, by me doing that, I ended up inspiring a whole… You know, because it’s not like dancehall music is something new. But I kind of brought it back into—not that it went anywhere—but I would say more into the mainstream, especially with Drake doing his take on it. And that was just through me experimenting with things. That was cool.
So since you came out with that song, you’ve noticed that there’s been more of this melodic, dancehall-meets-R&B vibe in mainstream music?
Yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s crazy because it’s like, at first, a lot of people were telling me, ”You started this. » And I’m like, “Nah, come on. It’s just a coincidence.” I was kind of just not really taking credit for anything, but after some time, I thought, « You know, fuck, maybe I did. » But I’ll never know. I’m just glad that I got to inspire people, the same way people have inspired me.
What’s your experience with dancehall? Did you grow up listening to it?
It was literally around 2015, maybe 2014—that’s when I started to listen to it a little bit more and explore more artists. It was very strange. At first, I was just hearing it when other people would play it, because I had Jamaican friends growing up. But then when I got a little older, I gravitated more towards it. And I had a friend that was a producer and he was Jamaican and he could make these types of rhythms. So I was with him and we decided like, “Yo, I’m going to try to do this.” And then we did it—me, him, and Nemesis, made a song called « Call Me. » That was my first attempt at dancehall. So we had made that song, and then from there it got pretty popular, you know? It was instantly getting more listens. I had fun doing it and I noticed like, ‘Shit, people are gravitating towards this.’ So from there, that was when I started to dabble a little more.
Your songs kind of sound like a cultural mashup—there’s dancehall, some Afrobeat, and then you hear some Arabic slang, some Somali slang. Would you say your music is a product of growing up in the GTA? It sounds really specific to the mix of cultures here.
Exactly. It’s just a product of my environment. You know, I’ll learn a new word or something, and I’ll be like, « Ah, I’m gonna put this into a song. » I’ll be with my Somali friends and then one guy will say some shit and I’ll be like, « What the hell? That word sounds hilarious. » Next thing you know, I’m [using it] in the studio. Or I’ll be in Jamaica or some shit… I’m definitely inspired by the things around me, by people, by things I see, by things I hear. So yeah, definitely growing up in Toronto, in Mississauga, had a big impact on my music and my creative process.
« I’m just trying to become a superstar, so I’m taking my health seriously. Had to quit the bogus, had to quit the baloney. »
Tell me about it coming up in Sauga. You don’t see enough artists repping it.
It’s the sweeter side. Sweeter side. Yeah, pretty much, I grew up in Mississauga and it was cool. It was a lot of fun growing up here. I had some sick summers and shit here. It’s just like a big melting pot. I don’t know if in other North American cities there’s a lot of cultures going on or if there’s as much shit you’re exposed to.
Any favourite spots in Sauga to chill at?
I used to smoke weed and shit. So like, any parking lot. You just chilled with your boys and did absolutely nothing for fucking hours. But as I’ve grown older, I don’t really fucking do too much chilling around anymore. You’re probably not gonna just see me hanging around if you come to Sauga. I might go to a strip club, you might see me there. Those are probably Sauga’s best gems, the strip clubs. There’s a lot, but Cafe Atlantis, that’s my favourite one.
But yeah, these days I might just go to the park, or randomly go to Lakeshore or some shit. Get a nice breeze. I don’t even really smoke weed too much anymore. That’s usually all it is in Sauga. “You want to link up? » And then you just get high and shit. But lately, I’ve just been staying home, reading books, you know? Doing lunges and shit. I’m just trying to become a superstar, so I’m taking my health seriously. Had to quit the bogus, had to quit the baloney. Trying to keep the vocal cords lubricated. You know, the odd day I might take an eddy and become Eduardo. Eduardo’s a scary guy! We don’t like Eduardo too much. He likes to party too much. He likes the cha-cha la-la time, you know?
He’s like your alter ego.
That’s exactly what it is. Eduardo’s an irresponsible guy.
What have you been reading?
Oh you know, like Doctor Seuss. I like reading nursery rhymes, just to get the blood flowing. My cognitive strength, whatever that means.
Do you still talk to Drake? Does he give you advice on your next moves, and your career?
I wouldn’t go that far but he’s made it apparent that he fucks with me and he’s excited to hear new music every time I drop. So that’s what’s up.
That’s cool, man. Must be super encouraging. What are your goals now, going forward? What do you want to accomplish?
Goals, wow. That’s a good question. I really just want to be able to reach as many people as I can and really, really take this as far as I can go. I’ve been kind of coasting a bit; just riding off of the wave a bit. But I’m excited to see how far I push myself, and really see how far I could take it. I believe I haven’t even scratched the surface of my own potential. I just kind of do the bare minimum, you know? But I have a lot of projects in store for people, so you can expect a lot more releases from the upcoming year for sure. A lot more visuals. A lot more just interacting with fans and people. A lot more merchandise from Ramriddlz himself. And a lot of good content; shit that’ll make you happy.
In earlier interviews, you’ve said that your parents weren’t really cool with your music career. Has that changed since then? Have they finally come around?
They definitely haven’t. They’re still like, « Oh cool, you’re making music? Maybe make something that my friends could listen to. » They’re like, “All my friends follow you on Instagram. It’s fucked up. All you do is post fucked up things. What the hell?” And I’m just like, “Damn, I didn’t know I was doing this for your friends. » But yeah, that’s the ultimate goal: to be able to appeal to more people. That’s what I’m attempting with the upcoming album. We’ll see if people gravitate towards that.