‘Rascal’, the country-trap doozy of a viral hit that dropped seemingly out of nowhere back in February, still hits as hard as it did on first listen. Sure, it might not have reached the ‘Old Town Road’ levels of ubiquity that some predicted, but it remains one of the most jarring, poignant, hilarious and inexplicably genius discoveries of the year.
The track combines quiet pensiveness (“Show me a better way / Promise I’ll quit this game”) with comically flippancy to heartbreak (“Bitches that broke my heart / They became hoes I scam”). And then there’s it’s a damn-near-perfect video, which features the mysterious ski mask-clad RMR (pronounced “Rumour”) flexing with his firearms collection while delivering a heartfelt modern outlaw anthem. All of this culminates in a singalong hook – a perfect ‘fuck you’ to the police: “Fuck the boys in blue / Fuck ’em all / Fuck 12, fuck 12”. Of course, it couldn’t be more timely or needed right now.
Four months on and we still don’t really know that much about the man behind the designer balaclava. In interviews, RMR has doggedly ducked questions about his identity (just like The Weeknd before him). The sheer strength of ‘Rascal’ alone, though, led him to a major label deal inked with Warner Bros, followed by ‘Dealer’, the second single released from debut EP ‘Drug Dealing Is a Lost Art’. The follow-up track was simultaneously better than expected, and somewhat disappointing.
Released in April and later repackaged with a Future and Lil Baby-adorned remix (which appears on this EP), the narcotic-addled, strung-out R&B number implied RMR was more than simply a novelty interest. But as an abrupt psych-out to anyone expecting the artist to follow down the country-trap route, it lacked some of the originality and zeal that was in abundance on ‘Rascal’. Still, its strange sitar-aided instrumental did show that even when RMR opts for a more direct, down-the-middle sound, he adds enough of an off-kilter edge to set himself apart.
The big question looming over his EP, then, is what more he has in store. Ahead of the release, RMR has been keen to talk up his diverse tastes, citing as influences everyone from Kanye West to Keith Urban and Craig David to Matchbox Twenty. “I’m in jazz,” he recently told US presenters Desus & Mero. “I’m in R&B. I’m in country. The juxtaposition of everything… I like to call it a 360 thing, because it can go in any direction.” He’s added of this EP: “There will be a lot of different sounds on there, but it will all correlate.”
Ultimately, ‘Drug Dealing…’ isn’t quite as genre-hopping as RMR would have you believe, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t frequently stunning. The Timbaland-produced standout ‘I’m Not Over You’ sees RMR revisit the yeehaw-rap route, coupling twanging banjo with crunching, gut-punching bass and soaring autotuned backing vocals. It’s his most anthemic offering since ‘Rascal’.
There are plenty of other flashes of brilliance. Take the scattergun, stream-of-conscious flow on ‘Nouveau Riche’, or the patiently-building, expansive and cinematic electro-noir of ‘Silence’. Meanwhile opening track ‘Welfare’, which features a brief but effective intro from New York rapper Westside Gunn, is a melodic trap come-up anthem: “Had to go and get it, my momma stuck on welfare / Need the new Mercedes, I need a bitch like Offset.”
The EP closes with ‘Rascal’, which lands like a shot-in-the-arm and is a reminder that while RMR hasn’t yet reached the exhilarating heights of his perplexing debut track, there’s enough promise on the EP to mark him out as an intriguing and enigmatic new talent. His story is well worth following as it unravels.