Man in the Mirror 

Who is Riff Raff and why can’t the world get enough of him?

click to enlarge Rapper Jody Christian aka Riff Raff, feels he was the inspiration for James Franco’s character, Alien, in the film “Spring Breakers.” He’s yet to claim any association with the Cowardly Lion from the “Wizard of Oz,” though.
  • Rapper Jody Christian aka Riff Raff, feels he was the inspiration for James Franco’s character, Alien, in the film “Spring Breakers.” He’s yet to claim any association with the Cowardly Lion from the “Wizard of Oz,” though.

On Feb. 26, 2012, someone named Party McHardy wrote an e-mail to Harmony Korine, writer and director of the recent movie “Spring Breakers.” It began:

LOL HOW U GUNNA GET SOMEONE TO SUBSTITUTE FOR ME ?? THATS LIKE TELLiNG BiLL CLINTON TO SUB iN FOR MiCHAEL JORDAN iN THE NBA FiNALS 4TH QUARTER DOWN 2 POINTS ... 5 SECONDS LEFT.

Party McHardy isn’t the actual name of the man behind the message, republished by hip-hop magazine XXL. It’s just one more alias of Jody Christian, a Houston-bred rapper who most famously goes by RiFF RAFF. (Capital letters and lowercase I’s are his thing.)

There’s little doubt Korine based James Franco’s boorish, lizardlike drug lord in “Spring Breakers” on Riff Raff’s wild persona. Evidently, the rapper wasn’t happy with the co-opting. In May, he played a skeezy art dealer named Jamie Franko on an episode of “One Life to Live,” and in June, he told TMZ.com that he’s suing the makers of “Spring Breakers” for $10 million.

Bizarre things happening in Riff Raff’s vicinity are the norm. As Riff Raff, Christian — who got a boost in 2009 as a contestant on the MTV reality show “From G’s to Gents” — has been gaining name value at a rapid clip. He claims to have dropped 90 videos in 2012, has a discography that’s tough to keep straight and churns out Vine videos featuring his offstage hijinks. He also maintains connections all over contemporary rap, as evidenced by his comments that his forthcoming debut full-length, “NEON iCON,” will feature Wiz Khalifa, Snoop Lion and Drake.

On the mic, he’s both dopey and witty, weaving pop culture nods and references to fancy brands into verses that seem like hilarious non sequiturs and empty boasts until you read into them. He uses “Larry Bird” to rap: “I done waved wood on Tiger Woods’ golf course / Or Pete Sampras, weed in my damn baby pampers” — a reference to his penis, his drug stash and two sports greats in one go.

Christian loves famous people. He’s named songs after them (“Michelle Obama,” “Marc Jacobs”) and often inserts celeb names into the phrase “rap game [fill in the blank],” creating a never-ending game of Mad Libs. He’s the “rap game Chevy Chase,” the “rap game Janet Jackson” and, in an excellently obscure basketball reference, the “rap game Stacey Augmon.” He could go on forever.

Riff Raff has lots of people entertained and lots deeply confused. (There’s probably overlap there.) Several writers have compared Christian to legendary comedian Andy Kaufman for his outlandish behavior and his assumed ability to blur the lines between a manufactured character and someone who’s just legitimately out there. When Christian did an interview with New York hip-hop radio station Hot 97 in May, program director Ebro Darden grilled the emcee to determine whether his audacious, excessive lifestyle and rhymes were a satire of black gangsta-ism or represented the real deal. Christian insisted that everything the public sees is who he really is. The conversation was tense and Darden eventually relented, but Christian was irritated by the treatment.

When we catch up with Christian in a last-minute interview, he doesn’t flex too hard. The rapper gives impassioned, rambling responses to certain questions while others receive shorter, calmer answers. He declines to reveal the reason behind the lowercase I’s, compares himself to an iPhone 5 and everyone else to a Motorola Razr (which is why people can’t understand him), and reveals little new fodder in the discussion about who he actually is.

“Writing and music and movies and entertainment and money and luxury and hotels and fashion and women and girls and all these expensive cars — it’s all in my blood,” he says. “I mean, really, music is just a way to say what you got on your mind. [If] people want to say whether it makes sense to them or not, I couldn’t care less. I use music as venting. I’m venting. I’m saying what’s on my mind.”

He does get excited when discussing his divisiveness, and the flashiness of his words represents everything there is to love about Riff Raff — real Jody Christian or not. “I think a lot of [the divisiveness] has to do with people’s interpersonal problems,” he says. “When you get people acting like that, talking like that, if you hypnotize them and sat them down and asked them, ‘What’s really going on?’ a lot of it might have to do with [things] in their life. Maybe they didn’t make it to a certain level of where they want to be.

“Ignorance is ignoring. You’re ignoring the fact of greatness.”

Riff Raff will perform Tuesday, Aug. 6, at 7 p.m. at Kingdom, 10 Walnut Alley. $18. kingdomrva.com.

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