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How a Boy Named Horst Became an Internet Sensation Known As Riff Raff

How a quiet kid from Copperfield morphed into today's most enigmatic rapper.

For the record, he was born Horst Christian Simco on January 29, 1982, making him 31. He was a normal, square kid throughout his childhood, and he studied liberal arts at a community college in Hibbing, Minnesota. Upon returning to Houston ten years ago, he was painting cars and gradually beginning to build his new identity.

It's unclear why he's so cagey about his past; perhaps he believes his middle-class background disqualifies him from rap stardom.

The details in this story weren't easy to get. They're culled from public records and dozens of interviews with family members, friends and rap peers, in an attempt to understand how a white, suburban kid became rap's most beguiling figure — and to answer one big question: Is the character of Riff Raff an elaborate piece of performance art or his true self?

At the Brisk Bodega showcase in August featuring Riff Raff and Bun B, Vice magazine was on hand to interview the two rappers...
Photos by Marco Torres
At the Brisk Bodega showcase in August featuring Riff Raff and Bun B, Vice magazine was on hand to interview the two rappers...
...before they took the stage at the Kingspoint Mullet Graffiti Warehouse in South Houston.
Photos by Marco Torres
...before they took the stage at the Kingspoint Mullet Graffiti Warehouse in South Houston.

His fabrications and deflections are redolent of those used by Vanilla Ice. Grilled in 1991 by Arsenio Hall about his past, Ice speculated that folks were gunning for him because he was on top, before concluding: "It ain't where you're from, man, it's where you're at."

Today Riff Raff is asked why he tells reporters his name is Jody Christian rather than Horst Simco. He responds, "My name is whatever anyone wants it to be. As a matter of fact, I might change my name to Captain Funzo — then what are they going to say?"
_____________________

Like many up-and-coming Houston rappers, Fat Tony — now critically acclaimed, with a national profile — spent much of his time peddling CDs at colleges and malls.

In the mid-'00s, he began encountering Riff Raff, who had already shed Horst Simco. Tony recalls him sporting denim jean shorts that nearly touched his high-tops, a do-rag and a throwback jersey. "I thought he was corny-looking," says Tony, who has since become a fan.

But Ronald Vaughns, who raps under the name Freestyle Bully, immediately identified Riff Raff as a kindred spirit. "We both had a lot of jewelry, both had our CDs, and we stood out from regular people," Vaughns says, describing their 2007 meeting at Sharpstown Mall. They later twice lived together in apartments on the city's southwest side, according to Vaughns, plying their music, seducing women and selling drugs.

Horst had come a long way from the suburbs where he was raised.

Then majority-white, Copperfield boasted a low crime rate and a good school district. A family photo from the early '90s shows Horst's father, Ronald, with a caterpillar mustache, while mother Anita wears a floral-print dress and the four blond children smile with as much sincerity as they can muster. Horst, wearing a bowl cut and a T-shirt, looks somewhere between bored and bewildered. In his ninth-grade school picture for Langham Creek High School, his Caesar-style haircut is punctuated by a cowlick. The family considered itself solidly middle-class.

Today the eldest Simco child, Amber, lives in the Washington, D.C., area and works for the National Institutes of Health. The next sibling after Horst, Claire, works as a nurse and is raising a family in Duluth, Minnesota. Viktor, the youngest, is a sponsored snowboarder based in St. Paul.

But Horst took a different path. He claims he was a poor student, and says he didn't graduate high school.

However, their father insists that Horst did, in fact, graduate, and his former roommate Vaughns also believes he did. (Horst's photo disappears from Langham Creek High School after ninth grade; the local school district won't say whether he graduated.)

One of Riff Raff's managers told Gawker that Riff Raff dropped out, got his GED and played basketball at Louisiana State University on scholarship before being cut from the team. Riff Raff himself has referenced the LSU scholarship. But the Houston Chronicle reported last year that a spokesman for the school's athletic department had never heard of him.

For whatever reason, by 2000 Horst was in a rut. His parents had divorced, leaving Ronald Simco, a Vietnam veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder, devastated. After being diagnosed with tonsil cancer, Ronald moved to Duluth to get out of the heat. For a time Horst and his siblings shuttled back and forth between there and Houston, where their mother remained.

In fall 2001, Horst enrolled at the community college in Hibbing, a tiny, homogeneous burg on the Minnesota iron range (motto: "We're Ore and More") best known as Bob Dylan's hometown. He played on the basketball team and studied liberal arts.

Ultimately, though, he felt out of place in staid Hibbing, and lasted only a month on the basketball team. Feeling homesick, he dropped out in 2003 and moved back to Houston. As he frequently changed apartments, including some on Houston's grittier Northside, Horst failed to find gainful employment. Sometimes even the checks his dad sent weren't enough to make the rent.

Ronald Simco thought his son's new environments were too dangerous. "He had guns pointed at his head, that kind of thing," he says. "I told him I didn't want to go to my own son's funeral."
_____________________

Living in a tough part of Houston with a peer group almost entirely black, Horst painted cars in the in-vogue "candy-colored" style. He looked up to Northside Houston rappers from label Swishahouse, including Paul Wall, Chamillionaire and Slim Thug, who were blowing up around that time.

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7 comments
RiffRaffFan
RiffRaffFan

You don't have to believe me, but this is true. After the ninth grade riff raff moved  to a small mostly farming town called meadowlands in Minnesota. Very close to my hometown toivola. He lived above the grocery store in a small apartment where one of my friends just so happens to live now. He played on the toivola-meadowlands highschool basketball team and was quote from one of the locals, "a scatter-brain, but a good ballplayer." My sources are one of my good friends brothers who actually went to school with him and my uncle's sister who did so as well. His haircuts ranged from a bowl-cut, to a buzz cut, and bald. He was known for always having a basketball with him in the halls and in class and would shoot for hours in the gym whenever given the chance. Hes in the 1999 toivola-meadowlands yearbook as a junior named horst simco. Looking similar to how he does today with a broad face minus the zig zag beard and braids. It was crazy for me to find this out but I just literally put together all the pieces. Nowadays the only business in meadowlands is a bar, the school is closed, and that old grocery store is all living quarters. But, no disrespect to Riff Raff and his hustle, hes worked hard for what he has now, and he really hasn't lyed about his past. He just doesn't elaborate on it. but I thought this would be worth someones time to read. Honestly how could I make this stuff up.

bjthreet1
bjthreet1

The criticism of Riff-Raff is a blatant double standard!  What he is doing is absolutely NO DIFFERENT than what, I would estimate, 75% of black Americans do every day in the business and work world.  In order for most black Americans to be accepted in today's business and work culture, they must dress the way White society have traditionally dressed and go by the rules that have been set up by white society, regardless of how they were raised and where they came from.  If they were raised in the ghetto or low-income neighborhoods and spoke in Ebonics their entire life, while wearing sagging clothes, pimped-out bling and said "nigga" and "knoam-sayin" with every other phrase, they had to conform to what was expected of them to "fit in."  They had to leave their roots and culture behind, and in the workplace, assimilate to what is expected of them.  They had to dress in suits and ties, and speak in proper English and grammar, and behave according to the rules set forth by said white society. In essence, they too, had to "fake it until they make it."  

Now, flip the script and ask yourselves this:  Would anyone pay one second of attention to a white rapper who walked around in button-down collars or Polo shirts tucked inside their Levi jeans, sportin' leather loafers, while spittin' out lyrics in proper English and grammatical syntax??  Ya'll already know the answer to that.  Should we tell blacks who attempt to assimilate and who want to succeed in the workplace that they are just fake-ass, white-wannabe Nigg**s??  That would ridiculous and cause mass outrage, right?  Of course it would.  So where is the outrage when Horst Simco is attacked for trying to assimilate to what is expected of him to fit in with Hip Hop culture and the Rap industry by transforming himself into Riff Raff?  Everyone preaches that we want everyone to be "as one," to have a melting pot of cultures and let everyone have a chance to be whatever their dreams tell them to be...but I guess when it comes to a White kid who dares to dream to be a rapper in the Hip Hop/Rap world, that talk is comin' "out the side of yo neck!"  Think about it!  Peace!

pete229
pete229

Wow, what a waste of print. That's 10 minutes of my life I will never get back, thanks TMZ...err…. I mean Houston” rag mag" Press

LaZeR_RiFF
LaZeR_RiFF

He is not black and will always be white no matter where he comes from or how he acts. He gets a lot of hate, it will just make him more real.

DeathBreath
DeathBreath

God, I am laughing.  I suppose he considers himself to be really "gangsta."  I believe he is a shapeshifter of Vanilla Ice.  LOL. 

DannyTanner
DannyTanner

A lot of people take themselves or a music genre way too seriously. His outlandish style isn't an insult to "hiphop" or a reflection of his audience's intelligence... RiFF represents everyone's subconcious desire to withdraw from society's circular expectations and still find happiness or success. He actually did it. As if he was one of them real boys

RiffRaffFan
RiffRaffFan

@bjthreet1 You don't have to believe me, but this is true. After the ninth grade riff raff moved  to a small mostly farming town called meadowlands in Minnesota. Very close to my hometown toivola. He lived above the grocery store in a small apartment where one of my friends just so happens to live now. He played on the toivola-meadowlands highschool basketball team and was quote from one of the locals, "a scatter-brain, but a good ballplayer." My sources are one of my good friends brothers who actually went to school with him and my uncle's sister who did so as well. His haircuts ranged from a bowl-cut, to a buzz cut, and bald. He was known for always having a basketball with him in the halls and in class and would shoot for hours in the gym whenever given the chance. Hes in the 1999 toivola-meadowlands yearbook as a junior named horst simco. Looking similar to how he does today with a broad face minus the zig zag beard and braids. It was crazy for me to find this out but I just literally put together all the pieces. Nowadays the only business in meadowlands is a bar, the school is closed, and that old grocery store is all living quarters. But, no disrespect to Riff Raff and his hustle, hes worked hard for what he has now, and he really hasn't lyed about his past. He just doesn't elaborate on it. but I thought this would be worth someones time to read. Honestly how could I make this stuff up.

 
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