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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.

It wasn't just their rhymes that Horst admired; it was their larger-than-life personas: They draped themselves in diamonds and drove ostentatious cars. They had women, they had money.

"Baller stuff," Riff Raff remembers. "The money, nice cars, getting crazy."

Riff Raff didn't necessarily want to be a rapper: He just wanted the baller stuff for himself. "I didn't even think about music back then," he says.

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.

It was around the mid-'00s that Riff Raff debuted his now-famous look. He began doing his hair up in braids, as was popular among Northsiders like Slim Thug, and shopping for bling at TV Jewelry. "He didn't look like the type of white dude you'd want to run up on," explains former roommate Vaughns.

Eventually, Horst decided that being a rapper would be the most expedient way to achieve the celebrity he craved. He began absorbing the scene, doing his best to get noticed. "I always saw him around, at Swishahouse events, or in the club parking lot," says the label's co-founder, producer OG Ron C. Many folks were put off by his look, OG Ron C adds, but his jolly personality won over others.

It was around this time that Horst began to develop his Southern street twang. "When he started to get into rap, he started to emulate the black culture," Ronald Simco says.

Vaughns adds, "Riff used to hang with only black people. When you hang with all black people, you talk black."

Around this time, in 2008, Riff Raff and Vaughns moved in together. Vaughns recalls that Riff Raff was, for a brief period, selling Ecstasy pills. (Riff Raff did not respond to questions through his publicist concerning the allegations; asked in a radio interview if he'd ever sold drugs, he said he didn't want to "incriminate" himself.)

His raps were developing. As his confidence grew, he got sillier, donning girly, press-on nails for his early video "Juice." Riff Raff began making songs and videos with talent manager DB da Boss. Before long, his low-budget clips were gaining traction on YouTube and World­star­hip­hop. "He was very driven, very ambitious. You couldn't deny his work ethic," DB says. "Underneath that shell is a very intelligent man."

He acquired a pair of slick cars, according to Vaughns: a candy green Sebring and a candy pink Infiniti. The latter's exterior had spinning rims and speakers so everyone could hear his music. But the coup de grace was the trunk, which, when popped open, revealed glowing neon lights reading RIFF RAFF.

By then Horst Simco had been fully absorbed into the Riff Raff character. He looked woefully out of place at his sister's 2008 wedding in Duluth; instead of a suit, he wore a short-sleeved, turquoise polo shirt and a black baseball cap over a do-rag. During the reception he quietly freestyled in the back of the hall while someone toasted the bride and groom.
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No one interviewed for this story professed to know much about Riff Raff's aspirations, about what was going on in his head. But his actions show a man determined to be famous.

In the late '00s he wanted, badly, to get on television, even flying to Atlanta on his own dime to try out for From G's to Gents, a show purporting to smooth out the edges of rough street guys. When he learned that he'd made the second season's cast, before taping even began, he immediately got a giant MTV logo tattooed on his neck and started calling himself MTV Riff Raff.

He was quickly voted off by his fellow contestants. But viewers were intrigued by his funny ad-libs and fashion touches. The show was his first major forum, and he undertook a bit of mythmaking, claiming to be estranged from his father and saying he'd attended school for only 11 years. Ironically, despite the show's stated purpose, he was undertaking the opposite transformation, hoping to turn from a gent into a G.

Upon the show's debut in early 2009, the reaction was immediate. Suddenly he was getting tens of thousands of clicks on his MySpace profile. His name was spreading. Hipped to him by producer Alchemist, former MTV VJ and rapper Simon Rex called him. Before long, Riff Raff was visiting L.A. and sleeping on Rex's couch. The pair later formed a rap group called Three Loco with comedian Andy Milonakis.

In 2011, Riff Raff arrived in L.A. to stay. He won over critics with collaborations with hot artists such as Action Bronson, Chief Keef, Kitty Pryde and Lil B, as well as solo tracks.

Last year he surprised everyone by signing a deal with electro imprint Mad Decent. Its chief, super-producer Diplo, compared Riff Raff to early Apple stock — strong potential upside.
_____________________

Riff Raff's brother, Viktor, is a vision of what Horst Simco might have become: He has a narrow, handsome face and a tall, athletic build, but his clean-cut look lacks easily visible tattoos. Horst also might have followed the path to graduate school, like his older sister, Amber, who has a pair of master's degrees.

Improbably, he has instead achieved celebrity, and perhaps riches as well. He speaks gleefully of the Las Vegas home he's outfitting with a Jacuzzi in the living room, and lists off the cars he says he owns, including a Porsche Panamera.

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