Surely Darroux, who is 23 and performs under the name Rhettie, has ambitions beyond an article in the Houston Press. But if the determination with which he pursued even that is any inkling of the lengths he'll go to in order to get his music heard, it’s just a matter of time before it is. At that point, he’ll be off and running. But even if that day never comes, the pop marketplace has become so splintered that it’s totally feasible for an artist without big money behind him to pick up fans from all parts of the globe. That part of Rhettie’s narrative has already begun coming to pass.
On songs such as “Promise” (his latest single), “A Woman” and “Party,” Rhettie’s sound can best be described as “post-genre,” an upbeat hybrid of pop, R&B, EDM, hip-hop and reggae centered around the club and the bedroom. Although they very much inhabit the same territory occupied by infinitely better-known names like Drake, The-Weeknd, Trey Songz and Usher, Rhettie's songs nevertheless sound fresh. The recently released video for “A Woman” presents him as the strapping, confident, completely convincing ladykiller the song demands. That he does it with a fraction of the budget those other names use to craft their hits makes him especially worth paying attention to.
But even in his early twenties, Rhettie has already been doing this a long time. He was born in the Commonwealth of Dominica, an island in the Caribbean between Guadaloupe and Martinique nearly 500 miles north of Venezuela. He moved to the Houston area about ten years ago, the southwest side at first but now Sugar Land, saying “I had to remove myself from certain things, because it wasn’t going to be a good end for me.” But back in middle school, Rhettie says a cousin suggested he turn the poetry he was writing into songs, so he did. He tried out his songs at the lunch table and at first the other students would throw food at him, he recalls, as well as taunts like “you can’t sing.” By high school a couple of years later, they were in his corner.
“I had a song called ‘Swagger So Fresh’ that at the time was like a dance song,” Rhettie says. “I had the whole gymnasium at the prom dancing, going crazy. That was my first show. Ever since that day I was like, ‘This is what I want to do.’
From there, Rhettie says that as he worked on his music he also concentrated on promoting himself, throwing parties where he could also perform. For the time being, he’s totally a free agent, untethered to any label or management deal; he’s been approached with offers before, he says, but realized the people on the other end weren’t serious when they wouldn't put anything in writing. Recently he says he’s also been researching the business side of the music business, number-heavy areas like publishing and royalties, while he attempts to raise his profile in the blogosphere.
“At the end of the day you can be an artist and have a lot of money behind you, and you can still never pop,” Rhettie says. “Because you [either] don’t have the right songs or basically not the right people talking about you. I have the right songs.”
Gradually, the assets have started to stack up on Rhettie’s balance sheet. “Party” actually received some airplay on KRBE for a few months in 2013 and 2014. He appeared as a featured artist on Houston rapper Marcus Manchild’s “Heard ‘em Say.” During NBA All-Star Weekend two years ago, Rhettie says he packed Club Riddims with nearly double the Houston Caribbean-music nexus’ capacity. (“It was nice; I'm not going to lie.”) He has successfully convinced streaming stations in Australia, Sweden and Switzerland, as well as three in the U.S., to play his music; the one Down Under, he says, reaches some 250,000 listeners. Michael Blackson, the Ghana-born “African King of Comedy” who had a small part in Next Friday, gave a shoutout to “A Woman” to his more than 600K Twitter followers last month. Atlanta duo Twin Gaaang have co-signed “A Woman,” too.
However, when it comes to performing live, Rhettie says he’d rather hold back. He used to perform in the area every weekend, he explains, but that number has dropped to once every month or two because Rhettie says he doesn’t want to become too familiar to local audiences.
“Doing multiple shows, you will make [fans] feel like you're just a regular person that's there,” he says. “I want them to appreciate the music.”
Building word of mouth, courting the endorsements of celebrities and other tastemakers, and working the Internet while keeping live concerts to a premium — by now, this is all hardwired into independent artists’ fundamental business plan. To get an idea of how little actual sales matter these days, Rhettie’s latest strategy involves giving away his music for free. He’s planning to release an EP made up of songs that show off his versatility, with the idea that a sampler showcasing several of his different styles will appeal to a wider variety of music fans, thus upping Rhettie’s chances of significant exposure that much more.
“I basically never want to be stuck in one lane,” he says. “If I'm this kind of artist, I can write for this person, I can write for [that] person, so I know people are hearing my words anywhere I go across the world. And I want them to hear my words. I'll know it's my words, and they'll know it's me who wrote it, too. So I definitely want to do that.”