R.i.c.o G's Philosophies on Learning to Let Go

Rico G (Pendarvis Harshaw)

When my family and I walked into a close friend’s house for a small gathering last Saturday afternoon, yoga instructor Shakira Scott was there—Apple TV remote in hand—saying we were just in time to watch this short comedy film, Hella Vegan, starring R.i.c.o. G.

I jumped. This guy is everywhere. “How are you connected to him?” I asked her.

Scott replied that she’s been cast in the role of his love interest in a separate upcoming film written by Jordan Skipper. They'd just shot the first scene the day before.

Of course R.i.c.o is doing a love film, I thought. The short Hella Vegan, also written by Jordan Skipper, is comedic social commentary. R.i.c.o.'s is also in LaTajh Weaver’s Cycles, a web series focused on cyclical violence in urban communities. So, a romantic role means he’s just about covered all the bases. Now I’m just waiting for a horror film.

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Scott, who recently led the Oakland Raiders through some yoga workouts for a segment that appeared on HBO's series Hard Knocks, then told me R.i.c.o also produced music for her yoga videos. Of course, I forgot he's been making beats too; he recently dropped a beat tape called Say Less.

Scott laughed and told me she first met R.i.c.o back in the day, when he used to walk around with a mic and loudspeaker, freestyling on Telegraph. Of course—I almost forgot that I used to see him over there too; so many late night moves to Rudy’s Can’t Fail for the French toast would lead me to crossing his path.

Dude is everywhere.

Did I mention we went to Edna Brewer Middle School together? He was two grades behind me, so I didn’t know him that well. But again, even as a kid, I’d still see him everywhere.

Kinda makes you wonder what goes through his mind, doesn't it? What keeps him motivated to put himself out there?

So, I asked him.

R.i.c.o G at the mini park on 14th and Willow Street in West Oakland
R.i.c.o G at the mini park on 14th and Willow Street in West Oakland (Pendarvis Harshaw)

“Giving a fuck is overrated,” R.i.c.o G told me, by way of an answer, as we sat in the smoker’s section of 7th West in West Oakland. It might sound like the title of a bestselling book, but it's true: that driving philosophy is what allows him to be liberated as an artist. “That’s how I'm able to sing on a track, that’s how I’m able to be free,” he explained.

On his hip-hop album from this past summer, Patiently Done Waiting, R.i.c.o G taps into his love for rock and R&B music—without overthinking it.

“When people ask what music I listen to, I can never answer it straight,” R.i.c.o G said. “I might be listening to the Ramones, I might be listening to Beyoncé. If I told people I do leg day at the gym to Beyoncé’s ‘Before I Let Go,’ no one would believe me,” he said with a laugh.

Although he does sing, it’s more harmonizing—he doesn’t hit any Beyoncé-like notes on the album—and yeah, he does his own version of the Ramones’ classic "I Wanna Be Sedated."

And within his musical explorations, he drops subtle philosophies about his approach to work, art and life. That’s what garnered my interest, the philosophies—I mean, it’s not often you meet an MC from Oakland who attended Hofstra University and now works as a mental health counselor at a public school. So we talked about it.

On the song, Fly Away, Rico G says, “If you don’t run / you cannot be chased.” He says that’s emblematic of the mind state a lot of us have. “A lot of the time, being chased is metaphorical—it’s a feeling,” Rico G said. “The shit that you avoid is the shit you think about all day.”

“It’s like you’re mentally running,” I said, and looked at my notes for the next lyrics to ask him about.

“Playing hide-and-go-get-it / Found a dope stash when I was looking for hugs and kisses / Put it back just because I knew whose it was / at a young age I understood why they needed funds.”

I asked him: what does this mean?

“That’s that Manzanita Center shit!” R.i.c.o. said, almost jumping up from the wood bench.

At a young age, he told me, he knew what a crack rock looked like. “I had always seen people with hella spitters (bagged up crack) under their tongue, so when I saw that bag—I put it back—I’m not going to touch that,” said R.i.c.o.

“That was a part of my growing up... I knew my place at that moment. I’m not a street dude. I don’t rob people for their crack and go sell it, that’s not me.”

Not a street dude, but exposed to street shit. I fall into that column too. Even spent some significant moments from my formative years at that same community center.

I asked about the next line, “Stop bringing pistols to the party / all that street shit be fucking up the art scene.”

“Art murmur, first Friday,” R.i.c.o. said solemnly.

He was talking about the 2013 death of Kiante Campbell, who I wrote about, as he was the younger brother of Marcel Campbell, a childhood friend of mine who was also killed in 2006.

I told R.i.c.o. the line also made me think of the 2016 killing of Terrence “T-Mack” McCrary and Craig Fletcher-Cooks.

“I was there!” said R.i.c.o, as he explained running from gunfire that night during an arts event on 15th Street in downtown Oakland. He then lamented the notion of violence even coming into the arts arena.

“Bruh, it’s crazy. That’s bootsie. That blocks our progress. The way everyone speaks of Oakland in the old days, there was a universal code—there were certain places where certain shit just didn’t go down,” said R.i.c.o, just as Langston, a open mic host and 7th West employee, came up to us to let us know happy hour was ending.

R.i.c.o stands for "real is currently over looked." (Pendarvis Harshaw)

I asked R.i.c.o. about the title of the album, and how it ties into his overall mind state at this point in his life.

“'Patiently done waiting' is not being mad at anybody. And at the same time, saying: 'fuck everybody',” R.i.c.o said. "Not in a negative way," he added, with a laugh.

He rattled off a list of recent happenings that have caused him to push the gas pedal on his career: his father’s death and his best friend's little brother's murder. He mentioned romantic relationships that didn't pan out, and reflected on the role he played in them. Even mentioned music producers not sending him tracks after they said they would.

“Just 'cause somebody cats off on you, that’s no excuse not be successful,” R.i.c.o said. “It just means you have to demand more of yourself. And then meet that demand."

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And a significant part of meeting that demand is simply showing up. R.i.c.o G seems to get that.

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