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It’s fitting that RMR’s debut EP, Drug Dealing Is A Lost Art, arrives at the midpoint of a year filled with debate, discussion, and reflection on the classification of Black music. After Tyler The Creator pointed out the drawbacks of his Best Rap Album Grammy win in February, the discussion culminated in the week leading up to RMR’s release, with Billie Eilish echoing Tyler’s sentiments and Republic Records announcing the discontinuation of the term “urban” after the industry’s Black Out Tuesday in response to the killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd.
RMR (pronounced “Rumor”) emerged into this strained climate with the surprise hit “Rascal,” a remake of “God Bless The Broken Road” by Rascal Flatts. The video, which went viral within a day of its release, features stereotypical rap visuals but twists them around an unexpected concept, as the ski-masked RMR, clad in designer bulletproof, brandishes guns at the camera and occasionally flashes a gold-grilled grin. The lyrics, repurposed from the lovelorn anthem to a “f*ck 12” refrain, center around plugs and flexing — the standard accoutrements of rap stardom. The juxtaposition flouts the rules of genre even more flagrantly than Lil Nas X had with “Old Town Road” just a year before. And he followed it up with the “trap&B” hedonism of “Dealer,” suggesting that his debut project would subvert expectations — whether listeners expected an industry plant gimmick, or a typical trap rap technician.
Throughout the seven tracks on Drug Dealing — “Dealer” appears twice, including a remix featuring Future and Lil Baby — RMR makes it his mission to dab into various genres without rinsing his paintbrush in between. Opening with a Westside Gunn feature that wouldn’t be out-of-place on turn-of-the-millennium, New York mixtape, RMR flies in the face of purists who insist that rap music be separated into neatly regimented categories. He doesn’t care for the sensibilities of traditionalists who “hate it when food touches.” Anything goes in RMR’s laboratory, where there are no control samples, just formulas to be mixed and remixed until something interesting happens.
In a recent interview published on Complex, RMR detailed “showing you what the future could look like” in a few years, when consumers “stop listening to one-track-minded artists and open up to different variations” of music unconstrained by petty distinctions that mark most genres’ boundaries. He describes his own music as “anointment” sans genres or labels, insisting that the inspiration just comes to him. However, his assertion that “Rascal” was the first song he ever made — and that “Dealer” was the second — runs contrary to the polish on a track like “Nouveau Riche.” Blending elements of trap rap, R&B, and country as liberally as his prior efforts, “Nouveau Riche” sounds like the result of painstaking trial and error that belies parts of the organic narrative RMR and his management have promoted.
In the end, though, it doesn’t much matter how genuine his breakout stardom has been. As pointed out by NPR’s Mano Sundaresan, RMR is far from the first artist to utilize mystery or focus-grouped, forced virility to promote themselves. There’s plenty of others accused of being industry plants; look no further than TikTok for a list of suddenly-famous, former nobodies who have possibly paid their ways to the top. Within hip-hop alone, MF Doom, Leikeli47, and more have used masks to draw attention and provoke curiosity. The aforementioned Lil Nas X added the nearly-untouched tools of country music to hip-hop’s kit, and he was hardly the first. And debate has raged about the classification of Black singers like Ty Dolla Sign and The Weeknd and whether they are singers, rappers, pop, or R&B.
RMR presents the most polished, promising possibility of the world where those distinctions are less important than the music itself. I don’t fool myself into thinking that new artists won’t be marketed in the future with overwrought backstories of struggle or authenticity, or that Black artists will stop getting pigeonholed into a narrow range of genre markers like R&B and rap. However, Drug Dealing Is A Lost Art is an intriguing peek at what such a world may look like. After all, rumors often spread faster than even the people who’ve started them intend. One day, the message this RMR has put out into the world may end up being accepted as nothing more than common sense.
Drug Dealing Is A Lost Art is out now on CMNTY CULTURE/Warner Records. Get it here.
RMR is a Warner Music artist. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.