When fast-rising rapper RXKNephew (real name Kristopher Kevon Williams) was a small child, his grandmother - a devoted Jehovah’s Witness - would walk him door-to-door through Rochester, New York. Despite worryingly levels of crime (Rochester has one of the highest crime rates in America, with the chance of being a victim of a violent or property-based crime there one in 27) and sometimes snowy weather conditions, grandma never stopped in her pursuit of spreading the gospel. She often spoke about being on a “mission”.
“Granny taught me how to hustle, period,” says Nephew, who once rapped: “Too focused on this mission / I got that from my granny” on the triumphant 'Ghostface Trapper'. He continues: “She instilled in me that determination to keep going. My moms had me when I was 17, and when she abandoned me at 2, it was Granny who took me in! She bought me a piano, a guitar, and a karaoke machine. I took the piano into school and would play it to my niggas right before the classes began. Granny always told me I was going to be the greatest [with the music], so she is a big part of this shit.”
If “granny” taught Nephew the importance of working hard, it was selling crack cocaine on Garson Avenue that sparked the concept of flooding the marketplace: a marketing plan the 29-year-old has followed religiously in his subsequent rap career, with the artist consistently releasing dozens and dozens of independent projects each year. So far in 2023 there have been 7; the highlights surely being the dread-inducing ‘The ONEderful Nephew’ (a collaborative project with DJ Rude One), and the turbo-charged bangers spread across ‘Till I’m Dead’, the first full-length project Neph has made while completely sober.
“Rochester is straight poverty; there’s no opportunity and it ain’t nothing but crabs in the bucket,” Nephew explains when I ask whether his past life hustling made him better prepared for the music industry. During our Zoom call, the diamonds on his RXK chain glisten like a prestigious trophy. “I was fully fledged in the street. I knew I could get killed or go back to jail any day,” he adds. “We would record a song in the house, then go meet an addict downstairs and sell angel dust. The music industry is just like the crack game; I took what I learned from the trap [about flooding the marketplace, branding and inspiring loyalty] and applied all of it to the music.”
Described as “America’s weirdest rapper” by The Face Magazine, and “one of the internet’s strangest emcees” by Gawker, these nostalgic anecdotes are a crucial glimpse into the human story that underpins RXK Nephew, who is so often presented and framed more like a kooky anarchist than just a normal guy trying to make it in a cut-throat America. Yet, in many ways, this reputation is also well earned.
Quick on repartee, Nephew’s improvised, on-the-spot verses are a deliriously stoned tornado of outlandish conspiracy theories; niche pop culture references (“I never liked Simon on American Idol / I never really liked how he talked to Black people” are the hilarious bars of viral underground hit ‘American tterroistt’); ominous threats; jokes about forcing lovers to smell his cheesy feet; and self-motivational brags (“I’m the one who taught Bobby Brown how to dance” is the giddy mission statement at the heart of ‘Critical’) that seem designed to make listeners feel impenetrable. To his growing cult fan base (which includes Rihanna, who recently strutted along to the rapper’s song ‘I Love My Girlfriend’ in a TikTok post), Nephew has become an unlikely life coach and mentor.
With parched yet cutting vocals and an unhinged, stream-of-consciousness flow, the way RXK Nephew raps is a lot like experiencing a pre-match monologue by the charged up, He-Man-esque ‘80s wrestler the Ultimate Warrior. Just like the iconic WWE muscle man, the onslaught of uber-confidence and crackpot philosophy becomes its own freeform, off-the-cuff language, where not making sense is a big part of the overall appeal. Nephew - who was recently voted one of the 25 funniest rappers of all time by Pitchfork - says his unique style is a result of a naturally eccentric sense of humour.
“I could fall off a roof, break my leg, and I would still be laughing. Laughing keeps you young, healthy, and alive. I grew up with a lot of pain. I grew up being pushed through the prison system, but I beat it, and now I am a tax paying citizen doing hip hop for a career. Shit’s crazy, bro.” Crucially, Nephew often balances his more zanier leanings with sobering insights into battling alcoholism and living with anxiety. The chaotic ‘Back On It’ contains a telling bar for anyone who might choose to make sudden movements around people who carry trauma from growing up around gun violence and addiction: “PTSD, get the fuck from behind me / low down, slithery, dirty and grimey.”
A crucial part of RXKNephew’s artistic power is also his alter ego, Slitherman, a nihilistic force of nature that mirrors the self-destructive, horny leanings of Jim Morrison’s Lizard King, Kool Keith’s Dr. Octagon, and Eminem’s Slim Shady. He spits in the deliberately exaggerated growl of a Scooby Doo villain, and Slitherman’s gory, mosh pit-inspiring verses often play out like X-rated Itchy & Scratchy sketches. One minute, Slitherman might clown Chicago drill rapper Lil Durk for having “fake dreads”, the next he could spit about having “more guns than a trailer park white boy”. On brilliantly bizarre new single, ‘Slitherman vs. Nephew’, the rapper grapples between himself and this persona over a sample of John Carpenter’s eerie Halloween theme music. Thrillingly, it is the former’s twisted ideals ("I just put gasoline in your air fryer”) that tend to prevail.
“I am going to do a whole Slitherman album [before the end of 2023],” Nephew reveals, an element of caution entering his voice for the first time, “where you hear nothing but him. But I also don’t want to increase the murder rate, either; I ain’t trying to fuck the city up. You got people out there really crashing out on this shit. I really don’t like that part of it! I keep hearing about fans who died [and got shot], and they tell me they were listening to Slitherman in their last moments. That shit upsets me, as it is supposed to be fiction. I want to make fun music, not just ‘robbing people’ music. Honestly, I would rather make people dance and shit.”
This instinct is a big part of the reason RXK Nephew is such an ideal candidate for a Mixmag profile. While there are a few examples of rappers mixing electronica into their sound in a compelling way (think Vince Staples working with SOPHIE or Azealia Banks working with Hudson Mohawke), there’s far more MCs responsible for EDM-driven monstrosities. Nephew is very much in the former camp, and his work with producers like Rx Brainstorm, Color Plus and DJ Swisha often channels genres such as acid house and techno in a way that’s strangely danceable. Perhaps the rush of ‘Beam On Ya Toes’, with its ode to a diet of Hennessy, Weed and Pop tarts, plus the sketchy, MDMA-fuelled jungle bassline at its core, is the perfect example of this sonically adventurous spirit.
Nephew’s music wouldn’t feel out of place if played in the middle of a rave filled with gurning white hipsters over in gentrified Bushwick, Brooklyn. “Electronic music is what I used to listen to in jail,” he reveals. “I fell asleep with house music playing. Hip hop carries a similar energy.”
Read this next: Freddie Gibbs is conquering hip hop on his own terms
The RXK Nephew of 2023 has the world at his feet and his destiny in his own hands, with the rapper revealing he’s even “cursed out” a few major record labels - interested in securing his signature - during recent meetings. Whether his proudly strange sound properly crosses over into the mainstream, or he simply enjoys the career of a successful, buzzy, internet rap outlier in the vein of a Lil B, it doesn’t matter: the artist says he has already won. Nephew and his bluesy, talented co-rapper and creative partner RxPapi (check out ‘12 Stout Street’ ASAP) tend to hang out in a sizable house in Georgia, where they’re finally enjoying the fruits of their labour via daily BBQs and family celebrations. It’s a chance to repair the pain of the past and live good.
“I came out of prison with $40 to my name. Now I’m eating off rap. This is my family’s first time being based down South,” the rapper boasts. “We all came from the trenches, but I am going to make sure everyone got cars and is living good, forever. By the time I am 40, I want to be richer than P. Diddy. My haters could die and get reincarnated and come back, and I still won’t be broke. It’s a waste of fucking time! The reason I am based in the South is because I want to slow down and take care of my people. I cannot go back to jail and leave my kids alone, not ever again! I need to be there for them their whole lives.”
I once again return Nephew to those days spent with Granny, door stopping people in the cold and trying to tempt them towards salvation. I wonder: what is his mission now, in 2023? The rapper, surely among the most original of his generation, concludes: “Granny used to say: ‘Don’t ever count your eggs before they hatch. Don’t spend your money before you get your money. Learn from your mistakes.’
“I’m trying to turn a negative into a positive. I am a philosopher to the youth; they love me. When they see me, they don’t want autographs, they want hugs. What I am doing is touching their soul. When I die, they gon’ have no choice but to say I was a legend. That’s the mission, period.”
Thomas Hobbs is a freelance writer, follow him on Twitter