The East Atlanta-bred rapper defines success on his own terms with ‘I Am What I Am’
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If the seven-bedroom mansion he now calls home is any indication, RaRa has packed a lot of living into the three years that have passed since he appeared in 2014, poised to take the hip-hop world by storm with his HighEndLowLife mixtape.
And while the East Atlanta-bred rapper, born Rodriguez Smith, proudly admits that everything has changed he’s still the same person he was three years ago, when CL caught up with him on his grandmother’s porch in Decatur.
Self-awareness is the driving force behind his latest mixtape, I Am What I Am, released March 10 via Street Dreams/Hustle Gang/Empire. “I’ve had to do a lot of things over the last 10 years getting back to where I am today,” says the former So So Def-signed artist. “Different people caught me at different times, so different people know me in different ways,” he says. “I can be anything depending on who’s telling the story. I’m OK with that.”
It’s a different attitude than one might expect from an artist whom many counted out when HighEndLowLife wasn’t met with the overwhelming success that many expected. From RaRa’s perspective the situation is much different. “Great shit did happen; we won,” he says. “I get pissed off every day when people on my team think that we just didn’t win. That shit fucks me up. People just don’t know how to recognize a win. I was just at Jay-Z’s house. I saw Blue Ivy running around in pajamas. I definitely won. I just don’t know what people want to happen.”
The time between projects was filled with the type of soul searching and creative expression that led him to launch a second career as a producer. For I Am What I Am, Rara produced the songs “For the Money” feautring T.I. and “Notice It.” He also produced Meek Mill’s “On the Regular” and T.I.’s “Black Man” featuring Meek Mill and Quavo.
He also took the opportunity to learn the game from the perfect mentor in T.I., whose ability to marry street culture with mainstream glam opened a new lane in Southern hip-hop; a lane which has remained vacant since. T.I. also makes a guest appearance on I Am What I Am, delivering verses such as “Should be long gone, get you gone/In the all chrome, my new whip/Goin’ real fast, get slowed down” in the song “For the Money.”
RaRa believes with confidence that he’s the man to take over the lane T.I. created. “There isn’t anybody else that’s got what I got,” he says. “Street niggas don’t put the effort into being lyrical. And niggas who rap a lot are boring as hell. They’re so busy trying to prove this ‘I’m a good rapper’ point that the music gets lost. So to have the lyrics, be respected in the streets, have girls like them, know how to make radio records and still have some business sense is very rare.”
I Am What I Am effortlessly covers those bases. The seven-track EP plays like a confessional, not of mistakes made, but of truths discovered. The project also showcases RaRa’s ability to speak for his audience on songs such as “Lawd,” a musical prayer spoken on behalf of those whose struggles outweigh his. “Dear Summer” is told from the perspective of someone whose turn has finally come — something that RaRa understands all too well.