Coming up in N.C. & Moving to Atlanta
Ricky Racks has lived in Atlanta for almost three years now, but he hails from several hours to the northeast, in Greenville, North Carolina, a town of about 90,000. He was raised around music -- his father teaches guitar lessons -- and he started playing the drums when he was a little kid.
Before moving to Atlanta, Ricky had been making beats for a few years, and he'd become something of a fixture in North Carolina. After a couple years of working with dlocal talent, guys like Chris Millz and Young Cypher (his cousin), Ricky scored two relatively high-profile placements on Project Pat's Cheez N Dope, released in January 2013 and hosted by DJ Scream.
They're both great records, especially "Drank and That Strong," on which Ricky shows off the clever sampling of a lost '70s soul gem, Willie Roundtree's "Another World." Though Ricky would move eventually away from sampling, in favor of creating his own sounds, the beat is impressive enough to predict his future success. He's since become known for street-ready bangers, of which the focus isn't necessarily how "hard" they sound, but how different they are from other street records.
The out-of-town placement prompted Ricky to start considering moving elsewhere himself, and he ended up deciding upon the epicenter of the southern music industry: Atlanta. It was a risky move, especially considering he had already established a good living for himself in Carolina. "I was making money. I was making great money," recalls Ricky, "but I knew I wanted to do something bigger. And I knew this was where it was at."
Upon relocating, using what few industry connections he had, he was able to get some time at Patchwerk Studios, and from then on, slowly but surely, he began acquainting himself with the right people. Not the industry folks who might sign him to a deal, but those who, like him, were working hard to push new sounds in an oversaturated music scene.
That includes the previously mentioned producers, like Wheezy and various members of 808 Mafia, and also the behind-the-scenes cats like engineer Alex Tumay, whose mastering work on most of Thug's recent projects has been widely praised. "I really gravitated toward the engineers and the managers because the engineers are the ones who press play on the records. A lot of my friends are engineers, and that was really my blessing in disguise when it came to getting placements."
One man who emerged as a mentor for Ricky is the now-incarcerated PeeWee Roscoe, who's currently serving a controversial 20-year sentence for allegedly firing gunshots at Lil Wayne's tourbus. PeeWee, whom Thug refers to as "the human goat," did the work of an A&R, without any official title, for both YSL and Rich Gang, and he was one of the primary creative minds behind T.I.'s Bankroll Mafia.
"As far as like showing me things in this game and really giving me that confidence, he really played a big part in it. He got me in them rooms with the big artists. I'll never forget PeeWee."
PeeWee was able to help Ricky land a spot on one of the first Bankroll Mafia posse cuts, "Freeze Up," and a few months later -- also due to his rapport with Wheezy and Tumay -- he was able to get a few beats sent Thugger's way.
Though most of Ricky's peers are native to Atlanta and have been active in the scene for the better part of a decade, he hasn't noticed much prejudice toward his newcomer status now that he's affiliated with some of the right people: "If the music is good, one thing about Atlanta is: These artists ain't gonna turn down no beats."