R.A.P. Ferreira on Navigating the Industry as an Artist
The rapper shares his ideas for staying true to your art while pursuing a career.
Music has always been in R.A.P. Ferreira’s name. Born Rory Allen Philip Ferreira and raised on the South Side of Chicago, he got his nickname when his grandmother connected the dots between his initials and his destiny in a voicemail she left him in the sixth grade. Although he rapped under the moniker Milo for a while, he adopted R.A.P. in 2019, making the most of what's on his birth certificate. His 2020 release, Purple Moonlight Pages, shows compelling skill at rhymes that layer the sacred (for instance, fatherhood) and the mundane (laundry).
Many musicians believe that success comes with painful concessions. For R.A.P., however, navigating the industry as an independent artist and head of a label he founded, Ruby Yacht, means striking a balance between pursuing his own vision while creating the conditions for Ruby Yacht's artists to do the same. Relying on the power of teamwork and securing several avenues of income outside music has been his winning formula. We spent some time with Ferreira learning about his unique algorithm.
There’s strength in numbers
First of all, finding a team is crucial. Ruby Yacht operates like a collective, where skills are communally shared. The ever-evolving group—which includes Pink Navel, Eldon Somers, and Kenny Segal, among others—is stacked with rappers who are also talented producers, each adding their own distinctive flourish and allowing for a pooling of everyone’s resources. "Between the 10 of us we get to do pretty much whatever we want because everybody knows somebody or has some skill to make it happen,” Ferreira says. Their most recent collaborative effort, 37 GEMS, proves the benefits of this cross-pollination.
Ruby Yacht’s insistence on being radically themselves has resulted in an audience that has grown loyal to their originality. “I don't think since Parliament Funkadelic has there been a group of individuals more committed to being freaks and making their art," Ferreira says. "We’re never going to switch up. I think that consistency is why we have the audience that we do.”
Having a strong, supportive community is an invaluable asset if you’re independent. “I can say confidently that I live off my art because I have genuine relationships with people who are artists, and we’re all keeping each other afloat," Ferreira says.
Unlike a typical label, Ruby Yacht is more akin to a family, one whose basic needs Ferreira makes sure to account for. “I definitely spend two to three hours a day specifically on the label," he says. "Right now we’re just making sure everyone on our team is healthy, has a crib, has food, has what they need. Everyone is going to eat regardless of what’s going on in the world.”
Putting it all together
Pursuing your passion relentlessly and assembling your band of co-conspirators is only half the battle. It is a business after all, and revenue is essential. “You need to have at least four streams of income related to your art," Ferreira says. "Four different ways to make money off one thing. For me early on it was shows, digital sales and streaming, merch, and guest verses. At a certain point you want to start adding fifth and sixth, seventh and eighth streams of income, but you need to begin with four. If you really want to live off your art, that’s the route.”
For Ferreira those other revenue streams have taken many shapes. Merch doesn’t just mean tees. On the Ruby Yacht site, you can find a coffee blend commemorating his newest release alongside tapes, embroidered button-down shirts, and enamel pins. This is what he calls “finding loopholes in the matrix”—or, in other words, ways to keep the Yacht afloat. It doesn’t stop there. “I opened a record store. That’s a big one for me," he says. (editor’s note: Soulfolks is currently closed to the public due to COVID-19.) "I started dealing in gardening, in the growing and selling of vegetables and things like that. Sometimes I buy and sell old video games. You need to have a mind for machinations.”
Ultimately, he boils everything down to the two essential principles that have become his North Stars: Be kind to yourself, and work hard. “Don’t shit on yourself," he says. "Artists tend to be extremely self-critical, and that's not necessary. And it’s cool to work hard. It’s so fucking cool.”