If you want to find singer Rich Hil these days, better check the studio first.
For the past two years, the 19-year old has been putting in 72-hour work weeks, releasing a seemingly limitless—700 and counting—supply of songs, freestyles, and mixtapes for his devoted fanbase. Drawing inspiration from Dylan and Hendrix as much as hip-hop, the artist behind the Lost Limos mixtape series and his upcoming full length melds stream-of-consciousness, improvisational rhymes to woozy, blissed-out beats, creating a sound immersed in hip-hop but still rooted in the musician’s psychedelic, singer-songwriter leanings. It’s this idiosyncratic style that Hil has dubbed “hippie,” a mix of vintage beats, unabashed tributes to drug culture, and a laid back flow that rejects the gaudy materialism of certain emcees in lieu of a more thoughtful, back-to-basics lifestyle.
Growing up in the “stuck-up neighborhood” of Glenville, CT, Hil’s penchant for individuality manifested itself at an early age. “I’ve always been the black sheep of the family and the whole area,” he admits. “As soon as I realized what public school was, I made them switch me. Yeah, I got beat up in school. Yeah, I was a loser. Now, because I can say that, I made it cool.”
The precocious songwriter began writing and recording tracks at 13, learning swagger from Philly rap stalwarts like Beanie Sigel and Philly’s Most Wanted and prolificacy from 50 Cent. “I would just lock myself in a room for hours studying the same rap until I felt I knew it,” recalls Hil.
He quickly got the attention of über-producer Swizz Beatz, who produced tracks for Hil’s first group and took him on his first tour. It was as hype man for the producer, and as a performer in his own right, that Hil learned the performance side of the game, a trait that has metastasized into the performer’s current setup with a blistering live band.
The maturation process has been quick since those early days. Nowadays, Hil hasn’t touched a pen for a while, allowing the music and his instinct to decide the topic, flow and vocal melody. The result is a steady barrage of music that incorporates Hil’s mix of raspy crooning and rapping with an emotional, sometimes brutal, directness that recalls the best of Lil Wayne. “I don’t talk about money, fame or power,” admits the emcee. “It’s strictly vulnerability and the fun I have is stuff I take to ease that vulnerability.”
This atypical candor has endeared him to countless followers—some of whom supply Hil with beats via his Twitter page—including Atlanta producer Don Cannon and rapper Kid Cudi, who has collaborated with Hil on numerous tracks. “The fans that I have will never leave me. They’re cult hippie followers,” says Hil. “It’s a movement because my fans feel like they know me because there’s so much sincere material I’ve put out.”
The movement in question is Limo Life Records—Living is Musically Outrageous—on which Rich and Philly’s Most Wanted’s Boo Bonic make up the core components. “Limos are wack, but some people think it’s the coolest thing in the world,” explains Hil. “It’s a metaphor for the uncool that seems cool. I’m a lonely, depressed high-anxiety paranoid kid that’s telling you my story. But I said to myself, ‘You know how I’m gonna be the best? I’m just gonna be me. 100%. So anything that comes to my head, I’m letting people know.’”