Richie Cunning on San Francisco, Stevie Wonder, and the Wonders of Google Image Search
The easiest way to recognize local rapper Richie Cunning in a crowded room is by the Giants hat he's probably wearing. Born and raised in San Francisco, Cunning often raps about the city he calls home, the city he loves.
In a few weeks, he'll be spitting rhymes at SF Weekly's All Shook Down Music Fest at Regency Ballroom, but he took some time to call a cab (apparently a tricky affair) and travel across the city to sit down with us and talk about his collection of Giants hats and, oh yeah, his music.
How many Giants hats do you own?
Richie: Right now, I think I own about eight or nine, but half of them are the same, classic black and orange. I have others with a little bit more pizzazz that I don't really take out that much anymore that I wore when I was a younger man.
You love San Francisco. What does the city mean to you?
Richie: I'm a big fan of anybody loving where they come from. I feel like you have to, unless -- never mind, forget I said that. There are exceptions to that.
I love what San Francisco was built on. I love that it started out as this real tough town of outlaws and all the old Barbary Coast stuff, that it was built on heathens and thieves and tough guys. It's a far cry from that now, sadly, but sometimes I pretend that I live there.
I have friends that come out from the East Coast, and they call San Francisco "the land of the freaky deakies." And I can see that -- if you're coming from somewhere that's so different and so wound tight, I can see why you would say that. But that's why it's great -- people are just who they are out here. Nobody's afraid to do anything in San Francisco. It's a fearless town.
Do you have a favorite venue in the city?
Richie: It's still my unrealized fantasy to play at the Fillmore. I like to think that I'm not too far off from that, but so close and yet so far. The Fillmore is the obvious answer for the best venue in the city.
How do you think your style has changed since you started rapping seriously?
Richie: When I was 18 or 19, it was all about how big the words could be, how intricate and strange the rhyme patterns were, and how far over somebody's head you could go. That was big then, but my style kind of changed with the times, without making me sound like some kind of Johnny-come-lately -- just trying to simplify it without dumbing it down. It's become more important to me for everyone to understand what I'm saying than it is to astound and woo them with verbal acrobatics.
Let's talk about one of your new songs, "Pure Imagination." The cover art is great.
Richie: You might be disappointed by this, then. The image, the part about the cover that's cool -- meaning, not my font and logo -- I kind of fished around for that on Google Images [laughs]. I just jacked it. I knew what I wanted the cover to feel like, so I was searching for things like "brain" and "color" and "mind," and I just found that. I found that somewhere on like page three on one of those searches and I just took it.
I wasn't anticipating how successful that song would be. I mean I worked hard on it, but then I put it out and people reacted to that song like nothing that I've ever put out before. It really exploded a couple nights after I put it out. Somebody, I don't even know who, somebody put it on Reddit. I didn't even know what Reddit was. I had just put it out a few days before, so I was constantly checking the numbers on it -- checking the downloads, checking the plays on YouTube. And I went to bed and woke up the next morning, and everything had gone up like by 10,000, and I was like, "Uhh ... ?" [laughs] And then I got a Google Alert about it on Reddit, and I saw that it had become one of the top trending threads in music, or something like that.
In retrospect, I kind of wish I had had a more official cover, one that I couldn't get in trouble over for that song, but I'm not charging anything for it, so. ... It's kind of hip-hop -- I sampled it [laughs]. Keep it hip-hop.
Next: Cunning on "Just Rap" and the music business hustle.