"T o infinity and beyonnnnnnnd!" screams the chorus, over a dead-stop Memphis beat that evokes wide, empty streets in the night. It's not quite trap, but sonically, it paints a similar landscape. The singer's voice tacks disarmingly between rap swagger and a questioning catch in the throat. And while the lyrics are tough-minded snapshots of a life steeped in poverty and casual crime, they just as often pull back to infinity, to reflect on the complexities. "I have no fear, even if I'm feeling fear, even if I feel afraid, I must still move in a maze."
The track is "Infinity Stones," by the up-and-coming R.U.D.Y (no period after the Y), who really began upping his releases in 2020, the downtime of the quarantine age. R.U.D.Y, aka Rudolph Swansey Jr., carved out a niche for himself in the netherworld between the graphic grit of trap and something closer to knowledge rap, a rare combination.
- Lee Mars
Memphis Flyer: You did a whole series of two- or three-track EPs last year called Rudy Tuesday's, volumes 1-7. How did they come about?
R.U.D.Y: Rudy Tuesday's was just something that I felt was a good way for me to feed my fan base with records that weren't really a project. Like one-offs, loose records. There were some good songs in that series. I'm thinking of starting it up again. The reason I stopped was that I began to work on my project that I put out toward the end of the year, Till We Open. 'Indestructible' was the single. It was produced by my homie Lee Mars, who's a very important figure in helping me discover my sound and who I am as an artist and a person. We grew real close over the last two years. I met him at work. He was listening to a Jay Z record on a forklift, and I started rapping along with it. It turned out we were both anime fanatics. That was really the glue for us, the fact that we loved anime so much. I've been into it since I was 9 or 10, and I'm 27 now. It's a part of who I am.
The track you released with “Infinity Stones” was “Netero's Focus.”
"Netero's Focus." That's from an anime called Hunter x Hunter. Netero is one of the strongest characters in it. He got so strong, he couldn't be defeated anymore. And to thank God for that, he vowed to throw 10,000 punches in one fight. That took a lot of focus, and that's the kind of focus you've gotta have to maintain and grow in life.
Most of your releases thus far have been produced by members of your collective, Black Light Entertainment. What is that focused on?
What is black light? And what does it do? It illuminates what we can't see with our naked eye. You need ultraviolet light in order to illuminate certain things. That's why crime scene investigations, they can discover the truth of what really happened. The stuff we hide, the stuff we don't want people to see? That's what the black light illuminates. It shows us truth. And I wanted my music to do that.
I hear you name dropping Socrates in one rap.
Oh yeah. 'I'm trying to learn philosophies that Africans taught Socrates.' I was a history major at the University of Memphis. I graduated last year. My studies were mainly focused on African-American history and African-American Studies. I learned that Socrates and Plato and a lot of those guys in Greece got their knowledge from going to Africa to study at the oldest colleges in the world.
I notice that you have more of a tendency to sing than a lot of rappers. And also that you use a lot of jazz chords and samples. What's your musical background?
I was singing in the choir for as long as I can remember. I grew up in the church. My mother is what they call a Prayer Warrior; she has a theology certificate and is a deacon. My dad is an amazing singer, he has a beautiful voice, and he also sings in the choir. Singing in the choir was a part of my DNA from when I was a kid til maybe I turned 16? I went to the Memphis Academy of Science and Engineering, and graduated in 2012. Around 10th grade I also started getting into rapping really heavy. Growing up, there was no secular music played in my house, unless it was what my parents called "Blue Lights in the Basement Music." You know, Teddy Pendergrass, Isley Brothers, soul music. So the only experience I had with music outside of that was when I went to a friend's house.
There's also a political edge to your lyrics. Confronting poverty and how it affects people on the level of the soul.
Yeah, man. I grew up poor. I was born in Atlanta, but my dad is from the South Side of Chicago. My mom is from Gary, Indiana. And we moved there right after I was born. Then, when I was 12, we moved to Glenwood Park in South Memphis. Rough as Memphis is, compared to Gary, it's still ... well, I'm grateful to be here. I'm grateful to have come from Gary because it taught me how to survive. I've had to do homework by candlelight, if my mom couldn't pay the light bill. The homework's still gotta be done. And when you walk out the house, you don't dress like your situation. You walk with dignity."
R.U.D.Y's latest release is Till We Open. Watch for more singles to drop around Valentine's Day, and an EP produced with IMAKEMADBEATS later in the year.