When Rikki Blu walks into Griff’s Hamburgers, he immediately sticks out. He stands 6 feet, 7 inches tall, and long, tightly braided dreadlocks, dyed gray in spots, drape over his tattered and patched denim jacket. It's a lot of style to take in at a decades-old burger joint.
After ordering, Blu strolls to a booth near a row of windows in the back of the restaurant and waits for his food. He takes in the Claw arcade game, which has been there since he was a kid, and smiles. After a whirlwind few years in which he's received support from big companies like Sprite and SoundCloud, he's finally back home in Pleasant Grove.
For the last 18 months, the 25-year-old has been in Los Angeles pursuing a rap career. Before that, Blu had brief stints in Atlanta, New York and Nashville. He hasn't called Pleasant Grove home in nearly seven years.
“Pleasant Grove has always been like a magical place for me,” he says. “It made me open my eyes to what the world was. The Grove equipped me with what I needed to jump out to LA with $60 and a one-way ticket. It’s so fucking rough here that everywhere else is a piece of cake.”
While it may seem odd for him to be happy about coming home to a neighborhood that is by all accounts rough and overlooked in Dallas, Blu's takeaway from his travels is that it is as good a place as any to forge his identity. Another big reason for his return is that he's expecting his first child later this year and wants to raise him or her around family.
“I’ve been everywhere looking for what I thought you’re supposed to leave home and find,” Blu says. “People add these huge, grandiose stories to places like LA and Cali, but being there, I realized these people created a lane by being themselves and are just embracing and resolidifying who they are.”
Blu has always been himself; it’s plain to hear in his music. On his five-track 2015 debut EP, Pleasant Grove, he tells tales of his neighborhood. The tone of the EP is dark and moody; the rasp and strain in Blu’s voice are evidence of the effects the Grove has had on him.
Following the advice of his father, who told him, “Don’t just be rapping to be rapping or rhyming to be rhyming,” Blu raps about what’s in his heart. For that reason, he consistently finds himself rapping about home and the Grove. His new album, You Can't Make Me, due for release later this summer, talks about the Bruton Bazaar. Even his latest collaboration with Atlanta’s OG Maco includes a shoutout to his hometown.
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At times, he's doubted whether anyone would latch on to his music or style.
“You feel like you’re the problem, but the bittersweet is when companies like Sprite and Soundcloud cosign you and deliver reassurance,” Blu says. “Until that moment, I can’t say that I knew I was good enough, and that’s what society does to you. They put a dollar tag on your dreams, but when things like that happen, it lets you know you’re not doing it for nothing – people are listening.”
Last year, Sprite sponsored Blu’s track “All In” and featured him in the soda company’s Purveyors of Urban Reality campaign. That event came on the heels of Soundcloud featuring Blu on its company blog, a major coup considering the hundreds of thousands of artists who have uploaded their music to the streaming platform.
Because of that success, he’s living by the "if you build it, they will come" mantra and is confident he will achieve the same success from Pleasant Grove despite the common narrative that you can’t make it big as a rapper without leaving Dallas.
“I know that I never wanted to be in that pool of artists that complained about what Dallas wasn’t,” he says. “I want to be the one in my head who loves it for everything it is and embrace the ugly parts with the good parts. I’ve already done so much with nothing, and one thing that hasn’t faltered is that if you have something worth listening to or worth having, people are gonna listen.”
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Blu believes artists who aren't satisfied with their careers haven't done enough to separate themselves from the pack. Leading up to the release of his debut album, Blu has a campaign mapped out that includes the release of numerous tracks not featured on the album, short documentaries and more multimedia to spread his gospel.
Until the album drops, he’s also busy reacquainting himself with Pleasant Grove and what it has to offer, like his double-meat cheeseburger from Griff’s, where he's been eating since he was 4 years old. When Blu looks out onto Buckner Boulevard, he's reminded of all the places he’s lived in Pleasant Grove. He thinks it's high time the neighborhood become more present in Dallasites' minds.
“I want to show the people that ... the stigma that they put on us isn’t valid anymore," he says. "We’re more than that.”