This past Saturday, Rich Hilfiger stood across the street from FAO Schwarz smoking an American Spirit as he texted on a white iPhone. He wore camo pants, a Rolex, combat boots and a black tank top from a ZZ Top tour that took place in 1990 (the year he was born), which barely covered his knuckles-to-neck tattooing. On his head he wore a black cap that was given to him last week by a new friend, Abel Tesfaye, the singer who performs under the name the Weeknd.
“You know the model Stephanie Seymour?” he said pointing at the toy store. “One time her son had a sleepover and they rented out the entire place. I wasn’t invited because I’d transferred to another school or something.”
“Kids, you know,” he said, crossing over to the Plaza, where he lives with his fiancée in an apartment owned by his garb magnate father, Tommy. “Of course now that everything’s happening for me, they’re all coming out of the woodwork. It’s like, ‘Yo, I do music too.’ And I’m like, ‘Oh, yeah?’” He pulled his signature smile, a wide-eyed, nostrils-flared expression easily confused with a grimace.
Last month, Rich announced that he’d signed a record deal with Warner Bros. Records. The story goes that Warner Bros., trying to woo the Weeknd—whose House of Balloons mixtape blew up in a big way this spring—asked him which artists he’d like to work with. He said Rich, they signed Rich, who performs under the name Rich Hil, and they flew him to Abel’s native Toronto the next day. For Rich, who goes to the studio every day and had previously been signed to Swizz Beatz’s now defunct Full Service Records, it was a dream come true. Now he’s preparing for his first big tour this fall and has started working with producer Lex Luger, who produced the song “H.A.M” on the recent Jay-Z/Kanye West album Watch the Throne.
Rich hasn’t made this kind of news since last year, when he was arrested in Los Angeles with a sizeable amount of marijuana in the trunk of his car. He’s still on probation, though he managed to avoid jail with court-ordered rehab.
“Did I get anything out of it?” he said over dinner in the basement of the Plaza (grilled chicken, chimichurri and an off-menu lemonade-mojito concoction). “Yeah, I learned that alcohol and coke? Is kind of for faggots. You know, like, in my eyes. I’ll drink alcohol to get a lean, don’t get me wrong, but, like, something about the people who are addicted to alcohol and cocaine, they seemed like fags to me,” he said. “Not ‘fags’ as in ‘gay.’ I have nothing against gay people. Mad people in my family are gay.”
The two-month stint in Utah inspired two mixtapes, Ricky Goes to Rehab and I Just Got Outta Rehab, as well as the refrain “I got a pound in the car,” which recurs frequently on his newer tracks. While in rehab, he read the poet Robert Burns, who he says is his father’s great-uncle. “He talks about the same shit that I talk about,” Rich said. “Girls, love, loss, being high, and that’s about it.”
Sonically, Rich’s songs are a mix of hip-hop crooning and Lil Wayne-inspired growl rapping. It’s a style he’s developed over 10 years, when his infatuation with the lifestyle began in Greenwich, Conn. Rich’s parents have always been supportive of his rap efforts. They allowed him to take formative weekend trips to Philadelphia at age 15 with the family bodyguard to visit friends he’d made in the hip-hop community.
And the haters? Gawker savaged him a few weeks ago, and Kanye West has been less than genial, but the record deal changes all that. “Fuck those people, you know?” he said, leaning into The Observer’s recorder. “Fuck y’all, like, suck my dick. Literally. They know who they are.” He says he makes music for three people—himself, his fiancée and his father, “a groupie,” to whom he sends a Zip file of 20 new songs every other week.
“As soon as he figures out how to open it, he’ll be back an hour later and tell me his favorite songs, why they’re his favorite songs, why he likes them, how they made him feel,” he said. “And then there are times when he’ll even have to pull me aside and be like, ‘Are you O.K.?’” Rich has the words “I love you, Dad,” tattooed on the underside of his neck (and a clown smoking a blunt on his shoulder). Reached for a quote, Tommy Hilfiger said via email, “I love and admire my son’s musical talent and am tremendously proud of his passion for his work.”
The Hilfiger suite in the Plaza features many photos of the Rolling Stones and an Andy Warhol rendering of Howdy Doody in the front hall. On a table below Doody are Rich’s contributions to the décor—several G.I. Joe dolls and a full-size Stormtrooper helmet from Star Wars. Two heavy turntable cases blocked the kitchen door, to keep out Rich’s Wheaten terrier.
One constant refrain in Rich’s music is the phrase “no limos,” contra tacky, showy wealth. Waiting on Rich’s couch before we headed to the studio, we asked why he frequently reps “the Cut” or “CT” in his songs, when it’s generally considered to be a world capital for that sort of thing.
“I rep CT because CT made me,” he said, a Macbook balanced on his stomach. “I’m a product of CT but I’m not—I don’t know. What would a prep school kid wear?” He Googled “prep school kid” and found a picture of a guy in a pink sport coat. “That’s not me. You know what I mean? I might have gone to school with that kid. That kid might have played video games in my house. Played out in the woods with me, but I didn’t turn into that. I’m so fucking CT but I’m not that at all … Not everybody from Texas got a fucking cowboy hat, you know?” he said. “I’m going to tweet that.” And he did.
He texted with the Weeknd, and we asked if he had a quote for The Observer. “Fuck them, bro,” he told Rich.
Krystal Martos, Rich’s 27-year-old fiancée and the D.J. whose turntables served as doggie gate, emerged from the bedroom where she’d been recovering from jet lag. Dark-skinned and lithe, she complained of a perpetual headache and Rich offered to get her some Oxycontin—he has a prescription. She thanked him but said no.
“I’ve already reached all my old goals,” he said shortly after she left the room. “I was like, ‘Yo, I want to be the best rapper that was born in Connecticut ever.’ I’m that! No less than that, you can’t even front.”
He gestured to the bedroom. “I used to look at her in ads when she was modeling for ads, like Akademiks in XXL. She used to be in those ads! Those ads I used to jerk off to as a kid! That’s my wife! It’s crazy, you know? I’ll find you one that I found recently of her. It was in Complex.” He called it up on his iPhone.
In the cab, Rich explained that we were headed to Premier Studios in midtown, the only studio in New York that hasn’t banned him, he said. At Downtown Studios, for example, he was blacklisted for breaking into their offices with his creative partner, Uncle Panther, and generally running amok. He peed in workers’ coffee cups, pushed over bookshelves, “drew dicks everywhere” and drizzled honey on keyboards, all of it captured on security tape that he wants to obtain for a music video.
“Yo, kid!” he yelled into the recording studio in an Indian accent. “It’s your nephew!”
“I like my nephew!” trilled Uncle Panther, a long-aired Indian man who was waiting in the mixing room. A staffer plunked down four or five glass ashtrays, all inscribed with the “I Love NY” logo, in strategic positions.
Rich set his laptop on the mixing board and played new songs at levels that prompted an off-guard producer to cover his ears. Then it was time for some mischief.
Uncle Panther is mix of a muse and a manager for Rich (though, only spiritually on that last role, Rich’s proper manager is named Sickamore). Rich and Panther met through Swizz Beatz and he claims credit for suggesting that Rich start singing—advice he also gave to Chet Haze, Tom Hanks’s son, for whom he’s written eight songs. He’s also there for studio morale. Not 10 minutes after a fruit platter arrived, Rich and Panther took to an outdoor balcony to wing it at pedestrians walking in the drizzly night below. They didn’t hit anyone, but one woman may have noticed an orange.
“Isn’t this fun?” Panther said as they were filling up cups of water to dump on passersby. “I’m telling you, 2012 is the year of Rich. He’s going to be a fucking rock star.” Rich looked bashful as he pinched his four cups between his fingers.
A producer, Avery Chambliss—who has worked with Cassidy, Bone Thugs-n-Harmony and other prominent artists—stopped by to show off a new beat he’d written for Rich that sounded like the theme from the Halloween movies. When Rich was in the bathroom, we asked Avery what makes a Rich Hil beat.
“Dark,” Avery said. “Rich likes everything dark.”
“It’s like if you have a girlfriend,” said Uncle Panther. “And she gets raped and then she tells you about it? That kind of shit.”
Rich is prolific, recording an average of five songs a night (“I just do some shit to get some shit off my chest,” he said. “I might never put the song out”). Late into the night, he rose in the middle of a beat and entered the recording booth as everyone else busied himself for the event, turning off the lights and moving ashtrays so that Rich could smoke behind the microphone.
He abandoned prewritten lyrics long ago and is often surprised by what comes out. “It’s like, what I just said in there,” he said when he emerged 30 minutes later. “‘Rarer than a bad bitch named Eleanor.’ I’ll have to think like, ‘Is that rare? Oh, yeah, I guess it is.’”
That night he had only one song in him, and the rest of the evening was dedicated to listening to his music—new songs, and YouTube—and general shit-shooting. Later in the night everyone ordered Indian food and after the five chicken tikka masalas arrived, Rich began to rail against the clothing label Supreme, which he used to wear regularly, until they started “fucking with Odd Future,” a West Coast rap group
Now he wants to kidnap Odd Future frontman Tyler the Creator and make a music video where an attractive woman takes a duffel bag of Supreme out to the middle of the desert and burns it. He didn’t say for which song.
Clarification added 8/10 Though he sometimes plays the part in the studio, Uncle Panther is not Rich’s manager. Rich is managed by Sickamore, with whom we scheduled this interview.