Rapper Rob Roy Returns With Mesmerizing Video [Exclusive]
To call Rob Roy (née Robert Raimon Roy) an “emerging talent” would be doing him a disservice. Hailing from Jacksonville, the L.A.-based rapper and singer has been the stuff of urban legends for over ten years now. It’s more accurate, then, to call him “re-emerging”—if not wholly established.
Roy first gained notoriety back in 2009 with his Kanye-endorsed viral track, “Fur in My Cap.” The song, a sonic and lyrical anomaly at the time, was praised by everyone from Pharrell and Thundercat, to Questlove and others, and was featured on HBO’s Entourage. Which brings me to my next point: the reach of his music. The thing about Roy is—whether he’s rapping or getting experimental on a hook, he always stays true to his singular sound. After all, few artists can say that their music has been compared to both James Blake and Andre 3000.
His latest album, JOHNNY, comes to us after a grueling, four-year musical hiatus. But it’s here now, and that’s all that matters. As Roy proclaims on the opening track of his EP, “Chip,” he’s officially “the actual, back from a sabbatical.”
To polish off his long-awaited return, Roy collaborated with the acclaimed fine artist and photographer Daniel Shea on JOHNNY‘s accompanying visuals, exploring the streets of East Los Angeles and the backwoods of the Angeles National Forest. And the video for Roy’s lead single, “Vanish in Our Sleep,” which we’re premiering above, is particularly moving. Shea describes the trippy, twisted video as “a drug-induced psychosis…the world as a beautiful mirage slowly going dark.”
A rework of a 1976 funk classic by Bootsy Collins, “Vanish in Our Sleep” is both visually and lyrically pleasing, and makes a very strong case for the album as a whole. We were able to steal Roy for a couple minutes to talk his new album, his hiatus, and the true essence of a “johnny.”
Why the hiatus? What were you up to in the interim?
I took a break because I didn’t know if I even wanted to do music anymore. So I started working the night shift at the Ace Hotel. I just wanted to live. I didn’t feel an urgency to create and I didn’t want to make music out of habit. Sometimes you have to shake things up.
For me, the coolest ideas are amongst regular people, whether it’s tourists or the people I work with there. The space gave me perspective. I have something to say now and new ideas I want to try out.
Your music always seems ten steps ahead. There are songs out right now that sound like “Fur In My Cap,” which you released back in 2009. How do you feel about that?
I think there’s a collective consciousness—similar ideas come out eventually. It’s like a ripple effect and some people just catch that wave first. Part of it is just being an outsider. The periphery allows you to innovate.
“It’s not a normal love song—it’s about sex and death.”
How does your new music differ from your old music?
I live in the intersection of highbrow and lowbrow culture, so that’s always been a common thread in my music. It’s a difficult and delicate balance though, so I wanted to streamline it and simplify everything. Even my name, I went from using my full name, Robert Raimon Roy back to Rob Roy. It’s more efficient. JOHNNY still feels experimental, but like a refinement of my weird ideas.
What is the meaning of “Vanish in Our Sleep”?
“Vanish” is a cover of a 1976 song by Bootsy Collins. I stumbled upon a live video of it on YouTube way back in 2006. So, I can’t say what Bootsy Collins and George Clinton had in mind. To me, the song is eerie. It’s not a normal love song—it’s about sex and death.
Why name the album JOHNNY?
If Kanye is a God, and Kendrick is a hero, to me, Johnny is the everyman. Just an animal. And that’s the way I view humanity. We’re all just a bunch of animals. I think human existence is a lot less complicated than we make it. “Johnny” is just another word for man.
What’s your songwriting process?
It’s me and my producer Luke, who is one of my best friends. I went back home to Jacksonville to record. I approach music more like collage in that I take ideas from everywhere, things that I think are “cool” even if they don’t makes sense together, and make it work. Like making a trapped-out shoegaze song and chopping and screwing it on “Lemonhead.”
“Daytime isn’t really my thing.”
Erykah Badu was one of the first artists to co-sign you. Is there anyone in particular you’re dying to play your music for?
There are plenty of artists out there who make dope shit who I respect. But getting props from DeVante Swing was all I really needed. He’s a genius. I might be the biggest Jodeci fan ever, so when he came to my show and told me I was dope, that was enough for me.
How did you connect with the video’s director, Daniel Shea? How was the concept pitched to you?
It was really collaborative… There’s a humanity in his work that I responded to.
My favorite part was being out in the Angeles National Forest. It was some real Land Before Time shit. Daytime isn’t really my thing. It got me out of my comfort zone.
All images by Daniel Shea.
Stay tuned to Milk for more premieres.