Show & Prove
Interview: Kemet High
Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the Spring 2021 issue of XXL Magazine, on stands now.
A unique voice is crucial to rap stardom. And that just happens to be Rubi Rose’s God-given attribute. Though she’s petite in size, her sonorous tone makes her music larger than life, seemingly like she’s the seed of vocal prowess rap legends Lil’ Kim and Foxy Brown. That voice delivers the sexually liberated lyrics on her 2019 smash “Big Mouth,” which birthed different viral TikTok trends from dance moves to people biting into various foods during the intro. Given the platform’s current superpower, that boosted the 23-year-old artist’s status in the rap game, on top of the clout she’s earned as a past video vixen and social media influencer. After quadrupling her Spotify monthly listeners over the last year, Rubi is looking to increase her momentum in 2021.
Rubi Rose Benton was born in Lexington, Ky. to an East African mother and multiracial father who was adopted and is believed to be Japanese and White. Growing up in the household with her older sister Scarlett, a taste for music was seasoned by artists their parents would play during weekend cleaning sessions. The genre-defying sounds of singers like Michael Jackson and Prince filled the air as did rap phenoms The Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur.
Rubi’s family’s Mormon religion sheltered her from what was going on outside of the family home as a kid. “There was a point in time where I wasn’t supposed to listen to music like that, drink caffeine and wear things that didn’t go past my knee,” she remembers. That eventually made her more inquisitive. And the way she fed her curiosity was through the internet. During class, she would look up and download music like Dom Kennedy’s Yellow Album.
Gospel was a different story. Rubi got her first chance to create music in the church where she sang hymns and played the piano until age 9, when her father was excommunicated from the sanctuary. As problems arose in her parents’ marriage, Rubi and her older sister were sent to live with their grandma, aunt, uncle and cousins in Geneva, Switzerland. The French-speaking city was home to many refugees of Eritrea heritage, the same nationality as the late Nipsey Hussle, following the Eritrean Civil War. “We were in school for the majority of the time,” she says of what kept her busy overseas.
Ahead of her 12th birthday, Rubi’s parents brought them back to Kentucky after a year-and-a-half had passed. But things didn’t last and in summer of 2013, Rubi, her mother and sisters moved to Atlanta. In the Black Mecca, Rubi wrapped up the last two years of high school and enrolled into Georgia State University as a poli-sci major in August of 2015. While in school, she began playing around with rap, freestyling in a makeshift closet studio. She was soon inspired to ditch the thought of becoming a lawyer and take rapping more seriously. “People said they liked my voice and I had people who believed in me and motivated me to keep going,” shares Rubi, who looked to rappers Nicki Minaj, Missy Elliott and Foxy Brown for a blueprint.
Over the next few years and in between classes, the aspiring rhyme slinger worked with friends on her breathing techniques and delivery. Before she revealed the finished product, Rubi began immersing herself into the industry as a video vixen. The first two videos she was featured in were for Raury’s gem “Cigarette Song” in 2015, and Migos’ hit “Bad and Boujee” featuring Lil Uzi Vert in 2016. “That helped my career and getting my face known a little bit as well,” she notes of Migos’ most-viewed video.
Rubi’s first official song in 2018 came with more steam than the norm. She laid down a verse over then-boyfriend Playboi Carti’s record “On Top.” Seeing how he was elite on SoundCloud then, Rubi claims that the anticipated record broke over a million plays in just a month on the platform. “I thought that was going to be my big break,” she confesses. Turns out it wasn’t just yet. The record wasn’t able to make any noise.
Undiscouraged, Rubi pushed on. In early 2019, she dropped “Trickin’” followed by “Big Mouth,” her biggest record to date. The tenor tone she used to spit lyrics like “Fuck him good, take that nigga money when he pass out” over the ChewBeats-produced foundation was instant magic. “At the time, I didn’t even know how to check streams,” Rubi admits. “But the labels started reaching out so I knew that it did something.”
In June, Rubi inked a deal with Hitco Entertainment, founded by the legendary L.A. Reid. “They’re a new label and I feel like I’m a priority,” Rubi explains. “I need attention to help foster my growth.”
Knowing how effective an emerging rapper like Rubi and a seasoned beat architect would be, L.A. Reid aligned the rap upstart with producer Hitmaka, who then helped mix “Big Mouth.” “I thought it was something special and unique with her just being such a little, petite woman but having that large, deep voice,” Hitmaka remarks. “Also, she was talking incredibly greasy. So, I knew girls would eat that shit up.”
In September, Rubi cooked up the treatment for the “Big Mouth” music video, which in combination with an accompanying TikTok trend, helped raise the song to 13 million streams on Spotify. Her follow-up “Hit Yo Dance” featuring Yella Beezy and NLE Choppa kept the kettle hot that fall, too.
Escaping the halting anchor of COVID-19, Rubi Rose leveled up even more in 2020. She scored a big-time look in the visuals for Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s chart-topping re- lease “WAP” that August. Rubi’s short but undeniable track record forced L.A. Reid’s hand to upgrade her deal from a singles package to an artist signing that December. In celebratory fashion, her debut mixtape, For The Streets, dropped on Christmas day. “It’s a good representation of the artist I’m becoming,” Rubi maintains of the eight-song effort, led by bad bitch anthems like “Papi” and the PartyNextDoor and Future-assisted slow burn “Whole Lotta Liquor.”
Now, young Rubiana is headstrong on becoming a full-blown superstar in 2021. As a precursor to her upcoming debut album, the still-enrolled scholar is plotting on unloading new music that will hopefully inspire girls who can relate to her rawness. With hip-hop finally embracing women more, all eyes are pointed toward up-and-comers like Rubi, who acknowledges the pressure with open arms. “I like the attention,” she admits. But she’s focused on the bigger picture. “I just want to grow in every way, mentally, musically, financially.”
Best believe she’s in her bag now.
Check out more from XXL’s Spring 2021 issue including Cardi B’s cover story, how rappers are legally making money from the cannabis boom and the social justice that comes with it, Snowfall’s Damson Idris on how hip-hop impacted his life, A$AP Ferg reflects on the making of his Always Strive and Prosper album, Shelley F.K.A. DRAM talks about his comeback, Trippie Redd speaks on how Playboi Carti and Lil Uzi Vert helped change hip-hop, Waka Flocka Flame checks in with us and gives an update on his Flockaveli 2 album in What’s Happenin’, Show & Prove interviews with 42 Dugg, Blxst and Lakeyah, Erica Banks discusses the making of hit song “Buss It” and more.