Ricky Babar is a recording artist from Detroit, Michigan. His song and video Do You Love Me is at 50,000 views at press time since being released two months ago. Romusa caught up with the rapper for an interview while he was visiting Toronto.
What is your earliest memory of music that helped form the genre you make today?
I would say my album OCD. It was where I found my flow.
How much of a musical history does your family have?
I have a great grandfather or an uncle in my family who was a locally famous singer in Pakistan about 100 or 200 years ago.
What do you remember about the very first song that you wrote and released?
The very first song I wrote and released was for a science project. It was a remix of “Forever” by Drake.
Do you think that was the one that made you want to make the genre that you make today?
The biggest thing that made me rap the way that I rap now is the fact that I would listen to Lil Wayne and Drake. They are really heavy on metaphors. They are really heavy on aggressive rap.
Throughout your recording career, you have accumulated these aliases. Babar Ali, Ricky Babar. How did you get these names? Which is at the forefront of your recording work?
I would say Babar is the forefront because everybody knows Babar. That’s my real name. I kept it a part of the brand the whole time. But Babar Ali — Ali is my middle name — so Babar is a part of all of my nicknames. I get called Young Ricky a lot too. I use Ricky Babar now because it stands out more to people. It’s easy for people to catch onto and understand when they first see it. When people just see the Babar, they don’t know how it’s pronounced, and it’s hard for people who aren’t of the same background to know how it’s pronounced. I just want to make it easier for people. That was one of the main reasons, but also, it wasn’t very interesting. When I was recording my songs, one of the lines was “swerving like Ricky Bobby.”
In Detroit, there is such a large population of Arabs, we know that you were in Canada — in Toronto — I’m wondering what have you seen in Toronto that reminds you of Detroit and what have you seen in Detroit that reminds you of Toronto?
I don’t know too much about the Toronto music scene because I haven’t talked to enough people or met with enough artists here. The studios are much busier. I feel like if you have money in Detroit, you can get a studio at anytime of the day. In Toronto, it doesn’t matter if you have the money. It depends on how much but they are definitely busier in Toronto.
How long were you in Toronto and what brings you out there?
I know some people out there. There are some some major cities that are pretty close drives for me. I like to travel in general but it is an easier trip. It is still a major city. I am trying to network and do videos and meet artists. Also, my in-laws are in Toronto.
How has being in a relationship affected your music?
I think it is good thing because it grounds you. You can’t be writing, working, recording all the time. Secondly, you always have a second opinion and from a female. That is valuable. Thirdly, and in general as a Muslim, you want to be married. I just think it’s a necessity. It helps. It’s just a good thing.
What did you start with when you made “Do You Love Me?” From the skeleton of the beat to the first vocal track, how did that record come about in the studio?
I was flying to LA with my friend Dre. I wanted to write with him for a while. I was on the plane and he pulled up this beat. Honestly, I didn’t think much of it. I thought it would be like a random soft song that not too many people would like. I don’t remember him liking it that much but I was listening to it and I don’t know if I wrote or not. I might’ve come up with some rough ideas.
Then, Dre just let me come to the place where he was working. They had this office in there with papers and pens and it was just a really nice office. I like to be in a nice place when I’m working. I have to have an outlet for my phone charger. I like a big table. I like a comfy seat. I like a lot of paper and pens and a speaker. I put the speaker on high blast. My friend was just around the building vacuuming and cleaning and I just freestyled out loud. I could be as loud as I want it. I like to hear my voice bouncing off the beat at a high volume. I was just rapping whatever was coming to me in my head out loud. I tried different melodies. I freestyled a good four bars, used five or six pieces of paper. This is how I do a lot of my songs.
Then I was looking at the thing and as I was writing the verse, I’m like OK yeah, that’s the chorus right there, that’s the hook. The second verse said do you love me. I said yo, that low-key sounds like a hook. It was already a conversational song with my wife. I was going to be saying, “Yeah, I don’t know.” I was going to be the one asking me that question as if I was rapping from her perspective. She never got on a song with me and I didn’t even think of her singing it. I was just making it for myself.
Once I got that down, I pieced it altogether. I took those pieces of paper, shoved them in my backpack. That was the super rough skeleton. I got a session at a local studio. I had like a three or four hour studio session that night and I was at at university for one of my classes or something. I was having lunch at OU and my wife was there and I was like hey, do you want to go to the studio and do this part? It clicked in my head because Dre had mentioned that this should be a girl singing this and I was like well, I don’t know. I didn’t know if she would want to do it.
She was actually down, and she came to the studio, and it took a while because that was her first time. It took a while to get it down with the tone, getting comfortable inside the booth for her, but when it came together, it was fire. I didn’t put it out until three or four months later, like around the time when I got married. A year later, we did the video.
So, from that experience, how typical is that when it comes to all of your recording sessions. Do they generally go like how you just described? Or is each session kind of its own thing?
That is kind of how it is in general. There’s a little variation. Sometimes the beat is made in front of me, sometimes it’s an old beat that I haven’t touched in a while. I don’t make my own beats so it depends on where I get it from. I freestyle, write down what I freestyle, and then I hit the studio. It’s a freeing process.
Who are your top five rappers of all time?
Strictly musically… I can’t vouch for these guys totally. I don’t know a lot of the things they stand for. A lot of them have like fell off in my eye but I would say Eminem, Lil Wayne, Drake, J. Cole… I can’t decide between Jay-Z, Kanye West, and Big Sean.
What are your general thoughts on how NAV said he is the first brown boy to get it popping?
I mean, if he means he’s the first brown boy to go mainstream, I guess. In the American rap scene, that is true. He is the first. I don’t like his music for myself. I don’t like his music because the subject matter is overwhelmingly negative. I do like some of his beats and melodies, but not his subject matter. I do not think he is that skilled of a rapper as well. If he had better subject matter then I would definitely be a fan.
If subject matter is important to you, how much do you keep your brown fanbase in mind when you make music?
I don’t generally keep it in mind. There was a time when I was keeping it in mind. I was trying to do a whole niche market thing, but now I don’t. I’m just trying to make an honest sound.
What is your status as a signed artist today?
I’m just independent as of now. I don’t have a label, it’s just me doing my thing.
What are your thoughts on the state of the industry today?
I think I like a lot of the ways… I like the sound of a lot of the newer stuff that is coming out. Just aesthetically, I like the sound of the music. I do like the trap, the poppy trap, I like the cadence on a lot of the newer stuff. I actually really like it.
My only problem is the subject matter and the actual skill of some of the rappers. So what I’m doing is I am going to take that new sound that I actually like and I’m going to take the parts that I like and I’m going to put real skill — like real rap skill — and use it. I’ll use the same tone, cadence, beats to make something with the right subject matter with real skill. I think some of them do have some real skill.
What’s next for you?
I have a lot of hot songs about to come out. A lot of videos and a lot of projects are coming out, but I don’t have any names, and I can’t give away anything about it. Just know that there is a lot of heat coming.