What happens when politics impact more than just your content?
What happens when they drive you to change something as sacred as your rap name?
How do you weigh losing years of branding, shedding a critical piece of your identity, and run the risk of performing revisionist history?
These were the questions both Detroit rapper Chris Orrick, formerly Red Pill, and trumpeter Nico Segal, formerly Donnie Trumpet, spent upwards of a year and a half wrestling with.
Spend even a few seconds with their music, or scrolling through their Twitter feeds, and you’ll find that both Orrick and Segal are loud proponents of civil rights, progressive ideals, and the general goodness of humanity. Even so, the surge of hate from misogynistic social movements and consistently damaging rhetoric from the president forced them to ditch their old monikers in favor of their government names.
In a statement posted to Instagram, only three days after Donald Trump’s election, Nico Segal formally announced he would be retiring Donnie Trumpet. “Farewell, ‘Donnie Trumpet,’” he begins. “We just came off the release of Coloring Book and the Magnificent Coloring World Tour, both huge successes. But all during the tour, something heavy was looming over me—Donald Trump—and the connection people are drawing between his name and mine.”
Segal goes on to explain that the origin of his name was “a joke, a silly play on words,” that quickly lost its comedic touch once the reality of the presidency set in. Speaking with DJBooth, Orrick communicates a similar sentiment. His original name, Red Pill, came from a childhood love for the first Matrix film.
“To me, the red pill wasn’t about being woke, it was more about me following the path less traveled in life,” Orrick explains. The famous scene where Morpheus offers Neo the choice between truth and ignorance—the red pill and the blue pill—spoke to Orrick on an idealistic level. He took the red pill as a symbol of his following his dreams, and at age 17 he had no inkling that in thirteen years time the image of the red pill would become synonymous with bigotry.
“It was pretty small, at the time, and was mostly focused on the website Reddit,” Orrick explains of the red pill group. A quick glance at their Reddit page will confirm that the men participating in this movement are misogynistic, horrifically insecure, and painfully unaware of the sexual humanity of women. Posts detailing interactions with women are dubbed “field reports,” and they are offset only by ingenious “red pill theories” such as “Accept that all women desire to have a dick inside of them.”
Chris Orrick’s disgust is more than understandable, but even more understandable was his confusion. “If you knew who I was, and you follow me online, you probably got the idea that I’m fairly left-leaning,” he tells me. “Not that that means you can’t have shitty opinions, but I felt shitty that people might even perceive that I was like that.” When fans of Orrick’s music, which tackles political themes with as much care as his struggles with alcoholism and depression, assumed him to be connected to this movement, that was the nail in the coffin.
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“The biggest thing for me was when I started getting occasional messages on my Facebook fanpage,” Orrick recounts. “I went back and saw this message of this dude sending me a link to some YouTube personality that they got banned, who’s a feminist, but I don’t know her name. He was excited to show me, like ‘You’re a fellow…’ they go by this term, ‘MGTOW,’ which stands for 'Men Going Their Own Way' [laughs]. After getting occasional messages like that, I didn’t want people thinking I was involved.
“At this moment, it’s so easy to change a name… For me, it’s more about a personal choice and making sure that my fans and people that I care about understand that’s not the intention of the name, but it is the reality of the name now. It has to be changed.”
Though Orrick makes clear that true red pillers only make up a small portion of his fans, there being even one of them in his fanbase was one too many.
Segal’s statement echoed a similar sentiment. “I don’t want to be misrepresented or misunderstood,” he asserted. “Trump’s beliefs are not mine… I am proud to be part of a multicultural family, from the great City of Chicago. I am grateful for the diversity of friends and family who have taught me and believed in me and encouraged me. I couldn’t stand to ever hurt them, or you.”
If there were to be a net-positive to this constant influx of hate and the adaptation to hate: more artists are using their platform to take a stand and have difficult conversations. Far from the cure-all to bigotry, Orrick acknowledges that while more can be done, these are the necessary first steps.
“I do feel a responsibility,” Orrick says in regards to speaking out against hate. “I push back and I’m not nice about it. There are people that will argue that pushing back only serves to empower them or fuel their fire. I don’t agree with that. The only way that we can beat this shit right now is to be combative because they’re being combative. You can’t just sit back and be nice.”
Obviously, beneath these kind sentiments is the anxiety over branding and business. While Segal did not address that complexity in his post, it’s safe to assume that much like Orrick, the thought of losing years of work and having more casual fans fall off the wagon weighed on his mind. Of course, these are small sacrifices in the greater battle for social equality.
For Orrick, one additional question weighed on his shoulders: How do I avoid a revisionist history? “Do we go back and change the names of all the videos I put out from Red Pill to Chris Orrick?” he asked himself.
After speaking with Mike Tolle, founder of Orrick’s label Mello Music Group, they realized that not everything can be updated. “The [old] album covers are still gonna have Red Pill on them,” Orrick explains. “Being self-referential on older music is going to have Red Pill.”
Even still, the music has been and will remain to be true to Orrick’s character, which could not be farther from the red pill movement. Orrick tells me that there was never any difference between Red Pill and Chris Orrick, it was merely cosmetic. Their stories were one in the same. Choosing to use his legal name is just another step towards putting his truth on wax.
While logistical worries are to be expected, both Segal and Orrick’s decisions to stand on the right side of history and will gain them even more fans in the long term. Most importantly, their attention to inclusivity and willingness to continue combating hate have earned them a great deal of respect.