Kingston’s Tarik “Rvssian” Johnston has the energy of a certified hitmaker. Rvssian got his start with 2010’s “Life Sweet” by Jamaican dancehall maestro Vybz Kartel. The song was Rvssian’s second song ever under his label. More recently, Rvssian has been churning out bangers for the late, great Juice WRLD (“Ring Ring”) and the famous 2017 Latin trap hit “Krippy Kush”—plus a handful of remixes. Rvssian has become associated with standout tracks from across the globe.
“That song was one of the most impactful,” Rvssian tells me of “Krippy Kush.” “Hearing people say that was the first time they listened to Bad Bunny or even Latin trap or anything that wasn’t English... I feel like [Americans] thought that everywhere else in the world was just doing one style of music that wasn’t diverse. So when they heard that, and they could vibe to it, even without understanding what it was saying, they realized music is bigger than what they know. People started researching what else is out there.”
In 2017, FADER dubbed Rvssian a “dancehall prodigy,” turning over a new leaf as a Latin trap and pop production star. The 2017 interview centered around Rvssian’s desire to avoid genre barriers (“I believe music can be done with any and everybody, and we don’t have to be stuck to a corner in genre.”) Three years on, the producer remains adamant about his goal to create without restrictions.
“I think music is all the same,” Rvssian admits. “It’s the same keys on every keyboard, for every genre. It’s just understanding, at the moment, what’s going on in every genre. So, if I’m working on a Latin song or a Latin trap song, I listen to what else is going on and add my influence or add something that’s missing. The genre of Latin music changes every year. Even with dancehall, what happened five years ago is not happening now. You gotta listen to what’s going on and add what you want to add to the culture.”
Adding to the culture in his own way, Rvssian launched Rich Immigrants, a label in partnership with Interscope. “I feel like the name is super powerful, because I’m an immigrant, and a lot of the people that are successful in the world are immigrants,” he says. “Especially during this time, my movement as an immigrant trying to take over in America... That’s when I signed a few artists like Shenseea from Jamaica, and King Ko$a, and Big Bvng from Belize.”
With his label venture, his Platinum plaques, and international fame, Rvssian remains humble: “Don’t think you’re larger than life, and also remember that we’re all human. I might be talented in music, but that doesn’t make me better than anybody else.” Wise words from a superstar.
Our conversation, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
DJBooth: When did you first get into production? What did your first beats sound like?
Rvssian: I first got into production when I was 13. My early beats actually got placed to a lot of famous Jamaican artists. I didn’t produce them at first. I just gave the beats to producers, and they produced it, but I have the publishing. I was more the beatmaker. When I became a little older and mature, I started producing [and building] my relationships with the artists.
At what point did you realize you could produce full-time?
When I was young, and I realized the already famous local artists were going crazy over [my music], I said: “I’m sure they’re not going crazy over something wack.” That’s when I figured I wanted to do this professionally.
What early co-sign was most important to your career?
The one that stamped my name, because I was producing lowkey for people, was Vybz Kartel.
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Talk to me a bit about Head Concussion Records. What’s your goal with the company?
I started that company; my cousin gave me the name in the kitchen one day. He was like, “Rvssian, your beats will give them a head concussion.” I wanted to bring a different flavor to dancehall and give my touch to [it]. Over the years, that’s what I did. Most of my hit songs stand out because I was always looking for the most unique song that could blend with the original dancehall.
What I notice with your beats is there’s a dancehall core, no matter what you’re making.
Dancehall is probably one of the biggest genres, organically. It needs to be respected a little more on a major scale. A lot of people might know it, but they might not know, “This is dancehall,” they just know “Oh, that’s Jamaican music.” I always try and give that influence to all of my tracks as much as I can. Even if the beat is not dancehall per se, I feature a Jamaican artist to give it that cultural touch.
Getting into the specific music, you rose to prominence in 2010 after your work on Vybz Kartel’s “Life Sweet.” How did that song change your career?
It changed my career because that’s where my tag came from: “Hey Rvssian!” Everybody was wondering, “Who the hell is this?” Back in that time, nobody was saying the producer’s name like that in dancehall or even in hip-hop culture overall. That’s what really branded me, and then after that, I did [“Jeans & Fitted” with Vybz Kartel]. That’s the one I felt like I reached a level of producing where I thought, “What’s next? Let me dabble in this.”
What’s the last production placement to level up your career?
It’s a little tricky to say because some songs might give me more followers on Instagram. Then some songs will give me more [subscribers] on YouTube. It’s hard to measure. They all do different things. Some songs might not even do as well, but culturally, it’s more respected.
What’s more important to you, the cultural impact or the numbers?
I’d be a liar if I said only the culture. I think it’s a 50-50, because if you’re pushing the culture and it’s not developing numbers, then you’re not pushing the culture. Drake pushed the culture for Canada, but he came with the numbers.
With hits in dancehall, hip-hop, and Latin trap genres, how do you make sure you’re spending enough time perfecting your sound in each genre?
I think music is all the same. It’s the same keys on every keyboard, for every genre. It’s just understanding, at the moment, what’s going on in every genre. So, if I’m working on a Latin song or a Latin trap song, I listen to what else is going on and add my influence or add something that’s missing. The genre of Latin music changes every year. Even with dancehall, what happened five years ago is not happening now. You gotta listen to what’s going on and add what you want to add to the culture.
“Krippy Kush” and your work in the Urbano space have raised your star. Three years removed from that track and the remixes, how do you think the song changed America’s understanding of international music?
That song was one of the most impactful. Hearing people say that was the first time they listened to Bad Bunny or even Latin trap or anything that wasn’t English... I feel like [Americans] thought that everywhere else in the world was just doing one style of music that wasn’t diverse. So when they heard that, and they could vibe to it, even without understanding what it was saying, they realized music is bigger than what they know. People started researching what else is out there.
Finally, with Platinum plaques to your name and widespread fame at your doorstep, how will you ensure you stay grounded?
The best way is always to remember and always look at other people’s experiences in life. Sometimes you see somebody who’s the biggest star, and one day, they can also fall. You have to use that to humble yourself and learn from people’s mistakes. Don’t think you’re larger than life, and also remember that we’re all human. I might be talented in music, but that doesn’t make me better than anybody else.