Towards the end of February, a clip of a masked man singing melodies made famous by Rascal Flatts while backed by a team of shooters went viral almost instantly.
Was "Rascal," a complete rework of the country trio's classic "Bless the Broken Road," with lyrics reflecting the life of a budding drug kingpin, a joke? Who was the kid in the custom balaclava, with an AK-47 and Saint Laurent bulletproof vest, pouring his heart out with stunning vibrato? Three months later, and we still don't know much, other than he goes by the name RMR (pronounced "rumor") and is resistant to share any personal details about himself, telling EW, "I'm from the world," when asked about his origins. He is, however, confident in his own talent. "Not to toot my own horn or anything, but I feel like I'm good and I'm destined for something else," he says. "I'm destined for the next level."
Since "Rascal" was released, RMR signed to CMNTY Culture/Warner Records, and put out a song called "Dealer" that now includes high-profile features from rappers Future and Lil Baby. It's all in preparation for his upcoming debut EP, Drug Dealing Is a Lost Art, out on May 29.
RMR spoke to EW about how he plans to evade expectations, why he chooses to stay anonymous, and how working with super-producer Timbaland has made him a better artist.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How much planning went into the “Rascal” launch?
RMR: I wouldn't say a lot. Everything just kind of came spur of the moment. I called somebody, and then the next week we went ahead and did it. I wrote the record in 15 minutes.
What was it like to see it go viral so quickly?
That was big... I loved it. I'm just taking it in as it comes because the first two weeks were crazy, but I feel like I handled it. Then [the pandemic] happened and kind of slowed things down, and it put me in a place to really soak it in, but not too much. It's still moving fast. A lot of people around me are telling me I'm moving a lot faster than most new artists. But as far as everything coming out, corona slowing everything down, [I can now] really get a grasp on life — get off of that high and really get grounded where I can put all my ducks in a row and then execute.
After its success, did you have other songs ready to go? Are they on the new EP Drug Dealing Is a Lost Art?
I was writing right before that record came out, but working with Timbaland and my in-house producers, [now] I know better. I write records really fast, so when I get with a producer and they play me something, I'll just go in the booth and start writing on my phone. I get the melody down first. So most of the records on the EP came afterward. It was just one record before the [“Rascal”] video came out that was barely done. Now I’m working with, like, 50 records.
So your process prepared you to knock out more songs quickly, regardless of how big “Rascal” got?
Yeah! "Rascal" itself, I wanted to put it out there so I'm not put in a box. You hear "Dealer" and you hear "Rascal," a lot of people say they can hear a little bit of a similarity with the banjo at the front. They still try to put it in that whole country-trap sound, but I feel it's just my sound. If I hear a beat and I like it, I'm gonna go on it and do whatever I want with it. I might do a whole opera. I might throw in bass, baritone, alto — I might even do soprano, my falsetto all over it.
Who are your musical influences?
Kanye, Drake, Michael Jackson is a really big influence. There's such a wide range with music. Good music is good music. I could go ahead and listen to some Indian music and take some influences from that, go to China and listen to some music from there, go to Ireland and take something away from that Celtic culture. It'll influence me in a way where now my runs are different, now I'm thinking a little bit more staccato on records and whatnot. A lot influences me. Keith Urban, Rascal Flatts influenced me. [Rascal Flatts singer] Gary LeVox is still influencing me.
Do you exert a lot of creative control over things like your music videos or your style?
I try to be part of as much of the creative process as possible. There's no such thing as a one-man band, but everybody around me knows that if I'm going in a certain direction, and everybody's like, "Oh, that direction, maybe no..." but I feel strongly about it, I'm going to keep with it. I'm going to be the one that makes a mistake. Everybody around me has such a good head on their shoulders, so I feel like all the decisions that we make collectively, they're all correct.
You mentioned Timbaland earlier. What was it like working with him?
It was amazing. Tim's like an uncle. Sometimes when he puts something down, it's like an adrenaline rush. I wanted to knock out 16 records with him. We only knocked out three, but next time we're in the studio together he promised 16. It's great working with him because I love to set that high standard working with such a legend. I learned a lot of things from him. When I'm working with somebody like that, it's a serious thing. I go in there and I'm throwing punches the entire time. I got my gloves on.
Why the choice to be anonymous?
At the end of the day, every artist is wearing a mask. Even a lot of individuals in their normal day are wearing a mask. I’m just a mirror for them.
It's an extended part of the art.
Yes, it is.
Is RMR an acronym? How’d you come up with the name and pronunciation?
It's exactly what you just said — it's Rumor. I know people are always going to have preconceived notions. There's always going to be rumors out there.
Speaking of rumors, will you say how old you are?
When did you first hear the video?
When it came out in February.
Okay, that's how old I am.
A version of this story appears in the June 2020 issue of Entertainment Weekly, which you can buy here now. Don’t forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.
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