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Rye Rye on Her New Album, Getting ‘Crazy’ Gifts From M.I.A., and Channing Tatum’s Dance Skills

Rye Rye
Rye Rye. Photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Many artists are supported by their peers. But few have elicited as much goodwill as Baltimore rapper Rye Rye (Ryeisha Berrain). Discovered by M.I.A. roughly five years go, Rye, now 21, won raves for her jerky rhymes (notably on the single “Shake It to the Ground”) and frenetic B-more club dancing. Her career took a shocking turn in 2009 when she, first, announced her pregnancy, and then that her baby’s father, Evan Battle, was paralyzed after being shot four times. After taking a few years off to deal with those personal issues, Rye Rye made an unexpected return with her biggest hit, 2011’s “Never Will Be Mine,” a duet with Robyn that ascended to No. 12 on Billboard’s dance chart. With her debut, Go! Pop! Bang! (featuring production by the Neptunes, RedOne, and Bangladesh), finally really to drop, Vulture phoned the affable, forthright Rye Rye to ask her about her relationship with Battle, M.I.A.’s advice, and her connection with Channing Tatum.

How do you feel now that your album is about to drop?
I’m relieved. I’m just so excited it’s finally coming out.

In the thick of your turmoil, did you ever think, This is the end of my career?
No. At that point in time, I was sitting there and was just, like, fighting everything off. I had to still think about my career. I had to still think about this baby. I had to still think about being there for Evan. I didn’t think my career was over, but I just had to pause on everything for a little bit. I just needed time to think. My music would still be there.

Did you work at all after you had your baby?
Different people wanted to work with me, and I wanted to work with other people. I thought it’d be cool to just record, get more options. And I was still touring. I was doing shows and going home.

Who’s on your wish list of people to work with?
Missy Elliott. Missy is one of my biggest inspirations. Back when I was a dancer, I used to see Missy Elliott incorporate a lot of dances in her videos and stuff. I was imitating videos all the time and just wanting to be there. I learned everything from Missy Elliott’s videos.

Does your daughter dance, too?
Anytime she hears music, she just starts dancing. And it’s not even from me. I got a little sister who dances. She does everything my little sister does. It’s cute.

How did you learn to dance?
I started at 8. I actually got in a dance group when I was 8. It was called Confusion. We did a lot of local stuff in Baltimore, like colleges and high schools.

Did you sneak into clubs?
Yeah. But did I get in trouble? No. I just used my sister’s ID or something. My mom was down for it. She was like, “If you get in, cool.” We probably had to be at the end of middle school going into high school. I had a cool mother. She also knew I was with my closest family members. We all went together.

When you were pregnant, what did M.I.A. get you for a baby gift?
She sent all this crazy stuff. Like all these crazy shoes, crazy socks. She just sent me a box full of everything. I don’t remember [what label] it was, but I loved it because it was like a boy outfit that could work for girls, too. Maya’s always been like that. I love that. It was just a bunch of weird shit.

You sort of had to grow up really fast. Are you still with Evan?
No. We’re not together anymore. But he did get shot four times, and he’s paralyzed now. So …

What was it like going through that right after it happened?
I had just flown overseas to perform and came back early. Having to process all of that … I was at the hospital every day making sure Evan was cool. I had to keep pulling together to keep him strong. It was tough, but I got through it.

It’s interesting that your songs are still so positive.
I’m the type of personality that doesn’t let stuff bring me down. I have to let my music keep me happy. At one point in time, I didn’t want to talk about this situation, and kind of, like, pulled away for it. Music was my outlet to take my mind off it. When it comes to my music, I didn’t want to bring my personal issues to that. I still wanted my career. I just kept pushing.

What did M.I.A. say when all that went down?
She was sad. She always told me, “I’m here for you.” Sometimes she would say, “You can come to my house to clear your head, be here for a few weeks, whatever you need.” She really didn’t know what to say. She was like, “Gosh, I can’t believe this happened to you.”

It’s amazing that your label didn’t drop you.
She’s probably behind that.

Not only have you released an album, but you’ve starred in your first movie, 21 Jump Street.
Oh, yeah! The director was actually a fan of mine. He reached out to M.I.A.’s sister-in-law, kind of looking for someone who’s confident with a lot of attitude. It was really hard to work with [Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum], because you can’t help but laugh at everything. I had to hold in my laughter the majority of the time. It’s always fun to meet somebody, and you feel like you really know him.

You and Channing are both dancers — did you discuss that?
We talked about it. I actually brought that up to him, about Step Up. He told me that he used to be a small dancer back where he was from, but he actually went into training and stuff for Step Up.

But I bet he can’t dance like you.
[Laughs.] No.

While filming, your song with Robyn, “Never Will Be Mine,” became a hit. What was that like?
It kind of got put in the back burner. We kind of lost it. And the next thing I know, it’s out on the Internet. So you just roll with it. [Laughs.] I was like, “Oh wow, the song came out. Might as well move forward with it.”

What’s your favorite song on Go! Pop! Bang!?
“DNA” — I feel like it describes me. It’s basically saying everything I did was in my DNA. I’m a party pooper, but any time I hear music, I instantly dance. I could be outside standing on the street, in the store. That’s basically what the song is saying. I don’t need no Adderall, no Ritalin. It comes natural.

Is there anything you would never dance to?
I’ll find a way to dance to anything. Country music — everything. When I hear music, I just can’t keep still.

Rye Rye and Channing Tatum Bonded Over Dancing