You can find plenty of strange trivia about Riff Raff, the outrageously over-the-top rap star pictured above. His brief, mysterious time in northern Minnesota certainly ranks.
You'd think Riff Raff was spat onto the earth from a hot-boxed flying saucer, already corn-rowed, tatted-up, and rapping "Tip Toe Wing in My Jawwdinz." But no, the real-life Horst Simco, 36, was once a decidedly un-crunk junior college athlete on the Iron Range.
"Quiet kid. A little … eccentric isn’t a good word, let’s just say quiet, a little withdrawn," remembers Mike Turnbull, a hoops coach at Hibbing Community College for 20 years. "But [he] loved playing basketball. Anytime the gym was open, he was in it. We’re talking about a plain looking kid [laughs]. I don’t remember all the tats or anything like that."
Last year, we became aware of Turnbull's experience coaching Simco in the early '00s. That's when City Pages attempted to reveal Houston-born Riff Raff's head-scratching Minnesota years, which include a stint living with extended family in Duluth. It didn’t go so well.
"Is this an interview or an investigation?” Riff Raff barked at our reporter ahead of a Twin Cities gig. "It seems like an investigation."
In the article's comment section, however, we learned a bit more. Coach Turnbull isn’t a Facebook user, so he had a colleague post an anecdote that might just explain how Simco acquired his stage name, and, by extension, launched his bizarre-o viral persona.
Fast-forward to today, and Riff Raff is set to return to Minneapolis this Sunday at The Pourhouse. We felt compelled -- for the sake of history, for the sake of oddball curiosity -- to hear Turnbull's full story about cutting and possibly naming the man who'd go on to rack up more than 50 million YouTube views.
On Simco joining the team...
"You gotta understand that, first of all, Hibbing is a Division III junior college, non-scholarship thing," explains Turbull, who coached 35-plus years of basketball around Minnesota before retiring last spring. "We always tried to work hard at picking up area kids on our team, and Horst was out of the Toivola-Meadowlands area. He came in and wasn’t a kid we had necessarily recruited, but we knew he was coming to school and we had talked about playing some basketball."
On Simco's last game...
"The last time [Simco] played for us was out at our Thanksgiving Weekend tournament. That was our last good look at guys, minutes-wise, before we started into any kind of conference play. Let’s just say it didn’t go so well."
On the fallout...
"When we got back, he obviously wasn’t real happy with his playing time over the weekend. He thought he deserved to have played more, in my opinion, he got more minutes than he deserved. We dropped him off in Duluth on the way back, I think he stayed over with his grandpa, and then came back up on Monday. But when we got back, he was late for a practice. I found out he was in the other gym playing pick-up with some of the football players. He made some statement about 'He’d be at practice when his minutes would be going up.'"
And, finally, on the (possible!) genesis of Riff Raff's stage name...
"The riff raff thing was the way I’d joke with these guys that were playing in the other gym. Every once in a while, we’d get 'em into scrimmages, and that was the ongoing joke: that we were gonna scrimmage the riff raff that night. What I ended up telling Horst was, 'Don’t bother coming back over here; you can just stay in there and play with the riff raff from now on.'"
Young Simco would soon leave Minnesota to begin his hip-hop career back in Houston. Sporting a grill, tats, and WTF facial hair, the Riff Raff we know emerged around 2009 on the short-lived MTV reality show From G's to Gents. He'd later find YouTube fame with hits like "Dolce & Gabbana" and "Tip Toe Wing in My Jawwdinz" (newer videos are far less popular), and be signed to superstar producer Diplo's Mad Decent label. It's rumored that the James Franco character in Harmony Korine's 2012 film Spring Breakers was directly inspired by Riff Raff.
Don't expect to see coach Turnbull at Pourhouse this weekend. He's never listened to his former player's smirkingly drawled catalog, though his current players have shown him photos of Simco circa '18. He admits to "maybe" watching one video.
"We had no problems with Horst when he was there," Turnbull says. "He wasn’t around long enough to ever get to a point where we had to check grades, so I have no idea how that worked out for him. It’s always interesting to see what different kids move onto. I’ve had two kids who’ve gone on to be ministers, and I’ve had kids who’ve ended up in jail -- you can run the gamut, anything in between."
Ain't that the truth:
More from Music