This story is part of Billboard’s third annual package spotlighting the trends defining the independent music business.
New Orleans-bred punk-rap duo $uicideboy$ has never charted on the Billboard Hot 100 or any airplay tally, but it has turned its SoundCloud-era success into an underground empire — and collected 5.3 billion streams along the way, according to MRC Data.
Known early on for its shock-rap style and depression-laced lyrics, the duo’s origin story (which dates back to 2014) involved a long-mythologized suicide pact: If the music didn’t work out, there would be nothing left to live for. Thankfully, it has more than worked out. Today, cousins $crim and Ruby da Cherry are entrepreneurs, launching their own label collective, G*59 Records, in 2017 with distribution from Virgin. This year, $uicideboy$ signed a “strong eight-figure deal” with The Orchard; meanwhile, the duo is on a headlining U.S. tour that has sold almost 500,000 tickets, including shows at Pier 17 in New York and back-to-back dates at the Shrine Outdoors in Los Angeles, following the release of their latest album, Long Term Effects of Suffering.
“When we first started, we wanted to do the exact opposite of what everybody in rap was doing,” says Ruby da Cherry. “We didn’t have nice cars or gold chains, so we just flexed that we were losers, and mixed in some shock-rap and stuff about our mental health issues. We’re just trying to catch people’s attention.”
$uicideboy$ was fully DIY for a while. What made you want to start working with your managers, Kyle Leunissen and Dana Biondi?
$crim: Ruby and I were handling everything for a long time. He’d do the merch, graphics and videos, I’d do the audio engineering and production. We had our roles, but by late 2016, we really needed help. Kyle has been a close friend since high school. I remember he called me one day and said, “You’re letting 70 grand fall through the cracks every year.” That caught our attention. For my cousin and I, $70,000 might as well have been a million at the time.
From there, Kyle and our other manager, Dana, came over and we did a trial run, but it turned into a full-time thing. These guys have been instrumental in helping us get to where we’re at, and by handling a lot of the business side, they’ve helped us focus on doing our creative stuff.
You formed your own label, Grey*59, better known as G*59 Records, the following year. Why was that something you wanted to do?
Ruby da Cherry: $crim and I are from New Orleans. We grew up with [labels like] Cash Money and No Limit, and those guys really inspired us, because we loved seeing a gang of people that acted as one collective, supporting each other and all. I come from a punk background. I’ve always said, “F–k labels, I’d rather start my own.”
$crim: It’s not just business for us. The guys we’ve signed to G*59 are brothers. We aren’t even necessarily looking for hits, we just sign people that we are a fan of. I’m not trying to make a bunch of money off anyone.
$uicideboy$ have a distinct merchandise strategy, with drops about three times a year. Ruby, do you still design everything yourself?
Ruby da Cherry: I used to design everything, and $crim would give his input. Once we got managers, we also decided to get one of our buddies, Adam Arriaga, to take over [our merch]. I don’t have the skills of a designer, so Adam helps me get my ideas out of my head and execute them. Our fans b-tch sometimes about how “Ruby doesn’t do merch anymore,” but what they don’t get is that I’m still approving and working on everything. Adam just has the skills.
How has it felt being back on the road?
Ruby da Cherry: $crim and I were f–ked up on drugs during almost all our other tours. We never got to experience it in the way we should’ve because one of us would be high. The Last Grey Day tour in 2019, I don’t remember at all. It’s nice to have us both in the right states of mind to take it all in. Back then, we didn’t appreciate it the same. I feel so fulfilled during this tour.
When did you both get sober?
$crim: My sobriety date is February 19, 2019. Long story short, I finally got to a place where I wasn’t able to talk to Ruby or my team. I was in psychosis for like, nine months because I was combining so many downers and uppers. I was literally out of my mind. The guys did the healthy thing and they got to a point where they pulled back from me. You know, it’s hard to give motherf–kers like us consequences. Kyle told me at Thanksgiving in 2018 that he couldn’t watch this anymore, and I still walked away. I said I’d get help, but I basically disappeared on him. Then I ended up isolated from everyone I loved. I got to the point of pain where it was unbearable and that’s when I started detoxing at a place in California. To maintain it, I’ve done a lot of therapy and I’m in a couple 12 Step programs that really help out.
Ruby da Cherry: I went to rehab the night of October 26, 2020. It happened after we had a team meeting at $crim’s house and I kept going in the bathroom and snorting s–t. Eventually I took so much I was f–king falling asleep on them in the meeting. Then they had an intervention. I was kicking, fighting, cursing them out. I said I’d never talk to them again. Then I did go and it was one of the best experiences in my life. It made me realize I had my head so far up my own ass. I thought I knew everything. I’ve been trying to rebel my whole life because I hated myself so much. To clarify, I’m not fully sober, but I don’t do any opiates or hard shit anymore. I still smoke weed.
How has being sober affected your latest album Long Term Effects of Suffering?
Ruby da Cherry: Some of those songs I was still f–ked up, but a lot of them were us both being clean. We wanted the album to start off dark and then lift you up with positivity. “The Phone Number You Have Dialed Is Not in Service,” the last track on the album, ends it all on a positive tip; We say, “If life moves on, keep marching on/Even if the finish line is far or you have to push the car, keep marching on.” I’ve learned so much. I don’t want to have learned how to be happy and feel good about my self worth and feel productive and not share that with other people. I’m not going to sit here in this new space and then tell fans I still want to kill myself. $crim and I feel responsible for the messages we put out there.
$crim: For me, when I got clean, I had this overwhelming fear, like, “Will I be able to keep making music if I’m sober?” Obviously that’s bulls–t, and it took a lot of therapy to realize that.
What kind of message do you hope to put out with your music?
Ruby da Cherry: I think our music has a lot of substance to it. I remember this one day we were recording a new song, and we actually had both relapsed with heroin that day. We wrote the song “Low Key.” We looked at each other and said, “Let’s write something real today.” I think that’s when $uicideboy$ really started to speak to what our fans were going through, especially with drugs, anxiety and depression. We all know [those things] exist and people act like they want to help, but they don’t ever do anything. That’s why I hate mental health awareness sometimes, you can’t just make everyone aware. We hope we can do more than that with our music.
Has a fan ever shared a story about how your music affected them that’s stuck with you?
Ruby da Cherry: I remember we played a show in Dallas in 2015, it was the first time we played a show to a crowd of people who were freaking out over the music. Later that night we were selling our merch and I’ll never forget this kid coming up to the table. He told us that the new mixtape we dropped helped him through these tough times, like losing his mom to cancer a few months before. Our jaws f–king dropped. We didn’t know what to say. That’s when we realized, “$uicideboy$ is an ironic name — we are saving people’s lives.”
$crim: There’s been plenty of times where I’m like, “I don’t even know if I want to do this s–t anymore,” and when I hear something like that from fans it gives me a bigger purpose.
You’ve managed to thrive as independent artists. What’s it like to achieve such a tough dream?
Ruby da Cherry: Honestly, I don’t think we’ve ever processed it.
$crim: I just love making music. I work so much, which is not a bad thing. That’s just what I love. I’m always wanting to do more, more, more. But my team helps me slow down and take it all in. When you’re used to growing up without having much, you’re always searching for the next thing. We were doing a soundcheck the other day and Ruby just stopped and said, “Dude, let’s just take this in and stop for a second. Holy f–k.”
A version of this story originally appeared in the Oct. 23, 2021, issue of Billboard.