From its inception, rap music has been about telling stories. 50 years ago, in those park jam freestyles, the participants rhymed about their lives and circumstances, either in gritty detail or in exaggerated, larger-than-life self-mythology. They rhymed to entertain and to inform – and occasionally, to battle, to sharpen their skills, or prove their dominance.
So much has changed in the 50 years since hip-hop’s codified introduction at that house party in the Bronx. But one thing remains constant; rap is a storytelling genre. You could be the wittiest rapper in the world, with enough breath control to recover the wreckage of a downed submersible and a photographic memory of every word in the thesaurus. But if you have no story, you’re nobody.
AR The Mermaid describes herself primarily as a storyteller. Hailing from Memphis, the launching pad for horrorcore trap and triplet flows, AR (her real name’s Ariel, hence the nickname) does her city history proud, but always approaches her music from the standpoint of relaying a narrative to get her point across. “That’s what we do in Memphis,” she says. “We tell stories.”
During a Zoom call to discuss the impending release of her debut EP for 300 Entertainment, Watt We Doingg, AR details her wide-ranging influences and unique look, as well as the impact of her first two singles, “Sneaky Link” and “Suki.” Those influences include not just the Memphis rap standards of Three 6 Mafia’s Gangsta Boo and La Chat, but also contemporary inspirations such as thrash rapper Rico Nasty and Houston indie rap icon Sauce Walka.
Those influences are readily apparent across the EP; AR utilizes a distinctive Southern drawl, but her flow is regionless. On first hearing “Sneaky Link,” I couldn’t shake a mental comparison to Gucci Mane – until, that is, she mentioned Sauce Walka during our interview. The parallel clicked into place like a pair of 2×2 Legos. Combine that with a signature, impish look inspired as much by anime as by anything in hip-hop, and there were plenty of compelling reasons to try to learn more about AR.
The elements that make an AR song an AR song, according to the rapper herself are: “My lingo, my flow, it’s going to be very much Memphis, regardless. I saw my voice raspy already, so it’s like it wasn’t no type of ‘put on a voice’ type of shit.” Meanwhile, that look, which includes microblading her eyebrows into little horns – like the ones you’d see on the devil emoji – comes from her favorite Pokémon, the ghost type Gengar.
This has led to some confusion among fans about what the rapper actually stands for – after all, not every rap fan is an anime fan, despite the increasing overlap between both in recent years. In past interviews, she’s expressed annoyance with the misunderstandings – which have been common to fellow punk-inspired artists like Lil Uzi Vert and Doja Cat – especially since her true interest might come as a surprise.
In addition to devouring comedy and horror movies and far-out anime such as the action-packed but fairly gruesome High-Rise Invasion and Tokyo Ghoul, AR is an avid practitioner of yoga. “I started yoga just for my mindset and just my attitude,” she explains. “Just controlling that. Also, for working out, that was my way to start getting into meditation. I love doing yoga because for one, that’s my morning routine anyway. That’s my way of waking myself up, getting active, getting my day started, and thinking about what I’m going to do for the day.”
She even has some advice for those of us who have a little trouble with our own practice. “First off, you start off with stretching,” she tells me. “That’s probably where you going wrong. You trying to go straight into poses, but you got to stretch first, or you’ll be sore.” She isn’t shy about sharing her love for the practice. On Instagram, you can find her relating her “Mermaid Mantras,” like this one: “Hustle don’t come with instructions.”
“It’s in you,” she elaborates of her philosophy on hustle. “It ain’t no shit that you just wake up today and, ‘Oh, I’m hustling.’ But it’s some shit that’s born within you. Every day you getting this cake, you going to think of a way to get this cake.”
When listeners check out “Sneaky Link” and “Suki” – and by extension, the rest of AR’s music when Watt We Doingg drops – one thing they’re liable to notice is that she doesn’t mind directing her bold come-ons as much to the ladies as the fellas. She’s as unapologetic about her sexuality as she is about anything else. And yes, “Suki” is named after fellow raunchy rapper Sukihana, who makes a feature appearance in the video for the song (“I cannot shoot the video without Suki in it,” she enthuses).
But the real goal of the EP is to set a vibe – because what she stands for, more than anything else, is having a good time and making sure listeners do, too. “It’s going to be a mixture, basically we doing little bit of everything,” she says of the sound on the EP. “ I use ‘What We Doing’ for everything. Oh, you ready to party? What we doing?”
AR The Mermaid is a Warner Music artist. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.