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How RIOTUSA & Ice Spice Brought Drill Music to ‘Barbie’: ‘I Always Had a Bigger Vision for It’

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The Bronx producer tells Billboard about incorporating the genre into the blockbuster film with “Barbie World” and reflects on working with Nicki Minaj again.

As Ice Spice has grown into one of the biggest breakout stars of 2023, the rise has been simultaneous for her go-to co-writer and producer, RIOTUSA. After meeting as students at SUNY Purchase, the two Bronx natives soon became regular collaborators, leading to RIOT producing every track on Ice’s debut EP Like..?, including breakout hits “Munch (Feelin’ U),” “In Ha Mood” and “Princess Diana.”

“The first thing she sent me was on a drill beat,” the 22-year-old (born Ephrem Lopez Jr.) says of Ice Spice. “I was like, ‘Not only do I not know any rappers that are female, but this is somebody who’s doing it on a whole different kind of beat … This could be something.’ ”

That “something” has turned into a trio of Hot 100 top 10 hit collaborations between RIOT and Ice. The latest of those, the No. 7-debuting “Barbie World,” is the end credits song for the global box office smash Barbie — and also includes both rap superstar Nicki Minaj and Aqua, the Danish pop outfit behind the ‘90s classic “Barbie Girl,” which “World” prominently samples.

Ice spice

While that song continues its chart run, RIOT is currently working on material for rap hitmakers Ken Carson and Lil Yachty — and of course, on Ice Spice’s debut album. “We wanna take the time, and dive deep on exploring different sounds,” he says of the pair’s work on the much-anticipated full-length. “I’m excited for the next couple of months.”

Billboard spoke with RIOT about making “Barbie World,” working with Minaj (again) and how it feels to bring drill to Barbie.

That “something” has turned into a trio of Hot 100 top 10 hit collaborations between RIOT and Ice. The latest of those, the No. 7-debuting “Barbie World,” is the end credits song for the global box office smash Barbie — and also includes both rap superstar Nicki Minaj and Aqua, the Danish pop outfit behind the ‘90s classic “Barbie Girl,” which “World” prominently samples.

While that song continues its chart run, RIOT is currently working on material for rap hitmakers Ken Carson and Lil Yachty — and of course, on Ice Spice’s debut album. “We wanna take the time, and dive deep on exploring different sounds,” he says of the pair’s work on the much-anticipated full-length. “I’m excited for the next couple of months.”

Ice spice

Billboard spoke with RIOT about making “Barbie World,” working with Minaj (again) and how it feels to bring drill to Barbie.

Was it always clear that it was gonna be Ice and Nicki?

At first, to my knowledge, it was just for Ice. That’s why it was drill, at first. Then I added the Jersey [club] switch on it. When we got the OK from the studio, [Ice] did the hook in 30 minutes, tops. “Princess Diana” had just been made, and we’re like, “D–n, Nicki’s a Barbie. Why don’t we send it to her and see what she thinks?”

I honestly didn’t think she was gonna get on it ’cause we had just worked on something. But she sent her verse back quick, and once we heard [it], we immediately finished it ’cause we were so excited — and Ice killed it. So blessed and thankful for everybody involved.

Was it hard to reinvent it? Because the original’s sort of straightforward 4/4 dance music. I imagine it wasn’t necessarily the easiest thing to fit it into that sort of drill sound instead.

Ice spice

Actually for me, it felt like the opposite. I’m not gonna say “easy,” but moreso I knew what I could do to the sample. In Bronx culture, there’s sample drill, so that’s already something that we’ve been doing. If anything, I [said], “This is one of the ultimate sample drill songs that could ever exist.” And to let it be a part of a movie? From where we come from, that’s crazy.

I wanted to keep the sample authentic to the original, but I wanted to add its own flair. That’s why on the second half of the verses, I tried to play with the words, “If you say, I’m always yours.” Usually, everybody just uses the hook; that’s the most recognizable part. But I wanted to show love to other parts of the song.

In general, your songs with Ice Spice are pretty short to begin with, but to get the sample, to get Nicki, to get Ice — to do everything that you need to do in the song in that short a period of time, was it tough? Did you think about making it longer?

Honestly, no. That song is short and sweet. That’s usually how we structure a lot of our songs right now — where it’s a nice, catchy hook, a verse, another hook, second verse. I feel like that structure was cool. The hook was unique in itself because they was able to go back and forth. And the whole song is 1:49 — I like songs that have a lot of replay value. You get addicted to it. We could’ve extended it, for sure, but I feel like it was just enough to make you wanna re-listen again and again.

Not only is this almost the default theme to the biggest movie of the year, but it’s still a drill song. It’s still the kind of music you and Ice are making anyway. Does that make it even more rewarding?

Nicki minaj

Exactly. Where we come from, our borough is often “judged” — people have a lot of mixed opinions on it. So to be able to have such an iconic song with the type of genre that comes from where we’re from is awesome. [We] get to shed new light on the genre and bring it to a bigger place. I remember when people was telling me that drill was going nowhere, drill was dead, drill is just a trend. But I always had a bigger vision for it, and this was the perfect example of where I was trying to bring it. It’s so cool that forever, at the end of that movie, people are gonna be able to dance to that song and enjoy [it]. I’m real happy about that.

Have you heard the song on Hot 97 yet?

Yeah! I heard it on Hot, but I also heard it on Sirius XM. You know where else I heard it too? On the plane! I’m like, “Wow, that’s how you know it’s a hit!” That was fire.

Have you seen the movie? 

No! I’ve been trying to go see it, but I’ve been real busy. I saw glimpses of it before it came out.

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