Rapper Reveals The Childhood Bullying That Made Him An Advocate For Self-Acceptance

The secret, revealed.

When LMFAO's Redfoo takes the stage, he doesn't walk. He shuffles.

The rapper's over-the-top public persona defined his time as one half of the quirky, multiplatinum EDM duo, and it was in no shortage at this December's Influence Asia. He was invited to the Singapore-based social media awards show to present and to perform, and he did so with gusto. 

Onstage, he danced heel-to-toe in clashing animal prints, cheetah spots on leather pants, zebra stripes lining jean jacket folds, an eye-catching combination that's become a personal hallmark. The performance, which melded hits such as "Party Rock Anthem" and "New Thang," was fast-paced and flashy, culminating in Redfoo and his crew lobbing a large inflatable zebra at the audience. It bobbed among 3,000 enthusiastic fans before disappearing into the crowd.

Photos courtesy Gushcloud and Revelation.
Photos courtesy Gushcloud and Revelation.

Zebras are a common sight in Redfoo's work — unofficial mascots of the party rock lifestyle he champions. But the rapper and son of Motown Records founder Berry Gordy, Jr. revealed that because of childhood bullies, the animals hold a much deeper significance for him. They're symbols of defiance and of self-acceptance.

"I grew up half-black, half-white, basically," he told A Plus backstage prior to the performance, surrounded by a tight-knit squad of backup dancers and crew members. "They used to call me Zebra, they used to call me Oreo. And I think they messed up, a little bit, because at first I was like, 'Don't call me Oreo! Wait, that's my favorite cookie. Call me that all you want.'''

Zebras, he added approvingly, "get all the girls in the wild." 

But Redfoo's elementary school bullies didn't stop at name-calling. He said he was often targeted by older, bigger kids who could "get physical" and play cruel jokes. He had to learn to fight back with his words in the way that he said standup comedians do when a heckler gives them trouble. A quick wit and a strong sense of self got him through, and the experience inspired, in part, his image and his art.

"Bullying tries to make everybody average," he said, still clad in the sequin-covered, black-and-white splotched suit that he wore for the first half of the awards show.

Photos courtesy Gushcloud and Revelation.
Photos courtesy Gushcloud and Revelation.

In the studio he said he strives to create songs that people can use as tools in certain situations — songs that tell kids that it's OK to be an individual, zebra print or no zebra print. His discography is as a rule upbeat and bombastic, filled with club-ready anthems for feeling good and dancing with abandon.

And he's proud of who he's become.

"What I did and what shaped me is that I always stood up to it... You have to stand up to it, and know that they're wrong, and that it's a bad thing. And that, you know, you've got to get even, and how you get even is you be successful in whatever you want to do. That's how you win," he said.

Note: I was also a presenter at Influence Asia. I was not nearly as beloved by the fan girls. 

Isaac Saul contributed reporting.