By Rebecca Bulnes
By Laurie Charles
By Chuck Strouse
By Lee Zimmerman
By Laurie Charles
By Falyn Freyman
By Hans Morgenstern
A s if the trademark T-Mobile ring tone hasn't annoyed you enough, just imagine trying to freestyle over it. That's what the up-and-coming Miami rapper Prelude was asked to do when he received a recent phone call from one Johnny Escardo.
Escardo identified himself as an A&R exec from DTP (Disturbing Tha Peace) Records, a label owned by hip-hop superstar Ludacris. After a few minutes of pitching, Escardo exhorted Prelude to audition thusly: "Spit to the T-Mobile beat, nigga!"
In the end the aspiring MC was bested by Escardo himself, who delivered this devastating riposte: "Got my dick up in ya mouth (ringtone) / Tell me what ya talkin' bout (ringtone)/ Ralphige in da house!"
Yes, Prelude had been victimized by Ralphige, the notorious prank caller who serves as South Florida's answer to the Jerky Boys. Prelude's comment on the episode? An impassioned, "Fuck Ralphige!"
As a matter of fact, "Fuck Ralphige" has become a refrain among the 50-plus celebrities most of them hip-hop stars who have been "ralphigized."
And just who is this faceless, fearless force of telephonic terror? He is, by his own account, a half-Brazilian, half-Cuban Hialeah native who now resides in a comfortable Miramar home with his wife and two sons. During the day the 24-year-old goes by his given name, Ralph. He works in the financial sector, wears dapper suits from Barneys Outlet, and insists college is for suckers. "Ralph is a calm, nice dude," he says, referring to himself in the third person, as is his wont. "He's a professional who keeps a very respectable job, loves his wife and kids, drives an SUV, all that shit." A real average Joe.
By night, however, Ralph transforms into Ralphige a nickname given to him by an old boss a cold, conniving cranker who mocks hip-hop moguls until they cry, curse, or at least hang up. (Both Ralph and his alter ego decline to give their full name, owing to legal concerns.)
In 2005 Ralphige released a debut CD, Line 11 a somewhat confusing play on the phrase 9/11 that featured general interest prank calls, such as informing a few innocent girls from Kendall that they have West Nile Virus, or acting as an AOL sales rep harassing basketball star Ron Artest. He sold enough copies online to convince him he was on to something.
Then he switched up his formula, targeting celebrities exclusively, and gravitating toward the profane world of hip-hop. His new disc, Phone'kd: Celebrity Crank Calls, includes calls to Eminem, Scott Storch, Paris Hilton, and sixteen other victims. Audio clips of the calls are available on his Website, www.ralphige.com, which gets more than 10,000 hits a day.
"I'm like the Ashton Kutcher of prank calls," Ralphige explains. "Ashton doesn't just punk anyone, you need to be famous. That's how I do it. Consider it a compliment that you are worthy enough to be ralphigized." Indeed his list of victims reads like a who's who of the hip-hop world: Busta Rhymes, Pharrell, Method Man, Flavor Flav, and Rakim.
New Times managed to catch up with Ralphige by phone, naturally, on the day he had just completed his coup de grace: a crank call to the King of Pop himself, Michael Jackson. Posing as the pop singer Akon while sounding nothing like him (he blamed it on the poor connection from the airplane), Ralphige confused the hell out of an already bewildered Jackson by talking about building a school for little boys in Africa. You can see where this is going.
Ralphige says he even pranked the untouchable Jay-Z by posing as Doug Morris, CEO of Universal Records. He says he offered to double Jigga's salary if he left Def Jam to head Universal's Urban Music department. Then, in typical Ralphige style, he started talking about Beyoncé's ass. Jay-Z put him on hold, then hollered back with Ralph's real home address and a classy warning that only the Jigga Man could give. "He pretty much said that if I ever made this phone call public he'd tear me a new asshole." Ralphige recalls. "I'd try calling him back to apologize but he disconnected his number and everything. What a pussy."
The obvious question is how Ralphige gets these phone numbers, given the veil of secrecy in which most stars drape themselves. According to Ralphige, the digits come to him. "I usually get e-mails with people trying to sell me a number, but I let them know I won't pay a nickel for shit. They end up giving it to me anyway. A lot of them come from people in the artists' entourage. Some are magazine writers who interviewed them and have their numbers. Sometimes there are people who just waste my time and give me numbers that are disconnected. But I would say seven outta ten are real numbers."
To his fans, Ralphige is nothing less than a modern folk hero, puncturing the world's overblown egos. Ric Hernandez, a seventeen-year-old student from South Miami High School, visits ralphige.com daily. "My boys and I can't wait to hear who else Ralphige fucks with," he says. "It's just so hilarious to hear all these big-time rappers get treated like shit. And they're so stupid, they just take it!"