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!"
Ralphige, himself a lifelong hip-hop fan, admits the calls are "like a power trip. Like all these rappers, they constantly get their asses kissed by everybody and here comes me, ruining their entire day. I guess if I'm remembered as that asshole who called him out on his shit, I'm satisfied."
Not surprisingly Ralphige says he was your typical neighborhood menace. He toilet-papered countless houses, and racked up the school suspensions. He says he's only been arrested once for his telephonic high jinks. "It was my first real prank call," he recalls, "I called this car wash in Coral Gables and pretended that I worked with Snoop [Dogg] and told the owner that the movie Car Wash with Snoop in it was based on his car wash and we were gonna fly him out to L.A. and give him a fat check."
He foolishly gave his victim his beeper number, which led to a visit from the cops. He was charged with misdemeanor harrassment and pleaded no contest to avoid jail. After that, he says, he made it a point to know "what would get me arrested. Like, for instance, threatening, constant calling after they said not to call, bomb threats, shit like that. However, threatening gangsta rappers is an exception! Can you imagine a 50 Cent calling the cops saying some dude is threatening to beat him up?"
One other advantage to pranking hip-hop stars? "They have that reputation to uphold, so they're more likely to threaten you." He's well aware that there are a lot of folks out there who would like to beat his ass. But he says he takes precautions. Trace his Website, for instance, and you'll find your way to only one physical address. "It's Brenda and Brandon's house on 90210!" He chuckles. "So all those lawsuits and litigations are going to some dude living in Beverly Hills."
Is he ever worried that someone will eventually find him and sue him? "Yeah, sure. But unless I sell a million CDs, it probably won't be worth suing. Their lawyer bill is worth more than what I make off this shit!"
Odds are Scott Storch would like a crack at Ralphige. Storch, the hip-hop megaproducer, is Ralphige's favorite victim to date. The Storch-Ralphige contretemps, in fact, has already kicked up plenty of buzz in the Internet community. Ralphige poses as "the Gregster," a pothead surfer who claims to be the boyfriend of Brooke Hogan, the latter whom Storch produced and signed to his record label. The Gregster asks a credulous Storch if he's sleeping with Hogan. Storch replies, "Hell no!" and the call devolves from there, a masterpiece of mockery that features a cameo from Brooke's dad, Hulk Hogan.
It's calls like these that have made Ralphige an underground sensation. He's hopeful his sophomore disc will be a breakthrough. In the meantime, he says he's happy to expand the roster of suckers. "I'll prank call anybody!" he exclaims. "You got George Bush's number, I'll prank call his ass and suffer the consequence later."