In the opening scene of Christian Robinson’s music video for his song “Poltergeist,” the Oak Park-born rapper sits alone on a stool against a white backdrop. Robinson, who goes by the stage name Rich Robbins, avoided looking into the camera. Instead, his eyes are cast downward, his hands fiddling with the rings on his fingers.
The scene cuts to another, featuring Robinson’s dad holding his cellphone steady, trying to take a picture of Robinson and his younger siblings. The video is built around a photoshoot, each frame layered with a familiar face flashing a big smile, bursting out in laughter or striking a pose.
Right before Robinson begins his verse, a myriad of voices drop in. One of them says, “Keep going,” while another drifts into a monologue: “I needed to hear that I’m not a burden — that I have the power to create legacy. That I belong in every space that I enter.”
For Robinson, “Poltergeist” was personal. He called the song, the first track on his third studio album On the Horizon, his own version of a “red carpet” moment. The three-minute song unravels his journey as a musician, a hard-fought dream that once caused a rift in his relationship with his parents.
“It was rocky at first in my family because nobody is an artist, per se, in my family,” Robinson, 28, said on a Zoom call last Thursday. “When I initially graduated high school, I was like, ‘Mom, I want to be a rapper.’ You know, there’s a lot of tension with that.”
“Poltergeist” puts Robinson’s reality into focus. He had to come to terms with a lot of things: his decision to study and pursue music as a career and his role in his community. An Oak Park and River Forest High School graduate who returned to his alma mater to teach Spoken Word classes, he has been searching for belonging. And this song was his chance to create that space for healing, acceptance and perhaps even forgiveness.
“The initial lyrics [of ‘Poltergeist’] are ‘terrified, terrified out of my mind,’” Robinson softly rapped, before explaining, “I was kind of going through a time where the world was very intimidating to me in that sense.
“I really overthink things a lot and my role in the world and just being a man, but being a man of color and with me being partially marginalized, but then also being an oppressor, and unpacking that and what it means to be an ally for people,” he said, his voice trailing off but returning with clarity. “The world was very terrifying in that moment of writing the song.”
Throughout his album, On the Horizon, Robinson contemplates the choices he’s made and lessons he’s learned. Like most people during the pandemic, he found more time to self-reflect, as he was creating his project.
The 11-track album was his “quarantine baby,” a culmination of months-long work leading up to its release in early June. Because of the pandemic limiting get-togethers, Robinson said he mostly collaborated with other musicians and producers online. They would send sound files back and forth, layering one over the other to arrange a song.
“When everything slowed down, it just gave me an opportunity to really perfect everything,” he said. “I knew where every sound came from. I’ve never put out an album before where I saw each song made from the ground up. On other projects, I worked closely with producers, but there might be like one or two songs I snuck in there where I found the beat online.”
With On the Horizon, Robinson said he also started to share his unfinished songs with friends and family and sought feedback. He also leaned on other artists, especially women of color, often giving room to elevate the song’s true message.
On “Poltergeist,” Robinson tapped a few Spoken Word poets, including Asia Calcagno. People like Calcagno helped make him feel comfortable in his own skin and reminded him of home. On “Boys to Men (Interlude),” Robinson pulled in singer Semiratruth.
He initially wrote “Boys to Men” with a “fight the power” mentality but reworked it to talk about how conversations around Black liberation often exclude Black women, who are usually at the forefront of the fight. And, he turned to Semiratruth to bring that forward.
“I hadn’t ever really investigated myself prior to this project,” Robinson said. “A lot of my music was this outward look on everything, our critique on everything, and there wasn’t much inward critiquing going on. I’m a lot less scared to do that now. I’m finding my voice.”
Robinson said years of practicing meditation and yoga helped him reach this place in his life. He started meditating a few years ago after a break-up and struggled to confront that grief and loss. Through meditation, he learned how to quiet his mind, focus on the present, be mindful and let go of things he can’t control.
“One thing I came to terms with is that I might be an educator, I might be an older brother and a partner, but I definitely do not have it all figured out,” he said. “Part of being a community leader is also understanding that we are all winging this. Let’s just admit that.”
“The older I get, the more I’m trying to challenge myself to be more humble,” he added. “I think a lot of people just kind of get wrapped up in their world. ‘Well, now I’m older, so I’m a pro and nobody can tell me anything. …’ And, I think that’s where you get caught up.”
“On the Horizon” is out now and available on streaming services, including Spotify.