After prison, Bloomington-Normal rapper aspires for career in music — and a fresh start
Two years ago, prosecutors used Rich Sims' own music video to help put him behind bars. Now on parole, Rich says music will be what puts him on a brighter path.
About six years ago, Rich Sims had a conversation with his cousin, Stephen Sims, about the future.
Rich, then 18, had been doing some freestyle rapping, and Stephen was impressed. Stephen encouraged him to make a serious run at music.
“He died maybe four or five days after that conversation,” Rich said.
Stephen, a student at Malcolm X College in Chicago, was shot and killed outside the Walmart where he worked in January 2015. It wasn’t the first person Rich that had lost – and it wouldn't be the last. He said he saw his first person get killed, at age 9, while living in Chicago.
“It didn’t sit right with me,” Rich said of his cousin’s death. “That’s when I really stopped going to school. Stopped playing sports. Stopped reaching out to the friends that really did keep me out of trouble. It was like I didn’t have no hope after that.”
In fact, Sims’ mother moved the family—Sims has seven sisters—down to Bloomington-Normal when he was around 13 years old, hoping to get away from that sort of tragedy.
Sims went to Normal Community High School and really liked it. Played some football. But he struggled, and he got into trouble. In his words, he was young and wild.
He was also struggling with addiction. He had a serious addiction to Xanax after Stephen's death.
“Sometimes I looked for help, and it’s not there when you need it. Or at the time you don’t need it, that’s when they feel you need it. It’s just like a wishy-washy game with looking for help, because you never know what’s real or what’s fake,” Sims said.
Things got worse. Sims pleaded guilty to aggravated battery in 2016 after a shooting in Bloomington that police described as a dispute over illegal drugs. He served some jail time.
WGLT readers may remember Sims—and his music—from a story that was published two years ago. That’s when Sims was in a McLean County courtroom, being sentenced for unlawful possession of a firearm, after police saw him showing off a gun on Snapchat.
A music video starring Sims was played at his sentencing. Police and prosecutors said it contained several references to recent fatal shootings in Bloomington-Normal, many involving gang-affiliated suspects and victims. 2018 was an unusually violent year in Bloomington-Normal, with nine gun homicides.
Sims went to prison for almost two years. He served the time at Sheridan Correctional Center, which is dedicated to substance abuse treatment. That was during the peak of COVID isolation.
“Imagine being locked in your cell every day, seven days a week. You come out Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for 30 minutes. That’s it. Ten minutes to shower. Twenty minutes to use the phone. Imagine that from March 2020 all the way until April 2021,” Sims said.
Sims was released on parole in July 2021. He came home with over nine books of lyrics.
Now, Sims says he’s re-dedicating his life to music. A fresh start, ideally. He performs under the name Rich Flexx. He looks up to rappers like Yo Gotti, Blac Youngsta, and Moneybagg Yo.
Sims is looking to find a label and some music-business mentorship. He has 11 unreleased songs. One of them is “Still Sippin,” about addiction and losing people close to him.
“It helped me get out what I’m feeling,” Sims says of songwriting. “My music, it might be hard to tell, but I’m very hard at communicating. That’s something I don’t do—opening up. I’m doing it now because it feels like it’s time. But what helps with that is my music, because I really don’t like talking to people. Cause then they got the upper hand, something they know about you. A lot of things get balled in, and I put it all into the music.”
Sims said his addiction issues have leveled out. No more hardcore drugs every day all day.
Sims says he's mellower now. He says he doesn't have any regrets – about his past decisions, the things that have put him behind bars.
“It helped me better myself and become the person who I am. I don’t have no regrets in life. Everything I did in life was for a reason. The good, the bad, and everything. But it helped me to proceed on a brighter path,” Sims said.
This aspiration traces back to something Sims said in that courtroom back in 2019, when he was sentenced to prison.
“Everything that happened in court today has opened my eyes,” said Sims, adding that he doesn’t want to return to a courtroom again. “I’m really speechless.”
That day, his mother, Jillana, testified on his behalf.
“We’re gonna take this sentence and we’re gonna make something positive,” she said.
Now, it’s up to Sims to prove that true.