Troy Ave speaks on what he knows – that is, unless it'll get him in trouble. As he admitted during our interview, “I try to give as much authenticity in my music as possible without getting indicted or incriminating myself.”
If you're a fan of the gritty, street records that have long been a staple of the New York Rap scene, Troy Ave is the latest buzzing New Yorker waving that flag with pride, and 2012 may just be the year that his buzz breaks past being just a hometown favorite. With Fool's Gold Records recently showing interest in a track on his upcoming Bricks in My Backpack 3 for the Loosies compilation on their label and “Home T.E.A.M.” with Mr. Muthafuckin' eXquire, Action Bronson, and Maffew Ragazino creating ripples in the blogosphere, Troy is continuing to accumulate co-signs from all the right places.
Since the start of his Bricks in My Backpack series, Troy has had the support of fellow Brooklynite Fabolous, who he just happened to meet by chance through model Tahiry, a mutual friend. He met Prodigy, who dropped a verse on Bricks 2's “Dirty Martini,” in a similar fashion, hooking up first with Havoc's cousin then ultimately finding himself, months later, in the studio with one half of Mobb Deep. Similarly, his first interactions on Twitter with Surf Club's Chase N Cashe, first as fans of each other's work, have now led to a collaborative EP set to drop later this year. As he admits, all of these connections and co-signs have come about in an organic fashion, fitting for an artist who started out the old-fashioned way, by selling out of his trunk, a choice that he says moved “collectively, about 70,000 in the street.”
Hip Hop DX caught up with Troy Ave by phone recently, and during the course of our conversation, we found out that he was listening to Big Daddy Kane in kindergarten, that he initially only jumped on “Home T.E.A.M.” as a favor to his deejay, and that shoe etiquette at rock shows is much different than it is at Rap shows.
First Experiences With Hip Hop: “I remember my uncle and my pops put me on Rap and shit like that. My uncle had me listening to mad Rap: MC Shan, N.W.A.... He was listening to people from all over. His disc collection or tape collection was impeccable. My uncle used to rock out crazy.
[There were other artists as well], like Big Daddy Kane. I don't know how I started listening to Kane, but I was probably in kindergarten, B. I was like five or something like that, and my teacher took away my Big Daddy Kane tape and I was pissed off. Shit was mad explicit. I remember I had got a bootleg when it was two for $5.00. I had a Walkman and shit. My moms bought it for me. I had the Walkman probably in like 1991. I was rockin' out.”
Writing Raps As a Child But Wanting to Be An Athlete: “I remember I used to try to write raps like Big Daddy Kane. [I would be] sitting in my bedroom floor watching Nickelodeon, writing raps. Shit was crazy, but I never thought about doing no rapping shit. Just like every nigga from the hood, I wanted to do sports. I was mad nice in football. I just wanted to play it. I thought I was gonna go to the NFL and shit.”
50 Cent Serving As Inspiration For His Own Rap Career: “What really made me start going hard with the music was when 50 Cent had came out around 2003 and I saw his meteoric rise to stardom and fortune, because he's from the 'hood. He went to jail, he had a deal, he lost his deal, he got shot, and then he just took it independent and heavy. He was the first artist that I seen independently from my region actually be able to blow up on some independent shit, making himself hot.
I had other examples like Master P and Lil Flip but they wasn't from our region. I just heard about them doing the independent grind [and thought] 'Alright, whatever. You from down South. That works [there]. In New York, it don't work,' but 50 came through and made that shit work with the mixtapes. He had his shit crazy out here, off like no radio play, nothing, and he got the streets crazy. I was like 'Oh shit . . . Okay.' That shit did inspire me to follow in his footsteps, especially when you had deejays charging $1,200 to get on mixtapes. I was like 'Fuck, suck 1,200 dollars worth of dicks. I'm gonna go put out my own mixtape,' and that's what I did. My first song's actually called 'Troy Ave vs. 50 Cent.'”
Getting Hassled By Police When Selling CD's Out of His Trunk:“I remember two separate occasions. On one occasion in particular, they tried to give me a hard time and I ended up giving them a CD and they just let me go and shit. It was probably because I didn't have New York plates. I be holding up traffic when I'm out selling my music, being in different neighborhoods, pulling over and shit, holding up traffic, but I don't give a fuck. People vibe with the music.”
How His Brooklyn Heritage Doesn't Define His Style: “I don't got like fucking pride issues and shit like that. I'm all about getting the money, man. You see, a lot of people, they got more pride and less money, know what I'm saying? I'm comfortable in my own skin, so I don't have to be like 'Yeah, I'm from Brooklyn.' I don't be fucking waving that flag. You see in my presence that I'm from Brooklyn. I do that shit if I got a Brooklyn show. That's like if you got a show in Kansas, you [gonna] go 'Yo, shout out to Kansas.' I just rap like I'm a product of my environment, man. I use the slang and the lingo that are the styled from my environment, that are regional. I fucking dress in the fashions that are from my environment, and I talk about the shit that goes on in my environment.
Troy Ave alone represents [Brooklyn]. My name is Troy Ave. That's Brooklyn enough. My name is not fucking Matt Barnes, know what I'm saying? If people be like 'Yo, where you from?' I go 'My name's Troy Ave.' Troy Ave is Brooklyn. It's an avenue in Brooklyn, so I represent Brooklyn to the fullest. I drive a Mercedes, know what I'm saying? I represent this Brooklyn, dope boy fly shit to the fullest and to the realest extent, more than anybody ever out here in New York City. Ever. That's a fact.”
Troy Ave vs. Harry Powder: “The powder flow's a little bit different, man. It's the same person [but] it's just like a home and away jersey. The powder flow is more drug orientated because when I first started rapping, I was rapping about what I was doing at the time, [and] that was street shit – fucking with bitches, fucking with little stick ups here and there – you know, little light hustling and shit like that. But as shit transitioned and I'm like 'This music shit gonna cost me money,' and I started making money going through other avenues, then that's what I started rapping about.
With the Harry Powder flow, that was when I was more so allegedly heavy in the street shit, so when you see me on my Harry Powder shit, that's like detailed, graphic drug references. Harry Powder a magician in the kitchen. I don't know if you familiar with drug shit but, say you got 500 grams, you can turn it into fucking 650 grams. That's like some magic shit – Harry Powder the magician.”
Creating “Home T.E.A.M.”: “My deejay, DJ Uneek, wanted to put together a mixtape for all these beats. He was having trouble getting people to the studio, but he deejayed for [Mr. Muthafuckin'] eXquire, so he knew [him], and then I think I told [Maffew] Ragazino “Yo, we going into the studio tonight” so he was gonna come through. Originally, the record 'Home Team' was saying 'Brooklyn, we on some bullshit' because my deejay is more like on some Brooklyn shit. [As] I'm listening to it, I'm like 'Man, this record could be bigger.' I didn't like the record at first, but I just did it because it was like 'Fuck it, this is for my deejay,' but then after playing the record, I'm like 'Yo, this shit is bigger. Us saying “Brooklyn” is making it too local. Let me hit my man Action Bronson, get him on this shit, and then change the hook to 'New York, nigga, we on that bullshit.'
I had spoken to Action through DM. That's my homie. Everybody on the record is my homie. I put my artist Avon Blocksdale on the hook and then the shit just gelled. It was mad organic. It wasn't nothing forced. Everybody was with it because we all fuck with each other like that. I fucks with eXquire heavy. I fucks with Action heavy, so of course we'll probably do other tracks in the future. Me and eXquire actually got a mixtape coming out together. I don't know if we'll do some type of group thing or whatever. We'll see what happens if the situation presents itself, but we're all solo artists, so that's the main thing. If we gotta do a 'Home Team 2,' then so be it. If they want me to do it on they album, then no problem. We actually shooting a video for that shit too.”
How Bricks in My Backpack 3 Will Build on the Bricks Franchise: “Bricks in My Backpack was 'The Harry Powder Story.' Bricks in My Backpack 2 was 'Powder to the People.' Bricks in My Backpack 3 is a combination of everything. This is like way more graphic, way more detailed depictions of looking into the life of a New York City hustler. I call this one 'The Harry Powder Trilogy.' I got some shit on there. With every tape that I drop, I get more creative. I'm trying more things because I'm getting more comfortable. It's like I'm mastering my flow now so I can do different shit. I got some pretty dope features on there [that are] definitely gonna be bigger than the other ones that preceded them.
[Bricks 3 will drop] at some point in April. I was shooting for March, but I'm about to do the whole South By [Southwest] thing, so I'm gonna get all my promo out. Got a video dropping next week. Got a bunch of shit, man. This new shit is so big that Fool's Gold [Records] actually picked up a record from Bricks 3 [for their upcoming rap compilation entitled Loosies.”
On First Meeting Fabolous: “We met up through my homegirl, Tahiry [Jose]. She's like a model and shit. Me and Tahiry, we was out having lunch, kickin' it, and [Fabolous] ended up getting pulled over by the cops. His license was fucked up, so he called her because she lives in [New] Jersey. He asked if she could come pick up the car or whatever because he was on his way to a video shoot. When she hopped in her car, I hopped in [mine] and we went to wherever the fuck we went to meet up with him. I think it was at the Holland Tunnel. We were just kickin' it. From there, we went to the video shoot. He was just a cool nigga and vice versa. We just connected and then that was it. We took it from there and we been kickin' it ever since. That was real organic. Everything that I be doing and having going on be some organic shit. There's never no dick riding. There's never nothing like that.”
Hooking Up With Prodigy on “Dirty Martini”: “Speaking of my old neighborhood, one of my homies from my old neighborhood plugged me with another dude who was from the 'hood who just happened to be Havoc's cousin. He was in jail and he had seen my videos. He was hearing about me and shit like that while he was in jail, so he was like 'Yo, when you get home, you wanna get up with Troy Ave and shit.' He was like 'Who Troy Ave? He from the 'hood?' Because I moved over to the neighborhood when he was already locked up in jail. He was calling niggas, asking about me like 'Yo, who this Troy Ave nigga?'
I had to get up with him when he got home, so as soon as he came home, he plugged me with Havoc. Prodigy was still in jail, and probably like a year later, he told me 'Yo, come through the studio.' He was there with Prodigy. Prodigy had heard about me too, I guess from him and just other sources. I started playing some records for Prodigy and then he was just like 'Yo, this shit hard,' talking about the record that I had, which was 'Dirty Martini.' I [told him] 'Yo, my nigga, I'm about to drop this album. If you would jump on it, that shit would be dope.' He was like 'Hell yeah. Leave it. I got you.' I left the instrumental. He hit me back three days later, like 'Yo, I finished that joint. Send me your email' and I been fucking with P ever since then. P a real nigga, man. P is genuine 200 percent, know what I mean?”
On Having a Diverse Audience: “I'm the only artist that be like the bridge between the streets and the hipsters. I'm the only artist. I had a birthday party at Tammany Hall. You had industry people, you had downtown people, you had hipsters, and then you had Brooklyn 'hood people and uptown Harlem people, and everybody was there in peace and harmony just chillin', getting along with each other, partying and shit. That was a dope feeling, [seeing] everyone out there to see Troy Ave. It was diverse. It wasn't like one type of fan base and that's it. It was everybody.”
On His Upcoming EP With Chase N Cashe of Surf Club: “I think I was dropping Bricks 2 and something happened. Chase re-tweeted some of my shit. I had a song with another artist from L.A. and then Chase was like 'Yo, that's my shit' or whatever, so I said 'I'll send you some more shit. Send me your email.' As I was sending him shit, we ended up getting up on South By Southwest and shit like that [last year], and his peoples fuck with my manager. Everybody just happened to know each other, and then that shit was just organic. Whenever he come out to New York, we link up and be kickin' it.
[South By Southwest 2011 is] when we really met and shit. Chase was like 'Yo, I want to produce some dope shit for you' and I'm like 'Send it to me.' He ended up sending me some shit that's on Bricks in My Backpack 2. He produced 'Dope Game.' He sent me the beat and then I just came with the hook. He just laid the verse and that shit was hard. We got two songs recorded, so we probably got to do like five more. We'll probably do some more when we're down at South By Southwest.”
Twitter and Its Impact On His Collaborations: “It's played a very substantial part in me linking up with all these people. Very substantial. It's like the main tool that I'm utilizing to the fullest.”
Shoe Etiquette At Rock Shows vs. Hip Hop Shows: “With black people, they didn't have a lot growing up. They grew up in more poverty-stricken areas and shit like that, so [when you] see a Black person [and] they have some brand new sneakers, they gonna cherish them sneakers. They gonna clean 'em when they get home, make sure they shit is neat or whatever, but you might see a white guy who has some beat-up sneakers and he'll be getting in the Maserati like he doesn't give a fuck about sneakers, know what I'm saying? It's only like the newer, younger Hip Hop generation of white kids that are into mad sneakers and shit like that. You're not gonna see that at a Rock concert.
[With] rockers, they traditionally aren't worried about how the fuck they really look. [They] may wear the same black t-shirt for a while and shit like that, so you know for damn sure they not worried about no fucking sneakers. When I party with my White friends, I know not to bring out any fly sneakers unless we just sitting on the table in VIP and chillin', and this is not even White people that are drunk. Now, nobody gets more fuckin' drunk than my White friends. You heard Gucci Mane's [Wasted']? That is a fact.
So now, you take the fact that a lot of White people don't give a fuck about shoes or clothes anyway, and then you implement that with the fact that they're drunk? They're stepping all over your fucking shoes. They're not doing it on purpose, but they're not watching out for your shoes either. You can't even fucking be mad because you just there like 'Fuck, I shouldn't have worn these white fucking Jordan 10 Chicagos to this shit.' It all depends on where you at, you know? You just gotta know what's going on. If you at a rock concert, then it's cool. If you at a Hip Hop show, then not so much cool. Don't step on somebody's J's, especially if they been on eBay bidding for them shits. [Laughs]”