Rome Fortune isn’t here to please you and he isn’t here to obey — he doesn’t want your approval. He flourishes in this nonconformity, in his inimitability, animated by a turquoise-tipped beard, crop tops, and a chipped front tooth. To mention his style before anything else — before his music — might seem like an attempt on our part to just graze the surface, an attempt to showcase the Philadelphia-born, Atlanta-bred rapper as merely 2-D. However, his stylistic choices are deeply entrenched and essential to not only the rapper Rome Fortune, but to the artist as well.
“I don’t have a comfort zone,” Rome Fortune croons, the ‘o’ in ‘zone’ punctuated with the same southern drawl you hear in his songs. “Once I start getting in a comfort zone, I have to get out of it.”
The 26-year-old rapper was born in Philly and moved to Atlanta with his mother before he turned two. Despite his southern accent, his Philadelphia roots stuck with him long after he left Pennsylvania: his mother’s brothers moved to Atlanta, bringing some of their beloved northern rap music with them. Rome grew up listening to Busta Rhymes, early Cam’ron (think Confessions of Fire), Wu-Tang, and Camp Lo. He didn’t listen to Atlanta or southern rap — favorites include Gucci Mane, Yo Gotti, and OutKast — until he was in high school.
A Musical Family, Beautiful Pimp II & Homelessness
Music is endemic on his mother’s side of the family, particularly jazz. Rome is related to the cornetist Nat Adderley and saxophonist Cannonball Adderley, and his grandfather is the famous jazz musician Richard Adderley, who’s played with Miles Davis, among other legends. Rome’s grandfather co-produced Rome’s EP Beautiful Pimp II, and also played the vibraphone on the EP’s track “OneDay” and appeared in the music video.
Rome dropped out of high school during his senior year and began picking up odd jobs to make money. When he was 20, he had his first son, and at that moment he was faced with a choice: he would either remain a regular person and get a regular job, or pursue something more difficult and make all the necessary sacrifices to become successful. He had started dabbling in music when he was 19; the birth of his son propelled him further forward with that music.
But just as he thought he was getting his footing, Rome stumbled and became homeless for two months. After his child was born, he found it difficult balancing all of his responsibilities. But it’s like they always say: when you hit rock bottom, you can only go up from there.
“Once you start out at your lowest of lows, you know what to avoid. You know how to keep going… It sucked but it made me really better, as far as like my drive and shit,” Rome says.
When Rome was homeless, he employed a barter system to avoid sleeping on the street. The first time he used the system was with a girl whom he was seeing: she would bring him food and let him sleep in her car. Though this moment isn’t completely integral to Rome’s story, it showed him an undeniable facet of his personality.
“I realized that I had something that people couldn’t buy, which was a charisma, a way with words to get people to really empathize with what I was going through, without making them feel like a sucker or idiot or used.”
Rome’s charisma — his recognizable magnetism — became a tool that he now aptly applies in his music. His homelessness also presented another trial for Rome to conquer. “[Challenges are] the only way you really get better, and it’s being able to have a challenge and being able to attack a challenge and being comfortable with a challenge.”
Rebel Without A Comfort Zone
Rome’s need for a challenge — a lack of a comfort zone — is his comfort zone, a notion that sits at the crosshairs of his artistry and in the makeup of his ethos. He wants his music to exist in different worlds, in every world; just as Rome’s fashion sense is a blend of high and low brow, his soundscapes are also a fusion of multiple elements, echoing all of his early influences — southern rap, northern rap, and jazz — but also exploring newer genres, like electronic dance music, indie rock, and hardcore metal. And once he’s fully explored one genre, he delves into another.
“I think I just don’t have a defined palette…I think my palette is like way more colorful, as far as my approach and delivery and cadence. I don’t think I approach any type of song the same as a previous one just because I have so many different types of genres and melodies and backgrounds, like dancing around in my head. I never want anybody to get bored, to be able to put their thumb on me.”
Though he didn’t realize it when he was growing up, his maternal family’s musicality had a profound impact on him. One part of Rome’s palette is exploring multiple genres. He uses jazz as a metaphor — its intrinsic improvisation — as the foundation and backdrop for his own music.
Another part of his palette is creating as much music as possible to create a solid fan base and to stay relevant. For Rome, Hip Hop is just as much about the music and style as it is about relevancy. He wants people to talk about him until they’re talking about him regardless of a new project. Since 2011, Rome has dropped three mixtapes and six EPs with a tenth project, entitled Nasty, slated for this summer. Rome’s hunger is undying — and unnerving.
“You can do whatever you wanna do, don’t just find a comfort zone. That’s why I feel like I’m in my own stick, in my own lane. I’m incomparable to everybody else.”
Musicians often make similar assertions. If you ask a musician about his or her vision, many declare their uniqueness right off the bat. But what sets Rome apart is that he doesn’t really have to address his originality. If you listen to his music, you can witness it firsthand.
Hip Hop’s Atlanta Evolution & Being Unafraid To Be Who You Are
Hip Hop was founded as a counterculture, but it has now largely evolved into a culture of uniformity and cyclicality. Rome and many of his musical peers from Atlanta — Raury, ILoveMakonnen, Father and Awful Records — are ushering in a new mindset, which is slowly coming to the forefront: do what you want to do and fuck the rest. Don’t be scared of disapproval. This attitude allows these rappers and musicians to unite under an umbrella that ultimately sets them all apart.
“That’s like one of my main missions, is to like get all of these dumb ass stigmas released, just be able to do what you wanna do. Because you’ll have rappers so quick to be like, oh I’m a rockstar, I’m a rockstar but they’re doing like the same shit as everybody else. Nah, just do what you really wanna do, don’t be scared. Just do it.”
Rome is not without confidence; to strike out on your own, whether sonically or aesthetically requires it. And with every new project, with every new collaboration, he shows another side of himself: the rapper, the writer, and the artist.
It all boils down to a moment last summer when Rome wore his first crop top. He bought a Gucci polo that was too long for him. He had already cut off the shirt’s sleeves and was cutting the bottom when he accidentally cut it too short. He said to himself, “I’m not one of these baller ass rappers who gonna throw away a Gucci shirt.” He threw the shirt on and it looked cool, so he just kept doing it.
“I liked the people walking down the street, being like what the fuck is that?” Rome asserts, his drawl fully intact.
Tara Mahadevan is a New York-based journalist. When she’s not going to shows or interviewing musicians, she’s still digging through SoundCloud for hidden gems. Follow her on Twitter @mhdvn.