Though the recent successes of New York-based rappers like A$AP Rocky and French Montana have been much appreciated, many fans of New York rap music are left still yearning for the return of New York’s glory days. There’s been an obvious void, and while many have avoided attempting such a loaded task, NYC’s Troy Ave is wholeheartedly committed to filling that void. Not one to lack confidence in his abilities, Troy is determined in not only bringing New York back, but also establishing his own legacy. “I’m going to be the king of New York. I’m going to bring the East Coast back,” he declares. “Anyone who doesn’t want to support me or get behind me will just have to get use to being the little homie or the outcast, because Troy Ave is going to be the one no matter what.” The Brooklyn native, who’s garnered cosigns from Nas, 50 Cent and Pete Rock, has landed a spot on this year’s XXL Magazine Freshmen list and will be performing at Hot 97’s Summer Jam, proving that at the very least, New York is paying attention. Here, Troy Ave talks to Life + Times about restoring the feeling of New York, his independent grind and his next album being his best.
Life + Times: Congratulations on making XXL Magazine’s 2014 Freshmen list. What was your reaction when you first heard the news?
Troy Ave: I was like “Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about.” This is something that I wanted. I made making this year’s list my goal and I made it happen.
L+T: Did you feel like it was overdue?
TA: No. Not really. XXL gets it. I understood where they were coming from. In my perfect world, I would’ve gotten it last year after I dropped the critically acclaimed Bricks I’m My Backpack Vol. 3 and White Christmas. I wanted New York City: The Album to be my major label debut. I would’ve definitely gotten a Grammy Award off of that, because it was the hottest album that came out that year. XXL‘s Freshmen list is about who’s the hottest and I am definitely hotter right now than I was last year. I can’t even trip. I’m just happy to be on it.
L+T: As the only New York act in this year’s Freshmen group, what are your thoughts on why New York has lost its dominance?
TA: New York artists were being too influenced by other people’s music. My music isn’t influenced by music. It’s influenced by my environment. You won’t really hear a bunch of music from me about strip clubs and stuff, because that’s the south’s culture. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with adopting parts of that culture, as long as you’re remembering where you came from. Too many rappers lost their identity. I never lost mine. I’ve always been proud to be from New York. A lot of these guys are dick-riders and that’s why I’ve been able to elevate above them. Also, the new generation didn’t hold themselves in a high regard and didn’t have that same skill set with rap. At the end of the day, you still have to be nice. That’s why Kendrick Lamar has his reign. You can say he’s a weirdo or whatever, but he raps exceptionally well. That’s what rap music is all about. With New York riding waves and looking less like leaders and more like followers we lost our mystic. People outside of New York were like “I thought y’all were kings and gods, but y’all just some regular civilians.” Stuff like that is why a Trinidad James can feel comfortable saying what he said about the city.
L+T: It was weird hearing it come from him, of all people, but he did have a valid point.
TA: He didn’t say anything wrong. I didn’t disagree with what he was saying at all. He said some honest shit and that’s why the game has been all fucked up. More people feel like they have to say what’s popular and not what’s right. Trinidad said what was right. You can’t be mad at him for that. You have to be mad at yourself. People just don’t take responsibility.
L+T: How will you help to restore that New York sound and feeling without your music sounding like it’s stuck in the ‘90s?
TA: That happens when everybody is mimicking shit. They don’t know who they are and they have no identity. They are trying to be other people instead of being comfortable being themselves. I do my own thing. I follow the feeling. I’m from the same environment as JAY Z, Biggie, and 50 Cent. When you’re from that environment you go with the feel. You pick a beat that feels like the train going passed your crib at night or feels like merking out in a brand new Benz and hitting a pothole or feels like going to the corner store at four in the morning for a dutch. I pick beats with that feeling. I don’t pick beats thinking “I need this, because it’s hot on the radio.” I’m not thinking “Everybody is saying ‘turn up’ right now. Let me say ‘turn up’ in my songs.” That mimicking shit is corny. I’m influenced by the sounds of the city, the same way Jay, Big and 50 were influenced by the sounds of the city. I’m taking that old feeling and improving upon it. New York isn’t fun loving. New York isn’t club happy. People don’t even say “good morning” to you in New York. That’s what the music has to reflect. New York isn’t all kumbaya. Everyone isn’t cool with each other. It’s all competition. It’s dog-eat-dog out here.
L+T: It seems as if many of the artists from other regions like the West Coast and South share some sort of camaraderie, and that has played a role in both regions’ success. New York isn’t really like that. It’s like you said, New York isn’t all kumbaya. Do you think that the perception that there is an absence of camaraderie amongst New York rappers is more of New York just having that dog-eat-dog mentality or that there just isn’t enough talented artists coming from NYC these days to have that type of camaraderie?
TA: I think it’s more about making good music than it is about showing love just to show love. The artists that I’ve collaborated with have talent. If they didn’t have the talent I wouldn’t be working with them. Both the West Coast and the South have artists that are making dope records and albums. You have to give credit where credit is due. You can’t be a hater.
L+T: You’re the first independent artist to grace Summer Jam’s main stage, which shows the extent of your independent grind. What has been one thing that you’ve learned as an independent artist that you may have not learned if you were signed to a major label?
TA: I’m not sure, but I do feel like I would’ve been doing what I’ve been doing independently. There would have just been more assistance.
L+T: Do you see yourself signing with a major label in the near future?
TA: More than likely I will.
L+T: With the major cosigns you’ve received, making the Freshmen list and your upcoming Summer Jam performance, are you feeling an increased amount of pressure to deliver with this next album?
TA: Hell no. I don’t ever feel any pressure. There’s no reason to feel pressure if I know what I’m doing. I’m built for this. I was in the drug game. That’s pressure. This is nothing in comparison. The quality of the music that I put out is something I have control over and there’s no way I can feel pressure for something I have control over. What records I am going to pick or the subject matter I’m going to talk about are things I have control over and what I have control over is something that’s going to be the highest quality possible. You’d have to be deaf, blind and dumb to not know that the music is dope, so I feel no pressure at all.
L+T: Have you started working on your next album?
TA: Hell yeah. That shit is like 80 percent done. I’m just trying to figure out if I’m going to release it with a major or independently. My next project, Major Without A Deal is going to be bigger than New York City: The Album. It makes my previous releases look like child’s play. It’s like the difference between an All-Star game and a Game 7 in the Finals.
L+T: Can you speak on any of the features you have planned for Major Without A Deal?
TA: Hell no. The people will just have to wait.
L+T: You’ve been heavily rocking Adidas gear for a while now. Why has Adidas been such a go-to brand for you?
TA: Adidas is just a classic brand that represents the streets and they had the foresight to see that Troy Ave is that nigga. I’m a brand loyalist, so of course I’m going to continue rocking with them. I also have some things coming with Sean John and Crooks N Castles. The Troy Ave brand is so strong that it just makes sense to do business with me at this point.
L+T: Do you see yourself ever getting more into fashion?
TA: Hell no. I ain’t into fashion like that. That’s why I say the game is twisted. Some of these rappers are more into fashion than they are into music. These guys worry about the wrong things. I don’t care about the fabrics and the textures and the designs. In the streets and where I’m from it isn’t about fashion. We just get fly. Being mad into fashion is for women. I can’t really fuck with that.