Photo by Zach Wolfe
To no one’s surprise, Remy Banks is wearing a Yankee hat.
“I don’t like to brag,” he says, “but when multiple people start telling me stuff, I start to believe it. I start to think... maybe I’m not being cocky. Maybe I will be the one to bring that sound back to the city.”
We’re eating a couple slices in the middle of his city: Forest Hills, Queens, at a place called Dani’s House of Pizza, a pizzeria covered in green ivy that looks, well, like an old house. Before our meet up, the rapper promised me that this is “his spot;” quickly, I learn he’s not exaggerating. Before we enjoy some pie and a few beers, we run into the owner outside and I’m told some embarrassing stories about a teenage version of Remy. After a couple laughs, I vow to keep them off the record and he flashes his signature toothy grin.
This is Remy Banks, a charismatic 26-year-old rapper associated with the rap collective from Queens, World’s Fair, of which he’s often viewed as the leader (although he won’t say that himself). During our conversation, Remy quickly outlines his entire life story: His dad died before he was born, he was raised in Queens, he spent his summers in North Carolina, he’s really good at basketball, he was the only black kid in high school into skateboarding, he always had a diverse set of friends, and he loves to sleep and sometimes takes five hour naps. “I’m just me. I don’t dress like anybody. I don’t act like anybody. I don’t look like anybody. I’m the same person wherever I am—and I’ll still bust your ass on the basketball court,” he says through a laugh.
But what Remy really wants to focus on is the current state of rap in New York City, where he fits in, and how it can move forward. Currently on tour with Earl Sweatshirt and Vince Staples, he’s bringing the East Coast across the country. “I want people to listen to my shit and be like, ‘I want to ride through Forest Hills so I can feel this. I want to ride through Jamaica and feel this,’” he says. Today, people will finally have that opportunity, as he releases his debut solo mixtape, higher., the stream of which we’re premiering in full—alongside his new video for the tape’s closing track, “exhale.” It’s a project that’s been long awaited, both by the hip-hop community and, perhaps most importantly, by Remy himself.
“I’ve wanted to put this out for a year, but I’ve waiting for the right moment.” This shouldn’t be surprising, though: If you’re around Remy for more than 30 seconds, you’ll quickly learn that he’s a man who is extremely careful and calculated with his decision-making. He never, ever wants to force anything.
That’s what his music is like, too. higher. feels effortless—a smooth, laid back sound you’d play at a barbecue in the summertime. The project features Syd Tha Kyd, D.R.A.M., Hak of Ratking, plus production from Black Noi$e, King Krule, Left Brain, and Sporting Life.
On first listen, it’s the it’s the type of shit that people will want to label as throwback (or “real hip-hop,” whatever that means), but it separates itself by not calling attention to that. That's because Remy’s too smart to put himself in a box—and then tell you how cool he is for planting his flag in the box. The mixtape follows the age-old theory that if you have to say what you are doing is interesting, it’s probably not that interesting.
Remy’s so connected to his city; he says he just wishes the city cared more about its own: “I thank god for the internet, but I think stuff got lost. We’re oversaturated. A lot of bullshit, and a lot of media cater to the bullshit. I just don’t condone it.”
Like what? He compares New York to Atlanta.
“‘Bitch U Guessed It’ was playing on every single radio station in Atlanta, and he didn't have a deal. How is it possible he’s getting played on major radio, and Hot 97 can’t play a Joey Bada$$ or a Remy Banks in primetime? They don’t do it.”
I suggest that’s odd, especially considering how much the radio stations in this city pride themselves on representing New York. He laughs. “And yet they’d rather play Migos over somebody who’s making shit pop in the city.”
Photo by Zach Wolfe
But that’s the most agitated Remy will ever get. He knows his will come, and refuses to force it from happening. He has almost an obsession with being humble—and that’s makes his music so attractive. He doesn’t need to tell you he’s good; he knows he’s good. And when you’re thinking about what represents the idea of New York most, that’s it. This is a city full of pride, not arrogance. How do you be the best? It’s simple, really: You just be the best.
“Hopefully the project inspires others to be themselves and be products of their environment, talk about shit they know about, shit they grew up in,” he says. “Don’t be afraid to voice what you are or what you’re about because everybody around you or society thinks it’s not cool. Individuality is the best thing that somebody can have.”
Eric Sundermann is a New York transplant who is sorry for being a New York transplant. Follow him on Twitter.