Hanging out with puppies, guns, and Troy Ave's mom.
Here is all of the relevant information about Troy Ave, the rapper whose profile you are about to read. He's a 26-year-old male human being, born and bred in New York City. He derives his name from Troy Ave, the street he grew up on in Crown Heights. He's the type of rapper whose fame mainly resides in the hood, which is important if you want to be a successful street rapper. He lives on the border of Queens and Bed-Stuy, about thirty minutes out on the J train if you're lucky, and owns a grey Jeep and at least one gun. In person, he is hyperbolically charismatic.
Troy and I meet at his Queens residence, chaperoned by his manager Hovain, an industrial oven of a human who's known Troy since they were kids. Troy bounds out of his building, wearing brownish jeans, a Louis Vuitton belt and a white t-shirt featuring a naked lady wearing a gigantic head that resembles Barney the dinosaur. On Troy's own head sits a pair of Versace sunglasses and a blue bandana, tied in the front, Tupac-style, so that if you're standing close to him you can see the designer label on the tag. He seems hung over, but not unencumberedly so. He looks at my Knicks hat, and without missing a beat, says, "New York Knicks? You New York BRICKS today, son!" He disappears into his house and about two minutes later bounds out sporting a hat that looks remarkably like mine, except this one says "New York BRICKS" on it where the Knicks logo should be. The hats are Troy's; he sells them on his website for thirty dollars.
Next order of business: He has no idea where the fuck he parked his Jeep last night. He asks Hovain, and he has no idea either. Troy remembers the majority of what happened last night—he was at a club called WIP in SoHo—but he has no idea where the fuck he put his goddamn Jeep when he got back. We check the street, and the Jeep turns up, about a quarter of a mile from his place. It's gun metal grey, and has a top that he hasn't dropped this year except for one time in February when he decided to put on a mink and roll around in the freezing cold. There are less awesome ways to spend a random afternoon, but there are not many of them.
Troy's putting the finishing touches on Bricks In My Backpack 3: The Harry Powder Trilogy, his upcoming mixtape that he hopes will push him over the edge and help him be the next in a recent line of New York rappers who have found widespread popularity. Each of these rappers—A$AP Rocky, Action Bronson and Mr. Muthafuckin' eXquire—rap with wildly disparate styles, but within their diversity contain something about them that's distinctly New York. Rocky's an uptown aesthete who reinterprets regional styles with the attitude of Cam'ron or Max B, Action Bronson is a food-obsessed throwback to the classic New York of the early '90s, and eXquire's got a hard-nosed weirdness about him that speaks alternatively to the hardcore of Black Moon and the classic days of El-P's Def Jux label. There is no hard and fast antecedent to Troy Ave, however. He speaks lovingly of the ghetto Horatio Alger narrative of 50 Cent, but while 50 jumped ship to pop as soon as he had Dr. Dre on speed dial, Troy doesn't have a poppy bone in his body. It's not that he wouldn't like to cross over—he has aspirations of signing to a major label and becoming New York's version of Young Jeezy—but if he makes it big, it'll be on his own terms.
Our first stop of the day is Brownsville, where we're meeting DJ Uneek, his DJ and primary producer. Uneek lives in a building that from the outside looks like my college dorm, gigantic, old and brick-y, and not the sort of place you'd be surprised to find out that at least four people have jumped off the roof of. Uneek lets us in, and we walk up to his apartment, which houses a washing machine in the kitchen, some furniture and a pitbull that Uneek swears up and down is ultimately a sweetheart but still struggles to hold back as Troy, Hovain and I walk into his home studio, a nearly windowless repurposed bedroom with about a million action figures hanging out on the linoleum floor. From the looks of it, Uneek likes Star Wars and Nerf guns.
Uneek sits at his desk and plays Troy beats as he begins to sign CD's that he'll be mailing out to a select group of tastemakers he knows in Buffalo later that day. As the first beat plays, he pauses the rote autographing and listens to it. He nods his head and mumbles rhymes to himself. After a minute, he goes back to the CD's and asks for Uneek to play him something new. The next one sounds good, but perhaps a tad undercooked—it hits the midpoint between vintage Cash Money bounce and the sound of late-'90s radio rap before Timbaland took over and weirded everything out. At first, Troy seems unenthused, but something hits him and, after a round or two of freestyle mumbling, decides he loves it. "That shit is disrespectful," he says. "I need that tonight."
"I give you this?" asks Uneek as he lets a third beat play. It seems promising, very vintage New York like Blueprint-era Kanye or Just Blaze. Troy isn't having it, though. Too emo. He finishes signing the CD's—it comes out that he hates signing shit more than, like, anything—and we head out, again past the terrifying dog, to get some soul food.
As we're hitting the soul food spot, Troy announces that we have to get it to go. "I don't like staying in one place for too long," he says enigmatically as he double-enigmatically disappears into a 99-cent store and has Hovain and I order the food for him. Back in the Jeep, Troy plays unmixed versions of the songs off of Bricks In My Backpack 3. They're good, the type of hard-hitting neo-New York rap that the world isn't getting enough of right now. If we were going to play that annoying "this sounds like Thing X, crossed with Thing Y, but with Thing Z added in game," I guess you could say he kind of sounds like Styles P with a nod towards 50 Cent thrown in there somewhere, but that's about as accurate as saying that a fur hat is like a regular hat, but crossed with an animal. Let's just say Troy Ave sounds like the type of guy that people should be comparing other rappers to soon. Troy's flow is deceptively simple. He doesn't weave in and out of the beat like an A$AP Rocky or an eXquire—instead, Troy displays that particularly Gucci Mane-esuqe quality where it seems like he's very obviously tailoring his writing to the beat he's rapping over. Not to say he sounds like Gucci at all, but each of them clearly puts distinct amounts of thought into delivering songs as organic products, and not just combinations of beats and raps. This is a good thing.
We're headed to the post office now, where Troy is going to mail off his signed CD's, as well as a couple hats and some other stuff to his dude in Buffalo (why he has any interest in conquering the Buffalo market, I have no idea). I stand with him as he boxes all that stuff up—he got a box at the 99-cent store—and he gets to talking with the post office lady. She asks him what he does, he says he's a rapper. She asks what his name is, and he tells her. She says that she knows Maino, and will ask Maino if he has heard of him. Troy says he's pretty sure Maino knows who he is, because he is friends with Fabolous. My eyebrows raise. Fabolous is a trenchant lyricist and also super-duper famous. Turns out Troy gave him a ride one time, and then they became friends from there.
In the introduction to this piece, I mention that I know for a fact that Troy Ave owns at least one gun. Here is the story of how I know this. Post-post office, Troy Ave announces that he's taking me to his old hood. Hovain hears this, and decides he's going to go home now. This seems fine, it's around six and Hov probably has better shit to do than hang out with us all day. Then, he surreptitiously passes Troy Ave a gun, which Troy then tucks into his Orisues. The firearm will remain on his person for the remainder of the evening. As we meander through pre-highway traffic, Troy makes eye contact with two dudes in a car next to us. I see his eyes narrow through his Versace sunshades. Sometimes, Troy can't tell if people are looking at him because he's a rapper or they want to kill him for some reason. This does not seem like a good problem to have. Turns out the staring contest for naught, but for a split second it seemed certain that Troy Ave was going to get into a shootout, and I was going to watch (and possibly help if he had a second gun). As we drive away from the scene, I consider a certain couplet from his song Cokamania: "Don't get it confused—I'm into the violence."
I ask him if he is seriously worried about his life. He explains, "I can walk around with jewelry and a Rolex watch on. Nobody's gonna rob me. They know the reciprocations of that. At the same time, you could have somebody try to some sneaky shit, like set me up or something. My demeanor and my past history would suggest that if you would try something it wouldn't be worth it. I don't have situations where somebody plays me or do something to me and there's never no reaction. If you ever heard somebody did something to Troy Ave, something always happens after that." He says this as we're pulling up to his mom's house.
Troy's family lives on the first floor of an apartment building in Crown Heights, literally off of the Troy Ave from which Troy derives his name. He has a sister and two brothers—one of whom is, as a rising high school junior, already fielding calls from colleges who want him to come play football at their schools—and a mom who immediately offers us whiskey as soon as we come inside. As we are drinking said whiskey out of styrofoam cups, sitting on Troy's old stoop, some of Troy's old friends from around the way roll up. They've got a bunch of pitbull puppies with him, and his friend offers him an impossibly cute puppy for three hundred dollars. As the dog sits in his lap and looks at the world with confusion, Troy accepts. His friend tells him a story of how a while back, some guy they know got tied up in some other dude's living room for doing some shady shit involving drugs, and ended up having a gun pointed at his face and eventually getting so scared he jumped out of a second story window. Everyone finds this story hilarious. After Troy's friends leave, it's time for us to go too. He gives the puppy to his mom and asks her three times to make sure she takes it to the vet before Friday. She says she will, and there's nothing to worry about. And she's right—Troy Ave is going to be okay.