“It’s a small world” probably brings to mind the soundtrack to that annoying Disney World ride that's looped on repeat in hell, but to Atlanta rapper Rome Fortune it holds a lot of significance. “It’s really a gauge to see who you are in life as far as progress goes. It’s a real small world if you’re doing what you’re going after” he explains. The ideology certainly seems to be working for him so far. Having honed his craft over the past years Rome has found himself working with everyone from Young Thug to Four Tet, and recently released a free album entitled Small VVorld (he informs us the double V is purely for trademark purposes) that is set to solidify his position on the next plateau of rap success.
The aim of his most recent mixtape is simple. “I wanted to show people that you can exist in multiple worlds while still being you,” says Rome. “There are no lines as far as genre goes and all of that stuff, because on the Internet people are like ‘Let me try this out.’ I feel like as time goes on and the internet gets bigger and stronger, the world is going to get smaller and smaller.” Although he isn’t in the same realm as a Lil B or a Yung Lean, Rome takes inspiration from the power of it, and sees it as the key to this small world theory. Social media is what connected him with Four Tet, for example, a powerful hook up that has opened him up to a new crowd.
Exclusive premiere of Rome Fortune's newest track with Suicideyear:
Rome admits he didn’t bother much with electronic music until recently. “I didn’t even know who these people were!” he laughs. “I’d tell people ‘Four Tet reached out to me,’ and they were all going nuts. But in all honesty, I wasn’t familiar with that world.” Vancouver-based producer Blood Diamonds turned out to be his gateway. The Skrillex signee has production credits for the likes of Grimes, Das Racist and Tinashe, and he reached out to Rome in the summer of 2013 to link up in LA. “We really went in and made song after song. It was the first time I was constantly rapping over electronic sounds and stuff,” Rome recalls. “After that a lot of electronic producers started reaching out to me.”
Rome believes his bravery with beat selection has attracted more experimental producers to want to work with him. “I guess people who have unique styles of production, they’re more encouraged to want to mess with me because they know if it’s solid production, I’m going to take a stab at it,” he considers. A lot of his inspiration is now drawn from the world of electronic music, and he admits to Soundcloud surfing a lot when quizzed about his daily listening habits. “I listen to Soulection on Soundcloud. I listen to mostly instrumentals and remixes and stuff,” he says. “But also old Isleys, Marvin Gaye, shit like that. Gotta have multiple things to be influenced by.”
Despite his sonic breakthrough over the past couple of years, don’t expect to second guess what you’ll hear from Rome next. He’s on a mission to constantly reinvent himself - his followers on Instagram will notice his colour-changing beard - and vows never to make the same thing twice. “There’s so many different sounds and styles and perspectives you can work with,” he explains. “That’s just something that I guess comes naturally now, because I can’t stand to hear myself do the same kind of thing twice.” Having initially started rapping at the height of the Neptunes reign, Rome found himself spitting over syncopated rhythms directly inspired by Pharrell and Chad: “That shit was too easy to have dope flows over. It was easy for me to play around with my flow and do different things rhythmically over it, so it helped me.”
For a while he rode waves of the latest trends; the laid back rap of Curren$y followed by the renaissance of trap music. “Now it’s just like making myself a sound and bringing these sounds to me and just making something new. So it’s just been a process of really being confident in myself just to do whatever I want to,” he says of the organic creative journey that has brought on the success of his last few releases.
Small VVorld showcases Rome at his best. The album is both versatile and cohesive, while opening a window into his vulnerabilities. Sounds range from “Why”, a metal-infused track courtesy of Pat Lukens which recounts a true story in which Rome unknowingly ended up messing around with a taken girl, to the Suicideyear-produced closer “Suitcase”, a down-tempo melodic ode to life on the road featuring a pre-”U Guessed It” OG Maco. Despite such a range of vibes, they never feel outside of Rome’s Small VVorld and are a testament to his statement about being able to maintain integrity across multiple scenes.
The latter, “Suitcase”, is the track Rome says is getting the most love from his fans, and he puts this down to the familiarity of the track’s themes: “I think everyone can relate to something I say in there,” he says. “That’s all people want when they listen to the music is to relate somehow; to know the person saying these lyrics is human too.” The track is a personal reflection of the past couple of years and another tie into his Small VVorld ideology. “I’m always somewhere working. I really just go to where I need to be to get to the next step, the next level,” he explains, adding, “I got two kids. I miss them a hell of a lot, but other than that it’s fun as hell. It’s constant stimulation for your brain and I always stay inspired.” Rome linked up with the track’s feature, OG Maco, when the pair were both on the brink of blowing up. They quickly got working together in Atlanta, and in a three day span knocked out an impressive eight songs. Three wound up on Small VVorld and what Rome describes as the more “experimental” tracks are still in the vault, hoping to break out on a future project.
The only other feature on the album comes from ILoveMakonnen, who collaborated with Rome before his recent bout of media attention. “I had been listening to him for like the previous year and nobody had really known who he was, but I was a huge fan,” recalls Rome. When DJ Spinz introduced Rome to Makonnen in the studio, the pair played each other their latest music and exchanged contacts. “He hit me up later like ‘Yo, I got a song for us man. You’re going to kill it.’” says Rome of the infectious “FriendsMaybe”. “So he sent over the beat and the hook, and I was like ‘Hell yeah, that’s crazy man.'” I laid it down, sent it back to him and we decided that’s one that people needed to hear.”
One of the album’s strongest tracks, and Rome’s personal favourite, is the Blood Diamonds-produced “No Evidence”, which sees the rapper stepping out of his comfort zone, switching up poppy melodic sections with aggressive shout-rapping. “Blood Diamonds is one of my favourite producers to work with. He is a genius, he knows exactly what type of production is needed for mood,” begins Rome when asked about the track. “He had a little template out for the beat. I loved the poppy sounding part, and I was like ‘Yo, change that shit dramatically’. So we changed it and it went to that hard part, and I just went in there.” Rome didn’t write down any lyrics for the song either, just feeding off the vibe instead. “Sometimes I write and sometimes I just go off emotion and feeling. That was one of the ones where I just went in there, mumbled the cadences of the hook, and then just came up with the lyrics and just went straight through.”
Another world that Rome has been penetrating lately is the indie rock scene - perhaps the most difficult for a rapper. Having just completed 18 tour dates across the US supporting Oxford indie band Glass Animals (as well as jumping on the remix of their track "Hazey"), he’s excited by the challenge of winning over a new crowd. “There were a couple of markets where you knew those people just wanted indie rock,” he admits. “But my set for the tour was mostly real personal, real human music. Maybe two or three songs in I had them and they were on the ride after that. It was a great tour. It gave me a lot of exposure and a different demographic that I probably wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.”
Some were more difficult than others however, and Rome cites Pittsburgh as his most difficult show. The venue was small and most of the tickets had sold out before he was actually announced. “They didn’t know nothing about me,” he laughs, “but I got them at the end of it!” He ends our conversation on an insightful point, returning to that Small VVorld ideology. “I look at it like, you’re going to relate to my story, you’re going to laugh at my remarks, you’re going to rock with me this show. It was a great challenge.” No matter who you are, what world you come from, Rome intends to have something for you. Just don’t expect him to compromise.
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