TruthCity is back. If you’re a fan of the Virginia-born rapper, you’ll know that his second album, While You Were Sleeping, was released a few weeks’ ago. The follow-up to The Prologue shows a level of raw emotion we’ve seen glimpses of, but with a depth of self-awareness that shows personal and artistic growth. For an artist who has always been honest (as his name suggests) but is known for more upbeat tracks, the album signals a departure from this sound and towards a richer, more intense relationship with words and the music that accompanies them.
We sat down just before the album came out to talk about his story, his incredibly strong work ethic, creating the record and where he sees himself in the future. You can read his words for yourself, but what seems abundantly clear is that TruthCity’s faith in God, himself, his friends and family is unwavering. He is motivated by everyone and inspired by everything; nothing is a barrier and everything is a challenge. If someone so talented can keep this frame of mind, then success is on the very near horizon.
UHH: I’ve seen you perform a lot in person and on videos, and you talk about your story – your move to New York and what you went through when you started out. Why did you move to New York, and did you know it would be this hard?
TruthCity: I wouldn’t say I knew it would be hard, I just thought this was the place to be. But as soon as I got here, I realized how hard it was going to be – like as soon as I got off the bus. I think for me, coming from where I come from, there’s not a lot of opportunity. There’s long streets of just nothingness. There’s nothing for you to sing about, there’s no inspiration. For me I was like, ‘I can’t be here, I’m watching television and movies to get inspiration but that’s not real.’ So I think what makes an artist special is a story. And I was like, ‘the only way I capture a story is if I get the fuck out of here’. So I had to leave.
How old were you?
I was about 19 years’ old.
And when did you start writing?
I’ve been writing since I was 6, poetry mostly. I didn’t start rapping until I was maybe 13.
Were there people where you grew up who were into creating music or were you alone in that?
No, I was alone because I liked rap but I literally had the least amount of rap in my iPod. I listened to a lot of Coldplay, Paramore, All-American Rejects, Arcade Fire…I was just a seeker of different music and different sounds. I felt like a lot of hip hop was repetitive but with alternative music there’s so many things you can be, you can do anything. The sounds are universal, so I couldn’t stick to rap for too long.
We’ll get into it later, but in your music you can hear definitely a range of influences.
What has the biggest shift in mindset been since moving here?
Just how valuable time is. Time is valuable. How you go about your day in New York City is a different universe than your time in another state. An hour here goes by like this *snaps fingers*. So it’s very important to me that every single day I wake up, I’m trying to advance to a goal instead of just sitting on my ass and doing nothing. So my mindset is work, all the time.
If you work all the time, are there diminishing returns of productivity? How does that correlate with creativity?
I feel inspiration on a daily basis, of every second of every minute, it’s surrounding me. You think all day long; if someone walks into the building that annoys you, that’s a song, that’s a line of some sort. So for me on a day-to-day basis, I’m always working. I’m either talking to my team, I’m emailing something – I’m constantly being bombarded with information, and that pressure is what makes me deliver. I think that makes sense.
Do you have a routine when you wake up?
Yes I do actually, I pray – it’s the first thing I always do, I thank God for the day. Then next I shower, clean up. My regiment is to clean my entire crib every day. A clean space means a clean mind, organization is important to me. My mother used to say, “Show me your house and I’ll show you you”. So once I clean the house, I open my laptop, check emails for any fans or friends that might have hit me, check how my friends are doing. I look through Instagram, supporting people. I try to take an hour out of my day to support all my friends, it’s very important to me. It’s inspiration for me as well. I actually don’t make music until the night time.
You’re so active on social media; is that part of a strategy because noise is good for your brand awareness? Some people post a lot but don’t get anything back.
I feel like it’s my direct line to people who I will never see. There’s people who I haven’t seen in years, it’s just a symbol of where my mind is. I took to the quotes recently, just because I do read a lot, I do listen to motivational audiobooks all day, that’s part of my regiment. I want to share that with my fans; most people go on Instagram to laugh but for me I just wanted to make a space where you’re always motivated, you’re always inspired, you’re always seeing progress. It’s just positivity. So my social media is very important to me because it’s my direct line to the world and I can control what it is that I want to show them, and all I want to show them is positivity and inspiration.
You said your inspiration comes from all around, but you must have specific artists, people or things that inspire you more than others?
Progress. I think they call it A.I. – I seek to be the best in what I do, in anything. Whether it’s event planning or doing shows or just rapping – I have to grow at every single point in time because if I’m not growing today, I just get antsy and I’m like, ‘what the fuck happened today?’ I need to win, I need feedback, I need people to tell me my hook was wrong or my notes were off. I seek to be the best at things, so progress is very important to me and that’s my biggest inspiration. Tell me I did something wrong so I can be better.
Where does that work ethic come from?
My mother. She was a sergeant in the military and she was a hard ass. She came home, probably didn’t understand any of my homework but checked it just to make sure I did it. So for her, she was always pushing me that nothing was ever good enough; ‘Ma I got straight A’s’, ‘Good job, go clean the kitchen’. It’s mandatory to be great in my household, my mother preached that and it’s drilled in my brain to be great at everything that I do.
So is it really her voicemails on your tracks?
Yes it is her. But the overall message is both of us. I think a lot of the knowledge I’ve gained in New York City is that nothing’s ever promised, and how you utilize your time is the same way you spend money. Money and time is the same thing for me. So if I’m broke and I don’t have any money, sitting here is not going to fix the problem. So I feel like, ‘wow, I’m not going out and working a full time job’. I have to account for that by being busy, because one day I can turn that business into dollars.
What do you value more: money or time?
Time. Time is something you just never get back, so I try not to waste it. I make mistakes with my time as we all do and what I appreciate about time, is it also gives you clarity about your mistakes and you can go back to take the time to learn what you did wrong, and to try your best to not do it again. So I appreciate the balance.
Is time always about using it, or is it also about purposefully not using it do something for a day?
I think that’s something I’m learning. People tell me I should relax more, and I really feel like I should but it’s 26 years of go, go, go. I’m learning in myself to take a day, I’m trying to make that a thing. But I always find myself texting, ‘hey, did you finish this?’, ‘did you send that email?’
You’ve always had this work ethic, but were you always aware of how valuable time was as a concept at home?
In the household that my mother raised, you can’t be in the house doing nothing, it just wasn’t acceptable. Even before I moved to New York, we had a garage, and that garage was where I was at every single day, most of the day, and I would write. I remember it, that’s the time that I had access to beats. You were usually just rapping to Kanye West, 50 Cent beats that you used to get off DatPiff, so I would just download the same beats and because I didn’t have anything, I would end up writing 5 songs to the same beat just because I wanted to write. I just wanted to do something, so I think that’s just my personality; I’m just a busybody and I have to work.
Maybe this is an obvious question, but what’s the single best use of your time if you had to do just one thing in a day?
I would pray, because I feel like those conversations are conversations with the universe. Talking to God is manifesting everything into your life, and for me that’s a big part of who I am. So for me if I could only do one thing, I would pray for my family, I would pray for my friends, I would pray for finances, I would pray for everything because those things are always answered. No matter what I do, if I don’t pray, it’s not going to happen; I truly believe that. I can work all I want but if it’s not manifested, if it’s not desired, then it’s not going to play out.
Do you believe that things are pre-destined?
No, I don’t. I truly feel that I don’t think anything can just happen to you, like a designated bunch of events. The significance of events can change anything by what your action is, and I juggle with the idea of fate, because I truly believe that I know what it is I want to do before I die, and no one is going to tell me I can’t do this. I’m just being stubborn with life, but for the most part I just believe that I have so much to accomplish, and no one is in charge of me.
You are open in your music about struggling to live in New York, not having that much money and maybe not living the way you would want to. Does that struggle ever get easier?
No, it’s never easy. I think that’s the one thing I don’t show to people, when I have a lot of weight on my shoulders. I go through the ringer man, I can leave a positive big event filled with 150 people and then go back home and wash my dishes in the toilet. That’s just my life, I literally just remember not having water, having to go to a friend’s house to take a shower. But that in my mind, while still being alive to do what it is I do, is more important to me. I’m still thankful for the shower, I’m still thankful for something, I could have nothing, and that’s the beauty of New York City. You walk outside and you realize as you look out that there are so many people going through so much worse than you, so how dare you ever complain? We all want more, but I realize my struggles are temporary…everything’s temporary.
You talk about quitting your job to focus on music. How do you reconcile that decision and go through those struggles, knowing you could get a job to make everything easier, and still be able to work on music outside of that?
It’s purpose, I think that’s the biggest thing. When I was working, the same ideals that I bring to music were the same ideals I brought to work. I didn’t stay in the same position when I was working; I was a bagger, then a cashier, then I was a supervisor, then I was a manager. My idea was that every 3 months I would progress, that was my goal. I used to sit at my cash register, print out empty receipt paper and I would calculate my promotion money, like ‘if I get promoted in 3 months, that means I’ll have this much money’. I would do that every day because affirmations are powerful. Every single day I used to stare at the same numbers, write them down the same way until I remembered what my promotion dollars would look like. Then they hire you and they only give you 50 cents, but that was my mindset. So when I quit it was really for me to say, ‘yo, the same ideals I put into that, I’m going to put into this. I’m going to treat everything like a job, I’m going to report to myself at a designated time and I’m going to prioritize my hours the same way a supervisor would give me. Today I’m going to work on emails for an hour, today I’m going to work on fan outreach for an hour. Now I’m going to work on a venue list for an hour’. All of these things mean a lot to me.
New York is a city of distractions. How do you stay focused?
I think I’m just a naturally focused person. I don’t get distracted and I cut off anything that is a distraction. As cold as that sounds, you have to. I have people text me like ‘yo what are you doing?’ ‘I’m working. If you’re not working with me we can’t hang out.’ All the great things about New York City – the luxuries, the parties, that’s all beautiful. But I’m broke! It’s that real for me. I got $50 for the week, if I take this train to see you, I’m not eating for 5 hours, and I’m not eating out.
You work with a lot of people – producers, other artists, and your manager. How do you handle working with people who might not have the same work ethic as you?
I do realize that a lot of people don’t have the same work ethic as me, and that’s something that I took away from last year. I’m very hard on people, I don’t take excuses, I don’t take slacking, just because I know what’s going to happen if things don’t get done for me. It’s back to the drawing board. I meet people who don’t have the same work ethic but I push and if I push them off the cliff, then it is what it is, it wasn’t worth it. I know there will be a day where this all comes to an end, I’ll be gone, but I don’t want anybody who’s ever met TruthCity to say that I haven’t worked my ass off, that I wasn’t about perfection, that I wasn’t about the best, who brings the best out of people. I think that’s essentially what every person should want in this life: to maximize their potential. I’m recording with people, ‘Yo, that was dope, but that one line was off’, ‘ah it’s cool, we can get it right in post-production’, ‘nah, we’re going to get it right here.’ You know what I mean? Because it’s about perfection of self. I think that’s the goal, at least it should be.
What do you see your role as an artist being?
At this point, I kind of see it as being inspiration and motivation. I feel like that’s my niche at this point, and what I think people like about me and what comes naturally to me is for me to want people to be better, to want people to be happy, to want people to believe in themselves. It took all of that strength to lift my own self up, so I just can’t allow anyone else to feel the same way.
Is that always what making music has been about for you, or has it developed over time?
It’s developed over time. When I did listen to The Prologue, I thought, ‘damn, I sound whiney’, like a complainer. That’s me looking at myself now, because I work so hard. But I feel like now that I understand that people go through things and you need an extra ear or another person in your ear saying, ‘shut the fuck up, stop complaining and win!’ I’ll be that guy, I’ll be the asshole.
Who supports you?
Oh man, everyone! Even if you’re a hater, you support me because you give me motivation, you give me a sense of, ‘okay you don’t like my music? I’m going back in the studio and making something harder.’ Everybody to me is a support system; everyone who are my fans, to the people who are the doubters, to people who pray for me but don’t necessarily listen to my music, people who like me but don’t necessarily like my music. I feel like I have everyone - Matt, Bzoe, my whole team. I don’t look at anything that’s not support, everything to me is support.
What are the most common reactions you tend to get to your music?
It started with comparisons, people like J Cole, Kendrick, Drake, the top people – which is a great class to be in. So that’s usually the first reaction, and then the second is once people get a chance to dive into the catalogue, they’re just like, ‘you’re super honest’. I get that a lot, that I put a lot of personal things in my music. I don’t speak in generalizations, I don’t speak just to make a record. They’re real to me, those words on that paper are so important to me and they just have to come from a real place.
What’s the best piece of feedback you’ve received about your music?
Definitely tones. People will tell me that there are certain tones I’ve tapped into over the course of a few years and they’re like, ‘that’s you’. I think I’ve been able to take that feedback and show growth in me finding myself as an artist. But you know what I think is very important to me, I am okay living my experiment in front of people, that’s the problem. I was talking to a friend about that, they were like, ‘yo, I just want to take some time off, I want to find myself before I put out anything, I just want to come out fresh and new’, and I’m like, ‘who gives a fuck?’ Just create. Andy Warhol didn’t know he was Andy Warhol, Basquiat didn’t know he was Basquiat, he was just like, ‘I just want a brush, and I just want to paint anywhere I can paint’. I don’t care what comparisons they put on me, I don’t care if I make mistakes. I’ll make those out in the open and then I’ll fix them in the open. I’m okay living my experiment out loud.
In your earlier music you could hear bits of J Cole, Kendrick and Drake. On the new album, especially "The City," it feels like it could have been on Drake’s Views. Obviously it’s a great compliment, but do you also see it the other way?
Yeah, and that’s fine with me. Because after you say that, I’m going to ask you, ‘Now what? Are you going to just not listen to the song anymore? Are you just going to turn me off and not listen to me again?’ The answer is always no, because they’re always still going to listen. At the end of the day, Drake is Drake, TruthCity is TruthCity, our struggles aren’t the same, our stories aren’t the same. So where somebody might listen to a Views song, that’s his story, that’s his feeling. Listen to me; it’s the same feeling, same vibe, same ambience – different story.
The content is totally different, for sure. But the overall sound can feel a lot like other people, was that intentional?
Very unintentional. Just because at this level of indieness, it’s very hard to get access to some original sound that no one has ever heard of. For me, I’m combing the internet, talking to producers, people send me stuff and I’m like, ‘nah this is whack’. Then I heard The City and I’m like ‘ah man, this is beautiful’. Then I heard We Up and then I heard all these other songs and I was just like, it is what it is. These are the feelings I feel at the moment, this shit comes very honest. The growth of The Prologue to While You Were Sleeping is what I want people to see at the end of the day. Because at the end of the day I’m continuing to grow, and nobody will be able to look at me and not tell me I didn’t grow. I’m finding myself, and that’s just beautiful for me, and I feel like nothing can take that away, because no matter what they say they’re still listening.
I guess you listen to those artists – who else are you listening to at the moment?
A couple of albums I’m definitely listening to, Solange’s album I thought was very amazing, Beyoncé’s album, Adele’s album, Chance’s album is definitely super amazing. I listen to everybody honestly, every time a project drops I try to give it a chance. Not just from hip hop but from all different types of music.
Who is the most surprising artist you’ve listened to recently?
I haven’t heard anything that has inspired the hell out of me in so long. I’m just a 90s guy so that music still affects me a lot.
Do you listen to that stuff much now?
Yeah, just the stuff I grew up with, like College Dropout, DMX. People who grew up in this era will hear [singing] “I’ve been down for so long, I haven’t been around in so long”, but then they haven’t listened to Coldplay. Just because the tone of my voice is like this, I was listening to Coldplay. But because they only listen to Drake, they associated signing in that tone with Drake. But Drake’s inspired by a whole lot of music that I listen to. I feel like that’s why I’m not bothered; I know where my inspirations come from and once my fans get exposed to some of the things I listen to, they’ll understand.
How do you separate what you listen to and what goes into your music?
That’s the hard part and that’s why I say my favorite artist and the person that inspires me the most is myself. Now that I’m in the place to record and listen to my stuff over and over again, I can tackle those issues of comparisons by just honing me. If I’m all I hear, it’s the best way for me to get better, so I had to just block out a lot of things this year working on While You Were Sleeping. But a lot of that came mostly towards the bulk of finishing the album, because I was continuing to work on it but it got to a point where I was just like, ‘I got to put something out, it’s been a while, I’ve grown so much.’ So as people see through the rest of this year, there are so many new sounds that I have and so many great things I have locked in my chamber they don’t even know yet.
How do you know when something’s finished?
Nothing’s ever finished, ever. You have to decide and discipline yourself to be like, stop. For the most part, The Family was done but we were in the studio and I was like, ‘I need violins, I need piano’, because I had access to it. As soon as I had access to even a smidgeon of extra-ness, I was like, ‘I need you to come to the studio’. I added changes to Dreams, The City and a couple of other records came from me needing Paul G doing the backgrounds for me. I heard their voice and I was like, ‘stop the mastering! I need backgrounds!’ That’s what I think lies in me getting better as an artist because it’s not just about my raps, my lyrics. It’s about the ambience, the production, the backgrounds, the guitars, the everything. So my mindset now making music is just to continue to get abstract. One of my favorite records, Alone, is a perfect example. There’s so many breakdowns, the beats get rewinded and all of these things – that’s what I’m looking for.
Look out for the Interview: Part II...in the meantime, here’s where you can find TruthCity: