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.
Let’s get into the album, starting with the name. Why did you call it, While You Were Sleeping?
Two things inspired me. One of my fans wrote on my page about The Prologue and it stuck with me: ‘I listen to this album every morning, it’s my morning album’. I was like, ‘damn, what’s your night time album? I need to be what she listens to morning and night.’ I would go out and I would chill with a lot of artist friends, and everybody just had background music – they smoke, they drink, you got a party – there’s just something in the background that’s the atmosphere. I was like, ‘I want to be someone’s atmosphere’. I want someone to press play on my album and let it play. That was my biggest inspiration, and lastly, I clocked in on the title when I was writing in Harlem. I think it was 3 in the morning and I was still working on my music, I just looked out the window and there was a big project building and all the lights in the windows were off, all of them. I just thought, ‘wow, if somebody is looking out of their window, my light is the only one that’s on in 3 in the morning’. So I was like, yo, I’m up while you sleep! It was perfect for me, it inspired the cover art, it inspired everything.
You spent a long time working on this album. If you had to sum it up in a few words, what is this album to you?
All I can say is growth, it’s the biggest word I can use – growth and my honesty. I think The Prologue album was general about a lot of things, I didn’t go in depth about a lot of things. But this album I talked about my friends dying, I talked about betrayal, I talked about my friends robbing me – I talked about a lot of stuff to the point where I got text messages like, ‘is this about such and such?’ and I’m like, ‘just enjoy the album’. It’s my honesty I feel like I tapped into, and this year my level of creativity has been so personal, it has to be personal.
It really is a personal album, which is refreshing. I’m one of those people whose like, ‘is this real? I really want this to be real’. But it’s not in an aggressive way, I enjoy listening to it.
The same way we’re talking is another idea I had for the album. People don’t know this, but I sat down and made the album – I made the whole album sitting down. It was a new approach for me. The tone changes, the mic’s right next to me, almost like a podcast. Somebody else said that to me, ‘I wish you rapped like you talk’. I took that home with me and I thought, maybe I should just talk more instead of rap, and that’s why there’s probably less rapping on this album than anything.
You start off talking about "Dreams" with your mum using voicemails - a feature on a lot of albums. What is the dream for you?
I think for me it’s just being proud of myself. I don’t think I’m proud of myself a lot, I’m hard on me. I don’t celebrate wins, I don’t get excited about things. I’m always thankful but it’s just for a second and then I’m back to work, just because I know how quickly it can be taken away from me. One minute a person is on top of the world, then in a split second, nobody cares. My goal for me when it comes to dreams, I still feel like I’m redefining what it is I’m dreaming about. Because I don’t even know if I’m dreaming anymore, I think I’m just living at this point. All the things I’ve ever wanted, I’ve broken them down to stop being so…not necessarily monumental. A stage for me in front of 5 people is the same for me in front of 500 people, I treat it the same. So I think my perspective on a dream is just different now, to just appreciating life a little more.
"Alone" is one of the most personal songs on the album. Amongst other things, you talk about your ex-manager stealing from you. How do you get past experiences of such personal betrayal?
I don’t think you get past them. I think with any mistake or any betrayal or anything someone does to you, you take it and you use that as a lesson learned to not let things happen again. That’s why I take personal relationships and people in my vicinity very seriously. Energy is everything, you can feel negative energy when it walks into a room. So it changed my perspective on how I trust people. I normally give people the benefit of the doubt; until you do something wrong to me, I have no reason not to trust you. But that song meant a lot to me because it’s the first time I expressed it. I lock things in; you never know when you’re going to use them or when it’s going to come out. But I remember when I was making that record I didn’t even write it. I don’t even think I really wrote a lot of what’s on the album, because I had a microphone right next to me and so it was like, just talk. I think it hurts man, because I believe in people before they open their mouths, that’s just how I am, I want everyone to be good people and great intentions, but unfortunately that can get you into trouble sometimes.
What about you abusing trust or making mistakes, how do you deal with that?
I apologize, that’s my first step. Not just apologizing to the person but also coming to terms with myself. I think what a lot of people don’t understand about when I make a mistake, I take it harder, because of my standard. I have a standard for trust and a standard of being honest with people. I might not show it, but I go home and I just hate myself for what I’ve done. I have to write, I have to stay busy, I turn up the intensity. When you sit down with your thoughts, it can be the most dangerous thing. I have lived in New York in four walls, my same four walls all the time. So when I make mistakes to people, it’s in that room with me, it’s in the atmosphere, and I feel horrible. Honestly man, for every mistake I’ve ever made I ask for forgiveness and I ask for understanding, I pray that I never make the same mistake twice.
"Commitment" is another very honest song, when you’re in a dialogue with Kita P who is just amazing. I’ve listened quite a few times but I don’t know if I fully understand which side you’re on as the artist?
That’s the beauty of it, that’s what I was trying to capture with it. I didn’t want nobody to leave with a conclusion because love doesn’t have a conclusion, feelings don’t have a conclusion; you can love somebody, and you can hate them at the same time. They cannot be good for you at that time, but they’re still a good person. And I think with Commitment, as men, I feel like men growing up, especially today, love isn’t shown anymore; it’s barely in movies anymore, it’s damn near not in music now, especially hip hop. So growing up, nobody taught you how to be emotional, nobody taught you how to love a female. Nobody taught you those things, especially as a young black male with a single mother, I lead by example, so a lot of those mistakes are because I just didn’t know. But Commitment is one of my favorite records because I think to be honest with yourself is cleansing. When I got Kita to work on the song, Kita was like, ‘what do you want me to say?’ I was like, ‘I want you to go in on me. Tell me about myself, I need that.’ So when people hear the record, it’s like two people going in and that’s what I love about it, “You want commitment or nothing at all”…”Have I been treating you wrong?” You know what I mean? Tell me I’m fucked up.
How hard is it to be honest with yourself, knowing that other people are going to hear it? Are you aware when you’re recording that this track is not going to stay in these four walls?
I think it’s also my sense of asking for forgiveness, because when you do argue with people, when there is a misunderstanding, two people that are angry with each other doesn’t create a conclusion, doesn’t create a sense of peace between each other. So it’s like, even if I never speak to you again, I want you know, even if it’s through this song, I know what I did and I’m fucked up for it. Know that I’m thinking about it and know that I’m never going to do this to another person ever again and I pray that you forgive me. I think it’s just sometimes you knowing that somebody knows that they did something wrong is helpful. When we’re angry we have pride, we don’t want to admit when we’re wrong but unfortunately I’m a musician so I can’t make those mistakes in a song, I have to be honest.
"We Up" kind of encapsulates the whole essence of the album, I can imagine everyone going mad when you do it live. What does it feel like performing those sorts of tracks?
It’s affirmation. I think one power I feel like I gained in this past year, when I made Get Rich, and I made The Family, I went out and I heard people screaming, “Lately I’ve been focused on my goals”. It’s powerful that 500 people are yelling, “Now it’s time to get rich!” And I thought to myself, ‘wow man, the power of words is incredible and what I make these people shout back to me is important to me.’ So when I made We Up, I thought about that in my head. I wanted people who are up every single night, who are totally locked into themselves to be like, “While you sleep!” It’s a yell. Yelling is the most free thing you can do in this world. I don’t know if you’ve ever just gone somewhere and yelled; a lot of people don’t but it’s so cleansing and that’s why I love performing, because every single emotion I feel I can cry it, I can yell it. That’s why I love the stage and I try to make music for the stage; that’s my mindset when I’m making music.
Which track are you most looking forward to performing from the album?
Definitely "Dreams," just in the production scheme of what I want it to be. I think we were just experimenting but lately I’ve been seeing how I want to lay it down. "The City" is going to be emotional for me as well. Definitely "We Up" is going to be a mosh pit madness. I’m just happy I have records that will hold; someone will stand there and watch me for 45 minutes to an hour because of these records. People might try and discredit whatever they want to compare it to, but they can’t discredit what it feels like, they can’t take that away from me.
You recently put out a video for "The Family" with a mob theme. Where did that idea come from?
People say I’m mean, I’m a hard ass and I’m always yelling at people, so the entire video we make jokes that I’m not acting in the video – that I’m just like that on a daily basis. I’m always frustrated, I’m always like this about something, so when we made the video I just wanted to capture that side of myself, so people can see I run a tight ship. Everybody on my team is held accountable for everything and I don’t play around with people. This is my time, this is my career, my life’s on the line every day to be honest with you. So that’s kind of what inspired the video, I wanted to show that boss mentality.
What has the reaction been so far?
I don’t think anyone’s ever seen me this confident, ever seen me this raw. I watched other videos I made like "Summertime" and "Changes" and this is just the first time where I look into the camera and I look sure, I’m ready. I think you can see if from the tone of my voice, the way I look in the video. I feel like I was made to be this person that I am.
You have a really tight group of friends and people who work with you. How do you know if someone is just in it for the ride and they’re not really about it, but they think it’s a good ship to attach themselves to?
I don’t know, that’s the biggest thing. You don’t really know what people are there for, but it’s not about that. It’s about why God put them in my vicinity. Because you’re either just going to be another person that leaves, or you’re going to be a lesson, and both are valuable to me. I’d rather you get the fuck away from me early, or I rather you show me something that I need to know that will change my life forever. So I accept it all.
What was the hardest song to write?
"The City" was very hard to write, "Dreams" was very hard to write, just the last verse in that song was very hard to get through. "Alone," super hard to write. One of the biggest records that I felt was a lot for me was "Changes II" and "Happiness," just because there was a person who I just care about, they are great at who they want to be but they lack the work ethic, they blame people. It hurts me because no matter how much you choose to hate me, I just want you to be successful, I want you to win but I cannot do it for you. Those records to me were just super personal and it’s very hard for me to sometimes even listen to them to be honest with you. It’s hard for me to listen to my own music without being emotional.
What’s your next video going to be?
Another banger! You’re not going to do an emotional track next?
Nah not yet. I will though. "Get Rich" is next, "Everything Black" will follow that.
How come "Everything Black" isn’t on the album?
Ambience. I think part of being an artist is also being unselfish. For me, as people were listening to this project, there was a certain flow that I wanted. There were actually 16 songs on the album; we literally sliced things up. [Matt UHH: There were almost 20 that were in consideration]. My mentor came by, he’s somebody who’s been around my whole life, he’s always honest with me, very critical of me and he pushes me. He gave the album a listen and he was like, ‘why is this here? Just stick to the story line, stick to the ambience that you wanted. When I listened to this, I just got thrown off’. I’m unselfish in the way I make music so I think about those things, so I just snipped it off. "Everything Black" will still be available for people to stream, it just didn’t work with the vision of the album.
That song is very powerful. You dropped it about 4 months ago, pre-election and obviously things have changed. Are there any particular points of focus, aside from not wanting this man as your President, which make you especially frustrated or upset?
Trump isn’t my President, Obama wasn’t my President; God is my President. I don’t feel like anybody’s fate is locked into a person behind a desk. I think it really lies in the heart of Americans. I think Trump is a reflection of the hearts of Americans, that’s what he is. There’s a lot of hatred in the world, there’s a lot of racism in the world, there’s a lot of pain in the world, there’s a lot of capitalism in the world. He’s a mirror that’s being held up to a lot of people, and it’s very hard for people to see their reflection. I feel like that’s fine for me, because now you guys have to work. Now more than ever. I saw the Women’s March, I thought it was amazing, I ain’t seen any of those people when Black people were shot, but I appreciated it – ‘okay, people want to come outside, we’re choosing what we march about, that’s cool, I get it.’ But at the same time I looked around and I was like, ‘it took this for everybody to come together? It took this…this. Out of all the things that were happening, now we’re going to sing Kumbaya, now we care about our immigrant brothers, now we care about Black people. Why did it take this?’ Sometimes it takes a mirror to be held up to be like, ‘this is wrong, I got to do something’.
So hey, the next 4 years is going to be very interesting to watch, but I just encourage people to take these times and to really go out there and impact. Stop worrying about your national news, because honestly all of it trickles down to your front door. You’re worried about the world, but look at your community, look at all of these chicken spots in your area, look at all of these Chinese places opening up. I was like, I don’t see anybody taking control of their community, but they complain about it and then you blame the President. Do you know who your councilman is? Are you going out voting for the people who are putting the McDonald’s in your neighborhood? Do you even care? I just think it’s wrong for people to pick and choose what’s important. Every fucking thing is important, and everything needs attention at the moment. So I feel like people are just going to have to wake up, and unfortunately it took this, but you know, God works in mysterious ways.
We’ve talked about growth, which is your main goal. You’ve been writing recently for your blog; what made you want to start writing a blog as well as songs?
In the sense of realizing that a lot of people don’t know, and it’s being put to them sometimes in malicious ways, the keys are given to them in an egotistical way. But I feel like I identify with the indie artist, I identify with the person who is trying every single day, and I just want to say, ‘yo, you’re not alone’. A lot of things I write down are just more organized thoughts of what people already feel or know, but for them to be in one place and you can read it like, ‘yo, facts’. I think that’s just kind of something I wanted to share. I want to be able to give myself to my fans, in every possible way that I can, whether it’s social media, motivational posts, whether it’s a show, whether it’s music – and now it’s a blog post. I hope one day it’ll be t-shirts with affirmations on them and anything I can do to just connect, and I feel like that’s just another way to connect.
Which post has had the most reaction?
I didn’t even expect it but ‘Love Your Photographer’, just because they make you iconic. As I stare on the internet, what do you think Instagram is made up of? Photos. Photos where people aren’t being credited, not tagged, it’s almost as if like, ‘come cover my event, send me the photos’ and it’s just disrespectful. It’s not something I planned, I write those in like 3 minutes. It means a lot to me, I grew up a writer so…The depression one did good too, ‘how do artists deal with depression’. Actually the one about ‘how you love a creative’ did well as well.
Where do you see yourself in 1, 3 and 5 years’ time?
In 1 year I see myself being able to connect more nationally. This year, it’s being able to go to other states and just connect with people I’ve never met before. 3 years from now, I just hope to be feeding my team. I want to have an amazing staff of just great people – photographers, videographers, people in other states representing us. That’s my goal too, I really want all of the people who have supported me so far to eat from their hard work, because I wouldn’t be here without them. And then in 5 years, I just see myself in Italy, song-writing for people, having my own label. I want to sign artists and give them a place where their vision can be had with no strings. I’ve always envisioned an artist signing a contract and we provide him with lawyers. So even if we got to highlight everything, I want them to know that we care about the culture, and that’s my issue – I feel like people no longer care about the culture.
What is the ‘culture’?
The culture of people wanting to be able to do what it is they love to do without being taken advantage of. I feel like the culture is taking from people. People used to gather in the alley in New York City back in the day and just party, nobody was there for a specific reason. But now it’s like, ‘I’m here because I want to meet someone, I’m in here because I want to connect.’ It’s no longer just fun and for the culture.
Do you want to get signed?
Nah, I don’t care about that. It’s never been about that. It’s always just been about comfort and doing what I love to do, that’s it. That’s what I’ve been striving to do this past year – being able to feed myself and still make music. That’s really it, and now my motivation has really been feeding by friends and my family, that’s what I aspire to do.
Is there a particular artist’s career trajectory that you really admire?
I think everybody can attest that Chance is the top of everybody’s list. But even then, there was Macklemore, you had amazing artists who went on to have great independent careers, like Tech N9ne – brilliant career. So there’s a lot of people I look up to in terms of business, that’s my second love besides just making music.
What does that mean, ‘business’?
Just locking deals in, finding new ways to reach people, new ways to feed myself that don’t just involve music. I get a rush of closing venues, packing out shows, the marketing behind it. Even with the album, it had marketing behind it, which me and Matt took super seriously. We sit down and we talk about these things and we are happy and excited to market something. So the business is something I’ve taken to and I hope to one day be able to intern with bigger people in the industry and just learn the business. How can I help the culture if I don’t know the business?
True. Do you think the business is hard to penetrate?
No, it’s not. People talk money and that’s their language, if the money makes sense then they’re with it. So for those people, if you’re able to talk their language and then you can trickle it down to help people, then it’s still win-win. I think that’s the balance for me. A lot of people get into business because of greed, they want, want, want. I want to give to people. I always thought to myself, ‘if I had $500m, what the fuck am I going to do with $500m?’ I wouldn’t even know what I would need. I’m comfortable just sleeping in a twin bed. Obviously people’s needs change but for me it’s always been that simple – ‘hey ma, I’m alive, I got healthy food to eat, I got a place to live that’s nice and everybody around me is rich’. I can die happy.
How do you reconcile personal growth with artistic growth?
It is separate. I’m still young, I’m still growing, I’m still learning things. So from that level I feel that personal growth trickles into the music, because the music is just a reflection of who I am and my personal life. So I just try my best to ask questions, and then I encourage people to tell me what I need to work on to be a better person, I learn every day. One day I hit my friend I was like, ‘yo, did you send that email?’ and he was like, ‘damn, at least say good morning!’ So I was like, I’m going to try and say good morning more; I have to learn the small things. That’ll trickle down into the artistic thing. I think I’ll never have a problem with content, because I’m very personal in my music. But the idea now is to push the artistry and production and the way I deliver my vocals, the artists I collaborate with, the sounds I try – that’s something that’s going to come from me travelling, meeting other artists, the food I eat, my health, all those things.
This album starts off very emotional, then becomes more happy and positive, and then goes back to being more personal towards the end. If things are going really well in a few years’ time and you’re happy – what if you don’t have those emotional feelings? What if you’re just like, ‘everything is great, and I can only make club tracks because I don’t have any current, raw emotions going on’? Have you thought about that?
I try not to, because if we start talking like that then we’re talking as if life is promised. We’re talking as if we’re going to be able to see those times and I can’t think like that. I have to think about how I’m feeling, at this moment, and where I am, because truth be told, we have levels in our lives. I will experience loss, I will experience triumph and all of those things will have a sound track to them. I think that’s just the goal: whatever it is I end up going through in the next few years, I have to make sure I’m presenting them for what they are. Everything is lessons to me, whether it’s relationships, flings, triumphs, betrayal, whatever – I just have to write it down as honest as possible. I remember one time I was making a record and I was like, ‘yo, I’m about to call my ex so she can yell at me, I need the inspiration.’ It’s literally that deep. That’s how I serious I take it, I needed to be so positive. Perfect example, I was working on a record last night, so personal, and I just remember I had just gotten into a conversation with somebody that was super-heated and they told me about myself. I wrote the record telling myself how fucked up I was, and I was like, ‘how am I ever going to turn this off?’ I can’t turn it off. So songs like Alone and songs like Dreams, I feel like they’ll always continue to come because I’m real with myself. I can look myself in the mirror every single day and I can be like, ‘these are your flaws, this is what you messed up on. These are the things that make you great.’ I’m honest with myself and I know who I am.
Here’s where you can find more of TruthCity: