Fun fact: The quietest table available at SoHo’s Mercer Kitchen during New York Fashion Week is also the darkest and coldest. I learn this the hard way while waiting to meet up with Rome Fortune the morning after his appearance as both model and performer in the infamous VFiles show. But when the 6’5” Atlanta rapper arrives, however, he’s got a bright enough smile and blue enough beard to compensate for the lack of light and heat in the upscale restaurant.
“I haven’t believed in any project as much as I’ve believed in this,” he says of his debut album Jerome Raheem Fortune. His eagerness is obvious—even as he’s recovering from breaking the cardinal sin of mixing too much light and dark liquor the night before. “I don’t mean ‘believe in it’ in terms of it going multiplatinum or whatever. Impact, you know what I mean? I don’t care if I impact a hundred fans if it helps them go to school every day, or not quit their job, or whatever they can relate to.”
It’s an extremely humble estimate of how many people could be inspired by the work, which is comprised of 11 tracks that pair dreamy, danceable beats with lyrics that tell the ironic misfortunes of a man whose last name would suggest a life without struggle. This is no pity party, however; for every sympathy-rousing moment, Fortune reassures listeners with an optimism that could only be developed after having gone through some shit. “Move from the past ‘cause it pushes you forward,” he sings in opening track “All the Way,” revealing one of the album’s recurring messages, that brooding on the past is futile. Then there’s “Love”—a single that’s already a proven favorite among fans—which assures his three- and seven-year-old sons that every milestone he’s missed because of his career has been a sacrifice to better their lives.
“I was making music for so long that I wanted people to actually know who I am,” says Fortune. “Like, okay, I got people who like my music, but this is who I am.” Surely, Jerome Raheem Fortune gives insight as to who he is, as a person, artist, and motivational speaker of sorts. Read all about the man behind the blue beard (and stream his album!) below.
Your album is pretty personal. What made you decide to open up like that?
Well actually, we already had an album mixed and matched a year ago. I was on tour with Iamsu! and all the shows were so turnt up and crazy. But then kids would be coming up to me after the show like, 'Why didn't you perform this song? Why didn't you perform this song?' And those were my most personal songs, you know what I'm saying? The other album was super-fun, so we scrapped it because I really wanted to tell people my story.
It definitely shows your evolution as an artist. I saw people in the YouTube comments for the “Dance” video saying Fool’s Gold Records is making you do electronic shit. But it still sounds true to your previous work.
I want to show people it’s okay to evolve. I started out in a trailer. I was in the hood every day. I was in the studio every day. For all these people, it's okay to evolve. People just see you as one thing and they want you to stay that way. But we’re humans as artists, too, so we’ve got to grow as humans. We can't just stop it at the art, you know?
How did growing up in Atlanta influence that evolution for you?
There’s a super-close proximity in Atlanta. Everybody knows where everybody is going so it's kind of a friendly competition. On top of that, everyone’s like, 'I’m not trying to do what they doing so I'm gonna do my own thing.' So that made me wanna have like a jazz background. I just wanted to infuse everything because I love trap and jazz, and I like indie music. I try regurgitate it without making it sound forced.
Mainstream media tends to focus on the trap scene in Atlanta, though, like in that Noisey documentary. What’s the relationship like between the trap and “non-trap” artists?
A lot of those dudes that are into trap love what people like me are doing. So I was happy when Noisey was trying to spotlight Atlanta but you gotta show [both sides]. There’s a full spectrum of shit going on; it’s not like there’s one thing that keeps the Atlanta scene moving. That's what I was pissed at because if you go to any hood in Atlanta, they’re wearing the skinny jeans, they’ve got colored hair. There's a lot of dope artists coming out of Atlanta.
Word. You mentioned jazz as one of your influences—I’m assuming that comes from your grandfather [Richard Adderley, a jazz musician who’s played with Miles Davis.] Was there a lot of jazz being played in your house growing up?
Yeah, my grandfather, he listens to a bunch of jazz. My mom is like old-school R&B and Erykah Badu and like Ice Cube. My uncles—I was with them a lot because my mom worked a lot when I was younger—they played a lot of Busta Rhymes, Wu-Tang.
Are they from up north?
Yeah, I'm the only one from the South. My whole family is from New York, Philly, Jersey. So I was hearing all of this stuff and my grandma never turned the radio off in our house. Like, ever. The only thing that changed was the volume. It was always old-school R&B. Then when I was in high school, we moved from Decatur and I was meeting a lot of white kids who are into indie rock and stuff like that. It was just everything, really. I would get into modes where I would like binge on one type of music. Like in high school, I really liked battle rap so I’d listen to Papoose.
I only recently realized that people outside of New York actually know who he is.
Oh yeah, “Alphabetical Slaughter”?
Can’t forget the “Touch It” remix. Speaking of which, I’ve read that DMX influenced you, too. How did you get introduced to his music?
I went to stay with my dad for one summer and he had DMX CDs. He knew how to ride the beat really, really good but then be unorthodox with his offbeat, onbeat. And he’d be super-personal but still make you rock to it. Super-intense, but still be emotional. As a kid, Jay Z, to me, was the coolest and Busta was super-animated, but DMX? I was just amazed, man. He’s one of the greatest.
Did you hear what happened to him the other day, about him being found unconscious? It’s so sad. He’s been going through shit since his childhood.
He’s got demons on him, man. When you listen to the music, you can hear that. But that's what made me feel like I knew him.
What other artists did you feel like you connected to in that way?
André 3000. Yo, I'm trying to get people to get him to hear my album. I think he would fuck with it so much. He knows what’s hip in Atlanta so I feel like I'm on his radar to some level. Like I said, Atlanta is so small that no matter if you're at the top of the food chain or you coming up, it's very easy to connect people.
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