Check, live from the 718/Either RESPECT. the flow or learn ya lesson from your weight.
Jay-Z, “What The Game Made Me!”
Brooklyn, New York. One of the famous five boroughs of the NYC landscape, Brooklyn stands out as probably it’s most well-known. Since the mid-1800s Brooklyn has been the home to trendsetting culture, sports immortality – Dodgers or Yanks, you take your pick – and most importantly, bars. No, I’m not talking about the infamous mishandling of The Central Park Five – PRESIDENT TRUMP, DO THEY DESERVE AN APOLOGY YET? – I’m talking about Hip-Hop. The purest form of Hip-Hop. Sure, the Bronx may be credited with officially starting the genre, but let’s be real here. From Jigga, Biggie Smalls, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, & Big Daddy Kane to the new school torch bearers like Pro Era & Flatbush Zombies, Brooklyn has always had the rich tradition of natural wordsmiths amassing from its concrete ashes. Looking to stake his place next to those greats, is Brooklyn native Stro who, today, released one of the most well put together projects of early 2017 in, Grade A Frequencies.
You might recognize Stro’s face from one of his television acting gigs (Person of Interest, Red Band Society), or movie roles (A Walk Among the Tombstones, Earth to Echo) or you might just remember him as Astro, the loveable young aspiring rapper from the first season of America’s rendition of The X-Factor. (If you haven’t, pleeeeeeeeeeeease check out, “Stop Looking at My Mom” before you do any further reading.) While all of these feats are all good and dandy, the Brooklyn native wants you to know that he’s here to rap. He’s still loveable — just see his award winning smile in any of his roles — but aspiring? Not so much. After finishing seventh in the non-rap-friendly show; Stro, born Brian Bradley, could’ve easily quit and forever been written off as the cute novelty Hip-Hop act from X-Factor’s first season. Instead, the now 20-year-old parlayed his appearance into a label deal with his mentor throughout the show, L.A. Reid, and a shot at a real career as a musician. While the partnership never materialized the way he may have hoped, that didn’t stop Stro from pushing through the barriers and here we are now. Seven STRONG mixtapes later at the release of his debut studio album, Grade A Frequencies. With his album releasing today, I linked up with the Brooklynite for a lengthy chat about his career, the state of Hip-Hop, a heated exchange with Hot 97‘s Ebro Darden — which is how I came across Stro — and much, much more. Check out the interview below.
I spit Brook-Brook-Brooklyn every time I bust/ Radios gotta play me, even though I cuss too much.
Jay-Z, “So Ghetto”
RESPECT.: Where are you from exactly?
Stro: Flatbush, Brooklyn. East Flatbush specifically. I was born in King’s County Hospital and spent a lot of time in Flatbush and Brownsville.
RESPECT.: What made you fall in love with music?
Stro: Many different things honestly. I was born into a family that played music religiously; R&B, Reggae, and every once in a while, Hip-Hop. My family is Jamaican, so sound has always mattered in my household. My grandfather is like 68-years-old right now but if you go to his house, he has 8 different stereo systems stacked up on top of each other just so he can BLAST Jamaican music every Sunday. Hearing these sounds, the loud bass, the drum grooves, the different voices; really did a lot to me as child. I gravitated mostly towards Hip-Hop, though, because the genre just felt like the things I was seeing everyday, but converted to audio. Even if I didn’t quite understand what was being said on a record, that record might of felt how my day felt, or how I wanted my day to feel. I still feel that way about music till this day.
RESPECT.: Who are your inspirations? How did you start making music?
Stro: My inspirations range from MC’s like Hov, Nas, Pac & Biggie, to revolutionary speakers like Malcom X and Martin Luther King. A lot of my music now is kind of politically driven. Sometimes it’s not so politically driven but there is still a “Message” there. The MC’s I look up to are responsible for how I say what I say, but the revolutionary speakers are more responsible for what I say.
I didn’t record my first song until I was 8 or 9 years old. That was my first time ever in a studio. But I’ve been writing since I was about 5, mainly lyrics and poetry. One day I spit a 3-page “verse” that I wrote for my moms. She asked if it was plagiarized and I told her no. She made a few calls and had a friend that she worked with at the time who also happened to be a musician. We went to his crib, he let me in the booth and ever since then I’ve been making music.
RESPECT.: How did you decide that going on X-Factor would be a good career move for you? Or was that just a move out of the love for music?
Stro: That was actually my moms idea to audition for that show. We were at home watching the promo commercials for it. We saw that the winner’s prize was $5,000,000 and we were like, “WOW!” I think later on in that same week, my mom was listening to L.A. Reid on the radio when he said MC’s were welcome to come on the show. When she told me that, we were both shocked because we never seen any type of rap on American Idol, America’s got Talent, etc… But we just went to New Jersey and auditioned. The rest was history
RESPECT.: That’s a pretty interesting start up story. Has your mom always been hands on with your career or has she slowed down as you’ve gotten older? What role does she play?
Stro: Moms has always been supportive. I wouldn’t say she slowed down recently but she’s definitely used to her son being a rapper. I’m sure shes always going to be proud of me being an artist, but its no longer a surprise to her.
RESPECT.: Did you face any challenges trying to get people to take your rap career seriously after appearing on X-Factor?
Stro: There were a few challenges, but that was only because of my behavior. I would tweet dumb, or inappropriate shit and that would kind of turn people off. But that was just me being a kid. As I get older, people tend to identify with the brand more.
RESPECT.: Talk about growing up in NYC, how is it different inspiration wise from somebody who let’s say grew up in the south or out west?
You know when I heard that? When I was back home. I’m comfortable dawg, from Brooklyn to Rome
Jay-Z, “Streets Is Talking”
Stro: Growing up in NYC was special, or is special since I’m still out here (laughs). Growing up out here was amazing though, there’s so much natural culture and soul everywhere. The fact that Hip-Hop started here should let you know how special NYC really is. As far as inspiration is concerned, NYC is almost like a movie set. So many big stars come from here that we forget just how small of a place it is. Each borough has its own history, and the most special people tend to come from the ghetto’s. As a student of Hip-Hop, NYC is like a museum for me. As a child I used to ride with my little sister’s father to work. He was a nurse and to get to his job he had to pass by Marcy projects. During each trip he would point at a window and say “That’s Jay-Z’s old apartment.” Looking back now, I don’t even know if that was his exact apartment! (laughs) But just to think that my favorite MC used to live in this building, as a kid that let me know it was possible for me to make it out. Same thing with legends like Biggie. I have to pass his house to get to my barbershop. It seems like every few blocks in NYC is or was the home of a star.
RESPECT.: How did you get into acting?
Stro: The booking agency that I signed with for music (WME) also handles acting. One day, my team asked them for a script, just to see if I would be any good at acting. The first role I read for, I got. — Person Of Interest. Ever since then I’ve been in and out of films, auditioning for different roles.
RESPECT.: While many artists may get into acting to boost their fans, but you actually have the chops. What advice have you picked up working with stars like Liam Neeson, Chris Tucker and Steve Martin?
Stro: I didn’t really speak about acting with these guys, I actually didn’t really speak to Steve Martin at all off screen. But I love Chris Tucker, him and I were cracking jokes on set the whole time. Liam is a really chill individual, laid back and a hard worker. Every two weeks I see a trailer for a new Liam Neeson movie! (Laughs)
RESPECT.: Can you let us in on one of those times with Chris Tucker? That sounds amazing!!
Stro: One time on set, Chris tucker was in the bathroom in between takes. The bathroom was a little out of order, it was very dark and the lights in there were broken. Only thing is, this bathroom could be used by both the actors and the extras. So while Chris was in there. His security, who is also a very funny guy, was away from the bathroom. So one of the extras snuck in there and saw Chris in the stall. So he opens the bathroom door and screams out “SMOKEY BACK HERE TAKING A SHIT!” Chris was very upset and the extra was fired that day. I was cracking up… I got on Chris about that everyday after it happened. He was upset about the situation but we were both laughing..
My old music is me trying to satisfy everyone around me and do what they think is dope, this project is the type of shit I listen to on the daily. When it drops, it can either attract all new fans and bring me deeper into the realm of creativity that I was always meant to be in, or it can fail miserably and be the end of my career.
RESPECT.: If somebody made you choose between acting and making music, what would it be?
RESPECT.: You’ve said that you strive for Grade A Tribe to be a “new aged Roc-a-Fella”. Can you expand on what you mean by that?
Stro: That’s wild. I must of said that when I was younger because I don’t event remember saying that. (Laughs) I probably just meant as far as being a successful independent label thats respected in Hip-Hop. However, if I could go back in time, I would’ve said that I strive for Grade A Tribe to be the first Grade A Tribe. Salute to the gods but I’m on my own journey.
RESPECT.: Talk about your relationship with L.A. Reid, is he still somebody who’s in your corner?
Stro: I don’t really have a relationship with L.A. Reid at this point. I knew from the beginning that was a “industry” relationship. I’ve actually seen him a few times since the show and its been all love. But I don’t try to make it anything deeper than it is. Regardless, that’s a legend in the game and I appreciate what he’s done for me, and more importantly what he’s done for Hip-Hop. Salute to him.
RESPECT.: You’ve been most notably compared to fellow NYC natives Joey BADA$$ and Bishop Nehru, are comparisons something that bug you, or do you just take it with a grain of salt?
Stro: It’s not something that gets me upset, but it definitely says a lot about you if you compare us. I feel like the people that compare us are the people that call illmatic by Nas a classic, but don’t know why its a classic. They just say its classic because they feel like that are “supposed” to. Those are the people that love Michael Jackson because everyone else loves Michael Jackson. They hear but don’t listen. A true listener can tell we sound nothing alike, (laughs) but peace to those artist right there. Joey’s album was dope and I’m sure Bishop got some shit coming.
RESPECT.: I know you’ve been asked about this before but talk about that exchange you had with Ebro Darden on Hot 97 a while back. I know that you and Ebro go back, so was that a conversation that happens often, or was a legitimate issue taking place. A lot of people viewed that as “heated” or as you two arguing, but I saw it as two passionate people with two different perspectives on an industry that they put their all into.
Stro: That was actually my first time having that kind of conversation with Ebro. Up until then it was “Stro, You good? Okay, I see you. Keep doing your thing”. That’s probably why he was so angry, he wasn’t expecting me to bring up a new topic of discussion. Especially one based around NY radio. When I said what I said, or ASKED what I ASKED; I just wanted an accurate answer, but he turned it into a debate. Ebro is my guy, but he was definitely trying to channel Charlamagne Tha God in that interview, for views I guess. (Laughs) It’s just funny to me because Joey did an interview with them recently and pretty much said some of the same shit I said and Ebro’s whole tone was different. (Laughs) I guess you have to have a certain amount of “buzz” for Ebro to have a mature conversation with you. To be honest, I stopped listening to New York radio a loooooonnng time ago, so whether or not I’m put in rotation there makes no difference to me. Maybe I’ll feel differently one day, but for now I’m just focused on getting the music to the people.
If I could go back in time, I would’ve said that I strive for Grade A Tribe to be the first Grade A Tribe. Salute to the gods but, I’m on my own journey.
RESPECT.: You’ve released seven full length mixtapes, as well as a handful of EPs and singles throughout the years. In an age where attention spans are at an all-time low and albums are digested faster than McDonald’s, how do you prepare to release such quality music and a high rate?
Stro: Recently, I’ve been writing and recording a whole lot more, to sort of combat the flood of meaningless music. But I feel like at this point my fan base looks to me for quality music. I wouldn’t even feel comfortable leaving the studio without making something with substance. I’ve also been rapping for years. When I first started off, I went through a lyrical “bootcamp” and sat with actual producers who gave me tips on how to make “radio records”. As time went on, I had to sit with myself and develop my own sense of style and figure out what was dope to me. So when you combine those two perspectives, you have an artist that knows the difference between a “Soundcloud record” and a record record. Overtime, I just got better with juggling both worlds. I have an ear for quality.
RESPECT.: What’s your take on the state of Hip-Hop? In your opinion, are we sinking or swimming as a genre?
Stro: It’s not in the best place right now, I feel like as time goes on we’ll get back to the substance on a major level. Right now, you can be the worst rapper in the world, but because you have a good heart and or the right personality, you’ll be given the same and sometimes even more platforms than the guy that takes the time to master his craft. There are no rules. People don’t know when to ignore and it’s killing us, slowly but surely. If you pay attention to the music of any true MC buzzing in today’s era, whether its Joey, Kendrick, Cole; they all keep making these references to “The End” or “the end being near” in someway. As a MC I feel them 100% on that. That’s how it feels looking at this generation and the music they connect to the quickest. It’s dumbing them down, and killing them on a subconscious level. Now-a-day’s if the popular song is not promoting negativity, the rapper that made it is the complete opposite of who you should want to be like. But I’m doing everything I can on my end to keep the real shit alive.
RESPECT.: Your new album, Grade A Frequencies is on the horizon, can you talk about the process of getting this record done? What were some of the challenges you faced?
Stro: Getting this record done was hectic! It took a few months to complete it, but when I listen back to the final product, I feel like every moment was worth it. This was the first project of mine in a long time where I recorded in actual studios. I usually record in the crib, but I wanted to be in different environments this time, I wanted this body of work to have a different energy. This was definitely my most challenging project to create because it wasn’t about being the best lyricist this time, it was about creating the music that I felt was missing. I spent hours in the studio with my bro BMC who mixed and mastered the entire project for me, tweaking sounds and making sure everything felt unique. I’m aware that I may lose a few people with a project like this since its doesn’t really sound like anything else, but I finally feel like myself. My old music is me trying to satisfy everyone around me and do what they think is dope, this project is the type of shit I listen to on the daily. When it drops, it can either attract all new fans and bring me deeper into the realm of creativity that I was always meant to be in, or it can fail miserably and be the end of my career. (Laughs) We shall see.
RESPECT.: On your new single, “From Me” you penned the lyrics, “Stress is ample, souls burning like a candle/ Mother suffer Father setting bad examples/ And nah, I wouldn’t do it but my camp will/ I’m different only one on the block not, aiming the Glock” Was violence something you had to dodge heavily growing up in Brooklyn, even from your own friends?
Stro: Violence was definitely very present in my life coming up. Luckily, I’ve never seen anything super violent up close, but it seemed to always be happening around me. It would be days back in Brownsville, where me and the bro’s would be outside of school during the mornings getting a bacon, egg and cheese (sandwich) from the deli, and by the time we leave school that day, one of the dudes that was hanging with us got shot up right down the block! I went to school with a lot of “tough kids”. Some of them were thieves, drug dealers, gangbangers; you name it. Only a few of us made sure not to get involved with that street life. But we all loved each other the same. Regardless of what my friends did, they were still my friends. I just knew I wasn’t built for that, I was different. “Only one on the block not aiming the glock”
As a child I used to ride with my little sister’s father to work. He was a nurse and to get to his job he had to pass by Marcy projects. During each trip he would point at a window and say “That’s Jay-Z’s old apartment.”
RESPECT.: Expanding on that, during the same song, you rapped, “I can’t be living by the books that them old folks write/ I never read the bible, devil ain’t trifle, as this riffle.” Can you talk more about this lyric and where it came from?
Stro: That was me speaking from the perspective of a young man coming up in the ghetto. A lot of people that are less fortunate feel that way, they have to eat by any means necessary. To one crowd, the bible is this holy book, “The Word Of God”; but to others living in harsh situations it’s just a bunch of words written by man. They can’t see, hear, or feel a God / Devil, but they have a gun that gets them from point A to B in this mad world. They believe in the weapon more than they believe in a religion. Sad to say, but there are definitely people who live in this world and think that way.
RESPECT.: Last question. I gotta ask this since your NYC bred and such a history buff. Takeover or Ether? Why?
Stro: I gotta say “Takeover”. Takeover was more sonically pleasing to my ears. “Ether” was dope but it made Nas just seem angry. Jay kept his cool. Plus that “Takeover” beat just feels so classic 2000. It was definitely a moment in time for Hip-Hop though.
Check out Stro’s debut album, Grade A Frequencies, below and let your mind run free.