This past month, nestled in a suite at Midtown Manhattan’s Quad Studios, Anaheim emcee Phora hosted an exclusive listening party for his debut album, Yours Truly Forever, which releases today through Warner Bros. Records. In a space packed with plaques from the likes of A$AP, ODB, Queen Bey, and Whitney, the rapper gathered a diverse group for an album that was closely curated, as the rapper told me, over “the past four or five years.”
The suite’s main room sported a pool table piled with black tote goodie bags. Adjacent that sat a healthy catering spread, next to an open bar. The room filled with a mix of devout fans, industry mainstays, and as I later found out, even a few people that got off on the wrong floor and immediately just fucked with the vision. The twenty-two year old rapper played his major label opus front to back for the crowd. And after initially taking to the mic to explain and annotate much of the project’s first half along with his producer, Anthro Beats, Phora eventually gave way with a Stella in his orthopedic chair, slumping down and letting the tracks do the talking.
Weighing in at sixteen handpicked songs, the project divulges an unshrouded truth — it’s a sometimes dark and drowning story that dives deep and stays down, but the young man born Marco Archer somehow breaches the surface each effort with gasps for redemption. While certainly a “listening party” by nature, the event turned at times into a healing process by way of reader’s response. After the album’s duly titled outro “When It’s Over,” the rapper passed the mic to fans for a Q&A session, and the ensuing discourse and transfer of emotion was palpable. Admitting insecurities, fans poured out appreciation for the rapper and his music, divulging stories of cancer, bullying, therapy, and rape, at times even bringing some people in the room to tears.
“I’m pouring my soul out with all of these personal things into the music,” he explained to me earlier in the day at his hotel. “At the same time, it’s very therapeutic, and it helps me release all of that tension, stress, anger, and depression. And I’m now able to broadcast it to tens of thousands, to hundreds of thousands, to potentially millions and millions of people, and I can get real reactions and support.”
As tangible and intimate as the artist’s listening event may have been, I assured him that it was in fact “millions and millions of people” he was reaching. Selling out nearly every show of his 40-stop American tour, Phora’s success is as much attributed to a tireless work ethic as it is his candid content. On “So Far To Go,” the intro track to his previous project, With Love, the rapper notes the length of his journey, which at that point that had entailed “Six albums / sixty videos / 400 songs.” Realizing his power and dashing doubters, he continues on saying “Y’all can criticize everything but the work / I got these blessings from what they thought was a curse.” After releasing his critically acclaimed, fan-funded EP Angels With Broken Wings in 2015, With Love reached number one on Apple’s iTunes Hip-Hop/Rap chart, and the song “I Think I Love You” generated millions of streams on Spotify and SoundCloud.
Making use of millennial hip-hop’s vaulted platform, the rapper has also eclipsed over 100 million YouTube views, and he notches over 425k subscribers on a site that remains a trusted plug to any artist plotting to share product. With a concerted effort towards his own stories and the influence he has over such a dedicated following, Phora does his best to remain aware of his influence.
“When they tell me something like that,” he said of profound fan response, predicting the inevitable of the evening’s events, “They don’t understand that I feel the exact same way, and that I appreciate them so much for letting me know that I’m not alone. I personally believe after everything I’ve been through, I’m here for a reason. I wouldn’t say I have a responsiblity, but me personally, I feel like my purpose is even greater than what I perceive it. I just want to spread love.”
Admittedly allergic to the structures and social scene of schooling, Phora says he took an interest in illustration growing up, doodling images like Dragon Ball Z and Sonic the Hedgehog across pages in his notebooks. It was in high school that the Orange County native began using a skillful tattoo talent to fund his budding rap career.
“Not really seeing anyone as the staple of the 714 –– Orange County –– it gave me more of a drive and a motivation to be something, and to be kind of like a staple. I had Gwen Stefani, and I mean I love Gwen Stefani, but I’m over here,” he lamented with a grin, holding a hypothetical Gwen in his left hand, while extending his right arm out vertically. “I was raised around hip-hop my whole life, whether it was East Coast based or West Coast based. It was DJ Quik, Snoop Dogg, and Dr. Dre vs. Nas, Common, and even underground guys like Talib Kweli and J Dilla.”
And though he says he was raised predominantly by his mother, Phora did his best to soak in the experience of his father’s family business, which was also emceeing.
“I watched my dad sell CDs out of his trunk and go into the parking lots and try to get random people to listen to his music. Literally, like pop it into their car right there in the parking lot,” he recalled. “Regardless of what era of music we’re in now, I gathered a lot from him –– the positives and negatives.”
Absorbing lessons on open communication and the hidden intentions of others, the rapper stressed that while his relationship growing up with his father was “rocky,” he gained invaluable experience that he still stresses now.
“That’s something I still deal with and have trouble with in my life today, whether it’s business, regular life, or friendships,” he said. “Balancing and knowing what to do with positive and negative energy is something that is always going be something of a struggle.”
As a kid I watched my dad sell CDs out of his trunk and go into parking lots and try to get random people to listen to his music. Literally, like pop it into their car right there in the parking lot. Regardless of what era of music we’re in now, I gathered a lot from him –– the positives and negatives.
After a bout of adolescence which included suffering a stabbing and spending time in and out of juvenile hall and work camps, Archer channeled his talents through music. Tattooing less and writing more, he eventually formed his Yours Truly clique, the rapper’s collective that definitively includes himself as well as producer Anthro Beats and director George Orozco. But even still trouble has followed. In August of 2015 Phora was shot three times while driving with his girlfriend on the California freeway, and then again in 2016 he suffered through a gruesome car crash before releasing the aforementioned fan favorite With Love.
Phora and Anthro stood in sync with one another that night, lobbing anecdotes back and forth over the microphone that gave an inside look into not only their relationship with one another, but the formation of the album. Now living and creating under the same roof, Anthro joked about the time he made the beat for YTF‘s “R U Still,” a small thirty minute window just after he and Phora returned home from a Chipotle run. Stretching cinematic raps over Anthro’s spacey synth repertoire and soulful samples, the duo has crafted a major label debut with Warner Bros. that sets its own precedent. And even still, they couldn’t help but to tease a snippet of their goldmine, a yet-to-be-released banger that had everyone asking for more that night.
“We stand for a lot of things, but I just feel like we stand for positivity the most, and just being good, genuine people… It’s human law,” Phora told me. “Yours Truly just stands for letting people know that anything is possible, and we’ve proven it thus far.”
Phora’s Yours Truly Forever is now available on all major streaming platforms.
Image credit: Warner Bros. Records
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