‘Black Ink Crew: Chicago’ Star Phor on Chicago Violence, Reality TV and Being Overlooked
The biggest hindrance for a reality star trying to bubble on the music scene is being accepted by his or her contemporaries as a musician. A bevy of TV personalities fumble when trying to segue into the realm of music, not necessarily because of ineptness in the studio, but simply because it’s hard for the public to see them in a different light. To pit a VH1 star against a rap heavyweight like Drake or Lil Wayne seems a bit far-fetched, but for Black Ink: Chicago’s Phor, he seems poised to play David in his battle against rap’s Goliaths.
The Chicago upstart is salivating for his chance to eclipse his peers and become a staple on the forefront of his star-studded city that has birthed the likes of Kanye West, Common, Lupe Fiasco, and Change The Rapper. Even though he gained notoriety for his artistic prowess alongside his Nine Mag family in two seasons of Black Ink Crew: Chicago, Phor is ready to put his rap skills to the test.
Back in February, he released his mixtape Sacrifice, which features a multi-faceted rapper who can comfortably dip his feet into the muddy waters of trap music, but also swim good when asked to dish out laid-back cuts. Then, this past August, he followed up with his electric effort in Lighting Bug, which consisted of a 13-track project fueled to motivate those itching for an extra push to reach the finish-line. As you can see, the voracious rapper is ready for his plate of success, and he doesn’t intend on waiting long for his meal.
The Boombox sat down with Phor to speak on him attempting to bring light to the violence affecting his city of Chicago, trying to balance being a reality star and a rapper, being overlooked as a young emcee coming up in the Windy City and gaining confidence as a performer.
The Boombox: Congrats on season two of Black Ink Crew: Chicago and also opening up for Yo Gotti and K.Michelle. That's a major look right there, man.
Phor: Thanks, boss. I appreciate it, man. It was definitely a big accomplishment for me because I've always wanted to perform at the Chicago Theater. That's like a legendary place to perform at. So for the fact that I had that chance to hit the stage, it was everything.
You've performed at SXSW and had a couple of sold-out shows there, and like you said, you just opened up for K. Michelle, and Yo Gotti. How much confidence have you developed during that span as a performer?
Phor: Confidence is definitely boosted up. I always had this motto, ‘Whether it's one person or 1000 people out there watching you, make sure you give your all.’ If you don't feel it, how are they gon' feel it? I had to come with it [laughs].
I remember in the first season we saw you performing for Epic Records. What was the experience like and what did you take away from it that helped built you to where you are now?
Phor: Honestly, it didn't take anything away from me. I could take constructive criticism. It just made me add more fuel to my fire. When someone tells you what you can't do, it's makes you feel like you can do it. It's all about turning a negative into a positive and going a little harder. So I guess that's just me gaining more energy, more drive, and more ambition to prove anyone wrong.
You recently linked up with Twista for "Thinking Cap." It was a very deep record that touched on the violence going on in your hometown of Chicago. How important was it for you to speak on such a touchy topic that's affecting your city?
Phor: It was really important. A lot of people when they see me perform or they're hearing my music, they usually get the cool smoker's vibe or that cool turn-up. Before I put this project out that I just dropped, I wanted to touch bases on what was going on because I feel like that was the only thing that was missing, you know what I mean? I was like, "Man, I had to put something out for the city." It was too much going on. The killing rate out in Chicago is getting out of hand. I'm in it, too. So it's either you're going to be a product of your environment or be a stand-up guy to speak on what's going on. That's the side that I'm on. I have to speak on it because I got friends, and I got family that's getting murdered. It's stupid stuff. It's just really the generation. Everyone got something to prove when it shouldn't be that. And then, you can't even run to the police no more, you know what I mean? So it's all messed up. It wasn't even really just from a Chicago standpoint, because it's going on everywhere, but with Chicago being one of the most violent cities, I had to speak on it from my experience. I can't be outside like I used to. I could still go to the hood, but I can't hang out there because there's too much going on. I can't put my life and my career at risk, but I can speak on it to help, and start a change. You gotta start somewhere. So hopefully, by me leading by example, you have more people that will follow. If not, at least I tried.
The fact you were able to grab a veteran presence like Twista on your record was big. Do you feel confident that veterans not only from Chicago, but in general, will be more inclined to work with you, despite being attached to a reality show?
Phor: Yeah, that's another thing. By me being on reality TV, I can say yes to that because there has been a lot of artists who I didn't think knew me, knew me and reached out to me. They would give me some advice like, "Keep going," and they're willing to build with me. I definitely think it's something in the near future that may take place in terms of doing more features and linking up with different artists. I'm not really super big on doing features because I'm big on relationships first. I wanna build a relationship so I can have the respect for one, and understanding that when we do a song, it doesn't sound like you did your verse and I did mine. It sounds like we're doing a record together. You feel me?
I feel like there's two different sides to Chicago musically. You have the drill movement spearheaded by Chief Keef and Lil Durk. Then, you have this new wave of consciousness in a sense with Chance The Rapper, Vic Mensa, and Mick Jenkins. With that being said, where do you find yourself in that spectrum?
Phor: I think I'm actually right in the middle of them both, to be honest. I can relate to both sides and I'm respected on both sides, at that. I'm really free-willing to do whatever I want at this point. I'm at the point where I'm kind of in my own lane, but very much relatable at the same time.
It's been well-documented during the series of Black Ink Crew: Chicago that you’re trying to balance working a Nine Mag, while also getting your rap career off the ground. At what point do you feel you'll be ready to make that leap and pursue music all the way through?
Phor: Honestly, the opportunity and the position is going to have to come my way if it makes sense - because right now what I've been doing is I'm still moving independently to a certain extent. So it's like, I do plan on going on tour and all of that. Everybody at Nine Mag, they know that's been my passion. I've been doing music before I was tattooing. So they respect anything that I want to do outside of Nine Mag in terms of pursuing my career as a full-time artist. If I had to choose, then [pursuing music] is what I would do. It's like, who doesn't want to get paid for what they love doing? That's not saying I don't love doing tattooing. I do, as well, but tattooing is also a service for someone else.
This season, it seems like you’re trying to take the more music seriously because in the first episode, you were really heated with Charmaine and Kat, because they were killing your focus before you went on-stage to perform. Before filming this season, did you already decide that you were going to develop a brand new mindset as far as being a more serious Phor, musically?
Phor: Yeah, definitely. I'm always the super laid-back, cool, chill guy that doesn’t let really anything too much get to me. But then, people can walk over you and take your kindness for weakness. I kind of had to put my foot down on certain shit to let people know that it's serious and that this means a lot to me. It may not mean nothing to you because you're here supporting, but it means everything to me. If it didn't mean much to me, you wouldn't even be here supporting me. You know what I mean? So I had to address that matter just to show people, "How are they going to take you serious, if you don't take yourself serious?" That's pretty much what it is. I just have to put my foot down on certain things. We gotta make them respect it.
Another thing that I've noticed is how Ryan is trying to keep the Nine Mag family together, but also be flexible with everyone pursuing their dreams, especially you and Kat. Have you had that talk with Ryan where you explained to him like, "Hey man, I might not be here moving forward?"
Phor: Well right now, the difference with season one and season two is that season one was all about team effort. We all had each other's backs. Now, it's like everyone is kind of on their high horse and trying to get to the top. We're knocking each other down. So with this season, you're gonna see a lot people move individually, you know what I mean? But it's still a family at the same time, to a certain extent.
You know, me and Ryan talked about it. He knows that I've been doing this since high school. We went to high school together, so he knows. His response to that is like, "Well, he gotta do what he gotta do for Nine Mag," because at the end of the day, if I go overseas or if I go on tour for 6-12 months, or Kat is making her own moves, or if Van does the same for him, Nine Mag is still Ryan's responsibility. So he has to do what he has to do for the company, which I understand. We talk outside of business too because we're still brothers. I definitely get what he has to do for himself, too. Me personally, I don't plan on leaving Nine Mag. We started off as a family. Any business moves that need to get handled, will get handled, but we still should be Nine Mag family at the end of the day.
That leads me to this question, because at one point of this season, Kat referred to herself as the Nicki Minaj of Young Money with Nine Mag. Do you feel at a point, you're going to have to pull a Drake, and move on with your squad, and do your own thing?
Phor: I pretty much have a clique outside of Nine Mag that I rep now, which is called NMOL. It stands for two things: No More Ordinary Lifestyle and it also stands for In My Own Lane, so that's something that I've been pushing too for a while. It's just pretty much a mindset. It's not necessarily a group of people. It's just something that I rep and go along with. It's another way of saying "Sky's the Limit." That's something that I push outside of Nine Mag.
Do you feel that the crew that you're running with will eclipse what you have going on with Nine Mag?
Phor: Nah, not at all. All my people that's outside of Nine Mag, they welcomed to Nine Mag. That's the same with Ryan's friends outside of the shop, and everybody's friends outside of the shop, we all respect one another. Everyone knows who's who already. So it's not like tug-a-war. We got the respect first. My people respect what Ryan got going on. His people respect what I got going on. That's what makes us family.
Talk about your new single "If You Ready" and take us through the creative process for penning that kind of record for the ladies.
Phor: You know man, just messing with these females. You know, ["If You're Ready"] is just about my past experiences with females in general and speaking from what I been through because I'm kind of like a storyteller. I can kind of paint any kind of picture, if it's about something I been through. So if I can find this perfect kind of chick that got all the credentials I'm looking for, then that would be nice. So it's kind of like speaking about that perfect type of chick and if she's ready to make that next move, then I'm on-board also.
Lastly, what do you feel is the most underrated part of your game as an artist?
Phor: Good question. What bothers me honestly man is just the notoriety of my music because you have so much distraction in a way, as far as just speaking from Chicago. Now, it's good because I have the leverage over a lot of artists by me being on TV, pushing my dreams, and people see that, and respect that. Outside of that, there's certain festivals and there's certain big jams that I feel like I should be on when it comes to Chicago that I don't get on. I feel some kind of way about it because they may just look at me as, "Oh, he's just this reality star," when it's not that at all. [Music] was something I was going to pursue with or without a TV show. So I just feel overlooked, and not so much underrated. I feel like they might pass me up and go with a Vic Mensa or whoever else. Anybody. It's just still having that title. I guess on my end, I just gotta keep working harder. Anything that I don't get that I feel like I deserve, it just always adds more fuel to the fire for me. Then, when it's too late, it's too late.