Phil Ade calls Maryland (the DMV area) home but growing up, he lived all over the country. In addition to his diverse travels, his mother is of Grenadian decent while his father is Nigerian. According to Ade, these facets result in an eclectic soulful sound. The 21-year-old rapper/singer is the first artist signed to Raheem DeVaughn’s label, 368 Music group. His 2009 debut mixtape, Starting on JV, established his identity as what he calls, “junior varsity”⎯meaning, a newcomer to the music game that folks should check for. His next mixtape, The Letterman, will be available for download on July 6 and reflects musical influences ranging from go-go bands to A Tribe Called Quest plus more. Ade says this project will help introduce him to potential fans and hopefully prove that he’s ready for the varsity league. ⎯Starrene Rhett
VIBE: What was life like for you growing up?
Phil Ade: When I was born, my father was just getting out of grad school. He went to school in California, that’s where I was born and his first job was in Alabama, that’s where we moved [first]. And it’s been a problem keeping a job for him so that’s why we moved around a lot. Since my father is Nigerian and my mother is from Grenada, I’ve had a lot of different experiences being from a family that’s so diverse, and a lot of that ties into my music⎯just all the different experiences and the different cultures that I was exposed to and grew up with.
You actually quit school to pursue music so how did you’re parents take it?
Singing was always first for me, growing up. I performed with a go-go band in high school. My parents were big on education so I kept that ambition on the low. But obviously they found out when I started working with Raheem DeVaughn, because it was hard to keep that under wraps.
How did you link up with Raheen DeVaughn?
I used to record with this guy who lived next door to me in college. I usually recorded the raps that I wrote in class [Laughs]. But he liked what I did so much that he introduced me to his brother who is friends with Raheem DeVaughn.
You know that because you rap and sing people will compare you to Drake, right?
It’s just human nature for people to try to find a reference for something they’ve never seen or heard before. I know Drake raps and sings, I rap and sing, [Kid] Cudi kind of sing raps and I think it’s just something that kind of happened where we’re all on the rise at the same time. Drake is more established but it just so happens that we both sing and rap and we’re doing what we’re doing in the same era. So that’s something I really don’t pay attention to or worry about too much. Drake is his own artist and I’m my own artist with my own identity so much success to him.
You’re part of a newer wave of artists that perform with live band, why is there such a serge lately, of rappers using live instruments during their sets?
Being from the DC area where live performances like go gos and live music is real popular, that definitely plays a part in why I use a live band. I used to be in a go go band so I’m used to performing with live music. But also, it gives me more freedom to do what I want on stage like, you can be in the middle of a show and you can direct your band to play a certain rhythm or certain tune and the instruments give you a fuller sound when you’re performing. I think people just realized it’s better.
Talk about The Letterman.
It’s my second project following the nuance of the high school basketball theme⎯comparing the [music] game to high school basketball. The established artists would be your varsity players⎯the Kanyes, Nas and Lupes, Drakes⎯and then the JVs are your up-and-coming artists like myself, Yelawolf⎯artists like that who are just making themselves known. With my first project, Starting on JV, I was just making a statement saying I’m one of the best new cats coming out [so] you gotta look out for me and here’s the reason why⎯that’s starting on JV. And this next project is The Letterman, like the jacket that varsity players get to wear. And that basically makes the statement that I’m ready to be on varsity team so here’s The Letterman. It’s gonna be hosted by Don Cannon, Okayplayer is involved with it, the homies over at Common Wealth are sponsoring it, Sneaker Pimps, DJ Booth⎯it’s gonna be a great look.
Describe your creative chemistry with Raheem.
Raheem does him for the most part. He may come through while I’m recording, and listen to something and give me direction on certain things I may need to do on a record. He encourages me to be socially conscious of what’s going on in the world and talk about. He’s kind of like a mentor schooling me on what people want to hear and also in a business mindset, he schools me on how to go about getting myself out there and grinding and building a buzz because there’s only so much a label can do. It’s up to the artist how far that artist goes so he’s kind of like a big brother in schooling me how things go so the chemistry is definitely there, it’s like a big brother, little brother relationship.
How will your music fit into the landscape of all the artists out there, especially since you rap and sing?
I think every artist has a part to play. Every artist has a different story and a different demographic of people that can relate to them. I just try to make the best music I can and make it as true to me as possible and whoever supports that and feels the connection will go from there. But I think hip-hop is moving back into real lyric based music and that’s the music I try to make, something that has a message and that is lyrically sound⎯like with artists like J. Cole and Wale and those types of artists coming out. I fit right into that mold with the way the game is going. Drake is a real lyrical dude too and for a dude like him to come out and be so successful, it tells you a lot where the whole industry has gone, it’s dope.