The hip-hop landscape is constantly shifting with new artists, sounds and styles. These days, trends are replaced almost every month, and the birthplace of rap is no different. Over the past decade, New York City has witnessed an emerging crop of artists who are out to usurp many of their predecessors in the game. One up-and-comer moving to keep the glory in Brooklyn is Brownsville’s Phresher, who has seemingly come out of nowhere to stake his claim as one of the Big Apple’s more promising talents.
Phresher’s breakout hit single “Wait a Minute,” a rollicking anthem that disrupted the clubs and streets of NYC and beyond earlier this year, has put the brash MC on the fast track to success. His new status may appear to have come overnight, but according to Phresher, he has been prepping himself for greatness long before his voice hit the airwaves.
Bred in the mean streets of Brooklyn’s East New York section, Phresher is more than familiar with adversity but has refused to be limited by his humble beginnings, using aggressive ambition and a relentless attitude to beat the odds. Prior to making inroads in music, Phresher had athletic aspirations as a standout member of Thomas Jefferson High School’s varsity football team. The birth of his son during his teenage years, however, put his gridiron dreams on the back burner.
At age 21, Phresher began to transfer the energy he had once put into sports into writing and recording music, quickly deciding that he would pursue a career in hip-hop. Building his skills as a lyricist by penning what he estimates to be “more than 1,000 songs,” Phresher struck gold during the summer of 2016 upon the release of “Wait a Minute,” which amassed more than 1 million plays on YouTube.
Today, his hectic schedule doesn’t stop him from speaking with students in New York City schools — including the one his son attends. We trailed the rapper on one of those motivational visits, and what we saw was nothing short of amazing. Phresher entered one Brooklyn auditorium to a resounding round of applause and waves of cheers from the student body. We watched as he gave a pep talk on the value of education, sacrifice, financial literacy and determination. Phresher captivated his audience of pupils in the same way he does whenever he hits the stage to perform. Answering any and all questions the students threw at him, it was clear that the rapper’s talk of being a humanitarian with a hunger to school the youth was far from an empty rant, and a sign that he’s not only looking to improve the state of New York City’s rap scene, but his community as well.
VIBE: Let’s start all the way at the beginning. Do you remember your first introduction to hip-hop?
Phresher: My mom was the one that had CDs and every album, man. We’re talking about Anita Baker, R. Kelly, everything. I was a baby, and I was singing songs when I was like 4 years old… rapping to DMX (laughs). My mom had every album in the world, so definitely from my mom.
Can you remember the first rap you ever wrote, and if so, what made you write it?
The first song I ever wrote was called “You Can Leave Shawty.” I was always a smooth dude, so when I started to rap, I was like, “Let me talk about girls.”
I was always a fresh dude, ever since I was a child. I was fresh with an “F,” though. But there were a lot of rappers named “Fresh” out here, so I said let me put a “Ph” in the front. Then there were a lot of rappers with the “Ph” in the front, so I put the “er” on the end, and that’s it (laughs). I’m the Phreshest of all the Freshes!
What comes to mind when you think of Brooklyn as a whole?
When I think of Brooklyn, I think of gritty. Fly, but gritty. Just gritty and the go-getters and all the hungry ones out there. It’s the concrete jungle filled with animals who are just trying to get it. So that’s what I think about when I think of Brooklyn.
What separates East New York from other parts of Brooklyn, and how has growing up here influenced your music?
What’s separates us is that this is the survival of the fittest out here. You have to be strong; you have to be a lion to live out here. It ain’t easy, and it ain’t built to be easy. I think that part of my success has to do with where I’m from. It gave me tough skin and taught me to work for everything that I wanted. I learned how to work for it because it wasn’t given to me.
Was there a moment when you felt like giving up trying to make it?
So many times, man. I just felt like, “Is it really gonna happen for me?” Because you got a lot of talented dudes out there, but everybody doesn’t make it. But I always prepared for the worst, and that’s what helped me get through. It was a bunch of times. Especially when you don’t have the money to put a particular video out or pay for a video and stuff like that. It becomes discouraging, but you gotta fight through it, and that’s what I always had: perseverance. That’s the word I always use. I’m all perseverance, bro. I’m the definition falling on your face and getting back up. I’m the definition of that.
Your record “Wait a Minute” really helped boost your career. What was the process behind finding the beat and making the record?
The process was a real ignorant day in the studio. I told my engineer, “It’s gonna be one of those days where I’ma say whatever is on my mind — just record it,” and that was the start of everything. “Wait a Minute” took me places I thought I’d never go.
How did the 50 Cent remix happen?
It was funny, I was at La Marina and I was just getting a lot of hits from G-Unit reps on my Instagram, like, “50 Cent wanna meet you.” And then I got a call from his assistant, like, “Listen, 50’s coming back Monday, I need you in his office,” and from there it was murder she wrote! He put the verse down and it was awesome.
What would your ultimate dream collaboration?
Me and JAY-Z.
What are your feelings on the divide between the OGs and the new generation in rap?
My feeling is I’m gonna continue to pay homage no matter what, whether they say this is not real New York rap [or not]. I’m gonna continue to pay homage because they paved the way, so I would never, ever, ever disrespect the legends, man. More power to them. Everybody has an opinion and you have to deal with it. You just gotta continue to work.
You dropped your Wait a Minute EP earlier this year. How does it feel to get a full body of work out to the people?
That’s what I’ve been waiting for, man, to put out a full body of work that people can appreciate and listen to, man. So now that I have that, I’m just excited for people to hear more from me. And that’s what I’m most excited about, just being able to give them more music and let them hear a bigger body of work. I’m coming back ASAP with another 10 songs, too, so just be ready.
50 Cent jumping on a record. Like, how gratifying is that? That was everything. And performing for Hot 97’s holiday concert. I was like, “OK, now the radio stations are calling me, so you know Summer Jam’s next.”
New York rap seems to be making waves again in a big way. How does it feel to be a part of that renaissance?
It’s great, it’s great for music. You know how when the Knicks do good, it’s good for basketball? When New York does good in music, it’s great for music. I’m glad that we’re back, and I’m glad to be a part of it more than anything.
Where do you envision yourself at the end of 2017?
I see myself deeper in the game with a couple more features under my belt — I’m talking about big-name features. Traveling the world. I’m definitely getting into clothing, too, so I wanna make sure I’m knee-deep into a situation with a clothing line to really get me going forward [on] January 1. Hopefully some acting discussions. I’ve been getting some calls, but I’m waiting on the right movie. So I see me doing a lot towards the end of the year.