Armani White on Turning Darkness Into Light and Representing Philly
2018 is a big year for Philly MC Armani White. Not only is he releasing his debut album this summer, but he’s slated to perform at the city’s annual Made in America Festival. Oh, and after that? “I want to be the Will Smith of Philly,” he jokes.
In this Q&A, the TIDAL Rising Artist of the Week fills us in on just how he plans to do that and gets personal about the city and struggles that fueled his ambition.
How does your music represent Philly’s culture?
I feel like I’m a very whelmed person. I just found out whelm is a word [laughs]. I’m not overwhelmed, not underwhelmed. I’m just very balanced.
Early on, as a kid, I was really street-driven and outside of that, went to the suburbs and got to see a whole different perspective on life. It creates a balance. A lot of my friend are still street people. My best friend since childhood, he comes home from jail in September. This is the darker side of the cast.
In a very bad situation, [I try to] rise out of that bad environment and be someone of optimism and hope — more so of a dreamer. To represent Philly for me is to represent it not as what everybody else sees it as. I think a lot of my music is driven from pain. I used music as a way to build me back up.
What were some of the dark experiences you factored into your music?
When I was a kid, we didn’t really have much, were running from landlords and stuff. Me, my mom, my sisters and I would always go to my aunt’s house. I was always with my aunt, and my cousins were like my best friends.
In 7th grade, I remember my mom waking me up, and she was fighting back tears. She brought us downstairs. It was like 6 o’clock [in the morning] and sat with us and was like, ‘There was a fire in Southwest Philly last night, and the fire was at [your aunt’s] house.’ She passed in the fire along with three of my cousins, and my world just came crashing down. Seeing that was painful, but it turned into what was a career. When I first started writing music, it was because I wanted to be an artist, but I didn’t know how to draw a nose so I kind of gave up on it. But I heard “Kill You” by Eminem, and I was like, ‘That’s kind of dope.’ You can rap about whatever you want to rap about.
I just finished a project, and for a while, we were in limbo. In [that time], we were doing a show in Philly, and I was like, ‘Alright, I’m going to pull up on my dad, stop by, invite him to the show.’ I turned down the block and see this really skinny, old guy on the steps, and I’m like, ‘That’s my dad.’ I talked to my brother, and he was like, ‘I heard [dad] might have cancer.’ I called my manager at the time, and I told him, ‘I think I’m going to take a break.’ My dad passed that June. I was in limbo until last year. Something just put a battery in my belt.
It sounds like you see the bigger picture and try to be optimistic throughout these experiences.
I have a lot more spirit than I would have had if none of these things never happened.
Where are you at with your music now?
Right now, I’m just trying to make [my Made in America performance] the biggest thing ever. I look at every year as a really big project — like [Chance the Rapper's] Acid Rap of 2013 or [Goldlink's] The God Complex of ’14 or [Anderson .Paak's] Malibu of ’16, like the big breakout thing where nobody knows the artist last year but this year everybody knows him. I want to be that.
I finished up a project recently. Before, I was overprotective of it. Now, more recently, after having played the entire thing through and through for people and seeing their reaction, Apparently, it’s kind of exciting [laughs]. So the next part is putting that out.
What did you do on this project that makes people respond to it differently?
I had a homie that was like, ‘What separates you from everybody else would be to put a video out that’s just hard, and people will go crazy.’ So we put out “Stick Up,” and it just cut the sea in half. Right now, there are just sprinkles of me. There’s never been a full body of work.
We went through a lot of shit to get [my project] done. We did it at Drexel [University], I did it with my guy Mike in New York, we got trumpets from L.A., but it was a really big collaborative effort, but at the end of the day, it’s really good.
I’m sure you’re thinking ahead for what comes after the album and [September’s] Made in America performance.
After Made in America, I want to be the Will Smith of Philly. Do you remember in 2011 or ’12 when everybody from L.A. came together and respectively passed Kendrick the baton? I want that!
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