It’s Sunday, the eve of his new album — the album that will quite possibly change Troy Ave’s life from regional street rapper to coveted major label sensation — but all he can focus on right now is whether New Utrecht High School’s football team will make it into the playoffs. The 20-something Brooklyn native has a lot riding on this game; his little brother is star running back Jaleel “Touchdown” Brown, poised for any number of college football scholarships. The rapper beams, watching proudly with his mother. He doesn’t miss a game.
It’s a sweet, markedly familial side of a rapper who has made his name pushing powder…literally. Deriving his nom de guerre from Troy Ave, the street he grew up on in Crown Heights, Troy has earned a growing rep with tales of gritty street life and hustling, especially the white stuff, as exemplified in his Bricks In My Backpack triptych. Things came to a head with last year’s installment, The Harry Powder Trilogy, which catalyzed interest in Troy well beyond the block. His “Blanco” recently soundtracked an episode of HBO’s Eastbound & Down and his new album New York City is being released in conjunction with Adidas.
Troy promises that New York City is the definitive, modern Gotham rap album in which elder statesmen like Raekwon, Prodigy and N.O.R.E appear alongside young gunners AraabMuzik, Chase N. Cashe and Harry Fraud. Troy’s so confident that the album is a masterpiece he’s offering a money-back guarantee on the iTunes version.
The consummate businessman (and later, his Mom who joined for an impromptu Q&A) spoke to us from the sideline.
Your profile is at its highest right now. Are you nervous with the release of New York City?
There’s no nervousness. I know that it’s good. We been on the highway with police flashing lights behind me, you know what I mean? That’s the real anxiety type of feeling. This is going to be a classic. This is the best representation of New York City rap in over a decade. I promise. I’ll give people their money back if it’s not the best in over a decade. I got the classic sound and I’m improving on it. This album is like a classic car, like a Mercedes Benz, but this is the new body that came out.
You’re actually putting a money-back guarantee on New York City?
Yes and I have the money to prove it. I’m going to show and prove. You can fuck with everything straight through. Every type of word people use to explain this album will be exclamatory words. I never lie to people. That’s why my word is so good in the streets. You can’t come where I come from and still be out here, living or be respected, if your word is not good.
You mentioned earlier to me that a lot of New York rappers are trying to capitalize on your hype. What’s that about?
Yeah. They’re trying to reach out to have “New York movements” or just kick it like, “I wanna do some stuff.” People basically trying to surf my wave. I saw how the game was played. There’s a lot of artists, rappers…Sometimes I reach out and they get back to me late with features or don’t do it. No help. I’m cool with that.
People want to jump on your bandwagon.
That’s my next car! A bandwagon. I’m getting it detailed right now. If somebody helping and you genuine, and you’re not dick-riding or trying to get ahead, I’m cool. But I gotta ask, “What am I getting out of it?” I’m not doing no free features for motherfuckers. A lot of shit don’t be a fair trade. I’m a mirror: The way you treat me, I’m gonna treat you the same type of way.
I know you’ve been taking meetings with all the record labels. What are you holding out for?
I need to be put on a platform to make more money than I already make. I’m not going to sign and play second fiddle to nobody. I want the whole building behind me. Whoever does it will probably be looked at as a genius and fucking promoted. We hustlers man. The label just puts you on a bigger block. Say, you buy a brick of coke for $38,000 on a one-block radius. You can break it down and make $100,000. What the record label does is, put you on 100 blocks but you’ll pay about $70,000 for the brick. So, instead of making $70,000 profit, you make $300,000. Anybody can deal. Hustling is making more out of it.
Did you ever read Freakanomics, which says low-level runners make less than hourly McDonald’s employees? Yet still, rappers propagate this Scarface ideal of dealing.
I never read that. You got workers and bosses. I’m a boss. Everybody from Brooklyn would tell you that. It’s just like McDonald’s. The higher up on the food chain you are, the more money you make. Drug dealing is really just business. I’m not glorifying drug dealing. A lot of people will rap about it-these fake ass Tony Montana rappers-and tell you the good sides. They can’t tell you how to get out of the bad situation when you’re in jail. Being in a jail is not cool. Being a fucking criminal, getting caught is not cool. I just spoke to somebody who got 50 years the other week. That shit is real.
Assuming hip-hop and The Wire have steered us wrong, what does a boss-level coke dealer make?
Um. No comment. [Laughs]. Look at old YouTube videos to see how much money rappers had before rap. My first video, I’m in the Dominican Republic. The house was $3,500/day and I’m just chillin’. We in the same house that Jay Z and Beyonce rented. A lot of rappers will have no bitches or fly cars. Nothing they talk about. To me, you can’t make rap money and talk about hustler money. You’re fucking fronting.
Do you ever worry that you’ll be pigeonholed as the coke rapper?
With Bricks In My Backpack 3, people thought I was only talked about drugs. Now they realize there’s more and they didn’t know I was mad lyrical. You can’t only talk about drugs if Adidas is endorsing you. I’m talking a bunch of levels of shit going on in the streets. It’s ain’t all drug shit. It’s the lifestyle of a person who happens to be a dope dealer. Ma! Why do they say I only rap about drugs?
Troy’s Mom: I guess that’s probably what you hear most but he talks about his mother losing weight! He talks about football.
So you listen to Troy’s music?
Troy’s Mom: I’m a House music head, but I can quote some of his words. Absolutely. “Bricks in my backpack…” It’s good music. I support anything my children do. As long as I don’t have to pay an attorney fee or child support… [Laughs].
Troy: She did the first time I got arrested. I ain’t have it then.
Troy’s Mom: He still owes me for that, by the way!
Compared to his public persona, what’s Troy like at home?
Troy’s Mom: He’s the way I raised him. He’s a homebody. He’s family-oriented. He’s gonna make a great Dad! [Winks]. He has excellent skills. He’s a good person.
Aside from grandkids (wink wink) what are your goals for your son?
Troy’s Mom: To reach the stars. Do your best … or die trying.