“If you want it done right, do it yourself” is a quote Queens rapper SHIRT has built his entire art around. Shirt’s vision of designing, directing, writing all himself is something we rarely see these days. I sat down with the mastermind to find out more about his success and creative process.
When did you first realize you were a talented rapper?
“Back in the day, I was really young and it was probably one of the first few times I was on the mic in front of people. My homie was Djing and he set me up to perform in front of everybody. After the performance people kept coming up to me saying “yo your voice is dope, you have great presents” and things like that. I always knew that I could write, cause I was writing first, whether it was poetry to get girls or just writing about how I’m feeling. At that moment it wasn’t about my writing but about people complimenting how I sounded rapping. Once I heard that, you couldn’t tell me nothing I knew I could do this. I was already writing raps it was more about just having the confidence to spit”.
Thats awesome man. Like I mentioned earlier, I’ve been following you since your first few Ep’s that are no longer on the internet. What’s the story behind “The Loft Sessions EP”?
“Man that was early! I wasn’t doing too much at the time other that making music and managing at a cafe in the city. The location was really cool so we had a lot of people with money coming through. I met this man who was a photographer from the 70’s and 80’s who shot mad rockstars from Johnny Cash and other crazy people. We became friends and he knew that I did music but unfortunately he never shot photos of me. There came a time I needed to move and he offered for me to stay at his friends empty Loft in Chinatown until I find a place of my own. So for about two months I stayed at this amazing loft in Chinatown and almost instantly I decided to make a project there. I set up the mic in the living, had chicks come through, smoked and just recorded music. It was honestly an amazing time, not my best music but specifically creating that stuff was just a trip. This loft even had a library in it filled with books so whenever I wasn’t recording I was learning and exploring this amazing loft.”
That sounds too perfect man, too bad you couldn’t of stayed there. Why have you deleted some of your projects from the internet?
“Well so the first place you could go to download my shit was Bandcamp, and that’s where you could find “The loft sessions ep” “Top 40 verses” and other early projects I did. Once I started to not like how Bandcamp looked I started building and designing my own websites. If you’ve been listening you know I have a lot of material out, and there came a time where I wanted to make everything not so available. You heard it when you heard it, you might have it but in 2016 if you didn’t get “The loft sessions ep” you can’t just go to my shit and get it. You can hit up google and search to find it but I’m not gonna help you find it. That’s mainly me not trying to make everything available, you can’t have everything and people forget that. It’s not all about trying to slowing things down, keep in mind I’ve also made a lot of shit. Maybe one day there will be a site that has all my old projects for a limited time, I don’t know. In general if you got it, you got it”.
That’s groundbreaking man, very few artist are treating their art like that. It’s kind of like how back in the day you would go to a concert and engage with the performance, where now you attend a concert and everyone has their phones out filming the performance, It takes away from the exclusive in the moment vibe. With that being said, How did the hit record “On Top” with Flume happen?
“That song blew up, I got a gold record for that shit. I have so many people overseas that know me now just from that record. Even being contacted nonstop and features and everything, that record really went far”.
So if you don’t mind me asking was that Flume contacting you first? Or how did it happen?
“My former publishers really did a lot of dope work for me. One of the things they did was really hook me up with up and coming producers & producers looking for a New York sounding rapper. From my experience when you had a rapper featured on a EDM or Dubstep mashup it almost didn’t sound real or even natural. So still my publishers introduced us through email, and this was back when Flume was just an internet producer, not big at all yet. From there he sent me the beat and to be completely honest I thought the beat was weird. I wasn’t necessarily excited to jump on it right way. Flume came to New York a few months later for a show and was mad cool, I met his manager and it was then when I decided to do the record. Still Flume had not blown up, but after I finished the record he really started to take off. Despite the success of the record, the whole situation with Flume didn’t turn out to be the best thing. He blew up really fast and then I could never get in touch with him. It’s weird because he plays that record across the world and people love it. Even for the video, I shot my part in New York he shot his part somewhere else and they mashed it up. Overall it was good experience and I like the record. At the end of the day not everybody can make the transition. It’s really hard to stay the same after reaching different levels of success, Jay Z is the perfect example. You wanna grow and be better, but no matter how rich and crazy you get you don’t want to change for the people you care about. You don’t want to become Hollywood where you don’t answer the phone for your home boy if he’s not a millionaire. Me and Flume where never true best friends, but still there was a way he interacted with me before, and a way he interacted with me after. So because of that I don’t think we’ll be friends, but at the end of the day it’s whatever. I’m very happy with the record”.
Interesting how the universe works like that. So aside from your music, you’re very involved in the designing world. What gave you the idea for the Nike x Adidas shirt?
“This was just an idea I had back in September 2015 and I literally just made one shirt, put it on instagram and explained I had this idea and people instantly started buying. Then I sold 5, then I sold 20, then I woke up one morning with over 100 sold. Honestly I sold a lot of shirts, it was kind of ridiculous. Me personally, if something is really easy I’m not about exploiting it, I want to do the hard shit and build shit. With this nike x adidas thing I really could of went crazy and printed a lot of designs and made mad cash, but instead I really wanted to treat it like an art project. As long as Nike or Adidas isn’t coming at me I wanted to take having these logos serious. So yeah at first it was only a couple shirts, then I waited and came out with the black shirts for Black Friday. Then I waited months and did Hoodies, which was when Nike contacted me and said to stop. The email was kinda scary not going to lie, It had me thinking I was really fucked. I talked to my lawyer and he told me take the site down but I really didn’t want to do that. I felt like the name “nikeadidad.com” was perfect so I just couldn’t take it down. So I put something up saying this is an art project, these clothes aren’t available anymore etc. I never responded to Nike’s email, I just stopped, and hope it goes away. From what my lawyer has told me it’s all going to go away. For real it’s sad cause I really enjoyed the process of creating and selling these clothes. As a designs kid to be working with the Nike and Adidas logos was the dopest shit ever. It was sad I had to stop but to be honest I’m thinking about how to evolve it. I really want to do something else along those boundaries, but crazier. I have some crazy ideas but I don’t even want to say them right now. In general for music from the song title, the lyrics, the artwork, and presentation, it all matters. We all have the power to go to godaddy.com, make a domain name, and build a custom site for your art. You can always pay someone else to do it for you, or you can learn yourself and build around what you truly want.”
That’s so true. Right now there is no one better than Chance the Rapper doing it all himself organically. It’s a huge inspiration for all artist watching what he’s doing without a record label or co sign. My last question for you Shirt is what new material can we expect from you in the future?
“I don’t know when my next album will be, but I do have a title, beats, and concepts picked out already. I dropped the Nike x Adidas rap album back in late 2015 so I’ve just been working on this next project since then. As far as finished new music, I have some real hot shit that’s done, I’m just waiting for the right time. Whenever I do release something the feedback I get is what guides me into the next release date. The reaction to one record will spur me to not leave the studio for a week, and that’s exciting. I can tell you I plan on dropping a video to “Top of the Whitney” tomorrow. It’s produced by San Holo, an amazing producer from the Netherlands who is for real blowing up right now. I plan on having new material for the upcoming months but as far as a date for a new project I don’t have one yet. To be honest that’s the gift and the curse of being out here, but small. Because I’m not on a major label I can work at my own pace. I’ve very close to major labels and even had Def Jam management back in 2013. Being close to that showed me it’s not about your art, it’s not about your process, it’s not about how you feel, It’s just about what the fuck they think and if they’re securing their jobs. It’s all things that I just don’t want affiliated with my art. I just want to continue to make money and go about things at my own pace.”