By Ural Garrett
On a rainy, February weekend at a rented Crescent Hills Drive home with a wide view of Los Angeles, Phora is putting the finishing touches on his Valentine’s Day release, “i still love you.” The track’s arrival was hinted at on his Instagram weeks before the drop, giving fans a taste of what to expect from a song that has him more in touch with his melodic side than ever.
“It’s just me tapping into my natural roots,” the 24-year-old rapper tells MTV News. “I’m really pushing the limit to my vocal range. I’ve been really practicing with vocal harmonies and stuff like that. It’s not a rap song. I guess you could call it an R&B song. It’s just my style and me taking a new approach. It’s the same me, just a new approach.”
That same evolving approach when discussing “i still love you” and its accompanying music video is mapped out in typical Phora fashion which, as always, revolves around his fans. Active for nearly a decade, Phora, born Marco Anthony Archer, has amassed over 2 million followers across YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, and music videos with eight-figure view counts. Coupled with the accounts for his signature Yours Truly apparel brand, his audience is closer to 3 million.
His considerable following hasn't yet translated to smashing chart success. But just last year he made national headlines by nearly starting a riot at the busy, Los Angeles intersection of Hollywood and Highland while conducting a meet-and-greet at the sneaker store Shoe Palace. Eight people were reportedly hospitalized at the event, where Phora gave out free shoes and Yours Truly swag to hungry fans. Around the same time, he shut down an Orange County mall after giving away $15,000 in cash and even free gas for three hours at a local gas station.
“The fans are the foundation and sometimes artists don’t understand that and they think, oh, it’s just me because I’m a superstar who was just born with this talent,” explained Phora. “Nah, bro. You may have talent but if you let your fans down and they say, 'You know what? Fuck this dude,' you’re going to be left with nothing.”
Part of the mindset comes from Phora’s humble beginnings in Anaheim, California, a city better known as the home of Disneyland, where he was not only the victim of a stabbing when he was 15 years old, but two shootings as well — including one in 2015 where he was shot three times in the back. Pouring all those stories into a consistent album and mixtape run that hasn’t let up since 2010, Phora has grown an army of fans that helped him secure a deal with Warner Bros. Records in 2017. His Warner Bros. debut, Yours Truly Forever, dropped that same year, while the follow-up, Love Is Hell, was released in 2018.
“That’s the foundation and I treat my fans like family because, in a deeper sense, everyone is human no matter who you are and I feel like a lot of those people aren’t just fans,” said Phora. “They’re people who have been through the same kind of shit that I’ve been through. You know, relationship shit, family shit, life shit or whatever the case may be. I feel like 99 percent of people — if not 100 percent of those people — have been in my same shoes before at some point in time.”
Phora’s eyes light up when speaking about his fans, even more so when he’s asked about the first note of support he received on his 2010 YouTube debut, "Graff History." “I feel the verse from, 2:10 to 2:24," the commenter said. "Kinda relate to it. Good song though.”
“I haven’t seen it,” answered Phora. “I’m going to check that person out and find that person and look for that person and I’m going to hunt them down.”
The track came from RePhlections Of The Truth Mixtape Vol. 1, a project that established him as something of a rap purist. It’s a far cry from his more contemporary, melodic efforts on last year’s Love Is Hell, which featured guest appearances from G-Eazy, Tory Lanez and 6lack, among others. Love Is Hell’s title track also features Trippie Redd. That may have possibly alienated some of Phora’s loyal followers, his earlier material being more rooted in rap traditionalism than the emo-rap sound Redd and his peers have perfected. However, he doesn’t feel like he has anything to prove to the vocal naysayers in the video’s comments.
“I feel like I paid my dues and that was a big part of my life where I showed my respect and gave my respect to hip-hop, from opening up for Rakim to Talib Kweli,” Phora explains. “I don’t want to have a certain sound or be labeled as a ‘insert here’ rapper. I don’t want to sound like anyone else cause I don’t want to be labeled. I wanted to tell my own story with my own sound and that’s it.”
Phora performs at the 2018 Rolling Loud Festival in Los Angeles.
Anyone who’s followed Phora over the years understands the other leg of his story involves his Yours Truly clothing brand. He says the brand has taken on life of its own to the point where he’s had to manage over 20 employees on his payroll.
“On the Yours Truly side, you have manufacturing, shipping, shipping fulfillment, screen printers, and ordering blank apparels like hoodies. Sometimes, we gotta go overseas,” he said. "It’s a good thing but, I don’t have an answer for how it’s grown so far and so rapidly.”
What he does understand is the next phase for Yours Truly: a flagship store opening later this year on Los Angeles’ streetwear capital, Fairfax Avenue. Phora wants his line to be synonymous with the other stores in the area are known for the likes of Supreme, Golf, Dope, and The Hundreds.
“They’ve been doing it longer than we have so we’re like the little bro,” said Phora. “The thing about us and the main reason why we’ve been so successful is because we study. To master the game, you have to be a student first and we look at everything they do. We’re not arrogant to the reality that people have been doing this for a long time.”
While Phora adds to his juggling act, he’s also recording new music for his next album which, at the moment, doesn’t have a concept or theme, other than providing a space for him to unleash all his “emotions, feelings and shit.” 2019 will also be the year he expands his Yours Truly record label, as he begins searching for a diverse array of producers and artists.
"Whether you make happy music, sad music, R&B, whether you play piano and sing ballads, whether you got bars and you really wanna rap your ass off. We looking for anyone that's talented," he says. "I want to have a fortress. I want to give everybody an opportunity to shine."
Releasing new music, owning a full-fledged clothing brand, pleasing his rabid fanbase, and putting the gears in motion to grow his label family would cause anyone to eventually burnout. However, for the sake of the people who put him in this position, Phora doesn’t see himself letting up off the gas anytime soon.
“I feel like a lot of artist have a disconnect with fans and the reason my fanbase is so strong is because I go out of my way to talk to people to look into people’s lives and get a better understanding,” Phora says. “With that, I know how people feel and they just want someone to relate to. People don’t want to feel alone.”