PnB Rock on Going From Homeless to One of Philly's Brightest Stars: 'I Have Everything I Wanted'
Up until a few years ago, the biggest name coming out of the Philadelphia rap scene was Meek Mill, a boisterous up-and-coming rhymer who fed the streets gritty anthems and eventually struck gold in 2011 when he joined Rick Ross’ Maybach Music roster. Meek carried Philly on his shoulders until a new wave of artists emerged and expanded the sounds of the city like Lil Uzi Vert with his signature Auto-tuned, rap-sing flow and PnB Rock, the soulful R&B crooner who is bringing romance back to the streets.
“Before I came along, the Philly music scene was all hardcore, gangster, shoot-em-up, kill-your-grandmother type of music,” PnB Rock tells Billboard backstage after performing for Fool’s Gold Day Off festival this past weekend. “Once I came along, I started giving more smooth melodies, more songs for the ladies, a new vibe and Philly wasn’t used to all that. Lil Uzi and I gave Philly different sounds by stepping outside of the box and not sticking to the stigma.”
The Philly native’s rise to prominence wasn’t a quick sprint and spent 33 months in prison for various charges. It was in prison that he decided to pursue music wholeheartedly, unleashing his three-part “RnB” mixtape series upon his prison release and began to build buzz around his hometown. Interweaving his narratives of Philly street life and budding romances together on wax caught the attention of Atlantic Records, who signed the artist to a multi-album deal in 2015 and he’s since been on a steady grind to the top.
Rock, born Rakim Allen, hit the mainstream circuit with his most famous single to date “Selfish,” the rapper’s first entry onto the Billboard Hot 100 and his first platinum-selling single off his debut album GTTM: Going Through The Motions, released earlier this year. The album documents Rock’s experiences since inking his Atlantic deal from his newfound fame and fatherhood to the loss of his older brother, who was killed during the time Rock was developing his Atlantic debut.
“I was just going through life and I just wanted to put it all out there," he says. "Me going through all these motions made it easier for me to stay focused and have something to latch onto other than focusing on the negativity -- it was my escape.”
The “Selfish” crooner’s coping mechanism proved to work in his favor as his textured, melodic vocals can be heard on a slew of hip-hop collaborations including Kodak Black's "Too Many Years" and YFN Lucci’s latest hit “Everyday We Lit,” an infectious street banger that Rock says he knew would garner positive responses from fans. “When me and Lucci made that record, we both told each other ‘Ay man, we got a number one record right here.’ It’s one of those can’t deny, summertime anthems and we knew it was going to blow up,” he boasts. “Everyday We Lit” peaked at No. 33 on the Hot 100 and has spent 19 weeks on the chart so far.
Aside from racking up features, the rapper-singer earned a spot in XXL’s 2017 Freshman Class alongside rising talents A Boogie wit da Hoodie, Kamaiyah, MadeinTYO, Kyle, Kap G, XXXTentacion, Ugly God, Playboi Carti and Amine, a feat he regards as “a major accomplishment” for a new artist like himself, especially coming from his neighborhood in Philadelphia. “I feel blessed and humbled like it’s unbelievable for people like me who come from Philly -- my block Pastorious and Baynton -- to achieve something like this. It’s one of those things that every up-and-coming artist wants, like that official stamp of approval,” Rock offered. “It just lets the world know you’re an official artist and you’re really out here making waves and moves. Before I was making music, I was homeless, I didn’t have all the girls or any friends -- and now I have everything that I wanted.”