Philly MC RecoHavoc Talks New Mixtape 'STARTED' & Working With DJ Drama
Emerging out of Southwest Philadelphia, RecoHavoc is taking the intense hardships he’s experienced throughout his life and turning them into aggressive, compelling hip-hop. The 21-year-old rapper is primed to be the next star in a long line of Philly rap champions, but he has his eyes set on more than just that.
As far back as he can remember, RecoHavoc has always been inspired by music. As a child, he would dance to the classic music biopics that would replay on VH1, like The Temptations and The Jacksons: An American Dream. By the time he got older, Havoc joined an underground dance group called DOLLARBOYZ while also creating beats and writing rhymes. “That’s all I wanted to do. I didn’t really do anything else but that,” Havoc tells Billboard.
Unfortunately, Havoc’s creativity would be put on hold as he found himself in a juvenile detention facility after a few brushes with the law. While serving his time, Havoc’s mother passed away, leaving him with no choice but to make a change in his life. “She always supported me and the music, so when my mom passed, I wasn't going to play with it,” he says. “There was a lot of stuff going on with me, so instead of getting sucked into the bullshit, I turned to music to get me out.” Following his release, Havoc relocated to Georgia to live with his aunt but the move wouldn’t last long as he knew he had to go back home.
After feeling it was right for him to start his music career in Philly as opposed to Georgia, Havoc moved back and began his journey. Saving up enough money to record as much as he could, Havoc birthed a string of viral tracks including “Zero Dark 30” which paved the way for his breakout single “Lucas.” The song, along with the accompanying video, would garner a local buzz for Havoc as well as grasping the attention of fellow Philly MCs, PNB Rock and Meek Mill. Havoc’s momentum would not cease, as the young MC continued putting out music. Within two years, RecoHavoc obtained thousands of YouTube views, shared the stage with a number of big name artists including Travis Scott and Cardi B at Power 99’s Powerhouse 2017, and landed a major label deal with Atlantic Records.
RecoHavoc entered 2018 with the single “Flexxx,” displaying his quick-witted wordplay and brazen hooks. The song laid the foundation for what would become his debut mixtape STARTED. The mixtape, hosted by the legendary DJ Drama, features G Herbo with production by Southside, Honorable C-Note, and more. Through 11 tracks, RecoHavoc puts listeners on a energetic vibe riding keeping them attuned with the hard-hitting sounds he’s developed over the years.
As RecoHavoc continues to promote his debut mixtape STARTED, the Philadelphia rapper stopped by the Billboard offices to talk more about the mixtape including the concept behind it, working with DJ Drama, the “Durf” movement, wanting to work with other DJs, and his deal with Atlantic Records. Check it out below.
How has music become a way for you to cope with everything you’ve experienced in your life?
Music is the only thing that keeps me in place. Making turn-up music was a way for me to not think about the bullshit. That's why I make a lot of turn-up music, because I'm not thinking about any of that trauma shit or what I’ve been through. I'm not big on making songs that sound down or depressing, because I’ve been through so much sad shit in real life. I write turn-up music, so people can turn up. That's when I really do my thing, when I make that type of music.
What is it about Philly that has the formula for producing top-notch talent?
It's the city we grew up in. It's like, "May the best man win." Believe it or not, people from Philly back you to a certain extent. It'll go with anything -- like, your homies from the street you grew up with. Even people that's in the game, they'll back you only if it'll benefit them. Nobody wants you to be better than them. That's just how it is in Philly, really. I don't know if that's how it goes everywhere else. It's like a competition, and it's not always friendly competition. I feel like Philly is the hardest city to make it out of.
A lot of Philadelphia rappers have come into the game with their own aesthetic. What are you bringing to the game?
I'm just trying to make the game more fun. There’s too much anger and hate. There’s too many beefs. I’m not with that shit. I come from cookouts and family reunions. I want more of those feelings. I'm trying to make it "Durfy." I need my own category. Trap music, Durf music. I want people to come to my show and sit down and watch a real show. I'm going to switch the game up by having people be themselves.
What is Durf music?
Well, "Durf" is a word and dance we made up in Philly. It was a slang word me and my homies used. It can mean being turned up where you’re having fun or having liquor in your system. It's whatever you make it as, but it's not wack or boring. It's fun. It's like a self-esteem booster.
How’d you develop your sound?
When I moved to Georgia to live with my aunt, I was making beats just playing around with it. I was trying to catch my vibe, you feel me? Artists like Young Thug and Ca$h Out were just coming out, and those type of rhythms made me feel like I had to go back home. I couldn't adopt this sound, it was like working backwards. I have be about my city first, because no one is going to back me like my city would.
When I went to Philly and got to really record with people that could record me the right way, I just kept recording until I found the right sound. It kept switching because I take heat everywhere I go, I'm like a sponge. To be honest, I just record until the people like what they hear. Whatever grabs the people I feel like that's the sound.
How did the partnership with Atlantic come about?
This guy Boo-Bonic, he's from southwest Philly, is related to my manager. We share the same barber and he always told me about people in LA wanting to see me because of my music. He was telling me to get out there but at the time I wasn't really focused on going out to L.A. I'm in Philly, there's no way people in L.A. were worrying about what we doing here. I'm trying to make it happen for Philly and we're talking about L.A. But eventually my A&R made the call to them and that was really it.
What’s it like working with a Philly legend like DJ Drama?
It was exciting, bro. I'm still excited about it because I came up listening to Drama. There's certain shit you have to do and get through in this game, and doing a mixtape with Drama is one of them. I just had to do it. For your work to be legendary, you have to work with the legends. I felt like, for the culture, I needed that. I want people to say, "Damn they went with the classic vibe" -- it's still new music and still turnt, but still classic.
What’s the meaning behind the title STARTED?
I overcame a lot of stuff throughout my life. For me, everybody goes through their situations and feels like they've been through the worst. Then some people feel like they can't do something, or certain things it's a wrap for. When I say STARTED, it's like thinking it's never too late to start doing what you want to do and making a difference in life. When you get hit with something, what are you going to do? You're either going to give up or start somewhere to start the recovery process.
I feel like, for me, with my parents passing -- that shit hit me. I buried them. We're Muslim so we put the bodies in the ground ourselves. It's different for me. I went through the worst, but was able to start somewhere. If you make people feel that they can start something there's no telling what it can turn into. That's what I'm trying to get across, knowing that it's never too late to get the green light.
DJ Drama has a history with mixtape series. Is that planned for STARTED?
I mean I'm going to do different projects. There might be another DJ out there that, like a reggae DJ, that I would want to work with. There's different types of cultures I want to touch on. Working with Drama I was able to get that done and make it to a certain level -- but I'm not satisfied. I might run into a DJ that's completely out of my realm that I could work with. I never thought about what DJ I was going to work with, it was always just putting together all this fire.
You mentioned possibly working with a DJ that focuses on reggae. Is there a dancehall track we can expect out of you?
Yeah, for sure. I'm not going to lie, I've been trying to get the right beats for that joint. I need to do that. Where I'm from in Southwest Philly, there's a community out there that we vibe with. They love what I do and I feel it's just right to do that.
On the record “Sandbox,” it sounds like you’re tapping into the vintage sounds of Beanie Sigel and Freeway. Did you intend on having this record sound like that?
Nah, I didn't [laughs]. That's crazy right? I had no intentions of doing that. It's not like I wanted to touch a specific era in hip-hop. That's just me. Coming up listening to Beanie Siegel, Freeway, and all of them, that's Philly culture. But the stuff that's out now gets me hype. I would prefer records like "2Sum" and "Residue," but when I have to talk my shit I have to take it back to those vintage Philly days. When people don't understand me or get the wrong impression of me sometimes, I can get on a record like "Sandbox" and break it down to them so they can see I'm not talking any bullshit, I know my history.