Phora on His New Album 'Love Is Hell,' His Relationship With God & Why Tupac's Music Is Therapeutic
Phora's candor always leaves an indelible mark on new listeners. Instead of placing band-aids on his wounds to remedy the pain, he valiantly embraces his blemishes like the intrepid soul that he is.
In 2016, he flashed signs of promise when he doled out his record "Sinner." The somber song finds Phora detailing his arduous battle with drug addiction, alcoholism, depression and more. "It’s just really a whole pent-up aggression inside of me where I keep it bottled in. Eventually, at the end of the day after some time keeping that shit bottled in, I just snapped," Phora reflects on his standout track.
While Phora's melancholic records have helped him develop a strong fanbase, it's also his positive outlook on love that keeps his fans enthralled. On his 2017 album Yours Truly Forever, Phora penciled rosy records such as "To the Moon" and "Forever," which injected hope in hapless romantics. For his new project, Love Is Hell, out Friday, Phora plans to erase any doubts cast on him as a hip-hop mainstay with marquee features from 6LACK, G-Eazy, Tory Lanez and Trippie Redd.
"I see everyone as competition," says Phora. "Homies, friends, everyone. When I’m in the studio with you, it’s a confidence boost. It pushes me to be better than what I’m doing."
The West Coast star spoke with Billboard about his forthcoming album Love Is Hell, his relationship with God, his favorite "Sinner" record, Tupac's music being therapeutic and his tireless pursuit of happiness.
The first record that I got introduced to you was when you rapped over Alina Baraz’s “Make You Feel.” Which record do you feel was your biggest splash into the forefront of hip-hop?
In 2016, I put out this record called “Sinner.” It’s been a series. I have two of them out right now and the third one’s coming on the new project Love Is Hell. When I first dropped "Sinner,"I feel like people kind of gravitated towards it because it was different. It was raw emotion from me. I let out all my anger, frustration and pain on that record. I don’t know how people came across it, because I just put it out, but I think it’s still one of my biggest to this day. That was the one that put me on the map.
It’s crazy you mention the “Sinner” record. The first one, shit ton of emotions. The second one, shit ton of emotions. How were you able to carry that level of emotion and intensity each time out, especially when things are on the up and up for you?
This goes for every artist, but no matter where you’re at or what position you’re in, I feel like we’re all going through certain things, some more than others. We all have our demons and we’re all going through our own personal shit. At that point, for me personally, I was just going through a lot at the time, even for part two and part three. It’s just really a whole pent up aggression inside of me where I keep it bottled in. Eventually, at the end of the day after some time keeping that shit bottled in, I just snapped. All the “Sinner’s” have been like, one day I’m in the studio and I’m just going through a whole bunch of shit, and then I needed to let it all out and release everything. That’s really how all of them have happened.
If you could rank each one, how would you rank them?
The first one is the original. The first one is will always be my baby, my first born. I think part three is number two for me, but I think it’s probably my favorite one musically. It actually has a hook on it from a different vocalist. I kind of took that one to a different level. Part one and part two are a tie for me, but I think part three is my favorite musically.
This is your second project with Warner Music Group. Talk about your level of confidence as far as your artistry is concerned, because you normally don't do any features. What made you step out of the box?
It’s a mixture of two things. One, I’ve always kind of been in the corner by myself. Not a loner, but I’ve always been doing my own thing. I’ve always liked it that way. But this past year, I’ve connected with a lot of artists and had conversations. I actually met 6LACK, Trippie, G-Eazy and Tory Lanez all within the last year. Before this year, I really didn’t know anybody. It’s all organic and I actually met them. This year, I actually connected. I’ve met other artists, but these are the ones I actually connected with and felt like we could genuinely make some music together. Me not having features on my other projects, it wasn’t really by choice. It was kind of how it was because I was more in the corner. I personally feel like with this project, it’s more my time to shine.
Going back to the confidence level, how do you feel about this being number two with a major label in comparison to when you were first coming out?
That’s a good question. The confidence thing is difficult for me, man. I’m human. I guess maybe for other artists, they have more confidence and they’re more like, “I’m the greatest and I’m the dopest.” I’m more nit-picky on my shit and I’m super detailed and I feel like I’m a perfectionist to a certain extent. Sometimes, I feel like it’s not good enough and I lack confidence. Right now, a few days away from the album, I’m hella nervous. I have anxiety and shit. I don’t know how people are going to feel and I felt that way about the first album. Even with these features and even with a different kind of push on the album, I’m still nervous and I don’t know if people are going to like it. I’m confident because I believe in my music.
When you were in the studio and you knew you were going to work with a Trippie or 6LACK, what was your confidence level like knowing now you’re aligning yourself with this caliber of artists?
That’s a different kind of confidence. When there’s competition involved, my confidence level is boosted. In my heart, I know I’m great. When I’m in the studio with someone, I’m good. I don’t know how industry things work and how people receive things, but when I’m in the studio, sonically and everything, I know what I’m doing in the studio. I see everyone as competition. Homies, friends, everyone. When I’m in the studio with you, it’s a confidence boost. It pushes me to be better than what I’m doing.
You have a penchant for penning some real candid, heartfelt lyrics. With that being said, on this project, what would you say is your favorite 16?
When it comes to real emotional lyrics, I think “Sinner Pt. 3" is the one. There’s two 16’s on there. Aside from “Sinner Pt. 3," I have this record and it’s actually the outro called “Till Infinity.” I think it’s just straight 40 bars. No chorus, no nothing. Just the outro. That’s definitely me laying everything on the table, not even on some like emotional shit but just a recap of everything I’ve been through, the good and the bad. I think that’s one of my favorites. “Sinner” is a record you have to listen to on a certain occasion, but “Till Infinity” you could listen to it on a good day or a bad day. It’s uplifting. That’s probably one of my favorites when it comes to heartfelt lyrics.
I want to play around with the title for a little bit. Give me a moment for you when love was hell, and a moment when love was heavenly.
That’s a good question. This last year, I’ve been going through so many different changes and it comes with the business and the artistry. It’s hard to upkeep a relationship in the industry. One of the biggest challenges for me was focusing on what I love and who I love, evenly, and trying to give both the same attention. When I would give more attention to what I love, which is obviously music, who I love would start drifting away and falling apart because I wasn’t giving that love, care, time and attention.
For a long time, it was such a battle for me to evenly pay attention to everything. At one point, I was like, "fuck this and fuck everything." It was just so difficult because I started losing connections with certain people, and that’s what matters. The music, I love it, but surrounding yourself with people you love is important. During this last year, it felt like I didn’t know what to do. Pay attention to what I’m doing, or pay more attention to who I should be surrounding myself with. That was one time I felt like shit was just crashing down.
I know you got some good memories, so what about when love was heavenly?
I could flip it and say the same thing. Even with this music, which is what I love doing, it’s been a constant uprise for me in the past 7-8 years. Everything I’ve been asking for and wishing for, it’s been happening for me and it’s always been great. There’s never been a moment where I was like damn, I fucked up or I lost everything. Once I finished this album, I was like, “Yo, I love this album.” To speak on what I just said on love being hell, everyone that I love and care about, they said the album’s amazing and they’re proud of me. It was moment where everything came together. All the people I love and care about were happy for me and proud of me. The album’s done, everything is finished, and it was a certain time recently where everything felt right.
On the last project, there’s a pocket of songs, I think it goes “Sinner Pt. 2," “To the Moon” and “Forever.” I’m big on song sequence, so I love how each song segues, especially when “To the Moon” jumps to “Forever.” I say this because I remember you were rapping about something we all aspire for, and that's being married and having kids. What’s your mind-set on that now?
I’ve been in a super crazy wild relationship for like seven years, but I think eventually. I still feel that way. This music shit, I love it, but there’s a time where it’s just like I want to go away, be married and have kids, away from all this fuckery and all this shit that’s going on in the industry because it can take a toll on you mentally. I still feel that way and I feel like I’m only getting older. We’re all just getting older. At the end of the day, I feel like that’s where a big part of my happiness will come. In this industry, at least for me personally, it’s really hard to find genuine happiness.
One of my favorite records from Yours Truly Forever was "God." What are your conversations with God like today?
For the most part, I’m probably in the same position, but the only difference is, I’m having more of a battle mentally. It’s not such a battle with my career or with music, but these days it’s more of a battle with where I am mentally in my head and dealing with the past and dealing with people. Like I said, people I love and trying to be the right influence for them or treating them right, I think that’s always been the battle with me and talking to God. I’ve always had my battles and I feel like we all have. I think in the past year, it hasn’t been such a disconnect as it has been in maybe two, three years ago. It’s been more of an understanding and trying to understand the way God works.
Your music has been therapy to a lot of people. I’m curious, what song or album do you feel is therapy for you outside of your catalog?
There’s a lot. Anything Tupac really speaks to the soul. That’s timeless music. Whether it comes from Better Dayz-- I can name any Tupac album and it’s just like it definitely speaks. Any Tupac song or album will speak 10, 30 or 50 years from now. I still go back. I think I was listening even yesterday an album straight through.
Earlier this year I was depressed and almost died from overdosing on pills...— PHORA (@PHORAONE) October 2, 2018
Today I bought my first house and couldn’t be happier. NEVER GIVE UP------ pic.twitter.com/P3sEbxF9yp
If you could pick one song or album to be the soundtrack to your life right now, what would it be and why?
The song would be Tupac “Better Dayz.” I feel like it gives me personally something to look forward to. We’re all in this moment and we’re all chasing something. We all care about something and we dream about having something. For me personally, whether I’m going through a relationship issue, family issue, or an issue with my career, it gives me hope to keep going forward and to keep chasing what I’m chasing.
If you could pick one word to title this chapter of your life, which word would that be and why?
Purgatory. I’m in a space between heaven and hell and I don’t know what the future’s going to be. I don’t know if it’ll be heaven or hell. I feel like right now, I’m in a purgatory and I’m just waiting to see what’s going to happen.