Thutmose Talks Transition From Lagos to the US, Premieres New Project 'Man on Fire': Exclusive
At 9 years old, Nigerian-born MC Thutmose immigrated with his family to the tough streets of Brooklyn after the tragic Lagos Armoury Explosion in Nigeria. Like many immigrants, Thutmose and his family left the dangers of their homeland for a chance at a better life in the United States. Sadly, the “Run Wild” MC’s first memory in the Big Apple was a SWAT team raiding his family’s home and pointing a gun to his father’s head.
Adjusting to the transition between the two cities tested Thutmose’s mettle. The struggles of fitting in and seeing things like his neighbors selling drugs, proved the American way of living Thutmose saw on his television screen was not the life his family was living. “The hardest thing to adjust to in Brooklyn was dealing with the idea of reality versus your dreams,” Thutmose tells Billboard. “As a kid, you have these wild imaginations and dreams but your surroundings and reality are very different.” Thutmose found a way to deal with the chaos after his mother bought him a laptop and the sounds of Kendrick Lamar and JAY-Z offered solace and inspired the young MC to make his own music.
Thutmose emerged onto the scene with a handful of songs released on his SoundCloud page. A buzz grew for the Brooklyn-bred MC after he released a freestyle over Kendrick Lamar’s hit record “Humble.” Thutmose capitalized on the moment by releasing more songs that all achieved more than 100,000 streams on SoundCloud. The undeniable buzz attracted the attention of the video game company EA Sports, who grabbed Thutmose and German producer NoMBe for “Run Wild” -- the soundtrack to the official trailer of the FIFA 2018 World Cup video game.
Thutmose has blossomed into one of the most promising and versatile newcomers in the genre. With his debut project Man on Fire, premiering below on Billboard, Thutmose is giving listeners a brief introduction into his life, whether it be coming from Nigeria and trying to fit in (“Pressure”), hanging out with his friends embracing the thrills of New York (“Ride With Me”) or dealing with relationship problems (“Karma”). The project features Desiigner and Jay Critch, with production by KillaGraham, Scott Storch and more.
On the verge of the release of Man on Fire, Thutmose sat with Billboard to speak on the project, how he dealt with moving to a new country, the lessons he learned from Scott Storch, and why he feels he’s hip-hop’s Trae Young. Check out the conversation below.
How did you develop this eclectic sound and where does it fit in the realm of hip-hop?
I was experimenting with a bunch of different sounds. I was always into the experimental shit and trippy samples. I would take time listening to a ton of beats in my dorm room and just vibe out. I think Clams Casino was getting real big back then and I loved a lot of his beats, he was out of this world. I was also studying myself and figuring out what I like because a lot of the time you might like something but it might not be for you. So I was just trying a lot of shit out and see how it sounded. It’s really just in it’s own realm.
How did the transition from Lagos, Nigeria, to Brooklyn affect you?
When you move somewhere new you observe the culture that's there and try to fit in. Brooklyn is a crazy world. Nigeria is crazy too but in Brooklyn, creative shit is always happening but people carry on like it's normal. You get assimilated real quickly in a place like that. I had stepbrothers that were here and growing up with my older brother and younger sister, it's like going through the shit together helped us out. Obviously, it wasn't easy due to the environment but music, school, and my family kept everything together.
Can you talk about that memory of the SWAT team raiding your home in relation to the idea of the American Dream that everyone outside the States seems to believe?
Yeah man, my parents definitely had the idea of achieving the American Dream but me, I just watched a lot of movies and developed an idea of it through that. It wasn’t anywhere near what we actually went through but I never really had any hopes besides me I'm going to a new country. When I moved out here it was from a place that was already crazy so it was like adjusting to a whole new craziness but keeping my mind focused. It was wild in Brooklyn, but I was built in a way to deal with it. At the time I didn't get to reflect or take it in, I was just convincing myself that this was normal and that hopefully, it gets better in the future. Now I get to reflect on it and think about how it affects me by putting on wax.
What’s the meaning behind the title Man on Fire?
It's a metaphor for how I view life. When chaos ensues, it doesn't matter what's happening, you can still balance it out. That’s why on the cover I’m standing there on fire with my face showing no signs of distress. Having the SWAT team come to my door, growing up in a crazy area and seeing crazy shit all the time, it's a lot. It was a huge learning process and I always remembered that knowing where I'm from and knowing what I've been through will always help me keep going. I learned that a lot of crazy shit happens in life but you can’t let it consume you. You just have to keep going.
What was it like working with the new generation of NYC hip-hop artists like Jay Critch and Desiigner?
It was a dope and fun experience. I've known Jay Critch for awhile even before he became big. Coming out, I wanted to work with New York artists on my first project especially artists that are at a higher level. I didn't want to get someone from L.A. or Atlanta like a random rapper that I never met. When you're from New York you hear about it in the streets and everybody talks about it so it's like you're working at the home base.
You don't have a typical New York sound, so do you feel that the hip-hop purists in the city will be turned off from it?
Not necessarily. I think they love it actually because they’re being exposed to it. I've been fortunate of all the DJ's that play my shit. Uncle Murda, Fat Joe, and others have all shown love to me. I have parts in me where I rap and it doesn't matter what sonics there are, if you listen to the words you'll know. Like Kendrick Lamar and Section 80, which didn't really have a west coast sound, but when you heard what he was saying and listened to the storytelling, that's all that mattered. For me, I try not to worry about the narrative of sounding a certain way. I'm just creating music and expressing myself.
What did you take away from Scott Storch while working with him?
It was so surreal. When shit happens, I'm normally cool about it but that moment being on a helicopter pad with him in downtown LA for his documentary was insane. At that time I didn't even drop a project yet and I'm working with Scott Storch, he's produced for the biggest artists in the game. The fact that he believed in me and had me be a part of his own journey and story was crazy. I'm pretty sure in the future when I look back at it I'll be even more proud of it.
As for what I learned, he's a genius and he's always in the studio. Knowing his strengths and how he goes full-fledged with everything is what stuck out to me. Being next to a legend like that you'll be inspired automatically. Just seeing him work and having conversations with him while smoking a joint, I was trying to take in as much information as I could. As a newcomer, you have to be able to realize and showcase your strengths in front of the legends in order to make that magic happen.
Do you feel the odds and hurdles you’ve overcome as an immigrant will help you with the challenges you’ll face in the music industry?
I think so. It's a new realm for me, I’m only about two years in. Life, for me, has always been about exploration and learning new things. Things will keep changing and I have to learn how to adapt to it. As long as I’m grounded I’ll never be out of order, wilding out. I'm still learning, whether it be the business or my art, I still have a lot more story to tell and more shit to go through. I try to have that mindset where I come into a new world and take everything that happened to me coming here, and the things I learned and the spaces I've adapted to, and apply it to any new place I go.
If you could describe the path your life and career has taken since you’ve emerged onto the scene with one word, what would it be and why?
I would say "trippy," because it's hard to gauge what's happening and people on the outside looking in think you're living the life but it's something different every day. Despite all that things happening in this world I have to keep going. I used to play soccer when I was younger and when you score one goal you want another one. You have to be like that, achieving more throughout all the craziness. My mind is running nonstop to where I'm always looking for the next thing to make me feel comfortable where I'm at.
With you being a newcomer, what NBA rookie would you compare yourself to and why?
I'd say Trae Young because he's always pulling up shooting from distance, ambitious as fuck. He may miss a few but he's ambitious. I like his confidence a lot. Some people come into the game not taking chances but Trae Young came in pulling it like “fuck this I'm getting these points!” I like that kind of attitude. I think I'm at that level where I'm perfecting what I'm doing and I'm going to keep getting better.