After years in the rap game, hundreds of millions of streams, and several successful singles, PnB Rock is finally here with his long-awaited official debut album, TrapStar Turnt PopStar.
The project, which he released last Friday (May 3), treats his patient fans with two sides: The TrapStar side focuses more on his humbling upbringing in the skin-toughening streets of Philly, while the PopStar side showcases the life he lives now as he finally celebrates and enjoys the fruits of his labor.
This spotlight moment is the result of years of building his foundation, brick by brick. “I’m not an overnight success at all. I put in work and now it’s my time,” he tells Billboard. “I was one of the motherfuckers who paid to get on stage at one point in my career. I went to SXSW like two different times and paid a few hundred to get on that stage.”
The masses have heard PnB being the key ingredient that weaves Billboard Hot 100 hits like Meek Mill’s “Dangerous” and YFN Lucci’s “Everyday We Lit” together. However, his core fanbase constantly asked about the album regardless. “That shit is a lot of pressure — I can’t lie, it was starting to get to me,” he admits. When the time finally came, he knew he had to deliver. “I really wanted [the fans] to know like, ‘I’m working on some shit for y’all!’ It will be worth it.”
To make the wait worthwhile, the Philly singer heightened the excitement behind the album by releasing a deluxe version as well. On Monday (May 6), PnB shared five additional tracks to the already generous 18-track project. The deluxe version features guest verses from Roddy Ricch, YoungBoy Never Broke Again, and rap legend Lil Wayne. Today (May 8), he shares the visual for his Tee Grizzley collab “Go to Mars.”
PnB Rock recently stopped by Billboard to discuss the new album, being the middle child, and finally being in a better space. Watch the new “Go To Mars” video above and check out the full interview below.
After years in the game and much success, your debut album TrapStar Turnt PopStar is finally here. What has the energy been like around you?
I’m happy. For the first time in a long time, I’m happy. I was always like, cool, you know? But there were always those times I wish I had more behind it. I wish I had more of a backing behind the music. Even though I’m signed to a major, I just wanted the label to give me their all. Now that it’s that official debut album, we’re really going at it full-force.
How did you decide on the name and concept for this dual-sided album?
I didn’t really know what I was going to do with my new project. I’ve been working on it pretty much since 2017, but I had no solid direction, no theme. I just went on Twitter one day and [was] trying to see what the fans want to hear and what they had to say, and a lot of them were saying the same thing: They wanted to hear the old PnB. They wanted that pain, that struggle. They’re like, “You’ve been on some ‘Selfish,’ super lovey-dovey music. We want that hard shit.” I get it. Right. So that was perfect. I was like, “I could do that. I can touch on my old life and how I got to where I’m at.”
You get to understand me when you hear the TrapStar side. That’s where I open up about my life and what I’ve been through — all my little situations. Then, I realized I want to do double album, so you get both sides of me. That was me then, and this is me now. You know, you see the growth and the level up. I went through some shit, but I’m good now and I’m happy and doing well.
Having two sides to a project makes it a little lengthier than the average right now, where a lot of people are dropping super-short projects. Was this intentional?
That was all me. The label was like, “[We] want like 14 songs.” And I was like, “I ain’t drop an album in two years. They’re begging me for this shit.” I put out so many snippets because I didn’t want the people to think I was just doing nothing and not working. I really wanted them to know like, “I’m working on some shit for y’all!” I’m saying, “Wait it out and it will be worth it.” I finally got all the right team players that I needed. I still have the same management, but I added new management, and everything started aligning.
You really dug deep into your struggle at the tail end of the TrapStar half. With deep songs like “Nowadays” and “Now or Never 2.0,” were you a bit nervous to tell everyone everything, now that your audience is bigger?
Nah, because [earlier in my career], I wanted what I was saying to capture a big audience. It was supposed to be like, “Damn, he talking about some different real life shit.” I was thinking it was gonna reach the masses, but it didn’t. [Laughs.] I wasn’t really tripping, though. I learned from the early days and asked myself, “Okay, what do I need to do?” I just kept working hard and work kept working at it.
For “Now or Never 2.0,” I mean, that song I’m super proud of because I co-produced it. I’ve never produced any of the songs on my mixtapes or anything that I ever put out. I’ll be behind the scenes making beats sometimes. This particular song, I actually structured to beat. Also, it’s just a personal song. When people hear it, they’re going to understand [that] this is real life.
“MIDDLE CHILD” instantly caught my eye, not only for the obvious reasons like the XXXTENTACION feature and J. Cole’s track of the same name, but because I am a middle child. How would you say being a middle child has impacted the way you are today?
I have two older siblings and two younger. It’s crazy because I’m a middle child, but out of my two older brothers, only one of them acted like an older figure. I have an autistic brother and he’s older than me but he can’t really talk much. We all take care of him — so I was a middle child, but I was like the second oldest, pretty much. Then recently, my oldest brother got killed, so now it’s like now I’m really the oldest. I really had to step up like the oldest, regardless of living as the child born in the middle of five siblings all my life. It taught me how to step up.
When you were in jail, you spoke about how you received a lot of love and fans used to send you letters and you’d write back.
I remember a lot of them. I used to sit there and read those things over and over. I remember there was like a group of little girls and they were like cousins and shit. I still fuck with them to this day, but they just got so much older and I can’t just be keeping as much as we used to back in the day. But they used to be writing me some funny ass shit and they kept me in tune with the streets. You remember when you were a kid and in school you did the art projects where you trace your hand on paper and then write stuff on it, like your life goals and shit? They used to send me stuff like that, too. I want them to know I definitely still remember that shit. I remember their handles on social media and everything.
I heard the story about how Fabolous was supposed to be on “Dangerous” because you sent it to him first, but Meek Mill wound up on it. When are we getting this remix then?
We’re still working on the remix. It’s definitely coming. When you hear Fabolous’ verse, oh man. He ate that shit. I can’t even lie, I wish he had sent that shit earlier. But I’m definitely not tripping one bit, because it’s such a huge blessing the way “Dangerous” turned out with Meek. God truly made it do what it did. I still hear it on the radio every single day. And it’s going to go even further once this remix comes out.
You take a lot of younger artists under your wing, especially Philly artists. Who would you say has done the same for you?
I honestly wouldn’t say there was someone who always guided me the whole way, but there’s someone who gave me a lot of game when I first day I met him, and I’ll never ever forget that.
I have a feeling I know who you’re about to say.
I know you have a personal relationship with Nipsey Hussle.
Ah, man. Every time I saw Nipsey, he was always trying to push me to do what’s next. He knew the talent that I had. Every time I saw him, he’d be like, “You should drop this shit. When are you gonna drop that shit?” He’s always paying attention and always on top of every detail. That’s something a lot of people will tell you about him.
But the person I was going to say is Fetty Wap.
Yes, Fetty. He really gave me a lot of game. He was real with me and told me shit like how n—as are in the industry as far as like people that we might look up to. He’d be like, “Don’t be thinking these n—as is who they is. Some of them can move weird, for real.” And he told me real shit. Like, don’t sign a publishing deal that isn’t right for you. Don’t be too hype take a million dollars the first time it’s presented to you. Look at me, I had two hit records and I ain’t even signed a publishing deal for like two years — and instead of me taking that one million that they tried to offer me, I got 6.5 million from my first deal. I remember that. He just gave me a lot of jewels and shit, and I will just never forget that.
That’s crazy because a lot of people assumed there was some beef, since you guys were coming up at the same time.
It was never ever that. When I first started making my music and I created my sound and shit and it started taking off, I was really locked up for the height of that in the beginning, because I was in there for half a year. And that’s the time period when the labels and all of that start calling. Then, I heard Fetty Wap’s shit on the radio. I’m like, “Hold the fuck up. Who the fuck is this? He’s almost on my type of swag.” But I realized he’s a bit more commercial with it. He had that radio-type vibe and I wasn’t giving that yet at that time.
When I was first making my music, I thought I didn’t have anybody that was in that lane like singing melodies and talking that trap shit. It was crazy. But when I came home, turns out the same person who signed Fetty Wap is the same person who signed me. He pretty much just introduced us, and from the start Fetty was so thorough and so cool. We were always cool with each other — we even made music that same day. Don’t worry, he’s coming. He was at my crib about two weeks ago and he played me some super fire shit.
See, you’re an East Coast guy. What made you decide to pack up and move to LA?
I was just getting into a lot of shit here. Not saying you can’t get into shit in LA, but here I know everyone and everything so it’s easier to get caught up in the mix. L.A. was something new and I truly just be chilling when I’m there. I got my girl. I’m chilling in the studio or at the crib.
How much has your life changed in just one year, and how does it feel to be looking back from where you’re at now?
Honestly, around this time last year, a lot of shit was slowing down for me. My shows and bookings and shit like that, I was getting less and less. I was doing shows, and a lot of my fans on Twitter were saying stuff like, “I’m not coming to another show until you drop some new music. I’ve seen you perform the same thing like three times.” I realized like, “Oh, that’s why my shows are slowing down. These motherfuckers have seen me perform this shit like seven times already. I have to drop new music.”
So that’s why I put out a little project on SoundCloud last year, just something for the fans. They were fucking with it, but they were still on my ass like, “Yeah, but we still want the album, though.” That shit is a lot of pressure. I can’t lie, it was starting to get to me. So last year, I definitely noticed that, and my shit was slowing down. It went from having multiple shows a week, to about once a month. I’d be like, “So, we ain’t got no show coming up?” I still had my other business ventures and shit. But music always comes first.
So around September, I added new management and I started noticing changes and shit and stuff started getting better. I was landing new deals, the label was on my side one hundred percent. Not even just the management, I got a girl now. Everything just started changing and aligning. All this good shit was happening at the same time. And now, my debut is coming out. I’m good now.