The rising rapper is explaining the concept for a video he’s working on and it features the legendary defense specialist teaching the world how to reverse any can of whoop ass opened on them. "I’m setting up a video treatment right now,” he says, excitedly. “We're going to fly up to Detroit and do a music video with him where he's doing the whole reenactment of the class and how to defend yourself. And he's just fucking me up.”
For Polo Perks, the world has opened considerably. The 27-year-old lyricist just released I.C.F.M. Pt. 3/ fortheonesilost in November, coinciding with the rise of the Surf Gang rap collective that he’s a part of who, in addition to him, is pushing the limits of what we consider to be New York Drill. Their samples range from My Chemical Romance to The Killers, and the way that their day-in-the-life raps melt together on these unique sounds have made them stick out.
Success doesn’t happen overnight, no matter how many tales you see in the music industry. For all of his current success, Polo Perks has actually been doing this for more than a decade. Born in Harlem and eventually returning to New York in the Bronx after years in Connecticut, Polo Perks initially held an interest in skateboarding and fashion while striking up a love for pop-punk and alt-rock that he discovered on FuseTV’s daily countdown.
Eventually, he’d get into music following a legal situation that inspired him to crash at a friend’s house in Connecticut after graduating from high school. He started to freestyle, leading to him going viral in the scene soon after. But something tragic would happen: him getting stabbed by a friend after an argument, and his SoundCloud and Instagram pages being erased from the internet. After contemplating giving up, friends inspired him to release the track, “Trendy Shit,” that earned more than 20,000 streams in a couple of days.
Since then, Polo Perks has been hard at work. Genius has him pegged at 10 projects in just four years and he’s been instrumental in Surf Gang, appearing in releases like “Cinderella” and “2 Much Going On” where his booming baritone delivery acts as an anchor. Together, Surf Gang is one collective middle finger to pre-established rap group conventions, and with Polo Perks practically running point, it’s just a matter of time until they’re household names.
He’s just getting started, but here’s Polo Perks on pretty much everything so far.
How did bouncing around between Connecticut and New York impact your appreciation for music?
I don't feel I was tied down to New York artists or, in general, any specific type of sound artist back at that time when I moved to Connecticut. I moved out there in 2007. No, 2006. So at that time, bro, music was really confusing, but I remember exactly what I was fucking around that time. D4L had just came out, Shawty Lo had just came out, all the snap and pop rappers had just came out, so I was fucking with them. I was fucking with Kanye and Pharrell the most. But also with that transition, I started hearing a lot more other types of sound of music, like country, rock. That's where I really started falling heavy into rock music, was around that transition in my life.
You’re closely associated with pop-punk because of how it informs your music. What led to your discovery it?
Pop-punk, I discovered that in my early ages. On Fuse TV and MTV Hits, they played whole hours of rock bands or whole hours of artists. It would be like a whole hour of Green Day and then another of the American Rejects. Also, a lot of music out I’d find would come from our radio stations. When we first moved to Connecticut, we would have to take these long ass drives, and like Hot 97 and shit don't work. So we would have to listen to all these other corny mid country stations that wouldn't play rap music. They would play these other songs.
That's how I ended up getting put onto Hall & Oates and I ended up flipping one of their songs recently into a whole rap song. It's a bunch of ways, but even now to this day, it's really my upper hand in music. I really realize how many people don't listen to other genres of music, and the simple fact that I have the knowledge of these other genres, it just keeps me ahead of everybody.
Do you still have that same curiosity for music that you had as a kid?
Hell yeah. You ever found out about some artist? That's my biggest aggravation, when I find out about an artist from like 2013 now and this nigga don't make music no more. He just gave up on music because of girl issues or some shit. Mad artists I've been finding out about like that, like this band called Merchant Ships, and they had one album that they was going to release through a label. Something happened between them and they all broke up. I have their album and this album is one of the craziest fucking albums that I've heard in alternative rock music, but it won't ever get to the world.
Or this other little acoustic artist named Johnny Hobo. I just recently found out about him. He doesn't make music no more like that, but his shit is down fire. I don't know, I feel like with this shit, it's always going to be like a loophole I miss or something. So I'm always going to keep coming back to other genres or not just other genres, but different time periods in music to find new shit.
You’ve been doing this since 2009, so it’s clear you understand the value of perseverance. What’s kept you going all this time?
My inspiration of music back then, nobody was doing it. That was the thing about it. Like 2009, it wasn't cool to do music until 2015 into 2014. Before that, everybody wanted to be a sports player or everybody wanted to be actually in school. Everybody wanted to actually do something else, but nobody made music. You was getting made fun of for music.
But I don't think it ever was in my brain to give up. Even when shit gets hard now, I don't think about giving up. As a kid, when no one was fucking with my music or anything like that, it just made me happy because the people who did fuck with my music, I knew that was a fan base. It wasn't fake friends. The random listeners were my fan base. I still had people that bumped me from 2011, 2010, people that I still have yet to meet to this day. And that's really why I'm not going to give up. That's why I keep my perseverance and everything.
What was the idea that has inspired your long-running I Can’t Feel Much series?
The inspiration behind that, it's not really inspiration. The reason why I even stuck with that three years was because I'm at the end of it. If you'd been with me since I.C.F.M. 1, then you know the fuck shit and the struggles and everything that I had to endure leading up to I.C.F.M. 3. Right now, at this point in time, I'm cooling, I'm living.
There's no inspiration behind the I.C.F.M. 3 series or I.C.F.M. 1 or 2. There's never inspiration. That's me putting together all the sounds that people nag me all year round. Like, "You should make music like this and you should make music like this. You should make music like this." That's the tape where I put all my sounds of Polo with one tape, because those are all the emotions of Polo through this tape that's been going on and the making of it. So pretty much that's why you can listen to I.C.F.M. and you can hear a Drill sounding song or a melodic song or a fast tempo, heavy bass song.
So that's where my influences get shown the most, is in my I.C.F.M. trilogies. That's where my goofiness or my characteristics get shown the most.My pain gets shown the most in the I.C.F.M. series, just everything. Even what I speak about, the things I talk about is much more personal in the I.C.F.M. series, because that's where I'm at in my time in life, when I'm doing that series.
About where you’re at right now — what kind of problems are you dealing with? I can imagine some blow back when you rise like this.
Everybody around me thinks that I'm about to blow up any day. And I'm the only one that knows the reality of the situation, that there's no time limit on this shit. What else? Just my friends. I know I've got so many people that's still rooting for me and stuff like that. And I just got to keep my head on a swivel. It's really just a lot of personal stuff. It ain't really nothing to do with this music shit. I've got this music shit in the bag. I'm so confident when it comes to this.
On top of all of that stuff, there is music. So providing good visuals for my fan base, providing good music for my fan base, being the best person I could be for the people that's rooting for me. Not just my fan base, my family, my manager, everybody. I'm somebody that really cares. This whole entire situation, man, I know where I was once at, where nobody was listening to me and I was fucked up, sleeping in the car. So now everything that I do, I be very, very on point about it and make sure that it's understood. I don't want nothing to be confused right now. That's why I'm so outspoken and vocal about the type of person I am and the things I've been through, too, so it's never a mistake that people don't understand. But I somehow still go through it.
What’s it been like running with Surf Gang? Feels like you guys are the next big thing.
It's amazing, it's always going to be amazing. We'll probably be the only collective that don't fuck up. That's how I see it. We've already got a good hold on it. A lot of stuff that we did in the past year, we got the ranking for being the only people to do it like throwing a crazy quarantine show with thousands pulling up in New York City without getting shut down. I mean, yeah, they did shut down the first address, but once we got it started, nobody's did a show like that in New York City. If they did, then it probably was funded by some label, not independent like us.
Anything that we do is just legendary. The type of faith that we have in ourselves and where we all came from, none of us had it easy at all. And even if the ones that did have it easy, those be the people that keep our hopes high, keep our energy high. That's how we carry each other. We got a couple new additions to Surf Gang. Couple new productions that's going to be coming out soon, some crazy productions, some super duper crazy productions that's going to be coming out soon. But we're always going to be on top of everything. It's just the same type of energy that we carry.
When people talk about your music, they say you’re pioneering a new scene for Drill. What do you think the future of the scene looks like?
Sheesh. It's kind of funny because this whole Drill situation is like, I didn't just take on Drill. And that's why I really don't acknowledge the whole Drill situation because I took on two different types of sounds and put them together. And I'm only getting recognition for one, but it's whatever. That's how it's going to be. But I personally feel like with this Drill music, it's too much. It's too many different sounds, so many different cultures and all we're doing when it comes to Drill is just sampling. We're just literally cross breeding two different cultures of music.
So somebody can do it one day with Indian music, Bangladesh music, rock music, country music. It don't matter. If it does get to that point, it's never ending. It can never end. But personally, I feel like with music in general, it's really about who's the creator of it, who's the people that's putting it together. In my situation, I dabble with Drill, but I also took rock music and other soft UK alternative music and made it into Drill beats. Also, you can't forget about that. That's something that don't happen at all, whatsoever.
What does evolution for you look like?
Evolution? Honestly, personally, I would love to get some type of festival going. Because I'm very in tune with a lot of other artists and pretty much hella damn near everybody that's out here making music and different genres, too. And I just want to be able to hopefully have some type of festival soon or tour soon. I could bring all the homies out and we could just go crazy. And we could show. Because right now I feel like people get a gist of what we're doing, but it's not fully understood until people go to our shows and they see how we interact with our fan base, and we make sure that everybody's having fun and everybody's enjoying themselves and everybody's hydrated and everybody's safe. We're different. We're not the type of artist that's been around for the last couple decades, so I feel like mainly it's just really the shows.
I got hella visuals coming up. This year, I'm putting myself on to show people the type of character I am. No bullshit. I'm a very funny person and I love entertaining people a lot. So I got a lot of visuals coming out. I got a visual for one of the songs from I.C.F.M. 3 that’s going to have a visual with horses and we reached out to Detroit D.U.S.T. (Dale Brown). I reached out to him and chopped it up with him. I'm setting up a video treatment right now. We're going to fly up to Detroit and do a music video with him where he's doing the whole reenactment of the class and how to defend yourself. And he's just fucking me up, like me and all these out badly. So that's one of the visions I'm looking very forward to. But besides that, it's just going to be me showing everybody who Polo Perks is. I feel like, yes, people got the music, but they didn't really get to meet the person. So this year I'm just getting into doing a lot of that stuff.
Photos courtesy of w4terplus