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Hip Hop

Interview: Phil The Thrill

My favorite thing about talking to artists is just hearing how humble they really are and how much work they’re putting in to achieve their dreams. Hard work definitely does pay off. So last week, I was extremely fortunate to speak to an up-and-coming rapper from Virginia named Phil The Thrill, who has been releasing an EP a month for the past five months, garnering attention from XXL Magazine and SmokingSection.com. On October 25th, Phil will be concluding the series with a full-length mixtape entitled Barely Awake, which you can preview here.

Check out my full interview with Phil below.

Hey Phil, what’s up? How’s it going?

Phil The Thrill: Good, good, good.

I’ve just been reading about Steve Jobs. Man, that’s terrible.

Phil The Thrill: Crazy, crazy. I mean, they knew it was gonna happen eventually, but it was just all of a sudden it seems like.

Yeah… ah, the man’s a genius. So I hear you’re 22 years old and from Newport News, Virginia, is that correct?

Phil The Thrill: Yessir.

Actually, where have I heard of that place from? Is that…Michael Vick’s hometown?

Phil The Thrill: Yeah, yeah. Michael Vick, Allen Iverson.

Oh, okay. How’s the music scene there?

Phil The Thrill: It’s… pretty scattered. This area is known as Hampton Roads, the 757. I’m not sure how familiar you are with this part of Virginia but Missy‘s from here, Timbaland‘s from here, Pharrell‘s from here,The Clipse are from here. So yeah, we have a pretty crazy rich tradition as far as music goes. It just seems like they’ll move away and you know, it’s hard to really get them back to reach out to artists that are coming up now. But as far as tradition goes, we’re definitely on the map when it comes to music, period. And then 45 minutes up the road is where Trey Songz and Chris Brown are from.

Man, that’s nice.

Phil The Thrill: Yeah, man, it’s crazy.

So where did your rapper name, Phil The Thrill, originate?

Phil The Thrill: It’s actually been a name that’s stuck with me. It’s actually been my nickname since I was around twelve years old. I was an athlete playing basketball and football and you know, when little nicknames happen to you when you’re a kid… they’d just be like “Oh, Phil The Thrill!” It sticks and through high school, when everyone would have AIM screennames, I was like lemme use my nickname. It stuck with me then and when I went on to play college basketball, it stuck with me there. So it became my Twitter name and once it sticks, I’m not going to try to change that just because I’m doing music. It’s my nickname and what people know me as.

Yeah, I heard you also played college basketball? Any stories about that?

Phil The Thrill: Aw man, it was tough. I felt like I had the best of both worlds with this little music thing and being an athlete as well. Most athletes don’t try to do music but truthfully, as a regular kid being a regular college athlete was tough. I can say it taught me a lot of life lessons, like my work ethic definitely comes from being a college athlete because it was a job in itself. I don’t think a lot of people understand being a student athlete in college is crazy. I remember times, getting home from a three game weekend trip, getting home at like eight in the morning on a Monday and having class at 9 o’ clock. It was just like, wow, how am I gonna do this? So, it was a challenge but I made it through four years… it was tough.

Yeah, it definitely sounds like it. How does your love of basketball translate to the music you create or does it not? Like, I’m looking at J. Cole as a reference here.

Phil The Thrill: It does. One thing, it’s so tough to compare me to J. Cole because I think he’s a great artist. But, people are so quick to compare. There’s been things said on the Internet like with my World Star video, people will be like, “He’s cool, he’s dope, reminds me of J. Cole,” but just because our stories are similar. And that’s what I try to get myself away from. I’m an artist in my own right and I don’t like to be compared. I think it’s an honor be compared to him — I mean his album debuted at number one this week, so salute to that — but at the same time, as an up-and-coming artist, I like to be separate. I try to bring my own stories. I try not to talk about basketball as much because there’s more to me than just my sports background. I have a lot more to talk about so I definitely try to differentiate myself with my music and my background.

You’re getting ready to release your newest mixtape, Barely Awake, on October 25th. What kinds of topics are you focusing on for this project?

Phil The Thrill: It’s a little bit of everything. I feel like this will embody all of my greatest work. I talk about everything. I don’t try to get too far beyond what I’ve been through in my music. I speak everything straight from the heart, so it’s going to be everything from relationships to a kid chasing his dreams to just understanding different things that everyday people go through. I have relationship songs, I have party songs, I have the braggadocio songs to just make people feel good. I feel like I have a way of bring something different to the table so I’m not going to say things the way every other rapper says it or every other artist. I just want to bring my own unique style to it and I feel these 15 or 16 tracks will definitely show that.

Any songs you especially want to talk about?

Phil The Thrill: Let me see… one that I think is pretty close to me, one that really got a lot out of me a song called “Falling Up”.  I feel like being in college and in high school, the suicide rate is so high amongst teenagers and young people these days. This song really touched a spot with me because I describe the thought process and feeling so down that you want to take yourself out or remove yourself from your situation and it can always be worse. I feel like people can listen to that and really vent and think about how life is to precious to take yourself out. So I have a track like that and I have a track called “Grlfrnd” that is about a young man and a young lady. The young lady is trying to convince this guy that she could be his girlfriend, but he’s like I don’t have time for that. And this, if any song on the mixture, is a radio hit in my eyes and everyone around me that’s heard it thinks it is. But people like you judge once you hear that but I do think that’s a surefire hit.

Actually yeah, I heard a snippet of “Grlfrnd” on Revo Media’s Soundcloud page. Good stuff.

Phil The Thrill: Oh you did? *laughs* I think I did put a snippet out and the feedback’s been crazy for it so I definitely think that’s going to be a go.

Yeah, nice! Best of luck with that, man.

Phil The Thrill: Thanks.

This new mixtape will mark the end of your Fly Thoughts EP series, where you released an EP a month for five months. What inspired you to do that and how did you find the motivation to keep going?

Phil The Thrill: Man, I wanted to ride a wave of momentum. Very few people know — as much of a buzz as I’ve gotten in this past year — that I really just started to take my music seriously a year ago after I graduated college. So once I started to get a buzz, I started doing shows in this area of Virginia. I had to think to myself, “How can I really branch out outside of Virginia?” Put out more music. Get people more comfortable with who I am as an artist. Every month, I was like, I wanna grow as an artist so my music has changed even since my first EP. So I was like lemme see how people can grow with me and learn my sound and that’s the motivation really. In between that I’ve seen tough times but things have gotten crazy in the midst of my second EP. That’s when I got featured in XXL Magazine. A month later, I was in the actual publication. So everything pays off and I feel like that really helped with my my work ethic to really push and want to make more music.

In your “California Dreams Outro” on Ample Time, you talk about your goal to end up in Cali. How’s that looking for you?

Phil The Thrill: It’s actually looking promising. I’m not going to let out too many details on everything that goes on behind the scenes. I had some opportunities to get out there music-wise, I think some plays on the tracks placed on me. I don’t know credible that will be because it’s really tough; the industry is tough to crack into, but I do have a goal to be in California in the long run. Right now, I’ve been applying to jobs in New York. New York is really looking like my destination in the very close future within the next couple months. So I think it’s just going to be a process, getting in some market so I can really market myself because I’ve been capitalizing on everything I do in Virginia as a whole.

So like XXL, that’s a pretty big step for you along that path.

Phil The Thrill: It is, man, it is.

I really enjoyed some of the industry beats you used on that EP and on your others as well. How do you feel about flipping other people’s beats?

Phil The Thrill: Oh man, that’s something me and Revolution Media always discuss. I really take pride in my artistic ability. When I get on industry beats, I don’t want to get on something that everybody has remixed already because I feel that takes the fun out of something. Like if Drake comes out with “Headlines”, you’re going to hear about ten to twenty “Headline” remixes to the point where you don’t want to listen to it anymore. So when I think of industry beats, I think of beats that maybe the artist has hopped on and one or two other people and think, “Okay, how do I make this song my own?” And this gets to the point where when people hear the version that I get on, they forget that there was ever an original or they just never heard the original. I really try to put some thought into how I pick industry beats as well.

In general, what kinds of beats do you prefer? I remember this interview where — I think it was Curren$y — was talking about how he prefers beats that force him to change up his flow instead of just looping over and over. Do you have any preference?

Phil The Thrill: I actually do. I’m the same way. A very stagnant beat doesn’t usually catch my attention. I feel like I’m diverse with my wordplay, diverse with my ability so I like beats that will stretch me and make me want to go outside the box. Things that catch my ear, off the top, are like somebody like Kanye West. He’s known for having a beat that is very chill and then out of nowhere, bam! And you’re like where’s he going with that? That’s what I really like. With the whole laid-back vibe, like I can do that, but I feel as an artist, I want to choose a beat that challenges you and I really like challenging beats.

What beats are you using on Barely Awake?

Phil The Thrill: The crazy thing about this mixtape is that they’re all over the place. The intro is very upbeat, very up-tempo, almost like a chant and anthem. And then I have the “Grlfrnd” track which is real mellow. I have very slow, thoughtful tracks and then I’ll pick up the pace. I just have straight hip-hop beats. I don’t want to be in a genre as just a rapper because I like to think outside the box, I like to expand my musical sound. This mixture I think will really show people that there’s no typical sound for me and I’m still trying to find my sound as an artist so I don’t think you can categorize me. Like when you hear a Drake song, you’re like, “Oh, I can tell that’s Drake,” or you hear a J. Cole song with the trumpets and piano and say, “Oh, that’s J. Cole.” I don’t want to be categorized like that, i want to leave people guessing.

Out of everything you’ve done so far, what’s been your favorite song? If you had to pick just one song that defined your sound, what song would it be?

Phil The Thrill: I actually think the song titled “Memories of Right Now” that was on Ample Time. And that’s a sample derived from a guy named Bon Iver. Not too many people are familiar with him, but he was actually on the Kanye West My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy song “Lost In The World”. And he’s like a folk singer and I really love his music. So once I rocked that, a guy produced it and flipped it for me. I feel like that song is the epitome of my style. As hip-hop as it might sound, it still stretches outside the lanes of hip-hop and I think that’s what Phil The Thrill is all about — not just a hip-hop artist, but an artist in general that can make good music.

Actually, I have the newest Bon Iver record sitting right next to me and was listening to it earlier.

Phil The Thrill: Crazy! That’s the thing, not too many people know about him. I don’t know how, but it’s crazy.

And he’s so good — his voice, everything about it, the production, the composition…

Phil The Thrill: Definitely man, definitely.

So what records have you been listening to lately?

Phil The Thrill: I’ve really been.. oh this guy, he really grew on me, but Kendrick Lamar.

Oh, Section.80?

Phil The Thrill: Yeah Section.80! He’s, I want to say, in my generation of up-and-coming artists, he’s somebody I can really relate to. I can relate to his movement and what he brings to the table and that’s really the type of artist I’m trying to be. You can’t listen to Kendrick Lamar and say, “Oh, he sounds like this guy.” He’s new, he’s refreshing, he has a good message. And that’s really the main person… I’ve also been so hyped for this newColdplay CD. Once that drops, I think I will really be in a good place. But yeah, Kendrick Lamar and Coldplay. I had to go look back and listen to Viva La Vida, Coldplay’s old CD, just to get hyped for the new one. Definitely those two, for sure.

Who do you want to collaborate with in the future?

Phil The Thrill: Oh man, that’s tough. I was just reading a Kid Cudi article today and he mentioned how he felt about collaboration. I’m really the same way; when it comes to collaborations, I’m such an in-house type of guy. I feel like I can make beautiful and talented music by myself and I feel like when people want to collab with you, they’re trying to get a “look.” But artistically, I do love to collaborate with people that can complement each other’s sounds and I love the music that Kanye West brings to the table, whether production or collaborating just off music alone and… the voice of an angel, I feel like a track with Adele would be just it.

Yeah, that would be nice.

Phil The Thrill: *laughs* Yeah, definitely Adele.

Have you thought about flipping her “Hometown Glory” song? I know that Big Sean has done it, Big K.R.I.T. has done it…

Phil The Thrill: Mmhmm.. Big Sean and K.R.I.T. I actually have that instrumental on my Macbook right now. It’s only a matter of time. Some songs they just hit me and once I get it, it’s over.

Yeah, I was thinking that you sound like someone who really reps his hometown. Maybe you’d get on a track and talk about Newport News.

Phil The Thrill: Exactly, for sure. I definitely have thought about that.

Sounds good. So what records would you say influenced your style the most? What artists?

Phil The Thrill: Hmm… I would say growing up during the ’90s, definitely 2pac. I feel like 2pac brought such an array and variety of records to the table. You never saw it coming. He could turn around and do “Dear Mama”, turn around and give you “Hit ‘Em Up”, then turn around give you just a chill track “Sucka 4 Luv” [retitled as “Do For Love”]. And 2pac was definitely that guy, that artist that stuck out to me as somebody that just wasn’t typical. And then the older I started to get, definitely Jay-Z. I feel like Jay-Z really stated it from a hip-hop standpoint that you don’t have to be this hardcore gangster rapper to really appeal to the masses. I feel like his work playing out was definitely able to appeal to me. And even people outside of hip-hop such as the Red Hot Chili Peppers and I respect people like Prince as an artist. Just anybody that could take their talent and expand that beyond what people think they’re capable of doing, those are the artists coming up that really influenced my style.

Five years from now, where do you see yourself? Any major goals for the next year or two?

Phil The Thrill: Yes I do, for sure. The way that everything has happened so fast, I know I’m really lucky and fortunate to be in the position I am in now, even after doing this for a year. But in a year or two or five years from now, I just see myself as an established artist that can appeal to the masses. My main goal with my music was never to really make a lifestyle out of it, it was just to make sure that people can hear what I’m saying and that I have a message to get out to people and just try to affect somebody’s life. I want to tell people that dreams can come true and the closer I get, I feel like it’s within my grasp. So my main thing is just to be on a pedestal where people look me and say, “Dang, this is a guy I can really relate to that’s at the top, but he still won’t change.” That’s my main goal with music.

Thanks for taking the time to talk to me, man. Anything to add?

Phil The Thrill: I just appreciate you, man. I told the Revolution Media guys that I just appreciate anybody that reaches out and they try to reach out to people like you. Definitely keep me posted.

Best of luck, man. I’d love to help with your new projects, so keep in touch!

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