INTERVIEW: Brooklyn's Thutmose gets in-depth about his debut solo project, "Man On Fire," immigrating to America, Desiigner, Jay Critch & more.
Thutmose is fresh off the release of his debut solo project, Man On Fire which arrived a little over two weeks ago. At a time where rappers from NYC are beginning to make more noise now than they have in the past few years, Thutmose is paving his own lane and sound in the rap game. Throughout his new project, he uses elements of house, hip-hop, hints of Afrobeat and more to convey his unique life story.
Thutmose’s story isn’t anywhere near the typical American story, but it does inch towards the American dream. The Brooklyn rapper was born in Lagos, Nigeria before his family immigrated to New York City in 2002. His family escaped violence in the West African country, but his beginnings in America weren’t easy either. However, the transition from Nigeria to Brooklyn is what he credits for allowing him to experiment musically.
"I’ve always been trying to find my place, find myself, almost like a journey. I feel like music’s very similar in a way. Just like ‘okay cool, I’m in a new space,'" he told us over the phone. "Moving from Nigeria was like ‘Cool, I’m in a new space. I get to explore, I try things out.’ I feel like my music became very original, very experimental, and still has a feeling of ‘me’ in it."
Thutmose recently got on the phone with HNHH to chop it up about his latest project, Man On Fire, working with Scott Storch, appearing on the FIFA ‘18 soundtrack, and much more.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
HNHH: First off, I just wanna congratulate you on dropping Man on Fire. I just listened to it and it’s really dope. I wanted to start off talking about your name. I know it derives from an Egyptian pharaoh, but I was just wondering what aspect of his life and legacy identified with you, and inspired your name?
Thutmose: Being born in Nigeria I was a fan of huge, symbolic, powerful African symbols. Obviously, Egyptian culture has a lot of those. And to me the symbolism behind the king is when kings talk, people listen. It represents Africa as a whole - its strong, powerful. And it’s like taking that into the art, which was to me, very important. Thutmose symbolizes that to me. Just like a strong, powerful symbol.
You were born in Nigeria but moved to Brooklyn in 2003, so I was wondering if you recall your first memory of landing in America?
My first experience was pretty crazy. Walking out of the airport to like seeing snow for the first time, moving to Brooklyn and just experiencing a whole different culture. And Brooklyn is not all the way similar to Nigeria, obviously. But it has a lot of like the same vibe. Walking out of the airport seeing snow for the first time and experiencing a new culture. Nigeria has a lot of the same elements, they both have a very fiery atmosphere. Everybody is trying to make it, find their own place, get it. And sometimes it really gets challenging, it definitely takes some time to get adjusted to.
As you get older, how do you feel that transition from Lagos to Brooklyn impacted your view of not only the world but also how you create music?
Experimental, for sure. I’ve always been trying to find my place, find myself, almost like a journey. I feel like music’s very similar in a way. Just like ‘okay cool, I’m in a new space.’ Music to me hasn’t always been obvious. I’ve been a writer my whole life. So just moving from Nigeria was like ‘Cool, I’m in a new space. I get to explore, I try things out.’ I feel like my music became very original, very experimental, and still has a feeling of ‘me’ in it.
That’s one thing I really appreciated about your project, was just how many different sounds and influences you could hear throughout the whole thing.
For sure. That was another thing too with this fiery stuff, just talking about mental fires for me, especially my upbringing and move to New York. Just New York having that fire element down, it sounds are already out there. It’s another way to tie it together to the “fire” theme.
Is that where the album’s title came from?
Yeah, for sure. It was definitely inspired by like my move to New York and my introduction to the game and trying to stand out. Man on Fire just embodied that for me, you know?
This is your debut solo project, so I wanted to run through some of the songs and collaborations. So the first track I want to tackle with you is “Pressure.” It’s one of the most personal songs on the project and you go into pretty vivid detail about SWAT raiding your family’s when you first immigrated to America. I was wondering if you could tell me a little about that, and how did you get the Erykah Badu clip for the intro and outro?
At the time [the raid] seemed almost normal for some reason. Being young and moving to a new place, you’re not what’s normal in that space. At the time I almost viewed it as normal because everything was chaotic. I was in the living room when SWAT team was banging on the door. I woke up early in the morning, heard a noise and ran into my parents' room, hid underneath the bed so I couldn't be found. For me it was -- at the time it was weird, because like I said, at the time it felt normal ‘cause everything around me was chaotic at the time.
And with Erykah, it just made sense because like, I had known about her since I was young, even like in Nigeria. She was one of the few artists that I was aware of. Not every artist can speak for that side of the world. So, Erykah Badu, I was well aware of her and had always followed her since I moved to New York. I’m a fan of her messages, and like the stuff, she talks about, how she talks about real life and how to settle conversations you have with a deep, intelligent person. I found one of an interview of hers talking to Peter Rosenberg and Ebro. She mentioned a few things that struck me. And we ended up reaching out to her and she loved the idea. And it was a blessing to have her approval and especially what the song means to me. It was just a perfect combination, makes perfect sense. And I get to pay homage to a legend in the process.
Have you guys spoken since she heard the track? Is there any possibility of you guys getting in the studio in the future?
That’s a possibility. I know she’s open to collaboration in the future. I was waiting for her, hopefully, this next project. Hopefully, we can get it going, keep it rolling. I’m looking forward to that.
So another collaboration I wanted to talk to you about - I saw Tricky Stewart’s name on the tracklist, for “Say It To My Face.” He’s one of the most revered producers in the industry, so I was wondering how that collab came about?
Yeah. I was in Atlanta for like a week, just like cooking up with like the finest producers out there. I was in Tricky’s studio for like a day or maybe two days. I was doing like 7 songs. That track was like a blessing, man. Obviously, Tricky is a legend in his own right but we were in the studio, he was like playing a ton beats and I was just going in. I was just feeling inspired, to be honest. Being in Atlanta for the first time and being in the studio with him, I was like I gotta come correct. Before him, the biggest producer I probably worked with was Scott Storch. And the first time being with him was amazing, too.
Yeah. I was wondering how the Scott Storch collab came about because for a debut project, you have a lot of legendary names attached to it and Scott Storch has done endless hits. Explain how that came about.
I’m really close with [Scott Storch’s manager] Steve Lobel on that side and we got the chance to get together and it was very early -- many months ago. It was all pretty crazy because a few months before that, I was still folding clothes at American Apparel. To, like, be thrown in a room with Scott Storch, it was one of those moments that was like, ‘Wow, I’m doing this for real.’ I was, like, ‘I gotta get in the studio with him and cook from scratch.’ It just felt like I was in it, like in the field. With him, he’s a genius. I work really fast when it comes to like, melodies and certain stuff. But for me, somebody who could work that quickly and you get to bounce ideas off of. Somebody that’s like, ‘No, let’s not do this, let’s do this.’ It’s the process that keeps me fueled up. Obviously, I was nervous going into it for the first time but now, with Scott, we’re really close friends. I’m cool with his entire family and his management. But it’s just been a blessing working with him.
That’s very dope. My last question about some of the collaborations on the projects is Jay Critch and Desiigner. How did you connect with them?
It’s funny, a lot of people don’t know I knew Critch before he even signed to Rich The Kid. Locally, we had some mutual friends. So, with him and Desiigner, I just think it’s very important to tap into artists from New York that I’m a fan of and a fan of their movement. For this first project, I just wanted to keep it home based, first and foremost, before I try to energize the city and make everyone aware. Obviously, Brooklyn has been a huge influence for me, as much as Nigeria, especially with the hip-hop culture and history. So whether it’s like being in Kanye’sstudio working on songs, and then sending them to Desiigner or having a song that Critch could get on, or Alex Mali. Working with New York artists was very important to me.
You’ve previously mentioned Kendrick Lamar, Sade and Jay-Z as some of your influences. So I was wondering if there were other particular artists or projects in general that influenced how the sound of “Man on Fire” came about? Like what were you listening to throughout the creation of it, was there anything on your playlist that stands out?
I wasn’t listening to a whole lot of music, but probably old Kendrick, and maybe some Weeknd. I like The Weeknd I’m a big fan of him as well. Truly I listen to a lot of House music, but house music doesn’t really, well, I guess in a small way it did influence some parts of “Man on Fire,” [the title track] like you can bounce to it. “Karma” obviously has that unique kind of bounce. But House didn’t necessarily influence the project for me, but more my life, what kind of vibe I was trying to relay in my message. So for me, trying to put that motion in my life like I was saying sonically.
I felt like with just the cohesion of the project and how it played out from top to bottom, it felt like you were telling your life story. Not even through what you were saying but just the sounds and melodies you were using, and how it goes into an aggressive joint and finally concluding with “Pressure.”
Yeah, that’s exactly what I wanted to get into. Like in a bouncy song like “Ride with Me”, it’s a very bouncy song but if you listen closely to the lyrics I’m telling you about my life, where I’m coming from, where I’m at my life right now. So for me, as you said, I want to speak to them.
I wanted to talk to you about “Run Wild,” which was featured in the FIFA 2018 trailer. So I guess - first of all - how big of a soccer fan are you?
Huge soccer fan. Soccer is the most played sport in the world. In Nigeria, before I even knew what basketball was, soccer is the only sport we mostly play. Like I remember being in the streets of Nigeria and playing soccer with friends at school, you know, with my siblings. Soccer is the sport of my parents could understand. Like my dad watches it every so often, my little brother loves soccer. World Cup’s every four years. It was a big deal to the world there, especially to the world I’m from. It was very surreal to me. The entire process with FIFA, how I got to do something with Cristiano Ronaldo, one of my top favorite athletes of all time, it’s crazy. I remember mimicking him and his moves when I was younger. Like LeBron is my all-time favorite athlete, but Ronaldo is right there at number two, number three. So that was exciting.
What was your parents' reaction to seeing your music being involved in the World Cup in some sort of way?
They were excited. Like my little brother, that was one of the few things he was excited about ‘cause he’s not going to understand everything I’m doing. Like, he plays and his friends play, I have a lot of friends who play FIFA. So to me, some of those moments I look back and am like, ‘Wow, I can’t believe that happened.’
So what do you have planned next? You have your debut project out, so what’s next on your list?
I got my first headlining shows coming up. So I’m excited for those, you know, going in front of an audience and my fans and performing for them. Performance is an exciting part of the process, that’s why you do it. Just to get out there and perform. I love performing ‘cause everytime I get out there and going into that space. Now that the music’s out, it’s a whole other space to build in. I have a ton of more music in the stash. I have another project that’s pretty much done. I still have a lot more stuff to get done before I get to the finish line on that one. But I'm just excited, a lot more music’s coming and I get to take a break and figure out the title for the album and what that world is going to be. So I’m just excited, in general, to keep that part going.
One last question, how do you want your legacy to be remembered down the line when all is said and done?
I’m very competitive. I used to play sports so I have a competitive nature in me, but there’s also this part of me where I care about integrity and impact and longevity. For me, I just want to be one of the best. I just want to be respected, and just, non-stop, keep going. That competitive part of me just wants to go all out and be an inspiration to people.