INTERVIEW: Troy Ave chops it up with HNHH on his new mixtape, snitching, the holidays, and what he'll do if Santa Claus isn't a myth.
During a time when Drake became hip-hop's quintessential loverboy and Kanye West went full-on bourgeoisie, Troy Ave emerged as a reminder that the streets are very much alive. He brought back that New York energy when some argued it was fading out, just as trap music rose to prominence and the South began to dictate hip-hop.
Troy Ave in 2019 is different in a lot of ways, but at the same time, there's a lot about him that hasn't changed. Musically, his sound is still rooted in the East Coast hip-hop tradition from the early 2000s. But more than that, he's still the topic of discussion at barbershops, blogs and anywhere else where hip-hop conversations are prevalent, even when it doesn't pertain to the music.
In 2016, Troy Ave was arrested in connection to the Irving Plaza shooting that resulted in the death of his bodyguard and friend, Ronald McPhatter. This has been a major obstacle in his career for a few reasons including allegations of snitching. The trial officially began earlier this year and Troy recently shared an ambiguous updated on the proceedings on Instagram. "Left Court with a small Victory 2day, We Still fighting the Big War," he wrote.
When asked to elaborate on what the small victory was, Troy Ave was reluctant to speak on it. However, everything else was essentially fair game. Troy Ave detailed his new project, White Christmas 7 and the significance of the series. Although he isn't necessarily a fan of the holidays, it's a series that he knows his fans expect from him every year. And while Santa Claus might be a myth, Troy Ave is trying to keep it as real as he can.
From 6ix9ine to Taxstone to his favorite Christmas movies of all time, over the course of our 30-minute conversation, Troy Ave certainly didn't hold his tongue.
This interview has been edited for clarity
HNHH: How you doing, bro?
Troy Ave: I’m blessed. How you doing?
I’m good. I just wanted to kick things off by talking about the new project. At number 7, why is it important to keep the White Christmas series going? What does this mean for your career?
It’s really consistency. That’s the key to success for me. I practice what I preach and I show that to my fans and supporters because they look at me a lot of times for the key to success, and I show them, I ain’t just preachin’ it, I’m practicing it. So y’all keep it going. Plus, I almost lost my life on Christmas day. So I kind of made a pact. And I was actually listening to White Christmas when I got shot in the head. I was listening to the prayer part of the intro. So no matter what as long as I’m able I’ma release a White Christmas. I could’ve not been here and not made it anymore. And, the thing is, it makes a lot of people’s Christmas. Some people don’t get a gift, they don’t get shit for Christmas, they get this. This is my gift to everybody that supported me throughout the years. I’ma always give them this White Christmas. They can buy it or get it for free, however, you wanna get it. You could stream it or whatever, but I’m going to make sure I’m consistent and I show my gratitude, appreciation, and love for all my fans.
Just in terms of New York hip hop, this decade alone the sound has changed so much but you’re still bringing a relatively traditional sound with your music.
It’s really just being comfortable with yourself and sounding like where you’re from. Most people like to wave ride and sound like whatever is popular. That’s why you see a lot of people coming out there and being a flash in the pan and when that style goes away, you go away. But if you come in with an original sound, even if you’re not hitting, immediately or eventually people will pick up on your sound. As opposed to you having to pick up on someone else’s sound.
One thing that stood out for me was the intro. Why did you get Pastor Rema Duncan to do the intro? I know he did it on White Christmas 6, what’s that relationship been like?
Well, I’m a spiritual person, and religious, but I don’t go to church or nothing like that. I always saw a lot of preachers as money-hungry or money-grubbing or crooks or whatever. But Pastor Rema, he’s the person that drove me to the hospital when I was shot in my head and shot in my back on Christmas day. I just didn’t know he was a pastor. He was just a passerby driving by in the car. It just so happened that out of everybody on the highway, he stopped for me. That was part of saving my life, and he was praying for me on the way to the hospital. Him and his sister, they were praying for me. He was talking to his sister on speakerphone like, “Yo this guy is running down a highway, I’m going to stop for him” or whatever and his sister started praying for me when I got in the car all bloody. So I want to give people that Church, but I’m giving it to them in a way that they don’t even realize they’re receiving it. We’re putting their medicine in a cup of Kool-Aid.
Nah, definitely. How long ago was the shooting?
It was two years ago, going on three this year.
How did that impact the holidays moving forward for you?
Maybe I appreciate it more. I move a little differently. It just impacted my whole life, not holidays. I don’t get down on the holidays. I never understand why when something tragic happens, they were down and out. I feel like you should be happy you alive and you made it. So, I don’t know if it impacted the holidays but definitely impacted my life.
Another thing about the intro I liked is the interpolation of “Wade In The Water.”
You caught that huh?
That was the first thing I noticed off the rip. What does that song represent your life right now?
That represents my faith. That represents walking on water. I had a picture, I was shooting a video at my house and the photographer took a picture, I had a bunch of money and I threw some money in a pool. There was hundred dollar bills floating on the water and he took a picture of it. The picture was just so dope that it inspired me to make an intro. So I called up my pastor and I’m like, “Yo pastor, I got this picture and this what I’m trying to feel. If you could interpret that through a prayer for the people or something for the people, for encouragement, that would be dope” and he said I got you. He just interpreted it like, I told him I’m feeling the vibe of “you gotta have faith to get to the money” and the faith of walking on water is what Peter or one of them had. The money equals success, you gotta have faith to get to that. And that faith in yourself and work ethic, you don’t give up, you keep going, and then you’ll get to your ultimate goal. I feel like Pastor Rema, he eloquated that, whatever the word is, he did that beautifully.
Ok, word. It’s interesting because it’s Christmas and all.
It’s captivating, right?
Yeah. It’s bringing those elements of your faith and your own beliefs into your music in a way that is tailored to the way you live your life.
And not doing it in a corny way where it feels like you’re handing out a pamphlet. I’m not really with that.
Nah, exactly. I think most people aren’t necessarily living their life to the bible, but I think a lot of people can relate to it in the same way.
Dope, yup. I’m glad you picked up on that bro, that makes me happy.
Nah, for sure. It came across clearly.
When you make music, you don’t know people’s reactions, or how they’re going to take to it, or if they’re going to get it. But the fact that you brought that up is super dope. I got the reaction I wanted to get. Even when I had the singing and everything behind it for “Wade In The Water.” It just came together real good.
You have Project Pat on the project, and I’ve noticed since you’ve been coming up in the game, you’ve been working with a lot of OGs like Raekwon and Cam’ron, I just wanted to know why has it been necessary to have artists like that on your project?
I feel like a lot of those are artists that I’ve always admired and stuff like that. Not only that, I just like to…I’m not a clout chaser, I like to put people that fit on a record that’ll be dope. So any collab you hear me with on one of my projects is an artist that fits on it, and they’re going to sound good on it. I’m not putting you on just because you got a buzz now. A buzz today doesn’t mean a buzz tomorrow. I want my music to have substance and stand the test of time and not just be for right now. So I make sure that the feature I get are features I actually want and that’ll fit.
Nah definitely. You brought up the word clout chasing which has obviously been a big term in hip hop for the past two years. I was just wondering what are your thoughts about the term relating to the current state of hip hop?
It’s like we live in bizarro world right now. Everything out now -- nothing’s what it’s supposed to be. Nothing is what it seems. It only hurts the real artists, the genuine artists like me. Like, if everybody wearin’ fake jewelry, just to clout chase, then, damn. If I got a diamond necklace, or say I got a bust down Cuban, and my chain costs $70K or whatever. And then somebody else, they got a bigger chain that looks like it would cost double of mine but there’s is fake. So now, they get the clout because they look like they got a big diamond chain. Meanwhile, that chain costs $2,000 and it's fake and mines really cost $70K. So, it really fucks up the game for the real ones. You can’t tell what’s what because of all these fake streams. Somebody look like they got a lot of streams but your streams is fake. My streams is real! I think it messes things up but at the end of the day, you can’t fake the money. But unfortunately, sometimes when you fake it, you get to the money.
For sure. You just dropped a single with Max B last week. I was wondering what your relationship with Max B is?
I know Max through one of my friends that’s close friends with him, too. He actually in jail right now, or he just went to jail. I had did a top 50 list of my favorite New York artists or something like that and I put Max B on there. He hit me on DM sayin’, ‘Ayo, good lookin’’ or whatever. I was like, ‘No doubt. I fuck with you.’ He sent me his manager’s number and then we went from there. And then, yeah, that’s the gist of our relationship.
Word. You’ve been preaching this “Streets Is A Myth” concept for a while. After being at the 6ix9ine trial in support of Nuke and watching how that transpired, has that reaffirmed your position on the streets being a myth?
That was something that was super affirmed already. It ain’t nothing recently happened to reaffirm that. Like, I knew what was up with that. Even bigger than this 6ix9ine thing, it was another dude. The dude who sent [Nuke] to jail. He was supposed to be the biggest drug dealer and biggest gang member and all that. He turned around and basically lied and said that he gave him the drugs on this day, that day and a bunch of shit. I was like, “Wow. This is crazy.” And the fact that when he comes home, it’s just going to be all -- it ain’t gonna be a big deal because, you know, people chase clout. So all he gotta do is come home from jail, and give a little bit of money to some people and it’s all good. You know what I’m sayin’? It ain’t no real rules or nothing. Everybody is a free for all. You can’t get caught up in the streets unless you plan on living in the streets. Successful people, in the real world, is not living in the streets and not living by the street rules. If you got an expensive house and somebody break into that shit, you not gonna walk around, lookin’ in the streets. You’re callin’ the cops and file a police report so you can get the insurance claim and get whatever was stolen back. Straight up.
Have you ever crossed paths with 6ix9ine during his reign?
Not in person but we spoke on FaceTime, twice. And some Instagram shit, like, you know what I’m sayin’? He put something in one of my comments on his page or whatever. I’m not a super friendly person with artists but I’m a great friend at the same time, if that makes sense. So, that’s the extent of that.
I know you mentioned that nobody will really care about the snitching if 6ix9ine comes out of jail --
Oh, I wasn’t even talkin’ about 6ix9ine. I was talkin’ about the other dude that was on there. It was a Spanish dude. Damn, I forgot his name. Damn, I forgot this guy’s name… Uh… CEO Kris! Yeah, he’s the biggest fuckin’ rat in the world, dawg. Like, that’s a fact. Or Kristian Cruz. That’s who I was talkin’ about. Kristian Cruz is who sent Nuke to jail, not 6ix9ine.
Did you have a relationship with him in anyway?
Nah, never. Nope, never met him in my life. Never knew him, Nothing. He claims they were doing criminal acts together and when you in a gang, street rules apply. Period, no matter what. And if you doing criminal acts, allegedly, with somebody in your gang, you keep your fuckin’ mouth shut. But, you know, streets is a myth, dawg.
There was that controversy from “2 Legit 2 Quit” where people said you were taking the stand. How did that affect your career, if it did in any way, and how do you think that’ll affect 6ix9ine’s career?
I don’t know. That’s a good question. I like to equate everything to money. So, if anything, it made me more famous -- infamous -- and that just turned into more money. So, like, from that point, to now, all that happened is my revenue increased. It just sparked debate. And the streets like Republicans and Democrats. Like this is the topic of the barbershop talk. It’s the topic on all the blogs. It’s the topic of podcasts. People are talkin’ about Troy Ave and my name buzzin’.
So, I don’t know. My situation and 6ix9ine shit different because he was in a gang, he had dealings with his gang and over his friends and Blood members and he took the stand against ‘em. And that’s fucked up for what it is. But, my situation is an enemy who tried to kill me, who put everything on social media and then he tried to frame me for the murder of my best friend. And then went and wrote a letter to the judge which is the equivalent to taking the stand and tried to get me indicted on some other crimes and then I’m sayin’, “Whoa! That’s not me. That’s not my gun.” It’s a big difference than his. It’s only in compared because we in the hip-hop world.
You’re talking about Taxstone?
Yup. I think it’s a lot of hypocrisy with it because in one breath, people will say -- well, most sane people with any type of sense would be like, “Hell no. You don’t go to jail for your enemy.” For your friends, that’s different. For any enemy, once they take their gloves off, the gloves is off. The hypocrisy in it is that people will tell you or some people will say, “You should go to jail for him. You should take the charges and then fight it. That’s the code of the streets.” Not even fight it -- you don’t say, “That’s not my gun.” Then the D.A. will say, “Whose gun is it?” Then you gonna say, “I don’t know whose gun it is.” But that’s crazy. They don’t want you to do that, because you should go down for that but in the same breath, they wouldn’t be willing to go down. I look at it like, alright, if you say that this person should go down for a charge of somebody that you support but why don’t you just kill that person and then you go down for that charge. It’s the same charge! Murder is murder, you both go to jail. So if you think this person should go to jail for an enemy, or because it’s somebody that you love, then why don’t you say, “You know what? I’m going to kill that person, and then I’mma murder them, and then my friend will get set free and then I’ll just go to jail for them.” If you so passionate about it one way, you gotta be passionate about the other, if you real. Unless you fake. Unless you’re clout chasing. And that’s the case in most instances.
There’s an IG post from a few days ago where you’re pretty much talking about real estate, ownership, and more importantly, making sure the next generation of kids are straight. I was wondering why that message is important for you to get across.
I think it’s important, if you consider yourself real, because so many people that consider themselves real, they got kids and they kids ain’t gettin’ taken care of. Or they make up excuses about why they kids ain’t taken care of. Or they die and they leave a burden for their family members -- they leave no legacy. They leave nothing… You need to [buy] a home, you need to make sure your mama’s not livin’ in the same bum ass that you grew up in, you know what I’m sayin’? You need to do better for your people and for yourself and bein’ a boss is real. That’s what’s being real. You can’t talk about being real and talk all this tough sh*t and get up and punch a clock. ‘Cause at any time, your boss could get mad and say, ‘Hey, fuck you. Kiss my ass!’ And you just gotta keep your mouth shut if you want to keep your job. I think, like, for me, not to anybody else who livin’ in bizarro world like I said, it’s a whole different world.
For me, I think things like that are real. I think the person who holds down a job and keep doing their thing is real. Not the person that’s running in the streets and getting money for a short period of time and then when you get locked up, you become a burden to your family.
Kevin Gates recently praised you on Instagram. I wanted to know what your relationship with Gates is like.
Gates? Gates is my dawg! We met a long time ago at Sirius XM Radio. He was doing an interview, I was comin’ up to do an interview. I seen this guy with a bowtie on, I said, ‘Why does this guy have a bowtie on?’ Like, the fuck’s this guy doing with a bowtie on? But, you know, we kept it cool. I’m not one of those people that judge people or whatever. I was passin’ by and I was like props and that’s when we crossed paths. And then, later on, like two [or] three years later, we end up gettin’ the [XXL] Freshman cover together. Shit, it might’ve been a year later. And we end up being on the [XXL] Freshman cover together, which is crazy. So that happened, we had formed a relationship from then. He got a strong faith in God, too. So, you know, Kevin Gates is a dope person, you know what I’m sayin’? His new album doin’ crazy. I think he’s a dope person and in a lot of ways, we alike. He don’t really have no features on his album, either.
Just back to the album real quick. On “Clown Cake Interlude,” you say that your kids don’t believe in Santa Claus. Will you ever launch "Santa Claus Is A Myth" campaign?
Santa Claus? Nah, nah, I try not to impose my thoughts on other people, you know what I’m sayin’? Like even with religion, I feel like we don’t want to impose our stuff. If we can put it out and people gravitate towards it will feel that way no matter what, then that’s cool. I don’t want to ruin that for other people. I know that because little kids learn that. I feel like I have an obligation as a man and as an artist to be responsible with what I’m doin’, you know? I don’t want to ruin that for any other parent that’s lettin’ their kids know Santa Claus is real or whatever.
I think everybody already knows that Santa Claus is a myth. And if Santa Claus isn’t a myth, I need my fuckin’ money back because I’ve spent a lot of cash on Christmas. I’mma forward my American Express bill to the North Pole, you know what I’m sayin’?
So, the last question. I know you’re not a fan of Christmas but you seem to be a big fan of movies. What are your top five Christmas movies of all time?
This Christmas. It’s like, it has Chris Brown in it and Gabrielle Union, or something like that. It had a bunch of people. I think it’s called This Christmas. I’m not sure. But, that one. Home Alone. Damn, I missed that other Christmas movie. Umm… The one with where they’re like, “You’re going to shoot your eye out!” And the kid got his tongue stuck to the pole. A Christmas Story, I think. A couple of other ones, I don’t know. If you shot some names off, I’d probably remember them. I don’t know right now.