Since 2009, Amir Obè has been steady grinding, producing, and making music. He began his career with Atlantic Records under the name Phreshy Duzit. After splitting with Atlantic, he changed his name to Amir Obè and founded the Neighborhood PHCK$ collective. Since 2014, Amir has been releasing mixtapes and working with the likes of Drake and PARTYNEXTDOOR. Now signed to Def Jam, Amir dropped his most recent project, “Can’t Be A _ _ _ _ Here: Chapter 2,” on October 15.
StockX recently caught up with Amir Obè to talk about his history, hip-hop, fashion, and Detroit in the latest edition of “Off The Top.”
Below is a transcript of our exclusive interview, which has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
StockX: Thanks for taking the time to talk with us, Amir. Please introduce yourself.
Amir Obè: Whatupdoe, its Amir Obè. I’m originally from Detroit, and as far as music goes, I like to incorporate a mix of genres into one with my music. Yeah, we’re on this journey.
Where are you from? Where are your parents from?
I grew up in Indiana for a few years and landed in Detroit before middle school. After high school, I left Detroit to pursue a career in design. Music kind of happened in the mix of pursuing design, which helped me choose music as my main focus. My mom is Polish and white and my dad is east African from Sudan. I’m the product of them creating a baby.
What high school did you attend?
I attended a charter high school, Star Academy, and I went there for basketball.
So you were a hooper basically. Do you still hoop?
I played point guard and shooting guard. I still try to hoop, I just don’t have any friends to hoop with.
Do you stay in Detroit for the most part or do you travel a lot?
I just moved back to Detroit and hang around the Royal Oak area most of the time.
Would you please describe your experience growing up in Detroit?
Growing up in Detroit was just an experience and all part of the process, from the friends you hang around with and the things you partake in, it’s all part of the story. I had that true Detroit experience as a part of my life during my teenage years. Going to high school parties around Southfield and Detroit. Long story short, I had the true Detroit experience while I was here growing up.
When did you start your music career and how did you get to the point where you are now?
I always had a passion for writing and I’ve been praised for my writing since elementary school. I always tried to express myself through writing in school. During the Myspace era, I wanted to find something that would help validate my writing because I didn’t want to be a guy who just had followers. Through that transitional period, I applied my writing skills to music and experimenting which created a snowball effect: I put out more music, I gained more fans. After that had happened, I started to get more attention from major labels.
What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear “hip-hop”?
I’d say Nas. Nas was one of my biggest influences growing up and I appreciate his ability to tell stories and paint a picture for the fans. I was always on the bus in school, so just having somebody painting a picture on what hip-hop’s culture is about and hearing what he said made me realize he’s the most skilled at storytelling. That’s where my love for music came from. I want to paint my own picture of where I am in life.
Who’s your Top 5 MCs?
Jay-Z, Biggie, Nas, Eminem, and Kendrick. I can’t leave Pac out of it, though.
Who’s your favorite producer?
Growing up, my favorite producer was Kanye. Kanye took a leap rapping because rap music was dope when he made his move. I heard him make unapologetic music, and he inspired me to be able to talk about whatever I want to talk about in my music. The fact that he was producing his own music was crazy to me, as well.
What’s your first memory of “Sneakers”?
I would say Jordans. I could never afford them but I remember when I was in 7th grade, I was a size eight at the time and somebody gave me a pair of Jordan 1s that were a size 11. I was proudly wearing those shoes and was so happy that I had a pair of Jordans. I left them on my porch and the next thing I know they were stolen. Before then I was too young to afford anything of that kind.
What’s your favorite sneaker now?
It honestly depends on so many things, but right now I would have to say the Air Jordan 1s.
What’s your favorite luxury watch brand?
I’ll always go with a Rolex. My favorite Rolex is the Daytona. It’s long overdue for me to update the current watch I’m wearing. I just want a stock watch and the Daytona just fits my style more than the Presidential.
What’s your favorite streetwear brand?
Prada. I like the fact that Prada keeps things contemporary and have always been elite as a fashion house. Other brands would hop from wave to wave but Prada isn’t like the others.
How would you describe your personal style?
I like to keep things effortless. I’m not big on logos and I’m not big on the hottest trend. I try to stay away from paying crazy resale prices for things as well.
Can you go step by step with your creative process?
Since I started making music its been with my guy Nylz and everything we’ve made in the past 10 years have been an entirely collaborative process. We would lay the beat, then I would kick some ideas and Nylz would go back and apply them. We would continue to go back and forth until we feel as if enough is enough because artists are really never finished. Its like art, and at some point you have to abandon it. When we feel as if we’ve found a sweet spot and that the song’s statement has been made then it’ll be all done after that.
Do you collaborate with other artists?
Its mostly been just me. I do work with people I’m close with, too. The OVO camp and PartyNextDoor are some people I’ve worked with as well. If we don’t have a genuine friendship then we’re really not going to be in the lab like that. I wait for those scenarios to take place before I start working with you in the studio or collaborate.
What does music mean to you?
Music is an export of influence. All music has an impact but it’s all about how you put your spin on it. Music is a huge part of your culture and what I heard growing up and what I was a fan of eventually shines through the music I create.
What does fashion mean to you?
I love fashion, it’s a way for you to express yourself. But it’s shallow to think that fashion is something at a surface level. I can’t judge people based on what they wear. I feel like any form of expression is needed and valuable.
Would you talk about your social media presence?
I tried to set up my Instagram as a gallery, and there are no rules in a gallery. We framed all of our artwork for the music that’s about to come out, and there are three chapters so I wanted to create a white wall and basically vandalize it.
Are you touring right now or anytime soon?
I’m touring soon but as of right now I’m finishing up my album. I love touring because it gives me a way to connect with my fans. It goes further than seeing comments and retweets, I do it for the die-hard fans who want to see me in person.
How did you get signed to your label?
I was gaining a lot of momentum off the European tour and putting out free music on SoundCloud. A few labels and A&Rs were reaching out and I eventually signed with Def Jam because I clicked with the A&R and the staff there had a great understanding of what I wanted to do.
How do you see yourself in comparison to other artists in the same genre as you?
I’m free with my output, and I keep things inspired. I’m always aiming to break ceilings and be a trendsetter. I’m not following any formulas to make radio hits; I’m making the music I want and it’s translating well. I also stay authentic to who I am and what I want to give out to the world.
What’s the best way to represent Detroit culture in the music scene?
Detroit has a lot to offer in terms of culture in music. Growing up in Detroit we’re all fans of Blade Icewood and Doughboyz Cashout, and you don’t want to compromise that vibe to get major label appeal.
Do you think the music scene in Detroit is portrayed accurately?
I believe so, but I don’t think there are enough artists out here able to show the scene of Detroit. The artists that are on top of the music scene right now are doing a great job though.
What does success look like to you?
Getting your message across accurately is what success looks like to me.
What’s your message to young artists on the rise?
Growth and maturity. The biggest thing, though, is to keep refining your mission statement. Allow it to come together and then keep pushing it through your music.