When Armani White steps up to the mic, you can hear him breaking off his shackles with the written word. “People hear you, but don’t want you knowing how powerful your voice is,” he assures me.
In 2015, the Philadelphia rapper first told DJBooth that his music genesis came from screaming until he finally felt heard. Three years later, White not only feels heard, but he’s grown comfortable with silence.
“I found peace in silence,” he explains. “Gaining my voice is so important that the silence has found its own color in my spectrum. Because now I do have a growing voice. So the silence is more so by choice.” Where once the silence was deafening, it’s now a sign of agency.
There’s also an element of control in White’s answer that has wormed its way into his latest material. After a two-year break from music following the passing of his father, during which time he completely restructured his team, White is once again hungry and voracious. Working with Sango on his latest tune, “Casablanco,” White spits like his life is on the line.
“How else do you explain that other than, I want it,” he says. “I still get those moments where I feel like I’m the little brother or the small kid in a big T-shirt that still has a lot of filling in to do.”
His recent collaborations with trombonist and producer Alexander Lewis carry that same booming quality. In the era of oversaturation and microwaved music, White represents the rare breed of artist who creates because they’ve no other way to navigate the world.
DJBooth’s full interview with Armani White, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
In 2015, you were named a DJBooth Top Prospect. How has your career changed since?
A lot of moving pieces [laughs]. Aside from my entire “team” collapsing and having to rebuild that, I've gotten to experience a lot more of the world as a retreat, but at the fatal cost of losing my father to cancer and losing my mind in the process. But the silver lining was; I felt like my music was driving off of an empty spirit. And that huge personal step away from music for two years allowed me to regain my meaning but also gave me enough space to have natural human experiences and come back with a new outlook and taste to satisfy my palate. I’ve gotten to experience a hell of a lot of things many haven’t in such a short amount of time; and by the grace of God, I was blessed with a second chance to do it all over again but better!
On “Casablanco,” you’re rapping your ass off. How do you remain so hungry?
[Laughs] I mean… How else do you explain that other than, I want it! I still get those moments where I feel like I’m the little brother or the small kid in a big T-shirt that still has a lot of filling in to do. And that was definitely a moment I had with Sango. I had absolutely no other choice but to kill it dead.
Were there ever moments when you’ve wanted to quit making music? How do you work through those?
Psh… I could write a shelf of novels on the scary times. My skin is so thick at this point. I know I’m entirely too deep to quit but, boy! There were some days where I had to, and still have to, step away from it all for a few days. And I urge everyone to do the same. And not get so engulfed in the creation but just to get fresh air and sunlight and then go back in the cave [laughs].
You were just featured on Alexander Lewis’ “Pearl Magnolia” and “Come Up On My Side.” How did those collabs come about?
Ah, AJ is my guy! We did “Come Up On My Side” first and I was telling him how much I don’t want to make trap music and he was insisting I sound so good doing it. He was actually looking for another beat and accidentally played “Pearl Magnolia,” and I was like “Fuck! I want a piece of that!"
Being from Philly, where do you see yourself in the scope of the city’s hip-hop scene?
The nucleus baby, just watch me [laughs].
What differentiates a Philly rapper from the rest of the East Coast?
There’s just a certain edge in gritty and griminess that you can verbally and empathically feel when we say certain things. Like when Beanie Sigel said, "When that last person leave that sight / The grave gon' squeeze so tight / Ya ribs gon' overlap 'til every bone crack / I drop my head in despair imagine going through that." I felt that in my cheap corner store headphones in seventh grade [laughs].
Three years ago, you told us about how, while growing up, you felt you had no voice. Do you still feel that way?
I found peace in silence; I wrote a poem about it. Gaining my voice is so important that the silence has found its own color in my spectrum. Because now I do have a growing voice. So the silence is more so by choice.
What does it mean to you to feel heard?
It’s powerful to know your words have meaning, to you and to someone else who you don’t even know is paying attention. It’s beautiful. It inspires me to always A-B it back to when my only fan was my sister and the music went straight from the studio to her iPod [laughs].
What would you say to a fan that feels like no one hears them?
Keep screaming! People hear you, but don’t want you knowing how powerful your voice is.