How Thutmose's Chaotic Upbringing Inspired His Debut Mixtape 'Man on Fire'

“It’s about introducing myself in a fiery way… being brought up in a fiery environment, in Brooklyn."
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Thutmose, 2019

Thutmose was nine years old when a SWAT team raided his family’s apartment in Brooklyn, pointing a gun to his father’s head as he looked on in horror. He was even younger when his home country of Nigeria was rocked by the devastating Lagos Armoury Explosion in 2002, which eventually forced his family to relocate to the States in need of a fresh start. Soon after they arrived, a series of unfortunate events, highlighted by the aforementioned raid, instantly tainted his perception of America, a cutting reminder of the terrors from home rather than the promising welcome he had hoped for.

“Coming from Nigeria, I never had the most affinity for governments,” he says over the phone. “Nigeria is a little more corrupted, and of course there’s a history of that here too, so there are similarities. But for the most part I was a little paranoid; I knew every decision I made in life would come with a consequence.”

When Thutmose set himself aflame for the Man On Fire cover, as well as in music video for the project's title track, it wasn’t just a publicity stunt. For the promising 24-year-old, it was a metaphor symbolizing the utter pandemonium of his upbringing, and his own need to remain calm and optimistic in the face of all the obstacles.

“It’s about introducing myself in a fiery way,” he says. “That was always the word I was using, being brought up in a fiery environment, in Brooklyn.”

It’s that same feeling of urgency that propels the mixtape forward, with a level of intensity that rarely leaves center stage. Songs like “Blame” swirl through the speakers with an eerie chill, while higher energy cuts like “Let Em Go” bring the pounding percussion that ensures his presence is felt. To set the tone, however, he opens the project with a brief soundbite of his elementary school teacher introducing him to his class for the first time, eluding to his struggle to adapt in his new environment.

“I definitely rubbed a lot of the kids the wrong way,” he reveals. “I didn’t like a lot of the attention I was getting. But it was still cool; I’m adventurous, I was excited to be in a new space and around a new culture. I was just observing things, taking everything in.”

By the end of the 15-track project, it’s apparent that his circumstances have improved dramatically. On “Reflections Pt. 1,” he looks back on his own journey with a tone of sheepish disbelief, highlighting personal milestones like seeing his younger brother become a man, as well as moments under the bright lights while on tour with fellow newcomer Billie Eilish.

For Thutmose, getting the nod to go on tour did much to help him realize how his career had truly begun to take off. Only a few months earlier, he had finally made the decision to quit his day job—retail inventory at J.Crew in SoHo—and pursue music full time, which increasingly felt like the right choice as he began to take his music across the country.

“Being on the road with someone poised to be a superstar, seeing her fans camp out before shows, that whole process was so inspiring,” he says. “That was one of the moments where I thought, 'This is happening, I’m in this for real.'”

Two years later Thutmose is back on the road, this time with MadeinTYO, performing for a rowdier set of crowds that’s naturally more inclined to hip-hop. In addition to noting the audience's familiarity with his culture, he mentions how his own expanded discography makes for a night and day difference from his previous tour in 2017, giving him more room to creatively design his setlist.

“With Billie, I didn’t have a lot of options, it was down to performing some demos that didn’t even come out,” he says. “I didn’t have a lot of material at the time; before that tour, I hadn’t even dropped the first single from Man on Fire. But now I have songs that have been out, as well as new songs I’m premiering on tour.”

Thutmose has big plans for 2019; he’s already dropped two new singles since the year began in “Romeo is Dead” and “Wait Up.” He says there are plenty more songs to come as he looks to build off the momentum from his recent mixtape, as well as his appearance on the soundtrack from Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.

“I have some Afro[beats] songs I’ve been working on, bigger, worldly vibes,” he says. “I’m waiting for the right time, but that’s one thing I’m excited about. Tapping back into where I’m from, and combining it with the Western world.”

Experimenting with new sounds is always a priority for the multi-faceted artist, something he tried to keep at the forefront of his mind while crafting Man on Fire. Now that he’s seen the results, Thutmose is motivated to keep exploring new territories, pushing himself forward in an effort to be as versatile as possible.

“The vision is limitless, in a way,” he says. “I was able to experiment with a lot of different sounds, I feel like that opened my eyes to how many more levels there are. The more you learn, the more you recognize there’s so much more there to learn.”

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