Mir Fontane exudes wisdom; his calmness over the phone pairs nicely with the methodology of his music. Often in music writing, we’re met with the platitude of “something for everybody,” meaning “sloppy, but passable.” This is not the story of Mir Fontane. At 26 and one of Camden, New Jersey’s finest, Mir is putting South Jersey on the map by blending trap with storytelling, keeping the region firmly in our minds with his newest album, Who’s Watching The Kids 2.
Who’s Watching The Kids 2 is not “something for everybody” music. Though the trap hits are interspersed between melancholy tunes, love songs, and gutting storytelling tracks, Mir is not aimless in his approach. His music works towards an effective mood and is riddled with truth. Even at the height of his croons, what should be radio fodder, we’re treated to paranoid reckonings with his mortality and the revelation that stepping outside might lead to his death (“On Mommy”).
Other anthem cuts (“Hide The Money,” “Homecoming”) boast impressive energy and hunger; well-rounded is the expression, but it’s also his modus operandi. Mir Fontane is not slapping together sounds to try to appeal to the lowest common denominator. Rather, he has found a few creative ways to tell us the real story of South Jersey. A student of Big L, Pac, Biggie, J. Cole, Drake, and Kendrick, Mir sees himself as a welcome outsider to the music game. South Jersey’s music scene is strapped for an icon, but now, on some level, Mir has become the face of the South Jersey music scene.
“Jersey’s lack of a musical scene pretty much helped me create something and the fact that we were back against the ropes and had to jump into somebody else’s space, it’s kinda like you’re the outsider,” Mir tells me. “We embraced it and took that title. We created a brand. We built an entire fan base off the fact we’re, for lack of a better word, the lost kids. But now we’re here.”
And “here” sounds impeccable. Who’s Watching The Kids 2 is equal parts gruesome and catchy; is street music and soul music; is the blues and is the essence of the hip-hop that raised Mir. His roots are in the stories, but his skills are wider than simply stacking up bars. Mir makes some of the stickiest trap hits laced with some of the most cutting lyricism this side of RapCaviar. There are levels to his listening experience. And on top of it all, he fancies himself a vanguard of his community.
Mir Fontane is everything right about hip-hop. He should be your favorite rapper.
DJBooth’s full interview with Mir Fontane, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
DJBooth: When did you fall in love with music?
Mir Fontane: I really fell in love with music when I was being driven back and forth to school, listening to old school radio. It wasn’t until 12 or 13 that I got into hip-hop. From hip-hop, I fell in love with the storytelling aspect of it. How people were able to put words together overtop of beats to actually tell a story that I could connect to.
How did that love translate to you making music?
I always liked English, always liked creating my own stories or my own world. I looked up to people like J. Cole, Drake, Big L, Biggie, 50 Cent, 2Pac, Lil Wayne, just people that I took aspects from and added to what I wanted to create. For example, with J. Cole, I pretty much just fell in love with his story because his story and my story are aligned. With his father not being around, he went to college and I went to college. That’s when I really started taking rap seriously, seriously, when I was introduced to J. Cole. I grew up on 50 Cent, Dipset, the really gritty, hardcore, gangster hip-hop. When I found people like Kendrick and all these different types of [artists] that had their own way of telling their own story, I found what I liked from each one and adapted it to try and make my own sound.
How do you balance your storytelling with making a catchy trap song?
It’s like cooking. Not to be cliché. When I’m trying to make a project, I add just the right amount of this thing, and the right amount of that thing. You don’t want the dish to be overpowered by [any one ingredient]. I know they want the storytelling stuff, but the catchy hooks are what translates to my fans overseas. So those are the ones that become the singles, that pretty much keep the lights on. The storytelling ones are my roots.
How much influence does New Jersey have on your rap style?
I wouldn’t say it has much influence on my rap style, because when I first started rapping the music scene in South Jersey… There really wasn’t any. We don’t have venues around here. You have to go to Philly to actually get shit off. If anything, Jersey’s lack of a musical scene pretty much helped me create something and the fact that we were back against the ropes and had to jump into somebody else’s space, it’s kinda like you’re the outsider. We embraced it and took that title. We created a brand. We built an entire fan base off the fact we’re, for lack of a better word, the lost kids. But now we’re here.
Does New Jersey get it hip-hop dues? We’ve got some greats.
People know about Jersey, but when they think about Jersey, they think about North Jersey. Most of the stars are from North Jersey. And if you’re from Jersey, you know that North Jersey and South Jersey could damn near be like West Virginia and Virginia. It’s two different fields because they’re closer to New York. I really hear an accent when I’m talking to somebody from North Jersey, and I have an accent when they talk to me. We have to adapt our own identity. We don’t have anybody from this area that has seen musical success. The Southside of Jersey actually has a whole other wave than North Jersey.
Talk to me about Who’s Watching the Kids 2. When did you realize you were recording the album and not just making songs aimlessly?
We made a whole bunch of songs and whatever felt like they actually fit the project and the mood, then that’s pretty much how we did it. A lot of my other projects, I focused on needing “this” type of song. “This” type of beat. But this one, we chose not even the best [songs], but the songs that really fit the project.
For the first installment in this series, you said in an interview that you “did a lot of walking around Camden and listening to beats.” What was the process like this time?
This was the complete opposite. I really don’t have the luxury of walking around with my headphones now in Camden. I stayed in my room, for the most part, and then I took a trip to LA and caught some different vibes out there. Different studios. Everything that was going on in life, I put it into the music and wished for the best. It was a completely different process from all the other projects.
How difficult was it to write the closing track, “Homie’s Story”? It's so heavy.
I feel like “Homie’s Story” was one of the easier [records] for me, because I’ve been doing those forever. Once I get the first couple lines, that’s like step one. Then step two, is more so… Once I got the first few lines, I can keep on going, but I don’t have a story. I don’t have a structure. I usually don’t know what’s gonna happen in the middle. But as I’m writing, I know I want it to end this way. What has to happen? I fill in the bars that I need. Add some suspense. The hardest songs are the love songs and songs that walk that line of being trap hits.
What makes love songs difficult for you?
I haven’t been in love since I started making music. So, to actually write about it, it’s kinda hard. Especially making it catchy. It has to rhyme. It has to go with the beat. It has to be something relatable. It was a different realm of feeling I had to deal with because I like some sad shit or some club shit.
What’s the most important thing you learned about yourself as a man while making this project?
It’s very important to let your friends and everyone around you know what’s going on with you mentally. To know that it’s okay to take a break; step back. I was pressuring myself during this album because we had a couple of setbacks. I wasn’t sure when it was going to come out. I was going through some anxiety over expectations because we pushed it back so many times. Going through personal problems. On top of the fact that I was having writer’s block. If anything, I learned to lean more on my team in times where it’s less about the music and more about mental health.