Before BROCKHAMPTON’s Ginger dropped on August 23, Victor Roberts had a mere 21 Twitter followers. Overnight, that number multiplied to more than 5,000, as scores of fans found themselves enrapt by his storytelling ability on the album’s closing track, named for the artist.
“My fuckin’ Power Rangers couldn’t protect me from that LAPD kick door,” the rookie rapper begins, as if narrating the opening scene of a gritty drama. The setting of Silver Lake Motel in Silver Lake, CA is vividly portrayed; the LAPD’s break-in jumpstarts the story’s conflict; Roberts’ frenzied emotions convey the song’s immediacy. In just two minutes, Roberts tells an Oscar-worthy tale of compassion, betrayal, loss, hatred, and perseverance with immaculate precision.
Immediately, BROCKHAMPTON fans were asking Roberts, who tells me he’d prefer to keep his age a mystery until he releases his debut, for guidance as they shared their own stories of hardship and depression.
“It’s kind of hard to accept it,” the Jefferson Park native tells me over the phone. But in the month following his debut, Roberts has responded to the attention with grace and compassion, spending hours with his Twitter and Reddit followers who feel an emotional connection to his vulnerability.
During a break from sending DMs, Roberts spoke with DJBooth about the BROCKHAMPTON collaboration, grappling with overnight success, and the importance of family. Lightly edited for content and clarity, Victor Roberts’ debut interview follows below.
DJBooth: How did the collaboration with BROCKHAMPTON come about?
Victor Roberts: I had been playing phone tag with [BROCKHAMPTON member] Dom [McClennon]. He told me, “I want you to come by and see what’s going on.” At that time, I didn’t want to be around people. I was finicky. But I took a leap of faith and said, “Fuck it.” So I go up to the studio, and I’m playing stuff on the keys. They’ve got beats playing. Right now, I’m in the mindset of “I don’t want to fuck with anything.” I’m miserable. I don’t wanna be musically involved because my energy would take away from everything they had going on.
Later, it’s just Dom and me, and I’m like, “Yo, I’ve got this rap.” I don’t rap a lot at this point, but this is one I wanted to finish because it was important to me. So I’m rapping it, and not even halfway through, his hands are on his head pulling his fucking hair out. He told me to rap it again, so I did, and he lost his fucking mind.
Later, I’m at home, and I get a call that Kevin [Abstract] wants to hear the verse. I’m like, “Oh, shit.” It must be important. So I went back over and recorded the verse originally on an Alchemist beat and pitched it down, then they took me off that and put it on the beat that’s on Ginger now.
You mentioned feeling miserable and not wanting to mess with the vibe. How did you overcome that?
It just felt appropriate. If this were me a year ago, I wouldn’t have ever pulled out that verse. You might have gotten a bass line or something from me, but not a rap. I just started doing this rap shit seriously in the last year. So I just confided in Dom to see if I was on the right track. I wasn’t trying to toot my own horn or anything, but I felt like this verse wasn’t something most people would write on their first try.
When he reacted the way he did, I was like, “Wow, OK.” And when they told me their vision for the song, I would have been a dickhead to say no. At that point, it wasn’t even about me. They had a serious intention, and I just wanted to help build that. And it’s working. People are connecting to the song in ways I would have never thought.
Why do you think people are connecting with your verse and sharing their own stories with you?
I’ve always been the type of person people confided in and told their darkest secrets, and I have no problem with that. My nature is embracing. The part that’s blowing me away is everybody’s like, “You’re so vulnerable and open.” To me, that’s just me telling the truth. It’s normal.
I believe people connect because it’s honest and real. Why would somebody that’s gone through something hard not want to listen to something that you’ve been through that’s dark as hell? I’ve had people tell me some dark things in my DMs. And for me, it’s rewarding to be on the forefront of saving someone’s life just because of a simple song or helping someone talk through taking care of their grandmother or grandfather with dementia or Alzheimer’s—just letting them know there’s somebody else out there.
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They feel it. It’s not just some rap n**** on some lyrics trying to tell y’all a rap story. This shit happened. And there’s a lot of darkness that’s happened to other people too.
Have you felt overwhelmed carrying the weight of other people’s dark experiences?
That’s a tricky question. My nature is to numb that shit. When I know people are going through something, I’ve always put my shit to the side. I don’t like to use titles, but I’ve been told I’m a selfless person. I think my actions call for that. When I’m overwhelmed, it’s whatever.
Do artists have a responsibility to try to connect with people, or is it something you’re just happy to be doing?
It is a privilege to be able to reach out to people who give a fuck. Now that something of mine got put out and people are enjoying it, I’m humbled. Being able to get a message from just one person saying, “Yo, dope shit,” that’s an honor. So for it to be as overwhelming as it is, I can’t even look at it as overwhelming. It’s easier to welcome it.
As for other artists, I can’t speak for them. I can’t tell anyone to be as vulnerable as me or to go and reach out to their fanbase like I do. They might not be able to reach out as I can right now. But if you can, hell yeah, because you get to learn about who’s listening to you and what they say and what they think.
When you don’t put yourself on a rapper pedestal, you might be able to make better music that way. I’m gonna make way better music now that I’ve talked to people and connected. I feel like I’ve got infinite powers. So if you want infinite powers, go out and talk to your fans.
Do you have a support system and outlet in place to help carry your burdens?
Yeah, I do. I call them unfortunate burdens. The people that I go to already have to deal with heavy things. My girlfriend is a psychologist. So it’s hard going to her to share my burdens because of that strain. But I do go to her.
I try not to outbound myself to busy people, like Dom. I always feel like a burden when I reach out anyway. I’ve learned to sit with it, and I’ve repressed so much for so long. But my support system, it’s my girl and my parents, man.
Other than that, Dom is a definite support system for me now more than ever because it’s a different level of life I’m in, and he’s able to help me with that. He’s like a brother to me in the business part and outside of it. So I get to rely on him in different ways I didn’t expect.
How important is it to have supportive parents and a supportive family?
If I didn’t have my parents, I’d probably be gangbanging. All of my friends growing up had one parent, or they didn’t have parents, or they had brothers who took care of them, and they were from a gang. My parents, they might be dealing with addictions and vices, but they’re taking care of me the best they can.
It’s important knowing you have real motherfuckers that care about you, not just parents that check your homework. These people will be the first to hop out of the car with you to fight. These people will shoot out with you. I don’t have regular parents. And I know my parents love me to the moon and back because we’ve been through things. Some people have best friends that they go through shit with, I’ve been through that with my parents.
Do you feel any pressure to follow the song’s success with more music soon?
There’s no pressure. If anything, I’m more excited. The only pressure I feel is [deciding] which direction to go next. Do I want to make people cry? Do I want to make them bop a little? I know where I excel, and I try to use that to my strength. And emotion, sadness—not necessarily dark, cry baby shit like, “I went through shit, guys. Feel bad for me.” I’m talking about, hey, these are some things I’ve been through. You may have been through it too. But I’m standing here right in front of you to tell you there’s perseverance available. There’s some strength within you, and I can show you the keys.
This project that I’m working on, man, I’ve barely begun to scratch the surface. At the same time, I’m a new rapper. I don’t want to max out. I don’t want to be a one-trick pony with the sad, emo shit that can make you cry. I want to be somebody that will make you realize life, the quality of it, even if it takes trauma to scare you straight. A lot of rappers don’t talk about the shit they went through, but I’m fortunate to be able to do that.