In 2018, New Jersey-based rapper Franky Hill told me: “We really need each other.” We were speaking about his newly released project, USER, which was a personal reckoning of the highest order. Franky, 25, spoke with an attractive candor about his vices and his pursuit of bettering himself. A year and a half removed from that conversation, in our current worldwide pandemic moment, the words “We really need each other” have taken on new meaning. Looking back on my talk with Franky, there’s a sense of urgency to his every word that translates to our present times. I guess that makes Franky Hill timeless—not that he would ever fully take such a compliment.
Yes, it’s 2020, and it feels like the world is ending, but these circumstances aren’t stopping Franky from releasing self-effacing music. His latest EP, SELF, out now, is a five-track trip through Franky’s shaking confidence and journey as an upcoming artist. It’s a long look in the mirror. It’s Franky putting his finger to the glass and speaking truth to his reflection. Just as he told me in 2018, this music is a point of release for him. In 2020, Franky is working on letting go of his doubts.
“In the beginning, after dropping USER, I went through a, ‘Am I really this good?’ [phase].” Franky explains of his self-doubt. “It’s been big for me all my life, self-doubt. But that’s why the songs got this overarching theme of ‘We free.’”
Freedom and bombast are at the center of SELF. In contrast to 2018’s USER, Franky Hill is focusing on lightness, keeping it real Jersey, and barrelling through his pain. He’s stunting on his demons. He’s drinking nine-ounce glasses of wine and getting his mental right. Though Franky has had to sacrifice a lot of time and energy—time with family, especially—to keep the momentum of his come-up going, he has no regrets. Armed with a powerful relationship with God, Franky Hill knows what’s meant for him is meant for him. Too, as he announces on “BETTER THAN I LOOK,” the young artist has a “Goku complex,” meaning, he’s always getting stronger.
“In that phrase, I was dealing with his phenomenal way to seemingly always get stronger when the next villain comes around,” Franky details. “It’s a quick line about self-confidence. No matter what next demon’s coming, I’ll get stronger when the time comes.”
Our full conversation, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
DJBooth: Since the new EP is called SELF, I wanted to ask you: How have you been feeling about yourself lately?
Franky Hill: Damn! This is Donna, huh? I’ve been feeling good. When I made half of these songs, I was in that post-album depression, where it’s like I’m kinda fucked up because I’m dealing with doubts of “Am I a fluke?” The song that got me out of that was “BETTER THAN I LOOK.” The hook… I had to evaluate myself and address that I’m doing better than I look. It was a reminder to myself that I’m in a good spot and “Don’t get in your own head, in your own way.” I’m doing awesome. I’m getting my health together.
That stands in contrast to “HIGH,” where you break down your self-doubt and the “Life and times of a struggling artist.” What’s been the hardest part of your come-up?
Sacrificing things that maybe I didn’t have to. I try to find every way not to have to make those sacrifices. For me, it’s time. Money, I don’t trip off. I have a great relationship with God, so I don’t have a relationship with money. He’s gon’ provide for me whenever I need it. I let go of my fear of not having enough money a year or so ago. The biggest thing [to sacrifice] has been time, though. I don’t get to see my family as much as I want to—even at this level. I’m at work; then, I’m at the studio. When I do get a bit of downtime, I’m tired, and I wanna sleep.
On the flip side, what’s been the most rewarding part of your come-up?
Initially, you would think it would be people liking my music! But the most important thing to me has been touching people because that wasn’t something I set out to do. We talked about it last time we spoke, how I was writing for myself, and from a selfish place. Now, I feel a certain responsibility. I got a message to convey, and I gotta make sure there’s a thought there for someone to feel something. I feel a lot more responsibility, and that’s been the most exciting part about it, like, “Yo! People count on you.”
In 2018, you told me, “Music is an access point for me to just release.” What were you working on letting go during the making of SELF?
Doubt, really. In the beginning, after dropping USER, I went through a, “Am I really this good?” [phase]. I had to let it go, and from the opening lines of “HIGH,” that was a benchmark of where I was when we first started making everything. That’s why it was necessary for [“HIGH”] to be the lead-off. It’s been big for me all my life, self-doubt. But that’s why the songs got this overarching theme of “We free.” “We live good, we eat good.” It’s just being more confident with self and taking care of yourself.
SELF is five self-effacing tracks. How difficult or easy is it for you to look in the mirror and constructively criticize yourself?
Ha, truthfully, it’s not hard. It’s more of a want to do it. My family, we jokesters. We the type to joke at funerals. We been cracking jokes on each other, so critiquing myself, it’s never been hard-hard. I could do it if I had to, but I just would never want to. A nine-ounce glass of wine helps me get through that. Now, we’re in quarantine, so that’s even easier!
I love it when you say you’re stunting on your demons. You sound much more confident on SELF. Where does that assurance come from?
The people who listen! My friends, the people around me. I surround myself with positive influences and people who instill confidence in me. And God, truthfully. My relationship with Him has grown so much over this last year or so. I got everything I need, and it’s time to show it. It’s time to put on.
You say you have a “Goku complex” on “BETTER THAN I LOOK.” Please expound.
Oh, my God! In that phrase, I was dealing with his phenomenal way to seemingly always get stronger when the next villain comes around. It’s a quick line about self-confidence. No matter what next demon’s coming, I’ll get stronger when the time comes. That’s my Goku complex. I’m glad you caught that.
Which song on SELF was most important for you to get out?
“HIGH,” easily. The only thing I could’ve done more was name-drop more people. It was real… It was a tough time. There was a lot of dissension around me, and I had to express it as unfiltered as I possibly could. The hook sounds pretty, but it’s mad dark, and I was like, “I gotta let it out.” That was most important for me to write. “BETTER THAN I LOOK” was the most important for me to release. Only because it reaffirmed everything I’ve been working on in the last few years. Like, “Yeah, you are meant to do this. This is your calling.”
Knowing this is your calling, what does success look like to you?
It’s a forever-evolving thing, but currently, I just wanna take care of my family and friends. I wanna not have to worry about anything, and not have anybody in my immediate circle have to worry about much. I wanna be able to help the people who are close to me as much as I can. Whether it’s arena tours or it’s 1,200 cap rooms for the rest of my career, I don’t care about that part. As long as I can take care of my people and keep impacting listeners and changing lives. I just want a thinkpiece—if I get a thinkpiece, I think I might retire.
Where does your selflessness come from?
My parents! They could afford materialistic things, but they never sought it out. In my household, there was more value for feeling and friendship. I don’t care about being in the hottest yada-yada-yada. I always wanna improve upon my personality and who I am as a person... I’mma continue being selfless and if I have enough, I’mma get me something nice, but it’s not a priority. It’s more of an option, for me.
I wanted to end with the same question I asked you last time: What’s the most precious thing to you right now?
Currently, I’m in quarantine, and I’m forced to sit still. The time I have to sit with myself and to reflect on how important music is to me… Performing and being in front of people and touching real-life people who have real-life experiences, it makes me value that more. ‘Cause that’s up in the air—we might not be able to do a real show ‘til 2021. I have a lot of time now, and like I said, time is the thing I had to sacrifice most. I just wanna make sure I’m using it correctly.