I come from East Harlem’s James Weldon Johnson Houses, where the decisions of youth often become the difference between life and death.
A lot of the kids on my block were hustling for their families. In the absence of my mother, my aunt stepped in to raise me. Still, she could only do so much. In my hood, you either trapped or rapped. By 17, I was met with the consequences of these hard-knock truths and had acquired multiple felony charges.
I started rapping when I was in the box while serving a four-year sentence for two felonies. I spent most of my time locked up and restricted from other inmates. All I could do was read novels and write poetry; I studied the dictionary and listened to Z100 for 23 hours of the day.
Throughout my incarceration, I was in a gang. One of the names that everyone in the gang called one another was “Sleaze.” I always felt like I was God’s son, like he had a higher purpose for me, and so I told the gang, “All of y’all in the gang are ‘Sleaze,’ but I am ‘Bhrist.”
As soon as I came home, I ended up on the run from parole. That’s when I added “Sleazus” and dropped my first mixtape. Like many others, I ended up back in jail for a parole violation, doing a three-month sentence. But this time, I met people who knew my music or heard of me through people they talk to, which made me more focused than ever. I knew I needed to change my ways. I wasn’t tryna go back into the prison system.
I came home for good at 21. My incarceration changed me. The constant loop of Top 40 music helped me find my sound. Additionally, my time spent reading also set a foundation for my artistry; it opened me up to other influences. Little did I know, I was slowly becoming a fully-formed artist.
Making music went from a hobby to swiftly become a refuge and a way to tell my story. Fans should know authenticity is crucial to my lyricism. My influences—JAY-Z, Young Thug, Lil Wayne, Kanye West, and DMX—are respected because they offer us their truth. If I rapped it on wax, it happened.
I don’t take what I create in the studio or with my visuals for granted. I know a career in music can end at any minute.
Shortly after my release from prison, I dropped a video. It didn’t get the looks I wanted, though, and so I strayed away from music to cook. I didn’t release another record for a year. This decision almost killed me.
One day, while doing illegal activities, I ended up on the side of a highway. I woke up in the hospital and called my grandmother to find out my aunt passed that same night. From there, I told myself no more.
I went home and made “Exodus” about a week later.
After recording the record, I linked with my now creative partner Lost Footage, who helps bring my visuals to life. I first found Lost Footage on Instagram, and I reached out to him to direct the video for “Exodus.”
The video went viral on social media, earned about 100K views on YouTube, and started to pick up on streaming services. Rather than take the first deal I was offered, I decided to start my own record label, B.L.E. (Before Life Ends). I haven’t looked back since.
I love working with Lost Footage because his dark, grimy vibes fit with my music and my aesthetic. Through our conversations, I came to discover he also used to be a rapper, so he understands the creative process from that angle too. We have worked together on just about every video I’ve done since then.
Being a label owner means being your own boss, which also means being responsible for every aspect of your career. Everything you see comes from me. I painstakingly review every phase of the creative process: I draft up the treatment, I style myself, and I work on the edits with Lost Footage. Everything you see has a purpose and a message.
On April 16, 2020, I released my project, Passion of the Bhrist. My favorite song from the project is “Losses,” where I talk about how many people around me have lost their lives. To date, it’s the only record where I have genuinely opened up about my situation.
I know this is just the beginning for me, but already I am hopeful that I can become an artist worth remembering. That’s it. I do not care how people remember me. I just hope they do.