Remy Banks is New York to his core. The Queens rapper and co-founder of the World’s Fair collective has been honing a sound true to his area for over a decade. Projects like his solo debut higher. and his champ hoody music series are indebted to the likes of Nas and JAY-Z. And yet, they are powered by an everyman hunger. Songs for rolling an L and letting your headphones simmer. However, during the late 2010s, Remy almost quit making music entirely.
“I was wondering what I was even doing this for because it didn’t feel like the youth was listening,” Remy says to me over the phone. He noticed a change in the then-modern rap scene and was feeling uninspired. But after being introduced to Mach-Hommy’s music by Earl Sweatshirt and connecting with artists like Mutant Academy and Rome Streetz, who shared his vision, Remy was ready to get back to work.
the phantom of paradise., Remy Banks’ first solo full-length project in nearly half a decade, is the result of this newfound inspiration.
By his own admission, phantom—which began life as a potential third edition of champ hoody music—is the most “introspective” music of his career. While there’s plenty of wordplay to go around, songs like “dreamin’.” and “tomorrow.,” where he imagines putting his siblings through college and revels in newfound confidence in his music, are some of his most mature to date. After some personal doubts, Remy Banks is back on this rap shit. Rap itself is all the better for it.
The opening line of “the cycle.,” delivered by your stepfather, paints a familiar picture of New York rap in a unique way. Did this have an effect on the way you consumed music growing up?
Hell yeah. My mom had me when she was young, and my father passed away while my mom was pregnant with me. She started dating another dude after that, and he was in the streets as well. His music preference was my music preference because I was in the car with him all the time. It just so happened to be the golden era of hip-hop; I listened to Jay when he first made Roc-A-Fella and Nas and Mobb Deep when they were coming up. I was a kid growing up with these teenagers and early young adults.
I feel like most inner-city youths see the drug dealers and the people working 9-to-5 jobs coming around. All of my elders were caught up in the streets, and they didn’t want that life for me. When I was coming of age, I was wildling out and cutting school and fighting. I wasn’t in the game, but I had my crew that was basically the equivalent to a gang.
[My stepfather] was like, “Yo. You out here acting gangsta and hood and shit but let’s see how hood you are when you get locked up for doing something dumb.” Then he said that opening line, and I was like, “You’re right.” It’s been embedded in my brain since. Unfortunately, he’s locked up right now, but we talk frequently, and he’s one of my biggest supporters.
Once you started down this path, when did the rest of World’s Fair come into the picture?
There was a school dance that fall; this was around the time [JAY-Z] was about to drop The Black Album. It was a rap battle at the [dance], and the prize was an early copy of The Black Album. Ware was in the battle, and it was kinda like 8 Mile; it was a whole crew of dudes he had to battle on his own called The Loose Cannon, and Cody [B] destroyed everybody. He made it to the finals, but he cursed, so he was disqualified.
Cody ended up leaving school, and I ran into him on 5th Avenue years later on some random shit. He asked me if I still made music, and I told him I was fucking around with it but not taking it too seriously. He told me to come over to Lansky [Jones’] crib. I pulled up, and that was the first time [World’s Fair] was together on some music shit, minus Jeff [Donna] and Prince [SAMO]. Prince, Jeff, and Cody all grew up together. Me, [Nasty] Nigel, and Lansky knew each other through the same kid that introduced Cody to them.
The music shit started taking off with Children of the Night—which was me, Nigel, and Lanksy’s group—and Cody was on his solo shit. I was like, “Why don’t we form a collective? Look at what Odd Future is doing.” I already knew OF through MySpace; I knew about Tyler [The Creator] and watched that whole shit bubble. We all had individual cadences that we could web together and make it a thing, but we couldn’t come up with a name. Once Lansky came up with the name World’s Fair, it was over.
What would you consider to be your key to consistency and being so humble over the last decade?
The key is to be a fan of the art. I’m really a fan of this music shit. Not even just rap, but music as a whole. If I hear something that’s fire and it’s from a new artist or an older artist I’ve never heard before, I won’t be afraid to show love to that person. Some of these younger artists show love to me. I’m not gonna shove away a younger artist who’s inspired by me and expressing that. I’m gonna hear what that person has to say and figure out where we can link up.
It’s also about staying ahead of the curve, not worrying about what other people are doing or who other people are working with. I fuck with who and what I fuck with.
the phantom of paradise. is your first full-length solo project in nearly five years. How do you feel you’ve improved as an artist since you released your solo debut, higher.?
Rest in peace [A$AP] Yams. He was the driving force behind me getting higher. done. He reminded me I was the face of [World’s Fair] and that people were looking to see how you move before they start fucking with the rest of the crew. I wasn’t even thinking about making a solo tape at that time, but it was the business. While I was on the road with Earl Sweatshirt, I was also touring with Knxwledge, and we connected and he started texting me beats. Me, Black Noi$e, Earl Sweatshirt, and Knxwledge had this house in the hills where most of champ hoody music ep. 1 was created.
After I got off tour with the Flatbush Zombies, I felt this shift in rap. I was wondering what I was even doing this for because it didn’t feel like the youth was listening. When I was coming up, I was listening to Hov and Nas, but now I look at my brother, who’s 15, and not to knock him, but the shit he’s listening to is nothing like the stuff I was listening to when I was his age. I was listening to rappers that were more advanced with the wordplay as opposed to the turn-up sound.
I reasoned that the raps were falling on deaf ears, and I shied away from making music. So while I was dropping the champ hoody music series, which I had stocked up, I was seriously contemplating quitting this rap shit.
I met Fly Anakin, who invited me to this Mutant Academy joint at the Highline Ballroom [in January 2019]. I pulled up, and ANKHLEJOHN was performing, Al Divino was his hypeman, then Mutant Academy, and then Rome Streetz was the headliner. My first thought was, “Where the fuck was all these dudes back when we were trying to push this shit?” I went home that day and realized there were younger dudes who were really rapping, and they knew who I was. I was like, “I love this shit too much to just give it away. I’m gonna take my music to a different level, and the music will really define who I am.” It was time to get back to this rap shit.
You end “tomorrow.” asking for your flowers while you can still smell them. A line like that hits different considering how often rappers have been passing away over the last five years. Looking back on your career up to this point, what would you consider your legacy to be?
He stuck to his guns, he remained authentic, he made a lane for himself, and he inspired others to stay true and do what’s right for them.
We gotta make sure to give people their flowers while they’re still here. Let them feel appreciated. We make this for y’all. Don’t feel afraid to show us that love.