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Polo Perks Is Building a Future From Pieces of the Past

We talk to the Surf Gang artist about microdosing alternative music in his raps.
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This article previously appeared on Audiomack World.

POLO PERKS <3 <3<3 is a pop-rap artist without giving into mainstream pop appeal. The New York-based rapper and member of the collective SURF GANG—inducted in 2015—spent his youth doing anything he possibly could to avoid growing up. These days, you can find him microdosing My Chemical Romance guitar riffs and Lady Gaga snippets within his music. Polo counters the taste of the mainstream, even if that means being the only one with a pair of ICECREAM Reeboks, a lip ring, and a mohawk.

A 2000s revivalist with a deep love for alternative rock and Ksubi denim, Polo is infatuated with the fleeting nature of memory. Flipping Y2K alt-rock classics like the Killers’ “Mr. Brightside,” “puts people back to being a kid again,” as he explains. Polo Perks redefines angst, translating the feeling into internet microgenres. Still, he doesn’t turn away from his drill roots, rapping about the chrome on his hip and the cough syrup in his cup. With a monotonous voice that draws a sulky baritone, Polo Perks shines a colorful light onto a genre known for its dense, sliding basslines.

On the heels of AT LEAST WE TRIED with SURF GANG, Polo Perks sat down with Audiomack World to reflect on how far he’s come since their first official project SGB, changing the fringes of internet music, decentralizing rock music, and tweaking the sound of sample drill as we know it.

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On avoiding growing up… I don’t watch a movie if I didn’t see it as a kid. My playlist of music, I don’t download anything new. I’m still searching for songs I’ve seen on MTV or kind of remember the melody of on Fuse. I don’t search for new music unless it’s underground shit or stuff like that because I’m interested in how mindlessly people re-enact the same thing.

On memory and nostalgia… I’m not making music for today’s people. I have to search and find [my audience] in weird, quirky, and witty ways. I use the simple fact of memory to make it more settling for people to listen to the music. I’ve got a lot of songs that aren’t rock beats; they’re rap beats and I flip rock songs onto them in a weird way.

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On the influence of alternative music… When I first got onto alternative music, I was living in Connecticut and the population of Black people in my town wasn’t really that big at the time. Everyone wanted to be Soulja Boy. I was like, “Fuck that shit. I’m trying to be different.” I kept keeping myself completely separate and it was only because I had a different source of culture to look at.

On sample drill… Sampling is a part of the New York sound. Growing up, fucking with Max B and French Montana, every song they did was a sample, so I was already adjusted. Freestyling when I was first getting started would be to Max B beats or French Montana type beats. Me and my brother, we always rapped on samples.

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When I started getting into [Black] Kray, [Yung] Lean, BONES, and all them, I realized how much BONES was using these pulled rock-shits. Him and Greaf, they would pull guitar strings from all these songs and make actual songs out of them. That’s what started getting me into, “Let me start using chopped-up rock-rap beats.” I started getting into that sound in 2014, 2015.

Behind closed doors, I’ve been working on sample flips since “Nyquil.” The very next day I met up with Harrison and DeliverTheCrush and I flipped [A Day to Remember’s] “The Downfall Of Us All” and “Wow, I Can Get Sexual Too” by Say Anything. I had a couple songs that were low-key in the cut of flipping rock shit, then I made “thetasteofink,” which is a flip of the Used. Once I got into the jist of that, I was kinda like, “I’m not doing nothing else. Fuck that shit!”

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On SURF GANG’s accomplishments… The accomplishment that came with SURF GANG wasn’t with music—it was with life. A lot of the people that have come to my shows in the past year used to be telling me to get a job. They’re looking at music shit like it’s something in-between.

Now, it’s way different. I went from being homeless in 2018, from sleeping on floors and sleeping in cars to having two cribs, about to buy my third crib. [Evil]Giane takes care of his whole entire family. Harrison gets looked at differently because everything that’s going on in music. Moh [Baretta] takes care of his whole family. It wasn’t about music at all, whatsoever.

By Yousef Srour for Audiomack

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