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“I’m not one of those people that’s hiding the blueprint.”
For Troy Ave, the formula is simple: invest yourself, stack up, invest in others, repeat. Such a plan may involve much more detailed implementation, but at its surface, the Brooklyn rapper’s credo is one all artists should strive to adopt.
Troy has long been a pundit for the success of full-fledged independence as a hip hop artist, and though marred by his fair share of unflattering headlines and narratives, he continues to maintain his position as a shining light in the subset and he stands by the blueprint that he’s formulated for himself. It’s a blueprint laced in longevity if you’re asking the right people. But, it’s increasingly becoming the road far less traveled in this industry.
“My grandfather always told me no man is smarter than the next,” Troy told REVOLT in an exclusive interview. “It’s the man who works hardest that achieves success.”
They’re words he lives by even in the exact moment of our conversation. A proud multitasker, Troy spoke to us while in the middle of directing a music video. That’s right. This time around, he’s not the star of the show. Recently, he’s taken on the background role of executive producer, actually helping his pastor, Reverend Rema Duncan, piece together an inspirational album of his own. Fans familiar with the White Christmas mixtape series recognize Duncan as the authoritative voice that opens up each project with a powerful prayer. For Troy, Duncan is the man he credits with saving his life in his infamous 2016 Christmas Day shooting.
“He stopped when nobody would stop for me,” Troy said. “I crashed the car, bullet in my head, bullet in my back. Nobody was stopping, and this person stopped.”
His upcoming project encapsulates the latter tenet in the formula above. After spending the bulk of his career building something for himself, Troy is now in the business of diversification. Independence and all its success comes with steep sacrifice, and in our conversation, the rapper breaks down the logic behind ownership in music, the set up of his low-income housing business, his tips on residual income, and what we can expect from his new music. Peep the conversation below.
What do you think is missing when it comes to educating artists on independence in the music industry?
I feel like damn near everything. They say the best place to hide something from people in the urban community is in a book. I think it’s just about going out and getting it. I think it would be backwards for the music industry to try and teach young artists to be like a Troy Ave or be like a Young Dolph or a Master P. That goes against their whole infrastructure and they won’t make no money. You can look it up on YouTube. You can read a book. The information is out there. The schools cannot teach you how to get money out the music industry — how to really grind. If you independent, you ain’t gon’ have $250,000 to spend on a video. You got to cut costs and still make it look good. If you want to look for something that’s going to educate you, it’s there. You just got to find it.
There’s no school. Nobody’s gonna give you game. You got to watch other people do it. What’s missing is people not only paying attention, but after they pay attention, they don’t follow through. They want the easy way out. That’s why you see artists, they come out, they be hot — have a two-year run — then when the label shelves them, they crying about how they cannot put out no records because you’re not in control of your own destiny. Nothing worth having comes easy. It’ll just be short-lived.
What’s the significance in having multiple streams of income as an independent artist?
When people who are successful talk, I listen. The key to life is knowing when to shut up and knowing when to talk. Unless you’re in Silicon Valley and hit with an app or something, you got to have a couple of different streams of income. Everything don’t last. An artist can be at a label. They might have went triple platinum. Platinum is good. The label is taking most of the money, but it’s still good. When you double back, and you only sell 500,000; it’s looked at as a loss when really it’s not. That’s half a million records. Now you only sold 500,000.
If you have other streams of income, even when that three million records that you sold is not lasting, you got merchandise. Your merch is picking up because you’re touring more. Maybe you invested your money. I gave somebody money for a trucking company. One of my homegirls, she wanted to do a trucking business. She brought it up to me, she showed interest. She came with half of her money. I gave her the other half. Now she has a trucking business. She gives me a check every month for no less than $1200 - $3000. It’s just residual income.
Let’s talk about your house flipping business.
I buy cribs, I renovate them, and I give them to lower-income tenants. But, I give it to them with the hopes of them owning their own. I promote ownership. I let these tenants stay in the crib for a year, 30% less than what the rent is. If the rent is $1000, I’m charging them $700. At the end of the year, you should have $3600 saved. Now, I have my sister who came in. I put my sister through real estate school and every property that I buy, she closes for me. That’s how we keep the money in the family, within the community. I learned this from my Jewish neighbors in Crown Heights.
Now, she comes in and helps with their credit, and she helps them find homes. If they don’t do what they supposed to and want to goof off that extra $3600 at the end, if they don’t have nothing to show for the discount, we get them out of there or they just have to pay a higher rent. But, I try to give everybody a fair shot.
Now you’re in the process of extending your efforts to give back. How did your scholarship with UNCF come about?
I did a scholarship before. One of my closes friends passed away, and I did a scholarship in his name at the high school that he went to. The school was good with it. The city was good with it. Then, they got pressure from the police saying, ‘This is a bad guy.’ They revoked the scholarship. I’m thinking that’s messed up. I’m just tryna give $10,000 every year to the best student athlete.
The way God works is that now it’s bigger and better. Now, we are doing a scholarship with the United Negro College Fund, which is amazing. Josh [King] (Troy’s publicist) basically put that together. He asked me what type of stuff I was in to. I like helping people that need to be helped. I’m not trying to help no knuckleheads. You gotta show effort and put your best foot forward. People want to be idiots and knuckleheads, there’s a place for them. But, the people who don’t, and they want to make something out of their life, and they want to work for theirs, and they want to come up, I’m willing to help them. That’s where that came into play.
Are you concerned about flipping the script on the narratives that have followed the Irving Plaza incident?
You never please everybody. Why keep on? The way I look at it, haters talk the loudest. It’s like somebody drowning in the ocean. It could be 10 other people. They’re doing back strokes — Michael Phelps in it. But, that person that’s drowning is going to be splashing around. They [are] drowning. They cannot swim. Anybody real that’s got two eyes, that know anything, have anything, is worth anything, they know Troy Ave is absolutely right. ‘What was he supposed to do? Lay down and die? He did the right thing. He’s a hero.’
For the record, the love outweighs the hate by thousands. Negativity leaves you in the negatives in your bank account, your life, and your spirit. I’m catering to the people that support me. I’m working smart, not hard. I’m not trying to work mad hard to convert a hater. If you a hater on me, my come up from the mud, you just a hater of life. It’s my job to get the bag and provide for my family, and help to inspire the ones that need to be inspired.
You’re also working on a reality show. What will that highlight?
The show is called ‘Troy Ave: It’s All About The Money.’ ESPN did something called ‘30 For 30: Broke.’ A lot of athletes, they go broke maybe three years after they leave the league. They’ve never done a ‘Broke’ on artists. What I like to show is that you might have a hit record, you might be getting to the money now, but that don’t last forever. So, you have to have different sources and streams of income. Use entertainment as a stepping stone, and a platform to branch out and do other things. This show isn’t like a drama show. It’s real informative. So, it basically deals with all the business ventures I’m doing. Then, you got all the court stuff I’m going through. My girl — she got a daycare, she does modeling, she has a clothing line. My life is just dramatic and entertaining anyway. Everybody wants me to be on their show or wants to talk about me on their show. ‘Love & Hip Hop’ tried to get me on their show, and then they went as far as making a whole season about my Irving Plaza situation. So, I’m like, ‘Wait a minute. They sitting here selling me. Why don’t I just do it myself?’
So far, so good. We got a couple of networks on the hook. That’s the whole independent mindset. I ain’t play no games. I put the bag up, and made it happen.
The directors of Uncut Gems recently revealed that you were considered for the role The Weekend played in the film. Would you ever consider dabbling in scripted work, as well?
I would love that. I cannot say I have plans. It’s in my mind. The new plans I have has been this reality show, dropping more music, and starting my own podcast. People always want to talk to me or talk about me, and I want to give a dope platform to give my opinion, but not in a gossipy or corny way. I would love to get into some acting. But, I feel like if I get some time, I would do my own movie. Like a JAY-Z Streets Is Watching type of movie. Just do my own thing.
What about your next album?
It’s going to be called Against All Odds. It’s going to be a different vibe. I promise you. It’s some of my best work. If you love ‘She Belongs to the Game,’ you get those vibes. It’s going to be on a whole other level.
The album cover is me holding up my gold plaque. I’m the first and only independent artist out of New York City to get a gold plaque. So, this is against all odds. I went against the grain. I didn’t do what people do. I gained success against all odds. I didn’t have to d-ck ride. I ain’t have to beg and plead for a way. I made a way on my own. Everything I have, everything I acquired and obtained are against all odds. I’m not supposed to be here. I’m not supposed to be alive. I’m not supposed to be here with a bullet in my head. I have one in my head right now.
If you can bet on 10 people from my hood, everybody’s going to be an underdog. Damn near everybody’s supposed to fail. If all the odds are against you, what you gon’ do? My life is about winning.