Voice of the Trenches
Check out our interview with TJ below.
Can you just say your name, where you’re from, how old you are?
TJ Porter. I’m 19 and I’m from Harlem, East Side, El Barrio. Right here in the projects.
How is it doing your thing and still being a part of the fabric of this neighborhood. I find so often that people get famous, they “make it,” and then immediately dip out to greener pastures, move away from their home base. You’re still here in Harlem, you know all the cats on the block.
Just cause you get a lil' fame and stuff don’t mean you change up on your people, you feel me? That’s the quickest way to have your people not fuck with you—I just keep the same energy I been had with them. When I look out, I look out. You gotta let people know what it is from the jump—I tell ‘em not to expect too much from me.
Tell me about your album, what compelled you to make it, your influences?
It’s called “Voice of the Trenches.” I feel like I’m talking to people in trenches everywhere, not just one specific kind—there are many different kinds. I’m talking to everybody everywhere, letting them know I’m speaking for them. There’s stuff that they experience, that they talk about that people outside of the trenches can’t hear, and I got the reach to let the voices from below be heard by the other side , to get their messages across. I’m speaking for them, and people like that.
I was going to touch on just that. Many creatives use their medium to shed light on the darkness, which is what you’ve just expressed. You have clout, you have a following of people who listen and look up to you, so I was wondering if you find it important to use your platform as a means of illuminating certain issues?
Yeah, of course. I feel like there are things that people just need to hear, so I try to do my best to keep everything authentic—everything with me is real, authentic, I’m not one of those people to make stuff up. Everything I rap about I’ve either been through myself or I’ve witnessed. I just try to keep everything as real as possible.
If you were a shoe, which shoe would you be and why?
I would be a pair of Air Force 1s, cause it got swag, everybody wear it, they comfortable—there’s nothing wrong with them, they so simple.
Why music? As a child, what made you decide that music is what you want to be doing?
My uncle came home from jail and he inspired me to start rapping. He had me listening to Nas, Jim Jones—all of Dipset used to be at my Grandma’s house across the street, I know them. I grew up around everything. I was always a music person, so it just came simple to me, it came easy.
You’re really young to be this deep in the game! In your time in the industry, have you come across people who haven’t taken you seriously because of your age? What are some of the struggles of navigating a “grown” industry?
If people don’t take me seriously, then you’re out of here, you know what I’m saying? That’s real stuff. Even at my label, I have to tell them yeah I’m young, but I’m not a kid. I had to mature at a very young age. I ain’t have my dad so I’ve always been the provider. Just the way y’all feeding your families I’ve been doing this probably for the same amount of time and y’all don’t even know, so you not about to just talk to be different because of my age. I’m very intelligent, I can keep up. You can’t spin me, is what I’m saying—a kid, you can spin. I’m 19, yeah, I’m a kid, but only in age. My mentality is different.
I like that. What’s one thing that you think music has the ability to do in a way that no other creative outlet can?
The pain, the story, it separates music from everything else. Music is unique because of the pain.
What’s your favorite song on the album?
Probably “True Feelings.” “Voice from the Trenches” has this really beautiful narrative quality to it—you can tell that sequence is a facet of the album in its own right. Did you choose the order? Yes, me and my managers. All of my songs have different messages, so we wanted to put the songs in the best place for the listener. I got some sad songs on there, but you won’t get too sad cause the next song is one that will build your spirit right back up.
Do you come from a religious background?
My family believes in God, they’re Christian. My grandma on my dad’s side of the family used to go to church every Sunday and she always used to take me when I was over there. I ain’t go to church since she died, that was like three, four years ago.
I grew up in Harlem as well, Sugar Hill, my whole family has roots here. Harlem is my home. There is something so unique, so magical about these streets. I just wanted to ask what qualities have these streets instilled in you?
Your attitude and the way you carry yourself. Some people say they way we carry ourselves is wrong, its aggressive-
We as in...
We as in the minority of Harlem, but I feel like you need that to survive. If I didn’t have that mentality, I don’t think I would be where I am today.