TrapStar Turnt PopStar
In the years since Philadelphia crooner PnB Rock broke out with the flygirl appreciation anthem “Fleek,” he’s worked tirelessly to carve out a place for himself in modern R&B while at the same time racking up feature spots as one of the most bankable hook singers in hip-hop. If his star has risen slowly, it is only because he's hoisted it the old-fashioned way—earning his way into DJ sets and playlists with the kind of speaker-rattling earworms that continue to make fans out of casual listeners. With the arrival of TrapStar Turnt PopStar, PnB’s second proper album, featuring Lil Durk, the late XXXTENTACION, and others, the singer is focused on unlocking a new level of fame, influence, and responsibility—and leaving his grittier past behind. Below, he talks to Apple Music about the inspiration behind TrapStar Turnt PopStar—and why at this point in his career, it's the only album he could have made.
Self-Censorship “When I first started, I used to say whatever I wanted to say—about politics, about people, about whoever. And now it's like, I really can't say certain shit. Me getting bigger, I know my voice matters; I know I really affect people. I used to listen to this song by Usher called 'Follow Me,' and it hit me one day, like, that's what he was talking about. He’s singing, 'Sometimes I gotta ride when I feel like driving/Sit back and smile when I don't feel like smiling…' It's like you got to be this person for all these people—no matter what you going through. For instance, one of my friends could get killed. That same day, I might have a show. I still got to go onstage and perform for these people and give them my all. I can't let my personal life get in between my work life.”
Real-Life Pain “'Now or Never' is a song that I made on a day when I had just come home [from jail after being arrested on narcotics and weapons charges in January 2019]. Like the next day, one of my young n*ggas got killed. He got shot 17 or 19 times—that shit fucked me up. So I’m going through legal shit, and then I'm going through this family shit. I had just paid $100,000 bail for me and my girl, and then I’m dealing with this shit. Instead of me going to the streets and going to the trap, I went to the studio and I let all of that shit out.”
Collaboration “The people on this album are people I've dealt with on a personal, regular, everyday basis. It's not like a person just biting off another n*gga’s sound. Their sounds are not generic, there’s no fabrication with [Lil] Durk. He's talking about real life stories. Same thing with Tory Lanez. These are people I was happy that I was able to work with and actually create more than one song with, as opposed to just going in and doing one.”
XXXTENTACION “I have a few songs with XXXTENTACION that could have made the project, but I feel like with those songs, it's more so sentimental value to me now. I want everything to be cohesive to go how he wanted it, you feel me? He really surprised me with 'MIDDLE CHILD,' because I wasn't even expecting to do that type of song with him. I was thinking I was gonna go one route, talking about how I came up, talking about how I got kicked out my mama's house. But he came on it and just started swagging on it. I’m like, nah, I gotta match that energy. I can't be so serious when he just having fun with this.”
Philly “Majority of the time, I be out of my city for so long, moving around travelling—but when I go back to Philly, it gives me the feeling like I need to talk to my people, tell more of the story that these n*ggas is going through. So the TrapStar side is just me telling you the stories, regular shit: how I used to come up, and the hardships of me as a trap star. Now, I'm a pop star. That’s me having fun, travelling, moving around, living life, experiencing different shit. And I thought that was perfect, because there's really two sides of me. It's never going to leave. But at the same time, I'm growing and I'm levelling up. And I'm becoming this big pop star now.”