The streets-to-studio success story is not a new one in hip-hop, but despite its prevalence, each story still remains unique to its teller. It's what Rome Fortune kept in mind while readying his debut LP, the newly released Jerome Raheem Fortune, which serves as an autobiographical look at his life.
"In writing these songs, it was myself looking at my life thinking, 'Hey man, being vulnerable is fine,'" the rapper coolly tells Exclaim! "I find there's a lot of beauty in storytelling and actually getting to know people."
Fortune's own strength lies in self-awareness that remains a constant through the vivid twists and turns, both sonic and lyrical, of Jerome Raheem Fortune's 11 tracks. From the heartfelt devotion shown to his two young sons over the dreamy synthesizers of "Love" to openly recounting his liberal cocaine use on the dark, percussion-driven "Heavy as Feathers," the blue-bearded MC leaves nary a stone unturned in recounting his multifaceted life story.
"Every project has its purpose, and the purpose of this one was for people to know who I am so you can understand my next moves a little bit better," he says. "I'm going to be all over the place before the end of my career. This is just the start."
It's tough to find a musical avenue Fortune hasn't been down on his run of mixtapes in the last three years. A relative of jazz greats Nat and Cannonball Adderley, it was only natural that he experimented with live instrumentation on Beautiful Pimp II while turning to samples on loloU. He leant his bars to beats from TM88, Suicideyear, Four Tet and Toro Y Moi last year. And he also tells Exclaim! that Dev Hynes, Elton John, Andre 3000 and Jonny Pierce of the Drums make up his list of dream collaborators.
Fortune's latest work also aligns itself with his ear for unconventional production. Save for the Kaytranada-produced "Dance," the rest of the tracks employ the sounds of American producer Cubby, whose playful bells and beat switches for lighter lyrical fare shift to dark ambiance and percussion in soundtracking the rapper's deeper, angrier musings.
"Cubby's very musically inclined," Fortune says of his collaborator. "I didn't want something that just snapped to a metronome, I wanted some real music in there. The actual instrumentation of the album can tell the story as well, songs that progress musically as well as lyrically."
All things considered, where better for Fortune to go than to Fool's Gold to launch his debut, the same label that catapulted Danny Brown and Run the Jewels into the hip-hop stratosphere with their first legitimate label releases. Electing to scrap a project he had prepared prior to officially joining the roster, he says it was Fool's Gold's artist-first mentality and granting him creative control that influenced his career move.
"I knew the direction I wanted to take things in and keep showing people that I'm evolving and growing," he details. "Some people will say, 'Rome, we want you to do this old stuff,' but I think as an artist, you should continue to grow. That's how your work becomes more interesting and colourful as your career progresses.
"I want a wide spectrum of people saying 'Rome was really a great artist' as opposed to 'He was a dude who knew how to do this one thing really, really well.'"
Check out "Dance" from Jerome Raheem Fortune below. The full album is out now on Fool's Gold.