The blue-bearded Philadelphia rapper on being genre-less, Ethan Hawke, and “fucking the norm”.
In Rome Fortune’s stint on music industry-famed COLORS SHOW, his gravelly words boom as he performs “Freaks” into a ceiling mic in a leopard print bucket hat, fur bum bag, and fluffy tiger print jacket. His signature blue beard (and tache) bounces up and down as he smiles and dances on the spot. This is no doubt the sight of someone who is truly having fun at the cusp of his game.
But this much is obvious when considering the back catalogue of an artist who has rapped about everything from Ethan Hawke (well kind of, see below) to struggles during his career – and with real smooth panache.
And don’t even get us started on the collaborations. The Philadelphia hip hop artist – born Jerome Raheem Fortune – has created tunes with every one from to Toro Y Moi, to Four Tet, and MaSiWei from Chengdu-based rap collective Higher Brothers.
We caught up with Rome Fortune on being genre-less, Ethan Hawke, and “fucking the norm”.
How did you first get into music?
One day in high school I just started doing it.
Who were your inspirations growing up?
My family has some real jazz and soul legends. From writing for Luther Vandross to collaboration albums with Miles Davis, I think a large part is hereditary and upbringing. On the other hand my uncles would play Wu Tang, Busta, Camp Lo, Tribe. My mom would play Erykah Badu, Tupac, Earth, Wind & Fire. My grandmother would play everything from old to new. When I started exploring music on my own it was just wild diverse from Chili Peppers to Outkast to DMX to Kenna to Rick James.
How do you think your Atlanta upbringing has influenced your music?
If anything, I think it made me look at things through a soulful scope. We moved to Atlanta when I was a one year old but with all my family from up north, I didn’t really get into southern music until I was in high school. When I did, I had an objective view on it. The city specifically influenced my music when I started going to clubs as a teen. I would notice how certain elements of music would excite certain people, or what elements would intersect to excite everybody. A lot was case study for me. Still is.
How would you describe your genre?
That’s a question that kind of answers itself, oddly. If you have to ask if it can be put in a box, that probably means it’s not in one to begin with. In terms of genre description: all of my inspirations, cultural and musical, have somehow embedded themselves in my DNA. When I express myself in music there are many odd fusions that on paper might not work but come out in a natural way that’s new and old alike.
You’ve had amazing collaborations – how do you go about selecting who you want to work with?
It depends on a lot. If someone is a popular artist I more times than none ask myself if this collaboration is something that would sound different from anything on both of our discography. Chasing numbers or fame has never been a goal so that’s rarely a factor. I’m good on gauging intention also. That plays a big part. If someone wants me to fit into a template that they already have in mind, we probably won’t work together. Let’s both try something unexpected. If it works it works, if not whatever. With new artist collaborations it’s more simple. When you’re doing something I perceive as fresh I’ll probably be down to making something with you.
Who would you love to collaborate with next?
Next collaboration, I think something with Khruangbin or Young M.A. or even both together on a track would be some mind fuckery. I’m just a fan of people who say “fuck the norm” without trying to say it. Dream collaboration, Q Tip. He’s just an underrated genius who’s influence spills into so many genres and acts.
What is your song Ethan Hawke about? Was it inspired by the actor?
It’s just about commanding confidence from yourself. Commanding the treatment you deserve. Outside of the accolades and obvious talent, Ethan Hawke is a middle aged white man. Just by him existing he gets phenomenal treatment. I need that kind of treatment. I thought it was funny social reference. Catchy but with some meaning attached.
How much do you think your sound has changed since your Beautiful Pimp mixtape? Beautiful Pimp is the project that opened up a lot of doors for me but the two projects I released prior to and every project since has had a different sound from its predecessor. I evolve as person daily so making the same type of project twice would be forcing myself to do some shit because I know it works avoiding risk. That’s not me. Stay fresh. Travel down new paths. I think my identity is the anchor that makes them all recognisable as my projects.
I saw you recently walked at Paris Fashion Week – have you always been into fashion?
Yes. Having a unique style has a lot of usages. It’s overall a fun way of saying who you are or aren’t.
How would you describe your look?
Free and funky. My upbringing and constant contact with new things permeates in all fibres of my being.
What’s next for you?
Directing some film, acting in some film, shows, some art exhibits with my boy Luke Sirimongkhon, just existing and doing what I think is fun.