Meet the Brooklyn-based musician who’ll steal your heart and delight your ears.
It’s not often a star shines as bright as PERRIS in the ever-expanding night-sky of the music industry. These talents are fleeting, hard to find, a chance-sighting waiting to be caught or reposted. The singer, whose real name is Perris Howard, burst into our consciousness this past summer after gaining some serious traction on TikTok for his #blackboyjoy vids, but has been crafting beats and lyrics himself for the last 5 years.
Having moved to NYC in his late teens to pursue a career in modelling, which he balances with the burgeoning movements in his music career and further plans to segue into acting roles on TV and the big screen, PERRIS jokes that he’s like a “young Will Smith” – a go-getter ready to conquer the entertainment biz, and look pretty good while doing it too.
Skilfully blending elements of lo-fi, trap, pop and hip-hop within his punchy tunes, PERRIS hopes to manifest a change in the world through his music. Nowhere could this be more eminent than in “TRAUMA”, the singer’s latest musical offering that lays bare the death and vilification of his father, as well as the unjust experiences his family have faced through the ever-pressing issue of police brutality. PERRIS’ effortless tackling of racial politics, stigmas towards mental health and all of life’s cruel burdens are truly a sight (and sound) to be marvelled at, so we couldn’t not bend his ear and dig a little deeper into his artistry.
Check out the interview below…
Hey PERRIS! How has lockdown affected your work?
In the beginning, it allowed me to be a lot more introspective with my writing. Without the need to be out as much as I used to, I definitely had a lot more time to be with myself in my thoughts. Then when Black Lives Matter protests started, my focus shifted to thinking more about the world around me. I was in NYC protesting most of this past summer, so when I wasn’t home I was out in the streets. This allowed my music to dive deeper both personally and more into current events with less distractions. It was honestly a huge advancement for me because I started to see even more power and purpose in my words and art.
What have you been surprised to learn during these challenging times?
On a personal scale, I’ve learned that I have let my past FOMO keep me from accomplishing personal projects and developing more genuine relationships. With the push for lockdown I’ve found it easier to keep to myself when I need to and be alone to finish work. It’s also easier to cultivate better friendships when the mind isn’t always set on going to events, but rather who you’re spending time with. This and the fact that it’s ok to not be close to everyone because certain people will hold you back and allowing those people to hold you back can prevent the right people from coming into your life and pushing you forward.
For real, so many lessons! This has been such a crazy summer full of stress, pain, and trauma, but there’s also been so many blessings. I’ve met so many people, some that were never good for me and I never need to see anymore and some that I’m glad to have in my life. On a larger scale, I’ve learned that there are a lot more closeted racists than I realized. Seriously, when you’re on one side of the fence of BLM you see who’s on the opposition more clearly.
Who has been the biggest supporter of your career?
A lot of people have come and gone, but the most consistent has been my lifelong best friend and brother Dan Schneider. My guy gives me the most honest feedback with my work and has been my biggest encourager in every season. We talk about everything and his positive heart and wisdom has been so helpful to me in all aspects, from music to relationships to daily life. Love that guy!
How do you describe your music genre?
I use elements from multiple genres, but I describe it as lofi trap/pop/hip-hop. I just love the combination of soft, bright melodies with hard drums. That always gets me. Anything I can swing from singing to rapping on. I love the idea of honing Jodeci-type harmonies and Nas-type flows.
Congratulations on the release of “TRAUMA”! Zelthegoat did a great job directing. It’s especially meaningful as you dedicated it to your late father Davydd D’von Howard; who was wrongfully imprisoned and a victim of racist police brutality. Tell us about the process of creating this song, what did you learn?
Honestly, this song just came about randomly at the very start of protests here in NYC. I remember in early June I started freestyling to the instrumental and “Don’t ever put us in the backseat anymore” was the shell of a hook that just stuck in my head. Then after weeks of protesting, I came back to it with much more to write about: personal attacks on my character, my experience protesting with organizations in the city, better insight on police brutality by seeing it and hearing stories from people I’ve met, diving into more Black American history and diving into my dad’s history. “Don’t ever put us in the backseat anymore” became a declaration that I even felt as I got arrested for breaking curfew one night. I think the beauty of releasing it while telling my dad’s story shows people a side that they wouldn’t have encountered otherwise. Not every case of police brutality and racial injustice has ended in a Black death. My dad didn’t have to die at the hands of cops for his life to be drastically changed for the worse. He instead lived to become considered a felon by society starting in his early 20s. Wrongfully.
The situation my dad was in would’ve never happened to a white counterpart that was in his same shoes. Now instead of jailing people for weed, white people have a whole billion-dollar industry because of it. Isn’t that wild? I had known that my dad was in prison when I was younger, but I never knew exactly why or how wrong his charge was. With the surge of protests this past summer, I gladly took a dive into my family’s past experience with police brutality, asking different family members about experiences they’ve known of or encountered. If it’s not a Black person themselves who have encountered it, you can definitely believe that someone in their family has. Not only was my dad wrongfully imprisoned, but so was my uncle. My grandpa had even told me that my great uncle was shot and killed by police. These stories are many and they don’t just occur on tv, but in relation even to the people around you.
Part of your production budget and sales from “TRAUMA” will go to Children of Promise; an organization that helps uplift children with incarcerated parents. Tell us about how you found them and what they do for others?
During the editing phase of the video, I put out a call to action on my Instagram and TikTok to hear from people about organizations they personally knew and supported. I wanted to make sure that money donated to any organization would directly benefit real people, rather than be placed in somewhere unknown, for God knows what. Children of Promise directly benefits these kids in New York through after school and mental health programs, counselling, therapies and the funding of family’s living necessities. Children are the future and as someone who sees a need to influence the younger generation, this organization has such a sincere, pointed mission to helping build and raise up what seems like a forgotten population. They know that kids with incarcerated parents shouldn’t be forgotten or considered hopeless and I love that.
With the media finally speaking out on racism and police brutality, what do you think needs to happen to keep the focus on the issue and resolve it?
There are multiple steps, but I think right now we focus on the election. In what I’ve seen politically, the president has emboldened a racist population in our country that needs to lose its power. Voting is not the end all be all, but it’s an active step to wanting a better future. If not just voting, it’s important that we are having racially confronting conversations with loved ones, actively educating through social media and other measures or even running for office (shout out my friends Warriors in the Garden and my brother Chi Ossé who’s running for city council next year), fulfilling whatever role we feel called to. Everyone needs to play their own part, whether that means some move forward in creating more conscious music, films like my brother CJ Hart, or funding Black businesses like my brother André Perry, or confronting a Senate Standing Committee on Higher Education like my brother Tim Hunter, there are multiple avenues to building a more racially just society, but it starts with first answering to the talent, skills, and calls we each have. It’ll be different for everyone, but never downplay your individual ability to influence those directly around you.
What advice do you have for others who are facing injustices, what about those who also want to be musicians?
The world really showed out for Black lives this past summer. Some of it was temporary, but a lot of mindsets have also genuinely changed. Anyone facing injustice really has a lot of people on their side. I’ve never seen petitions filled so quickly and bail funds gathered so easily so whatever situation you’re in, this generation of world changers got your back. Anyone who wants to be a musician should know why they want to make music. Is it for the turn up, to bring a message into the world? Either one is cool, but just know why you’re doing it and do it because you want to. Ask for genuine feedback from trusted ears and be ok with knowing you’re not always gonna make bangers. Progression not perfection. I think my best work is still ahead of me.
Where did the name Perris come from?
My dad had a friend named Paris and was just like, “that’s a dope name. I’m gonna name my son that but make it even more unique and cool” so for some reason he spelled it this way. I love it man, my parents really set me up for success from birth!
Which artists have influenced you the most?
So the first album my dad ever gave me was Nas’ Illmatic. As soon as I heard it, I was like yo I wanna make music this beautiful and purposeful one day. Nas told stories over incredible production with the craziest flows. It was a dope mixture of talent and purpose like I’d never encountered. Drake came on the scene rapping and singing consistently like no one else had, so I loved everything he put out. I was a fan since he was collabing with Little Brother and So Far Gone was one of the first tapes to put me in my feels. Musically, everything Kanye did was untouchable to me. From feeling inspired by College Dropout to crying to 808s to screaming to Yeezus, I loved it all. These are like my music relatives and lastly but definitely not least, Kid Cudi is basically my music dad. He never felt tied down to one genre or sound, made music so freely without caring about what the world expected of him, and his subject matter and desire to speak openly on his mental health was so encouraging to me. As someone who’s experienced depression, Cudi really opened the door for a lot of artists to be more sincere and less braggy. I have nothing against bragging, I love to look fly and my confidence is way too high sometimes haha, but like everyone experiences some bit of self-doubt and questioning of self-worth at some point in their lives. The fact that he openly brought mental health awareness more into the hip-hop scene, the most historically braggadocios genre in the world is legendary to me. He also lost his dad at a young age, so I feel like people who have that in common relate to each other in a lot of unspoken ways. Meeting and working with him is definitely one of my career goals.
What is your intention for people to feel from your music?
Anyone listening to my music, I want them to feel inspired, uplifted, more genuine, and hopeful about themselves and the world around them through shared honesty. I also want my music to help people be more open with themselves. We try to look perfect for others so often that it gets damaging and draining in a way we don’t need to experience. I hope that by sharing my heart, the good and the bad, I’ll encourage others to be ok with not being perfect. None of us are perfect, and I think openly confronting my flaws will influence others to do the same, and in turn give us all hope that we can get better.
What else would you do if you didn’t make music?
Modelling was actually my first creative career first moving to NYC, which I’m still doing. Aside from that, I’m planning on making acting moves on tv and the big screen. A renaissance man. A young Will Smith if you will. And if it wasn’t for all of this, I’d just be going heavy on social media content.
Plans for 2021?
Release my first album and land a motion picture role. If festivals are open, perform at whichever is going on. I’m excited for what the future holds it’s gone be crazy.