Born in Paris, raised in New York, and having great pride in his African heritage, Roc Nation’s rising star, Young Paris, has been able to combine cultures of the places that shaped him with his love for music, fashion, and art. We got to chat about everything from being what it meant to be African growing up in NYC to what inspires his passion for music, art, and fashion.
Being born in Paris, as a child, what was your experience coming to New York and figuring out your direction with music?
My family came from a big arts and culture background. My father was a big dancer in Africa. Growing up in New York, we was an African family that really held on to our traditional culture so we had to really dealt with all the ignorance of our peers at that time. Like, a lot of kinds I grew up with didn’t really know about Africa and just had a mal-perception of what Africa was so because we had so much pride in what our culture was it kinda like, made us feel like ashamed of being African; and you know, we just had to learn how powerful our culture really was. So like, a lot of kids that I grew up with didn’t really know some of the things we used to wear, like even wearing dashiki’s used to be out of style and to kinda see how all of these things are coming in to fruition and becoming cool it’s really interesting. But we grew up with all the African booty scratchers and all that type of shit. I mean eventually, you know, my father was a dancer, my mother’s a dancer so I started dancing and teaching dance and learning hip-hop and teaching hip-hop and African dance and eventually just started rapping. But all kinda being inspired by the culture’s around me, so like hip-hop, growing up in New York hip-hop was the mecca of the sound here but I also was coming from the African culture of like dance and traditional African drumbeats; and then growing up I also liked to go to music festivals and see EDM and all that so I kinda mixed that up in my sound but more recently the sound that I really been captivated by is Afro-beats. It’s like kind of these sounds together where you got like a hip-hop vibe, you got a traditional vibe, a dancehall that’s all kinda mixed up.
After reading your story, I know the maquillage (face paint) you wear symbolizes a connection to your father and your culture, but how do you decide when to wear it and how much?
Usually, it means a lot of things for me and a lot of things coming from my culture. More specifically, like coming into the industry I was making it a strong part of my image just to kinda excite people around like how African culture is coming into pop culture, and also, to protect myself from a lot of energies out here. You know the white we wear for spirit, we wear for rights of passages for ceremonies but also for protection and sometimes when I feel like my father wants to be connected through me then I’m more engaged to wear the paint. A lot of it stems back to my father’s passing and how I’m using that to carry on his tradition and then there’s other times where I’d rather be a little bit more lowkey and just kinda navigate through life especially living in New York City also, growing in my industry, like getting a lot of fans and people kinda running up on you crazy. I always wear my two dots and that’s my newer way of still paying that homage but to kinda tone down. But I usually do it everyday.
From either hip-hop or the Afro-beats genre, who were some of the artist who influenced you?
Right now a lot of them. There’s an artist called 2Baba he used to be huge, the band used to be huge growing up. But now you got guys like Wizkid and Davido and Techno and Tiwa Savage and Maleek Berry, they really took the West African sound and made it really presentable in pop culture music. A lot of guys in the UK too, guys like UG Official, YC, like right now there’s a big sound coming out of Africa.
You said your musical influences were hip-hop and Afrobeats growing up, so how did that lead to you being signed to with Roc Nation?
I actually started throwing a lot of crazy parties out here like 2,3 years ago. One of the A&R’s there he just kept following me around, like just showing up to events and I didn’t even know that he work with Roc but he kept telling me “Yo, I love what you doing, love what you doing.” And I think we had this event at Brooklyn Museum one time. It was crazy like 300 people outside and we had an afterparty and he came up to me like “Yo, I gotta get you by the office” and I didn’t even know what office it was, he didn’t even tell me and I showed up and it was Roc Nation and we signed within a week. I think what he saw in me was how I could take the culture and make people relate to what Africa is looking like right now.
Being a Roc Nation artist, how was your first Grammy weekend?
I didn’t go to Grammy’s but I went to everything around the Grammy’s. But it was crazy, I mean, I’m in a weird pocket because in the fashion world I’m already like a big name in the fashion world but in music, even though I got a lot of records that do well overseas or in Africa or even here there’s records that hit radio and a lot of DJ’s show love but it’s kinda different mediums when you playing in fashion and music. Fashion is really about like an iconic image and like, photoshoots and working with magazines and I was also an ambassador of the CFDA, in Vogue, and going to fashion shows. Like I said, it’s a totally different lifestyle. But for the most part, it’s love. Just the whole Grammy week it really was interesting to see how many people I already know in the industry, but like going to the Roc Nation brunch and just being around Hov and Diddy and T.I and the type of love they showing me. Like T.I. really pulled up on me like “Yo, we got you, whatever you need.” Pusha T. Just seeing the big homies and how much love they already got for my project. It’s just real dope.
You’re known for your style apart from your music, how do you connect the two worlds and find that medium between your style and your music?
Fashion is a big part of the game. You gotta also look the part. Everybody knows anybody you see that’s doing anything in the industry has a sense of style. I think, particularly, my people from the Congo and like if you think about Africans that have their particular thing they’re known for, the Congonese are known for dressing up. They’re known for getting fly, just like in Harlem, uptown it’s fly guys. But for me like, as long as the music is good quality, it’s good music and the style is good quality, it’s good style there’s no real challenge in it. For me it’s really about how much time I wanna focus on each image. Being in the fashion world is just as much energy and time as being a music artist. Like going to these events, going to these shows, preparing for Fashion Week, Fashion Week Paris, Fashion Week Milan, Fashion Week New York, Men’s Fashion Week, and these happen twice a year, and you gotta plan, you gotta work with designers, a lot of times these designers might dress you for videos and wanna be apart of videos so my whole thing right now is finding ways to mix all the mediums. So you got like artists working with designers, like the art world, music, and fashion doing everything. Cause I also work in the art world.
You’ve spoken about having a real appreciation for the female aesthetic, if you bring that back to music, which female artist would you love to work with?
SZA’s real dope and I was rocking with SZA before she went big. You see photos of me and SZA kickin it, that’s the homie. SZA’s dope. FKA Twigs is dope. I actually really like Remy Ma. Cardi’s dope, but then on our side we got Afro-beats girls like Tiwa Savage who I worked with who’s really dope. We got Niniola. There’s a lot of dope females doing their thing right now. I love it all. I love seeing women win.
You also produce, tell me a little about that.
I actually started like before I even started rapping I was producing. Not that I was doing any major projects but I had dudes who had decent careers rapping over my records and that got me into a thing where I could actually rap. But it wasn’t like a thing where I was a producer for five years and I was like I could rap too. It was like as I started getting into it and I was kinda selling the beats first then getting into it but most of the songs from my last project and on ‘African Vogue’ I produced. I co-produced a lot on ‘Let Me Love You’. Like now, I actually work with a lot of producers and then we’ll just tweak so I kinda co-produce more than aggressively producing cause I kinda wanna give the strength of the sound to the producer; give them that power too.
Speaking about his company MELANIN:
So Melanin is a company that I created. I’m actually kinda responsible for making Melanin popular in culture cause I created a hashtag like three years ago called #MelaninMonday and the theme was showcasing the beauty of people of color. It was no talk about Melanin actually, it was just really learning about the science of Melanin. I said I want to put this into pop culture and make it a cool thing. Like make it about skin even though Melanin is way more detailed than just skin. So I created the hashtag, I created a company, I actually have a trademark of Melanin. Ideally, that whole theme and the concept is really about tackling the subject of people of color. So talking about subjects that kind of uplift and embrace what it is to be a person of color. Especially in the industry where we constantly having to prove ourselves that we have value and Melanin kind of reminds you that you already have a scientific value outside of the surface level perspective. Because you have melanin you are more enriched in areas of life. I try not to use the project to compare but Melanin is a very powerful conversation that also relates to pop culture and what I’ve always seen and known is that you’re going to start hearing more, more, more, more more songs and videos ads and billboards. It’s gonna get really aggressive. We’re gonna try to launch a Melanin Festival at the end of this year. Maybe in New York, maybe in South Africa, or maybe in the south somewhere.
How do you want to bring everything back to the Congo or to Africa?
Well it’s all about Africa, if you know me, you know I’m always reppin Africa. But I’m a guy like as you can see from the questions you asking me, I’m unlimited, I don’t let anything limit me so if I’m interested in something I just go for it and if I know I can do it then I prepare myself and then I execute. I try not to jump into things that are wasting my time but I also try to use my project to show that you could do so much out here.
What’s next for you as an artist?
I’m really focusing on my creative direction. This past week I launched an art experience at Spring Place in Soho. The whole theme was about bringing music, art, and fashion together so we had contemporary African- American artists, fashion designers, musicians to come to the space and make an overall experience. Slightly inspired by what Swizz is doing with No Commission like kinda bringing different mediums together but also creative direction where it’s not really about me it’s about the people that I can bring together cause I have so many contacts in the industry now that it’s like bringing people together.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve gotten in your career so far and who did it come from?
My father, always. Three of them: you can only be who you are, one day is but one day, and everything has its time.
Young Paris’ new project ‘Let Me Love You’ is out! Check out the video to “My Love” below:
Interviewed & written by: @chrissydru_