The Alternate Reality of Phor
Phor is “Renaissance man” for the internet age. A gifted tattoo artist turning the human body into his canvas, a source of entertaining drama & reality on Black Ink Chicago, he now hopes to take his position as a rapper with an ear for hits to the next level. His talents as a songwriter combined with sheer work ethic, marketing genius and brand awareness means the music game had better watch out.
"I was motivated by the hustlers. I didn’t sell drugs, but I could sell art. I also learned that a millionaire has more than one income. I was motivated by all that, so I was doing whatever I had to do at the time to get where I wanted to be."
Phor grew up on the South Side with a creative streak. He was a fan of drawing and music since he was a kid, and grew interested in rapping while in high school. Phor stayed out of trouble but learned the art of the hustle from the neighborhood, lessons invaluable to him in the process of building his multifaceted career. Whether tattooing, TV, or music, he made it work. “I was motivated by the hustlers. I didn’t sell drugs, but I could sell art. I also learned that a millionaire has more than one income. I was motivated by all that, so I was doing whatever I had to do at the time to get where I wanted to be.”
Tattooing was the first hustle, beginning far before the reality show Black Ink Chicago, which follows tattoo parlor 9Mag, ever hit the airwaves. The early days of his tattooing operation took place in unofficial spots, from basements to garages. He soon reached 9Mag, where he was a part of a team that worked hard and rose quickly. “At the time it wasn’t that many black (tattoo) artists for the urban culture, and we were the guys that stood out, that our friends wanted to get tattoos from...It was a domino effect and the word spread...we were considered scratchers as black artists, guys who didn’t know what we were doing. But we were good, me, Ryan and Van, it didn’t matter the race - it looked good and we had that.”
Black Ink Chicago arrived, and Phor's hustle continued, now as a TV star. However, for Phor, the show was his day job, never his endgame. “It happened very fast. The main thing, is that I had the money but I wasn’t happy. I stopped tattooing. I moved to NY to focus on music and have some time alone, find balance. So I took it as a 9-5 but still tried to follow my dreams, as any man does.” In Phor’s mind, music is where his story really begins. 2017 was the year that the rest of us started recognizing that. He states with pride, “people haven’t asked me questions about Black Ink in months.”
‘Chi-Town’ was his highlight of 2017. You may have heard it. “People didn’t just say they liked ‘Chi-Town’, people were coming up to me and thanking me for it.” He had written an anthem and established his credibility as a songwriter. It wasn’t Phor's first hit either; his 2016 track, ‘Do It’, was also a fan favorite. 2 years, 2 hits. 'Do It’ was big, but ‘Chi-Town’ was massive. Phor has a natural feel for what people want to hear, and understands his process - “go with my first mind, my first energy. I don’t like listening to the beats over and over. By that time I have a lot of ideas and it’s hard to choose. The minute I hear a beat, I can come up with a song, and know where it’s going. I want people to have the same feeling I had when I made it.”
"It happened very fast. The main thing, is that I had the money but I wasn’t happy. I stopped tattooing. I moved to NY to focus on music and have some time alone, find balance."
Phor recently released his new project Butterfly, evidence that he's no one-hit wonder. His past project Lightning Bug proved his qualifications as a writer, but he was still finding his voice and sound. Butterfly was an evolution. “The comfortability, becoming confident in what I believe in and comfortable in what I’m putting out...” The imagery of the transition from lightning bug to butterfly is deliberate. On Butterfly Phor raps about his own life openly and honestly. With it, a sound that combined hard edged beats with simple, effective and melodic instrumentation. Butterfly isn’t a TV star’s excursion into music, it’s a real album culminated from years of effort. “There’s a lot of people who do reality TV and then they happen to do music. This is something I was doing before the cameras— no TV show, no tattooing. I was doing rap first...I have to separate the two... now I have TV AND radio.”
Music is Phor’s true love, and he wisely leverages the social media presence earned on Black Ink Chicago support it. He's a master of Instagram. First utilizing IG as advertising for his tattoo skills, when the show came along people began seeking him out on their own, and Phor realized he could push his personal brand. Switching to a lifestyle emphasis, Phor gives people a peek at the man behind the success - he now has 300,000 followers and counting. As Phor puts it, “that’s a game in itself...it’s a big impact...If y’all really fuck with me, y’all gonna fuck with whatever I do. If you can fuck with me putting something permanently on your skin, I know you can fuck with my music. That’s how I look at it.” Cross branding himself from one side of his career to the other, the connections multiply exponentially.
Smooth as he is, Phor makes makes his multi-talented life look easy. But it's hard work, and the reason he puts so much of himself into what he does is humbling. “It comes from not having nothing...Mom got laid off, pops wasn’t around, sisters need you, cousins need you, nieces need you, nephews need you. What you gonna do? I had to sacrifice to the family, which I still am.” So while his lifestyle on IG may look carefree, Phor is a provider above all. He does it for his family and the people who depend on him. “When you’ve got people in your ear, you’ve got weight on your shoulders, all types of responsibilities. It ain’t for everybody. But I’ma be that sacrifice for the family, and they see that, and they know that.” He’ll always be a workaholic. But now he’s got the opportunity to do the music he loves, for for his people, on his terms.
Catch Phor at Chop Shop this Sunday 1/21/2018, along with Valee, Queen Key, JBro Bugatti & more.