PROFILES | WINTER ’22
BACK TO THE FUTURE FRESH
Meet PRETTYFCKNBOY, A Black Queer Tumblr Kid Realizing Pop-Rap Potential in a Tik-Tok World.
INTERVIEW by NOLAN TESIS
IMAGES by MALCOLM KHALDI
NOLAN TESIS: A friend of mine hit me up and was like, “Yo, I got a new artist I want you to check out.” I listened to “HBK” and I rock with the shit! I’m a fan. So tell me how this all got started. Where are you from?
PRETTYFCKNBOY: Oh yeah. I’m just a little from the lower east side. I’m a nerd. I went to school, ahead of my class. I’ve always been into art, mainly in the books though. Everything I rap is the truth of the life that I live. I’m an introvert, so I live life a lot differently than most people are used to. Like, I don’t really do social media and stuff. So this is a fresh wave for the people. My lyrics are a little bit different.
NOLAN TESIS: Take me back. How did you start rapping at 13?
PRETTYFCKNBOY: So my father is a DJ. Growing up, he would always do mixes on turntables, which was very like vintage—different than how DJ’s do it now. So pretty much we would vibe every day, literally day and night. When he would get off of work on weekends, he’d blast music on them turntables. And one day, bored, he was just like “Oh, D come over here. Rap for me. Rap. Do something.” I was just saying stuff for fun and he was like, “No, you actually are kind of good. Let’s do this again.”
After that, he started teaching me how to structure bars at a young age, because like I said, I was already a nerd. So me writing and me reading all the time for fun just worked out in my favor when it came to actually riding and flowing on a beat. I just knew how because music was played around me all day, every day. Then he started putting me in talent shows and all this crazy stuff that helped me write my raps in the beginning. It all worked out for the better because now I’m doing this at 25 and I’m coming in there with like this whole new wave of just organic, fresh, new everything.
NOLAN TESIS: It’s amazing to hear that you had support, especially from one of your parents, because so many people want to pursue the arts and don’t have that. Who are some of your musical influences?
PRETTYFCKNBOY: One of my biggest influences is obviously Jay-Z. You hear it a lot in a lot of my cadence. Then obviously Foxy Brown because she was the Bonnie to his Clyde, but female rap and me being gay is a very big influence in who I am, so Foxy Brown more so than Jay-Z. Then would come Nas, Azealia Banks…Who else? I really like Top5.
I love pop music, so honestly people like Justin Timberlake and shit like that really inspires me because they make me want to up it a little bit, you know? Because they’re very theatrical with the music. When it comes to hip hop and rap, it’s very straight to the point. They don’t really go far. They don’t really challenge themselves, so when you hear me rapping fast on a lot of beats, I kind of…that music…it inspires me more than a lot of the hip hop.
NOLAN TESIS: What are you working on right now?
PRETTYFCKNBOY: I actually just left the studio, so I’m headed into Philly. I have to do some final touches on the next single I’m releasing called BBNL. It’s really, really, really fire. It stands for Bad Boys Need Love. It’s fun and very theatre kid. It’s bubblegum pop. It brings you back to almost being at a block party or like you’re going to a skating rink. Yeah, it’s very fun.
NOLAN TESIS: And you’re working on a new EP right now too, right?
PRETTYFCKNBOY: Yes. Well not an EP, it’s a mix tape. I was calling it an EP but I feel like there’s a lot of creatives who tell a story with their music and the visuals they bring forward. So I feel like an EP, that’s like a body of work for when you’re well seasoned. I’m not there yet as an artist—as who I am.
The mixtape is called Pretty La Ghetto.The name of it is inspired by De La Soul, a group from the ’90s. They were the pioneers of hip hop, De La Soul. I’m Pretty Fucking Boy…Pretty La Ghetto…You know? I’m pretty, however, I can get a little bit gritty and I’m just showing different textures of who I am as a gay man. Yeah, we can be super feminine, but then even the most feminine ones of us have a feisty side where we can bring out the biggest monster in the room. You’re going to get a soft spot. You’re going to get a rugged side in me. Maybe you’ll even get something seductive and sensual. Who knows? But I want to show different layers and textures because like I said, being a queer artist, there’s so many layers to us—more than just what they try to put on us, which is sexuality.
I can dumb it down to levels in pop music where my lyrics are Philly but also very quirky and you’re like, “Wow, this kid is kind of smart,” and then I can get super sexual and take it there but not even actually go there. Like, “Fourth dimension, I did not mention, you just took the apple bit in!”
NOLAN TESIS: That’s my favorite lyric from your song “HBK”. I’ve played your songs for so many people now my boyfriend is tired of hearing it. Do you have any fears being a queer artist?
PRETTYFCKNBOY: Oh, of course. I have a lot of fears. First off, when it comes to rap music, it’s supposed to be a place where you express yourself, right? But I feel like being a Black gay male, there’s more to that because it could take one explicit lyric for you to lose a listener completely. You can offend a lot more people by letting them into our world too much. It’s tough because there’s a lot of things that I want to talk about in my music that I kind of can’t because the world isn’t where it should be. However, I praise a lot of people that can and do talk about what they want. I’m just not fully there yet.
NOLAN TESIS: You also describe yourself as a Y2K alternative Prince, so what does that aesthetic mean to you?
PRETTYFCKNBOY: Well, you remember Tumblr days? So back in the day I used to be this nerdy kid on Tumblr. My best friend, she was a photographer, and she got like $5,000 worth of equipment. She had nobody to shoot because we’re both introverts. So she decided to shoot me, and believe it or not, it went viral a bunch of times.
NOLAN TESIS: Wow.
PRETTYFCKNBOY: Tumblr even posted me on their homepage. Y2K is a major theme on Tumblr for a lot of people. So when it comes to my music, you hear a lot of influence from the year 2000, you know? I don’t sample music on my instruments but I use a lot of samples as far as my lyrics just to give you that nostalgic feel. I feel like I’m an old spirit, I’m an old head.
When you close your eyes and you listen to my music, I want you to go on a trip, a psychedelic trip, but almost into the past. You get what I’m saying? Some Back to the Future shit.
I’m kind of using this Y2K movement as a way to relaunch those days of being on right after high school, getting my little bacon, egg, and cheese or something, sitting on my grandmother’s computer, and getting cursed out for scrolling and not doing my homework.
NOLAN TESIS: No, that’s so beautiful. I actually missed the whole Tumblr era. I’ve gone viral on TikTok though so I know what it’s like when you find a platform that really speaks to you and allows you to express yourself. I’m in that whole experience right now.
PRETTYFCKNBOY: Yeah, and it’s super tough because right now everything is so fashion-oriented and designer. It kind of takes away from the day-to-day culture. Britney Spears wasn’t wearing, I don’t know, Roberto Cavalli in her music videos. You get what I’m saying? She wasn’t wearing it on her press photos and her press releases. On Tumblr you had Y2K, the P-Funk era, a bunch of worlds that you enter on that one database. I just feel like we need more of that, and I kind of want to do that with my music. I want to be like a chameleon. I want to be on a pop song. I want you to hear me on a trap song. I want you to hear me on a bunch of different things.
NOLAN TESIS: Since the advent of Lil Nas X’s success, do you think hip hop is ready for more queer artists?
PRETTYFCKNBOY: I feel like they’re opening the door a little bit for us. Him performing on the BET Awards almost demanded them to pay attention to us which is great. But even prior to him, there were also a lot of other gay people that have opened doors like Cakes Da Killa years ago. Probably like 2013. He’s been rapping since then and he has a worldly success, so I don’t want to leave him out of the conversation about success as far as our culture and artists in it. You know what I mean? Hopefully the bigger I get, I’ll collaborate more with them and we’ll find a way to get up there too.
NOLAN TESIS: How has the pandemic influenced or impacted your whole process right now as an artist and a person?
PRETTYFCKNBOY: The pandemic just made me really have time to hear the fucking quiet, honestly. This pandemic gave me a lot more time. You know what? Fuck all of this. Let me not give the political explanation. This pandemic was shitty. It delayed a lot for me.
I would have never really took this rap shit serious if the pandemic never came, honestly, because when it came I said “Oh my God. I could have died from COVID and not really gave myself the debut that I’ve been dying to have since I was a kid.” So it’s kind of like this pandemic showed me that there’s so much life out here for us and whatever you want to do, go out and do it before you can’t, you know?
NOLAN TESIS: I think the world is ready for you. It was a pleasure talking to you, man.
PRETTYFCKNBOY: It was a pleasure talking to you too. Thank you so much for this opportunity.
PRETTYFCKNBOY and all things in in his world can be reached here. You’re welcome.
NOLAN TESIS is a scholar, emerging multidisciplinary artist, creative director, and social media influencer living in Boston, Massachusetts. Nolan is a Northeastern University graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in English and a minor in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. Nolan’s work interrogates and explores the lack of diverse, nuanced renderings of QTBIPOC narratives in mainstream media culture.