Almost exactly a year after dropping his first mixed tape, Phat Kid Tendencies, Miami-based rapper Black Bobby is throwing a party for the release of his first album, Presidential Shit: Black Bobby & His Goyard, on Friday at Sweat Records.
Larry Harris, Jr. — aka Black Bobby — grew up in D.C., the child of a Black Nationalist (his mother) and a JAG Corps lawyer (his father). He moved to Boston when he was 17 to attend Tufts University, where he became student government president, and later enrolled in the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. Everyone expected him to run for public office. Instead, after a stint as a business consultant, he followed his brother to South Florida to become a rapper — much to the surprise and, in some cases, disapproval of his friends, family, and political mentors. About four years, two mixed tapes, and 33,000 downloads later, he is about to hit a high point in his rap career with the release of Presidential Shit. I spoke to him by phone on Wednesday about his musical odyssey, how Miami influences his music, and what to expect at Sweat on Friday. Here is the edited transcript.
How did you end up in Miami?
Black Bobby: When I was 27, it was after grad school, I was working in consulting — high level business strategy for Fortune 100 companies. It was like a typical post-Harvard job and I was miserable, because I had this creative energy that I needed to get out. My brother, at the time, was living in [South Florida], and he invited me to come down to hear some of the music he was working on. He had gone to SAE Miami and started producing beats, heavily using soul samples, and I thought he was pretty good.
Eventually we started having conversations about me moving to Florida and becoming his business partner and a rapper. Along the way, i just started practicing and watching DVDs and going to shows and getting the bug. I wanted to be Run when I was little anyway, so I think becoming a rapper was probably a natural progression.
How did your friends and family react when you told them you were moving to Miami to pursue a rap career?
Black Bobby: It was such a range of reactions. The minority of reactions were people who were really excited for me. Everyone thought I was going to run for public office in Boston and probably be the mayor or something like that. For me to switch gears and think about hip hop as my career really took people by surprise.
My mentors in politics, people who had given me money, they were probably the most shocked. I ran a [political] non-profit for six years, so I have this huge network in Boston of people who were all expecting me to run for office. And one day I tell them, “Hey, I’m moving to Miami to start rapping with my brother,” and they were like, “Uhhhhhhhh.” But it’s interesting, because now some of them have heard my music and they like it. So it’s turning around.
How do you reconcile your diverse background — D.C., Boston, Harvard, politics, corporate world, Miami — in your music?
Black Bobby: It’s a tough balance. Adding Miami into the mix made it a little more tricky because the culture down here is so different from up north. My personality fits it in Miami. I love the sun, I love the weather, I love being able to sit out on the beach, I love the pretty women. I like to party some … but when I write music now I feel that I have a tremendous burden to live up to the expectations of people who knew me from that life [up north] and also to entertain people who know me from this life. I have to have a combination of music that’s thought provoking and entertaining, and I think that that makes me a better artist. It makes me work harder, and it makes my beats more diverse, and it makes me think about doing music that other artists probably wouldn’t do.
How does Presidential Shit represent an evolution from Phat Kid Tendencies (released last November) and Negro Dialect (released in June)?
Black Bobby: With Phat Kid Tendencies, we decided to go with a strategy where I rapped on old-school beats to present my lyrics and my style in a way that was true to the hip hop that I loved and give my life story over the beats I grew up on.
Negro Dialect was trying to reach out more to my fan base here, and people who listen to me around the world. I was trying to make a tape that was more wide-reaching. It sounds more modern, there’s some electro on there, some dub step even. Miami definitely influences that. I hang out in the downtown club scene. I go to Vagabond, I go to Grand Central. I love the kinds of music I hear [there].
The idea behind Presidential Shit is that I [am running for] President of Hip Hop. This is the second project I’m putting out to support the campaign. When I say “Presidential Shit”, I’m really talking about my lyrics are on a presidential level. When I say “Black Bobby & His Goyard”, I’m talking about having presidential lyrics and the soul to be President of Hip Hop in the bag.
[Ed. note: "Goyard" refers to a French manufacturer of fine luggage.]
The whole concept behind the album is, I don’t have the bag yet, and I can’t afford it. That’s why it’s a Goyard. The industry is really expensive to break into and the indie artists really have to work to get your shine.
Why did you choose Sweat as the venue for your album-release party?
Black Bobby: Sweat Records was the first place to support my music. I know [Sweat owner] Lolo [Reskin] through friends, and I passed her Phat Kid Tendencies and asked her to support it, and she did. I met a lot of the kids who support my music through the Sweat network, so that’s where I feel comfortable.
What kind of atmosphere can we expect Friday night? I read you were playing with a live band.
Black Bobby: We’re not doing a live band on Friday for a lot of reasons. The drummer broke his arm and we had a lot of problems getting a back up. We’re going to break out the band in January at the next [Sweat] show. But DJ D-Up is going to be spinning the opening set of old school hip hop and new school hip hop … and then around 9 o’clock I go on for a 30-minute performance.
Black Bobby: Yeah, I’m really excited. This is one year, my third project. I didn’t even imagine I was going to do a second project. I’m over 33,000 downloads of my music in the last 10 months. So I’m really excited to have people supporting me, not only here but also up north. So momentum is really good, and I just want to keep it going. I hope people really like this album.
The album-release party for Presidential Shit starts at 8 p.m. on Friday at Sweat Records (5505 NE 2nd Avenue). You can listen to a preview of the album here.