And Phil Ade was in the running to be the next big thing.
The Prince George’s County-based MC, 24, was cocky, driven and prolific. He released four mixtapes that year and popped up for a number of guest verses and one-offs. He was signed to 368 Music Group, the label founded by Maryland R&B crooner Raheem DeVaughn. And Ade was fun to listen to. His persona was clean-cut, jokey and rarely self-serious. In the video for “Hollywood” from his debut mixtape, 2009’s “Starting on JV,” he is sitting in front of a wall of sneakers while noshing on a bowl of cereal and watching re-runs of “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.”
Then: nothing. The spotlight moved to Fat Trel, who performed tougher, grittier rhymes to a harder beat. Ade drifted into the background.
But last month, the rapper re-emerged with a new mixtape, “R.O.S.E.” It’s his first major release in three years which, in hip-hop time, is unthinkably long.
For “R.O.S.E,” Ade says that he wanted to take the time to get things right, to recalculate his image and to push his music and its presentation forward.
“Visually, I wanted it to match the sound. I felt like I wasn’t doing that before,” he says. “This one had a darker sound than what people were used to in my music.”
Indeed, “R.O.S.E” is an acronym for “Result of Society’s Evil.” Ade raps about self-doubt, failed expectations and frayed family ties. The backing tracks are heavy with solemn strings and gloomy chords. Where Ade used to come off as boyish and clean-cut, here he seems weary, reflective and regretful. Where he used to be flippant and boastful, he’s humbled and contrite.
According to Ade, time logged on the road and the fast pace of his 2011 land-grab began to burn him out. “R.O.S.E.” is an attempt to correct course, to move closer to being the person he wants to be, both in his raps and his personal life.
“I definitely do feel like I kinda got lost in the lifestyle. I was going out a lot. I was getting involved with too many women at the same time,” he says. “That’s not how I was raised. I wanted to get back. Try to rebuild the relationship with my people.”
While Ade was gearing down his public persona, he was trying to reconnect with his family. “My mother lives not far from me, and there were times when I wouldn’t see her for months,” he says. “I’d just think, ‘Man, this is crazy, the woman that raised me and I’m neglecting her.’ ”
Lifestyle aside, one reason Ade might have fallen off the District’s hip-hop radar is that it’s hard to define what he does. He hasn’t cultivated a characteristic style — a look, a set of beats or a tone — that is his and his alone. Ade skips from sound to sound and look to look. One minute he’s goofing around; the next, acting tough. And the next, rapping over a local rock band’s homage to Fleetwood Mac.
“My music has never been one thing,” he says. “It’s never been ‘He does trap music’ or ‘He does real eclectic’ music all the time.”
On “R.O.S.E,” for better or worse, Ade is trying to go a little deeper. A few years ago, he was hustling, pounding out back-to-back tracks in an effort to get footing in the scene. Now, with such self-critical songs as “The Dreamer” and “The Under Achiever,” he’s trying to craft a more thoughtful, personal statement.
“Before I wanted to just let people know that I’m here, but now I gotta focus on messages and really telling my story,” he says. “That’s why I’ve been trying to learn how to put my experiences in words in detail. I want to make that connection with people where they feel like they know who I am. Lessons that I learned in life.”
Then, maybe, he’ll get back to hustling. “I had to do some growing in the last year and a half. I found balance,” Ade says. “No more breaks.”
Leitko is a freelance writer.
Appearing at the Trillectro Music Festival on Saturday at Half Street Fairgrounds, 1299 Half St. SE. dctobc.com/trillectro. Show starts at noon. $49.
For a sampling of Phil Ade’s music, check out:
From “Starting on JV”:
From “Phil Ade Friday 2”:
“Where You From”