ARTICLE PATRIK SANDBERG
PHOTOGRAPHY TERRY RICHARDSON
STYLIST HEATHERMARY JACKSON
FLEXING UNBRIDLED AGGRESSION AND CRISP 808 PRODUCTION, WAKA FLOCKA FLAME REINVENTED GANGSTA RAP’S SOUND. NOW, WITH THE RELEASE OF HIS SECOND ALBUM, TRIPLE F LIFE: FRIENDS, FANS AND FAMILY, HIP-HOP’S HEAVYWEIGHT PROVES HE’S READY TO REIGN WHILE STAYING TRUE TO HIS ROOTS
Walking with Waka Flocka Flame along the Bowery comes with a certain amount of hilarious conspicuity: six-foot-six with a hulking frame, Flocka—as he will henceforth be called—surveys his surroundings with a self-aware, wide-eyed lucidity, less a fish out of water than a tiger out of his cage.
When asked if he spends any time in Manhattan, he exclaims, “Not the Lower East Side! I’ll go to the studio but I hang out in Queens. I always live in Queens. Never ever, ever I leave.”
Born in Jamaica, Queens, as Juaquin Malphurs, Flocka moved to Atlanta as a middle schooler before eventually returning, his time in the South indelibly adding to his musical vocabulary. In both places, proximity to the music business affected him from a very young age. “I grew up down the street from Murder Inc., down the street from RUN-D.M.C., Russell Simmons, and LL Cool J. The Lost Boyz used to hang out with my family members,” he says. “Music has always been in my family.”
It would be remiss not to mention here Flocka’s mother, the indomitable hip-hop momager Debra Antney, a woman who helped shape the careers of both Gucci Mane and Nicki Minaj, and who founded her own management company, So Icey/Mizay Entertainment. Clichés about showbiz parents being what they are, one might presume that Antney pressured her son into becoming a rap star, in some sort of urban hip-hopera of Gypsy, playing out over the avenues of Hollis and the music scene of the ATL. Flocka, however, raps a different tune. “When I started, she didn’t believe in me,” he says frankly. “She said ‘I ain’t believe in that shit. Yo’ ain’t serious.’ When she saw that I was serious, then she took charge.”
Indeed, there is something deceitfully playful in the rhythm and the delivery with which Flocka lays down his verses, something that almost seems easy in its repetitive simplicity. You can get an idea of it even in the cadence of his name—“Flocka!” is often yelled out in the mix as punctuation at the end of his lines. But it’s the unrepentant rage, snarl, attitude, and sheer volume of his assault that renders his style nothing short of genius. An indication of his cunning approach can be easily clocked in the title of his 2010 debut album, Flockaveli, which heralded his arrival as the hardest emcee in the game. Further proof came when the entire genre pivoted into its stylistic direction, co-opting his aggressive and violent shouting, 808 snake drum percussion, and East Coast-meets-Atlanta swagger.
“I think I put the life into hip-hop again,” Flocka says, shrugging away modesty. “I revived it by bringing a new sound, 808s and kicks. My producer and my team—I feel we changed the sound of everybody, and I can honestly say that. Before Flockaveli, nothing sounded like it. But when I came out, everything to this day sounds like it. So I can smile a Kool-Aid smile when I say that.”
Speaking of that Kool-Aid smile, Flocka’s is enormous and highly contagious. It’s no understatement to attribute much of his success to sheer charisma, which touches everybody in the vicinity like a ghost in the room. The women he works with are putty in his hands. When Flocka grows contemplative, the room becomes sober. When he’s laughing, it lights back up. He may rap about shooting you in the face with an SK assault rifle, but he adores his grandmother and loves his little niece. He evokes the innocence of an adolescent in the imposing physicality of an ox—like a baby that can beat the living shit out of you.
“I see girls cry and faint,” he says, bewildered at his impact on people. “I’ve seen it with my own eyes. I never knew my music to touch somebody personally but I see guys walk up and talk with passion. That shit blow your mind. I never took my music seriously before another person did. And if people take it seriously, I need to get into this shit.” In order to do so, Flocka took a year off of music, which he spent studying the business and perfecting his craft. In June, he drops his second full-length album, Triple F Life: Friends, Fans, and Family—“and if you ain’t neither of the three, fuck off,” he says.
The record is a bit of a departure from the straightforward gangsta rap of Flockaveli, with some smash hits thrown in the mix and features from the likes of Drake, Trey Songz, Flo Rida, Tyga, B.o.B, French Montana, and many more. The Waka Flocka foundational aesthetic is still present in force, but with a few singles in the mix that will inevitably slay the radio and storm the charts. Perhaps after changing the game with a new aesthetic, Flocka’s ready to accept payment where payment is due.
“My goal with this album is to open people’s eyes, and hopefully touch a lot more heads,” he says. “I just love it and I hope people enjoy it, I’m goin’ hard. You can expect Flockaveli times 10. I used to just party with what I knew how to party with, but when I started rapping I got introduced to every religion, every race, and every culture. Now I know how to make everybody party. From touring, traveling, doing features, photo shoots, video shoots, I get a lot of different personalities, so I dissected that and was able to elevate my style.”
In response to the fashion world’s blossoming interest in him, Flocka cracks a smile. “The fashion world don’t know what to expect from me,” he says. “They’re like, a hardcore rapper like this? What does he have to offer? Then I meet them and they spread the word around, like, this guy is creative. They dissect me, real quick. I love it! I’m into everything. Clothes help you express yourself
Back home in Queens, Flocka’s happy to report that not much has changed. “I ain’t never get recognized,” he says. “They treat me like a regular. That’s how I like it, that’s my swag, I kick it real regular. You know what I’m saying? They understand where I come from and I’m the same guy right now. Ain’t nothing gonna change, they love me.” When it comes to his goals, material possessions rank low on the list. “I wanna build a YMCA in my county,” he says. “My goal is to make sure my family don’t have to worry and don’t have to stress about tomorrow. And we could potentially help another group of families to do the same. I live by that. I overcame every odd that was put against me; I wear that like armor. Appreciate this album for me. I put a lot of pain into this. So I hope you’re ready for it. I’m bringing it to the new world.”
GROOMING SNEED (STRICTLY SKILLZ BARBERSHOP) PHOTO ASSISTANT NIKKI TAPPA STUDIO MANAGER SETH GOLDFARB STYLIST ASSISTANT BRITTANY BERGER PRODUCTION LINDSEY STEINBERG (ART PARTNER) RETOUCHING VIEW IMAGING