Pretty much the only thing you'll find at gilbereforte.com is a YouTube trailer for his upcoming EP, Some Dreams Never Sleep. It starts with the standard straight-faced MPAA screen about how the preview is approved for all audiences. Cut to local hip-hopper Gilbert Forte talking frankly about being inspired and inspiring others. Then the music swells and we get time-lapse shots of clouds and stars and planes zipping across the sky. After that it's all shots of Forte behind the scenes — making moves in the industry, trading daps and breaking bread with noteworthy DJs, producers, singers and MCs.
For a guy like Forte — a self-professed movie geek who seeks to infuse hip-hop with the cinematic experience — making a trailer to viral-market his music was a no-brainer.
"I focus so strongly on trying to recreate the feeling that I got as a child from watching movies by doing it in my music," Forte says. "Listen to my music, it's like listening to a movie with your eyes closed."
A native Midwesterner, Forte was born in Flint, Mich., and spent time in Chicago before moving to the Philly burbs when he was 12. It was in high school that he began to take beatmaking seriously. "That's where it started for me. I wanted to get into making beats at an early age because I was such a fan of film composers and how they put music together for movies," he says. "From there, it was probably about 10th grade, I said, ‘You know, I want to start making lyrics to the beats.' … And so I found myself in and out the hallways between classes rapping with my friends."
At Temple, he met co-producer and partner-in-crime Rakib "Raak" Uddin. He shares Forte's love of movies and an appreciation of Kanye West. About three months into producing together, the two began to find their niche. "We started thinking, OK, the music that we're making — it could be bigger. It could be like film scores and crazy shit like that. We just started taking it to a different approach, to really what we listen to outside of the hip-hop, and we just put all of that into our music," Uddin explains.
Forte's 2010 debut, 87 Dreams, is moody in a way that bypasses emo sentimentality and heads straight for ambient. The genre-bending isn't solely a meshing of references: Production-wise, Forte rhymes with various regional styles, accent shifts included. He looks to revive the reaction you had when you heard that one Yeezy song, saw that one HP ad, watched that one Christopher Nolan movie and started leaning to that one ATL snap song, simultaneously. "I kind of look at myself as a movie director," he says. "I write to a different emotion each time. … I want to keep people on the edge of their seats, their toes, when they listen to the music."
Dropping 87 Dreams was the start of a breakout year for Forte. He lent bars to a slew of remixes and singles, including Stromae's "Alors on Dance," with Kanye West, and the Yeasayer remix of Florence + the Machine's "Dog Days Are Over." By January 2011, he'd signed with Universal Motown. The next month saw the release of his second mixtape, Eyes of Veritas. Forte calls Eyes a "suspense thriller." It carried production from Raak, Don Cannon, Bink!, Lex Luger, Boi-1da and Bengie.
Still, he was restless. "The person who had actually signed me was a woman by the name of Sylvia Rhone," says Forte. "Sylvia left Universal Motown … and at that point I was, like, ‘Wait a second.' This was the woman that I felt like was going to be able to take and push my career to the next level. So when she left, I was, like, 'I need to get out of this record contract.'" Universal Motown released Forte from his deal per his request. By the fall of 2011, he was an independent artist again, dropping Some Dreams Never Sleep, a hard, beat-heavy, guest-feature-laden collection of songs that Forte describes as "a composition of music to satisfy the listeners that say, ‘I wonder what he sounds like next to this artist.'" The EP includes collabs with Tyga, Big K.R.I.T., Maluca, Pusha-T and Jim Jones.
"Now that people know that I'm a free agent, it's a whole new ball game," he says, ready for his next sequel. When it comes to lyrics and delivery, Forte's formidable. But when his beats are fully steeped in that soundtracking niche, unabashedly trying to sound like a campy '80s thriller over hip-hop percussion — that's when Forte is in the zone.
His next project is set for this July. When asked to describe it, he's back in cinephile mode. "It's kind of one of those things where — when you go to the movies and they show previews on the [screen] and it's, like, Pew! Pew! Pew! Pew! Bam! There's a date. This is kind of how I feel right now."