“I don’t drive, and I’m not too big on paying for public transportation,” Grande Marshall says after breezing up to our interview on a skateboard. “Skating is my typical means. I like that kind of freedom, like I’m floating and all that. The jawns love it, too.”
The 18-year-old rapper-slash-producer, whose debut mixtape, 800, should drop any day now, currently lives in North Philly, but grew up all over the Mid-Atlantic. That means he idolized Beans and Ghostface, but also listened to Baltimore club music and played in a go-go band. In third grade he was rapping; by eighth, he was making beats.
His first teacher was a beatmaker named Collage. “It was on this forum site, I had messaged him, like, ‘Yo, I’m trying to get into producing.’” Entirely over the internet, Collage taught him how to chop samples. “I used to make garbage. But then the more I practiced, the more I developed a knack for it.”
Ciphers in high school served as the usual training ground. “In the morning [people would say], ‘Oh, such and such wants to battle you, blah blah blah.’ I never lost.” In 10th grade, Grande got into some trouble, and ended up in boot camp for the summer. Upon his return, he found out a video of him battle-rapping had gone viral, his first taste of fame.
He gave community college a shot, but it wasn’t for him. “It was, like, the 13th grade. I hated that.” He began to pursue music more seriously, and inched onto the blogosphere’s radar in 2011 with a moody track called “Robert Earl.” Lately, Grande’s been dropping new stuff through Soundcloud — some songs, some club mixes and some stuff not so easy to classify. “I want to be able to make whatever type of music I want to make whenever I want to make it,” he shrugs.
Hard beats and skateboarding are loves he shares with friends in A$AP Mob, to whom he has often been compared. Grande’s music is never gun-shy — five samples isn’t too many, trunkshakers on 40 is the intent. His layers of percussion combine styles that normally wouldn’t be together, proof that regional differences in hip-hop are peeling away. The themes of the elevated hustler rap that has dominated the airwaves since the turn of the millennium is maintained, if not amplified. “Turning blond hair to rose gold — oh no,” Grande raps on “E&J.” The swag and the luxury aren’t going anywhere, just getting brainier. Some call this music trillwave. Grande stands at the forefront of the Philadelphia trill contingent.
“I make music where if you’re riding in the car, I want it to be smooth when you hear it.” The car of Grande’s dreams — a 1991 Mercedes-Benz 560SEC AMG — is already in his sight, but not necessarily within reach. “Probably be like an emerald green or a mahogany with a champagne interior,” he says without taking a breath. Till then, there’s more music to drop and places to tour before the summer ends. He hops on his skateboard, and pushes onward.