“We live in very dark and demonic times,” Gilbere Forte’ prophetically posits over a vegan lunch in Center City. “While I may not go out and riot in the streets, I riot in my music.”
The 24-year-old producer and MC spent his youth moving between Flint, Mich., and Chicago, and wound up settling in Philadelphia in 1999. Initially drawn to the production side of the hip-hop scene, in eighth grade Forte used his mom’s laptop to craft beats for MC friends.
While studying business at Temple University, he interned at Studio 609 with multi-Grammy winning production duo Dre & Vidal, whose client list includes Destiny’s Child, Alicia Keys, the Game and Ludacris.
“I was exposed to the entire music industry,” Forte’ says. “It was my 9 to midnight. I’d go straight to the studio everyday after class.”
Until one day he left class for the studio and never went back.
With only two semesters left, Forte’ dropped out of Temple to pursue music full-time. He’s since contributed a verse alongside Kanye West on a remix of Belgium hip-hopper Stromae’s “Alors On Dance,” and self-released two mixtapes. On Sept. 20, he’s releasing an eight-song EP that includes a track with Clipse MC Pusha T, and his third mixtape, 87Dreams2Reality, drops early November.
For the 2010 debut, 87Dreams , Forte’ hooked up with 25-year-old Temple pal and producer Rakib “Raak” Uddin. It received moderate attention from hip-hop blogs and mags, mostly for stand-out track “Black Chukkas.” Next came 2011’s Eyes Of Veritas, where Forte’s rhyming and singing met production by Raak, Lex Luger, Bink and Boi-1da, and guest spots with Philly’s Peedi Crakk and Memphis mixtape star Don Trip. Also appearing on Veritas was Vegas-based up-and-comer Sean Rose, with whom Forte’ recently released a collaborative mixtape, SMMERTIME + SUNSHNE + NGHTFALL.
“It’s a very microwave-type of environment; everybody wants everything RIGHT NOW,” he says. “When rappers do thousands of mixtapes they oversaturate the market and eliminate their product’s exclusivity. I’m gonna create a lasting imprint on the game because my music’s timeless.”
While talking music with Forte,’ the conversation quickly turns to film scores, particularly those from Michael Mann joints like Miami Vice and Public Enemies. He’s compelled by their absorptive flow—how they can transcend our conception of time and evoke complicated emotions in a way traditional verse-chorus pop songs cannot.
It’s an aesthetic Kanye West, one of Forte’s music heroes, realized on his last album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. But Forte’ has no desire to remain in the shadows of today’s stars. “I don’t have the same financial resources,” he admits, “but creatively I’m gonna make them chase after me.”
With 87Dreams2Reality—which he calls the final installment of his first “trilogy”—the goal is to create a sonically cinematic experience where the listener is sucked into his life-affirming stories and frequently poignant social critiques, and ultimately walks away with a fresh, empowered outlook.
“I’m gonna change people’s lives and how they listen to music,” Forte asserts without a dash of doubt. “I want people to take my music and ideas and apply them to their everyday lives ... to step outside and see everything differently because I’ve opened their eyes.”
Gilbere Forte’ performs Fri., Sept. 9, 8pm. Free. With Ethel Cee, Zarian + Chill Moody. Sigma Sound Studio, 212 N. 12th St. 215.988.1222. vitaminwater.com/philly
PW's Music Issue 2014