Blinded by the headliners at the recent Made in America Festival, it’s easy to overlook the smaller local artists. But it’s hard to sideline Armani White.
Spitting lyrics at the Skate Stage, festival-goers started coming in droves to the West Philly performer’s set.
“Who is that?” one attendee asked.
Even with having lost his voice earlier that morning, the 22-year-old “killed back” ginger shots and maintained a high-energy and well-executed performance throughout the set.
“As a local and as a performer in general … you leave that set like you were a part of something,” said White.
After his performance, White hopped onto other MIA stages to help out fellow homegrown artists, like Louis Futon. This was the first MIA the artist attended as a performer, but not as a fan. In 2011, White was on the Parkway to hear music mogul and rapper Jay-Z announce the inception of the annual festival and has since gone to many of the annual Labor Day Parkway weekends since.
“[Me] being from the city of Philadelphia, being an attendee of Made in America since it started … [and now] being on the stage, it is really exciting and powerful for me,” said White.
An MIA devotee, White is thankful Mayor Jim Kenney had a change of heart on relocating the festival from the Parkway in the future. White believes having the musical festival at the Parkway, “the nucleus of the city, other than City Hall,” gives the city a real leg to stand on when being held up to other major cities.
“[The festival and its location] is powerful for the city in an optimistic way. I think it is powerful for the city in a monetary way,” White explained. “It's just a powerful thing to keep driving the city of Philadelphia to be the premier city that it is.”
Passionate about his hometown, White explained his sound tries to “carry the weight” of Philly hip-hop and rap music, from Kenny Gamble to fellow 2018 MIA performer Meek Mill.
White admired Mill for coming back to the music scene after leaving prison and taking on criminal justice reform. According to White, his own brother has been locked up for four years on a wrongful conviction.
“It is a great thing to become a more humble person in a very humbling situation,” said White of Mill. “I think having someone championing that is really important for Philly.”
Mill also represents the “passing of the baton” for White, a “hungry” artist, ready to claim his spot as Philly’s next music legend.
"As a local and as a performer in general … you leave that set like you were a part of something."
- Armani White, West Philly rapper
But by no means is White a new up-and-comer on the Philly music scene.
In 2015, White was making headway and newslines as the next big rapper. As life would have it, things took a spiral when White’s father, Lee Tolbert, died of prostate cancer the following year.
“It was a setback … I was on a really dark path and those were dark days of my life,” White recalled. “Who would have told me then that you would go through that, reach the bottom, have your own definition of what rock bottom is and bounce back from that rock bottom?”
Bounce back, he has. Back at the mic and with his father’s “spirit” guiding him, White is more determined than ever to make it as an artist.
“I'm not grateful to have experienced it, but I'm grateful to have come out on the other side of that experience and be able to keep driving to bigger and better opportunities and to create another momentum that is even more unbreakable than 2015,” White.
Having a number of singles under his belt, including the most recent title “Public School,” White divulged he will be announcing the release of his first album in the next couple of weeks.
“We did a lot of sessions, just me and a bunch of singers from the city, a lot of different instrumentalists ... and we just get together in the studio and we just banged out all of these records,” said White of the upcoming album, mentioning the not-yet-released “Wonderful” is his new favorite song. In regard to the meaning or message of his work, White does not pigeonhole himself to one platform.
“As long as I'm preaching positivity in some form or [another] … producing something thought-provoking, then I could have various messages,” said White. “[The songs] could portray for you to do something or for you to be something or for you to learn something or for you to take something away whenever you press play.”