WORDS + INTERVIEW + PHOTOS BY ALEXIS ROSARIO
In the ever-evolving landscape of the music industry, few artists capture the essence of a bygone era while adding a contemporary twist. Starker, an artist born and bred out of Brooklyn, NY has successfully carved a niche by drawing inspiration from the vibrant music and fashion culture of the 90s and 2000s.
With appearances in campaigns for brands Aimé Leon Dore, and Ralph Lauren, and his cover art debut for WestSide Gunn’s, Peace “Fly” God…we delve into Starker’s journey, exploring the roots of his success, the challenges artists face, his growth alongside future aspirations, and the influences that shape his unique sound and style.
It’s evident that he’s more than just a rapper; he’s a storyteller, an emotion-evoking artist on a mission to bridge the gap between the past and the present. Through his lens, Starker invites us into a world where authenticity reigns supreme, and emotions are laid bare for all to hear.
Starker stands as a testament to the enduring power of genuine expression. As he continues to carve his path through the industry, one can’t help but feel that the best is yet to come from this artist who wears his influences proudly, creating a timeless sound that emotionally resonates with a generation hungry for legitimacy.
ALEXIS: What was the catalyst for you pursuing music and what inspired you?
STARKER: I think I just fooled around after school. I had the open crib, where every day, my mom wasn’t home till six o’clock. So me and my friends would go to my crib, we smoke, we listen to music. Then I bullshit around other songs and start rapping. My friends were like “Yo… you’re pretty good” You know what I’m saying, and I’m like, am I? I never really took it too seriously. I found myself in multiple studios - I went to a studio called Goblin Studios and I found out that the guy that owned it is somehow related to me in some way.
“I just started to keep putting myself in the studio. I would go to the studio and be around other artists that I grew up listening to. It became me like I looked up and became this artist. ”
A: Any notable mentions from that experience?
S: I guess the Beatnuts like Juju and Psycho Les, showed me a lot of love early in the game. Chilled with Sadat X from Brand Nubian, and shit like that…but more or less, it was just a learning experience. There are a lot of artists that rap today, but they only rap because the internet allows them to. When you go to the studio, you might not get recognized as a rapper, they might look at you like the guy that gets Dutch, they need somebody to go do that for them like a doja boy. I paid my dues, I did a lot of shit for a lot of artists, I sat there and stayed quiet minding my business, but made sure that I was like a fly on the wall. So I know what it’s like to be around artists from the past. Their sense of, I don’t want to say entitlement, but like, they’re real stars, we’re just internet famous. These guys traveled all over the world!
A: What makes them stars, instead of today’s modern-day internet-famous rappers?
S: The fact that they were recognized by the world before there was any form of social media. You’re never gonna get that again, we’re not gonna get somebody that went through the preliminary rounds of like maybe freestyling and venues backstage and then getting recognized by so and so and then turning it into something bigger.
A: It sounds a little more organic!
S: Right…that don’t happen no more now it’s like, these labels, just want to fuck with you, because you have a following. You can have the following from anything, you could be on the internet just perpetrating things that aren’t necessarily for you, you know.
A: Or acting.
S: Exactly. So that’s the thing! Before you had to be about what you’re representing. If you weren’t somewhere along the line, somebody would call you out on it. People just wake up, throw on a costume, and think I’m a rapper today I guess.
A: What have you found most challenging throughout your growth?
S: Dealing with people. I hate dealing with people. I feel like because I’m an artist, I don’t have to deal with anybody. I don’t get to deal with anybody’s shit. I carve my way every day. If I want to be a big artist I have to learn how to deal with people and deal with certain situations better. That’s been probably the most difficult thing for me to let go of my emotions and just deal with things as a professional. I’ve had jobs - I’ve had jobs in offices, I’ve had jobs as a doorman. One thing I hate about work is that I can’t be myself. With this rap shit, I felt like I could be me, oh, I’m good, and I could just be me and fucking do whatever I please. So I’m just learning how to be more of like… I’m not gonna say a people person because I’m never gonna be a people person, but I just how to deal with people better.
A: What challenges are you experiencing when you’re dealing with these people?
S: People just, you know, people don’t be honest, a lot of people be saying one thing and doing the other. In this industry, it comes with the territory. It’s very, like, you get promised the world. A lot of the Hollywood, pretentious, people. People always want to get in my ear, oh I could get you this, big bucks, and all types of bullshit. I didn’t get into this for that, I didn’t get into this for people to be in my face, promising me the world. I do this, for my own sake for my own sanity. Other people try to find ways to exploit you as an artist, people want to get paid for your hard work, and that shit pisses me off. People find a way to earn a buck off of what I’m doing. You know what I mean? Like, I’ll come out with an album, I’ll do the rollout. I’ll do all the merchandise this and that and the third? And then you got some schmuck that comes around and says…
A: I get a cut.
S: Yeah. And I’m like that should that shit burns me. Damn, how are you gonna get paid off of my work? That’s what bothers me.
A: Are you independent right now?
S: Super! Big independent, always been.
A: You find yourself more successful that way?
S: I’ve never tried the other way. We’ve gotten opportunities, that’s always what it is. You sit down in an office or in the studio. This guy comes as A&R. He likes what you’re doing. He’s been watching you from afar for a long time, and he sees what’s with the growth and all the bullshit. I’m just like, man, when are you going to really do something for me, you know, I’m saying 9 times out of 10 times they never do. I’m already conditioned to having those fake conversations and going home waking up and not expecting a thing you know, I’m saying. As for other people, they still might be hung up on - oh, this person promised me this and that. Fuck that shit.
A: You can’t depend on one person.
A: Are you currently working on anything behind the scenes? And what are you most proud of accomplishing thus far?
S: Behind the scenes, I would say I’m working on my next project. I got multiple projects. I’m very much like a multitasker, I would say even though the task is the same thing. Like it’s all the same task, but it’s just multiple. I’m like a scattered brain. You know what I’m saying? I can’t focus on one project, because that shit will bore me. So I got this project that I’m 30% done with, me and YL got a project that all we got to do is shoot the artwork, and it’s ready, I got another project that’s just in the tug. I feel like at some point, I’m kind of ahead of my work. You know what I’m saying? As far as what people are expecting of me, people expect like an album a year, or something like that. I got a bunch. It’s just more about timing. Like, I want to be better about when I release.
A: Do you feel like it’s better to release as early as possible? Or let it marinate and develop?
S: I’m trying to find the balance right now between the two. My friends have been coming down on me, “Yo, you ain’t dropping nothing in the whole year, bro.” That’s how I feel. Who am I doing this for? Well, I’m not keeping up with anybody. I’m keeping up with my own work. but they’re like, “Yeah, but you can’t be mad when like, you know, when you by the time you do release something if you don’t get the engagements that you expect, because you’re not necessarily keeping up with your own persona.” Then I’m like, You know what, you’re right. So I just released an album, and the album that I just released was the most recent one that I worked on.
So it’s like a sign of the times as opposed to these other albums that by the time I released them, they’re gonna be like three years old, but I’ve just been sitting on them and just really dealing with them and understanding if I want to release it. I’ve released music, and then I listened to it a couple of years from then and I’m like, that shit is cool. I’m not tripping about it, but I could have went harder. So I don’t want to have that regret in the future. I want to listen to something and be like, I did my best and I know I did because I took that time.
A: Is there something that you’ve already done that you’re most proud of?
S: Going to Japan.
A: That’s awesome!
S: Three times.
A: What was your reasoning behind going there?
S: The first time I went with my baby mother. She heard me talk about it a lot. When Instagram first came around, I was rapping before Instagram. So when I made my Instagram account, I started getting engagements with Japanese people. Japanese people kept following me, adding me, and liking my pictures. I used to say around the house, I was like, “Yo, I’ll go to Japan one day”, you know what I’m saying? I was just bullshitting to my baby mother, for Valentine’s Day, she bought me a ticket to Japan. She straight up gave me an envelope, and it was a ticket to Japan. So that was the first time I went. She negotiated with one of my followers at that time for me to have a show out there. She hit up somebody who follows me from Japan and said, “Hey, if I bring Nace to Japan, or if I fly him out there can you show him a good time?” The guy was like, “fuck show him a good time, we get to do a show, people like him out here.” And I was like, okay. So she ended up coming with me, like, last minute, she bought her ticket, we went together, I can see my kid out there, Milo.
“That’s probably my proudest moment - going to Japan and having a baby in Japan. Now him being my son, Milo.”
That’s the proudest moment I think I have. Outside of that, the fact that I get to return to Japan, for music now me, and YL we get flown out, they pay for our flights, and they pay for a hotel. They give us show money. It gets no better than that. I don’t feel like that’s something that anybody could just do. I feel very fortunate.
A: That’s ICONIC!
A: How did you find your voice in the rap scene? How important is it for artists to find their signature style?
S: Being around those other artists I was telling you about earlier, the real stars, people have been doing this for a long time, they put a big mirror in front of you. They all have a signature, all these artists from the past sound nothing like each other as opposed to today. Everybody borderline sounds the same. So it was good for me to recognize that I needed to find my identity. Especially if I wanted to stand out amongst people who are already successful or else I would just be in the shadows of their success. It just developed over time, like, eventually, I figured it out. I figured out what I wanted to represent as a whole. Which is I’m representing myself at all times.
However, it’s like in what way do I want to represent myself? How do I want to sound over records? What do I want to focus on as the artist I’m trying to be? And I figured out I have a deep voice, and just sticking to certain beats.
“It’s like growing up as an artist, but everybody reaches a certain point in their life, they have to come to a point of reflection, where they ask, who am I? What is my purpose? What am I doing?”
A: You feel like that’s ever-evolving?
S: Absolutely at all times. You know, I could occupy five years being this version of me. Then I get tired of that shit. I want to grow. I’m reaching a new point of Starker where I’m living life, I’m eating. I’m doing things that I’ve never thought I could type of shit, I’m touching a little more money. It gives me a new sense of self, you know, I’m not who I once was. So let me recognize that. And let me keep that presence of mine. I got to let old habits die young, and just figure out who I’m trying to be now. So it’s always a question in my mind, like, who are you trying to be? What are you trying to do? That’s it. You know, I encourage other people to take the time. Don’t just jump on the internet and start rhyming on beats. Figure out who you’re trying to be in this. If you just thought, doing what you see, it’s not going to work for you. You have to take that time - that introspective time to be mindful. There’s a lot of artists these days that I see, and I’m just like, this shit ain’t really meant for you.
I’m not gonna say no names, but in general, this shit isn’t for everybody. If everybody was a little more reflective, I think they’d realize that some people have a problem with being a fan of things now. You know, there’s like an ego, but people don’t want to be a fan of something they want to be a part of it. They’ll see you rapping, like, oh, man, I could do that, too.
A: Or they see you as competition.
S: Yeah, it’s like it don’t gotta be none of that. I’m doing what I’m doing. You’re doing what you’re doing.
A: You could put them onto game and they don’t even see it.
S: Right, exactly. I’m trying to be a good example. I’m trying to be the best example of an artist for your sake. So this is what you want to do. Don’t follow in my footsteps, but take note, you know what I’m saying? It’’s more to it. It’s not so cut and dry as people like to think it is.
A: I think the biggest factor that differentiates other artists from other artists is authenticity. We’re lacking that right now.
S: Big time.
A: In the next few months to years, what direction do you plan on taking your music?
S: Everything coincides with music, my attitude, my choice of clothes, I’m becoming more practical. So like, in the past, my music has been a little more experimental. You know what I’m saying like untraditional, as you can say. So with my outfits and shit like that and just the way I was living taking, drugs all types of shit, you know. Now it’s like, I want to just wear a nice leather jacket and a simple sweater, but not big graphics on it. I want my music to be easy to listen to, I want everybody to be able to listen to it. I want to make music for everybody before I was making music for like a niche, and a niche following. Just for those who know type of shit. Then it’s like, I have family members that don’t understand what the fuck I’m doing. I want it to be understood by the simple person and the artistic person too. I want to make something that everybody could enjoy. So that’s what I’m doing.
As of lately, I’m keeping in mind like, just do a fucking good song. Good hooks, it doesn’t have to be a triple backflip, lyrical. It’s more of a feeling and less of like a combination of big words. I just want an easy listen something that my own son could listen to and understand. I have to learn how to enjoy the simple things. That’s why I’m trying to take my music to the more simple route, it’s not going to dilute the quality of it. If anything, it’s gonna enrich it and make it more of a catalog where there’s something for everybody. Like, okay, maybe you didn’t like that album, but you could listen to this one. Or maybe you don’t like this one, but the one that’s going to come is going to be something for you. I don’t want to keep coming up with the same album.
A: What do you envision that sounding like or feeling like?
S: It’s hard to say - I want to say, something that you might have heard on the radio in the past. Not today’s radio, but older radio 106 and Park, because even back then there was an underground scene. But that’s not what I grew up on. I found that underground scene of the 90s today, and yeah, it left a big impression on me. I grew up bumping Nelly, DMX, and Usher. I just want to fit into that category of good artists, he has his own sound. He knows what he’s doing. He knows what he’s doing it for, and that’s it.
A: I think what separates today and back then was like the power of storytelling, being able to yes, make it an easy listen, but also be able to paint a picture for somebody.
S: Yeah! That’s what my next album is gonna be, I came out with an album called The Greenest Block. That’s about the block that I live on now, but the album I’m coming out with now is The Meanest Block, and that’s the block that I’m from. The Meanest Block is the story of my life, which is a story that even talking about it, I get like a knot in my throat because I can’t tell that story but one time. I don’t get personal on music.
A: Start flexing - start flexing that muscle because when you start getting that feeling in your throat it’s a sign that you need to start opening up and speaking your truth. That album is going to be that for you.
A: Are there any interests outside of music you’d like to pursue and get involved in the future?
S: Fashion. I wish one of these brands would pick me up, and let me do creative direction. At the end of the day, they take from me whether they want to admit it or not. There are brands that have literally seen things that I’ve put on the internet, and they just mock it completely. For all that you’re doing, and you’re not even doing it correctly, why don’t you give somebody like me the opportunity to work with you guys and show you guys how it should be done? I’m already working with brands on an intimate level, like the Aimé Leon Dore brand, they’re gonna let us do a campaign for their next shoe release, that’d be my third campaign with them. That’s a hard brand to get with, they’re not really fucking with everybody. So I feel fortunate that they recognize me as somebody that they want to give an opportunity to, instead of being somebody that they want to put on the mood board, and be like, oh, we really liked what this kid does, we want to come up with something like that, but we don’t want to talk to him…we want to x him out of the equation. I don’t like that shit.
I feel like a lot of brands in the past have borderline dehumanized me, I had somebody at the Jordan Brand tell me, “Yo, I was at a meeting and they put on a Zoom call a bunch of pictures, they had your picture there and the only reason why I knew it was you is because you’re my boy, but they blurred your face.” Why do that? Why blur out my face? Why not let me be the person that you’re trying to resemble?
A: Wow…it’s giving very classist.
S: The fashion world wants to chew you up and spit you out. They want to do it in a passive way. You can’t get angry about it. they don’t operate like that. They don’t operate aggressively. It’s almost like a catty world. So I’m very firm when I deal with these people, but that’s what I would hope for in the future. I feel like I have a spot in the world of clothing. You know, I’m saying performance clothing, streetwear, outerwear, workwear like, I give a fuck about that shit. Not only do I care, like, I’ve used it in my life, so I know what it needs, what it’s missing. I understand the void that needs to be filled in a lot of these pockets. I’m an artist too.
A: It coincides!
S: Like I paint I do a bunch of shit.
A: You paint?!
S: I paint. I don’t paint as much as I should, but I’ve done paintings. Westside Gunn’s artwork for Peace “Fly” God I did.
A: Really?! Did you share that?
S: Yeah, people know, I just don’t. I love art so much. I don’t like to perpetrate it.
A: I get it, but it’s your resume!
S: Rap has an expiration date. I have to rap during these years because once I reach a certain age, I can’t do it. Art I could do till I’m a withering old man, you know what I’m saying? So I’m saving that for like my grand finale.
A: I feel that I’m on the same thing. I started out drawing when I was a child. I went into photography because it gave me fulfillment. But I feel the same way.
A: How have your influences in your upbringing, culture, and fashion impacted your creativity?
S: I’m all of that personified… like everything that I’ve witnessed growing up all the things that have left an impression on me. I’ve waited my whole life to dress like this. When I was a kid and my mom’s was dressing me and shit, I would tell myself, man, I can’t wait till I’m a certain age and I’m gonna buy my own timbs. I’m gonna buy my own baggy jeans. I’m gonna buy my own chain, and my own North Face. It’s not that my mom wasn’t doing that for me, but she was getting me what she could afford. I gotta pick one and like it a lot. As I got older, maybe that shit went out of style. I’ve spent my whole life waiting for this point where I could buy jerseys and Jordans and Iceberg. This shit means the world to me. So it’s never gonna go out of style to me… That’s the shit that I’ve seen growing up, I witnessed it. I wanted to be a part of it. Now that I’m the age that I am, I want to embody the shit that people forgot about. People see me in the street just regular people - bus drivers, construction workers doing traffic, like, they’ll see something that I’m wearing like, “Oh, you don’t even know bro. I used to wear that shit every day.” I’m not gonna say that’s what I do it for. I do it for the people that got conditioned to this Chrome Hearts and all this bullshit. Like you didn’t you didn’t have to sell you your old Avirex. You didn’t have to get rid of your North Face.
A: We’re in the age of consumerism.
S: Yeah. You didn’t have to do that. You fell into the herd, you know what I mean? When you could have just kept all your shit and it was still valid to this day. Trust me there are people right now that they’re seeing all these young kids dressed in like the way they used to dress and it makes them want to dress like that again. I feel like I’m ahead of the curve. When it comes to that, all this new Y2K. I’ve been doing the shit for a little bit, you know what I mean? So, now that everybody is on some Y2K shit…I’m like 2005. Let’s just be ahead.
A: If you could go back to any place in any time, where would you go and why?
S: I’d probably go back to my grandma’s house.
A: I think about that often…
S: Go back to being a little kid. You know, my grandma’s house, and all my cousins, shit like that. That’s the shit that I can’t get back. I live in those moments in my mind. I spent a lot of time thinking about my cousins or just how we were and how lucky we were to have our grandma there for us and cook for us. I gotta pay for food. When I was little, there was always a hot meal waiting for me. I took that for granted. As a little kid, I would look at that shit like ew I want McDonald’s. I so regret that now.
My son’s not like that, my son’s the type that tells my mom what he wants to eat. ”Grandma make me spaghetti” - he just takes advantage of it. I fell into the hole fast food chain shit. I wish I could tell my Grandma, I’m sorry. Because there’s so many times that she’s put food in my face. I’ll go back to like 2001 My grandma’s house. I would stay there for like, as long as I could.
A: Well It was so nice getting to hear your perspective because you only see what you are on the internet, but you’re so in-depth. So being able to hear you speak about it is enlightening, even for me. As a photographer, it still relates, but I’m excited for you. I’m excited. I feel like you’re gonna accomplish so many of the things that we just spoke about now, but you’re gonna evolve into something bigger and greater.
S: Thank you! Thank you for everything and the opportunity.