Rome Fortune: Life in the Prism
Words by Jon Tanners

“You shouldn’t let a region define what your sound is. If it’s authentic, that’s your sound…Staying in a realm is so safe. I’ll do electronic—shit, I’ll do country. It’s all about learning—properly learning how it’s done—not jumping into it blindly. And then, once you learn how it goes, you run with it. A lot of people aren’t daring to. You can exist in multiple worlds.”

-Rome Fortune

•••

The Internet was supposed to make a meritocracy of creation. The great gift of widely available new tools: the creation of a level playing field. Local legends, bedroom rappers, and aspiring producers all could have their day in the sun if they were good enough. Finally, we'd be freed of the tyranny of those old corporate bedfellows, major labels and terrestrial radio.

Instead, a doubling-down on blockbuster philosophy, consolidation of power by new services (YouTube, Soundcloud, Spotify, iTunes), and major labels sinking old claws into budding distribution channels (hello, VEVO; hi again, Soundcloud). The brave new world resembles the broken old one, increased noise masquerading as choice and fewer trusted filters parsing the madness.

The Internet's real gift to the creator was the flattening of history, the 24/7 buffet of information for inquisitive spirits (with means) seeking knowledge and inspiration. It is a dizzying tool, but one that can provide great depth and exciting serendipity in far-flung connections.

At a time when Spotify makes much of recorded music history available at the click of a mouse (and YouTube usually covers what Spotify does not or cannot), and sensory overload festivals like Governor’s Ball, Outside Lands, and Coachella mirror expanding tastes with eclectic line-ups, artists like Atlanta’s Rome Fortune become mouthpieces of shifting paradigms in our conceptions of music and culture at large.

Rome is a prism, a morphing translator of incongruous collisions.

“Everybody’s listening to everything now, kids who listen to rap don’t just listen to rap now,” Rome notes. “You don’t have to be super preachy with them. You have to be smooth. You have to think it about if someone who was in trouble was next to you, how you would talk to them. You wouldn’t come at them with corny quotes; you’d give them that real and help them feel better. You can’t be preachy.”

Rome Fortune is rap’s response to the modern condition.

•••

When I first meet Rome—months before speaking to him for this piece, before this piece was even conceived—three things strike me.

His fashion.

Rome dresses, in our encounters, like he should be in a band touring with Death Grips or HO99O9. His is the sort of effortless, edgy style that would make most admiring onlookers and would-be imitators into ridiculous posers were they to step into his silhouette. When I run into him at a venue some days after we first meet, he’s wearing white jeans, torn to shreds, an open black leather vest with no shirt on, and a bandana. Even by Los Angeles’ loose and varied standards, he is a sight—especially on Wilshire Boulevard, outside the El Rey Theatre the night XXL celebrates half of its freshman cover.

There is no artifice to Rome’s fashion, neither a scenester’s attempt to fit in nor a haphazard shot at individuality.

“Like everything else, it’s just me. I don’t even have the most expansive knowledge on fashion; I know what I like and I get it and I put it together…I don’t want to look like anybody else…I like how people from Taiwan dress. People in South Africa be gettin’ funky. France, New York, country people down in the swamps—anything that I like, I add to my pot and throw my own little thing on it.”

In its way, Rome’s fashion speaks to the same fanciful composed chaos of Young Thug’s outfits—it is the free association Atlanta allows and tenuously embraces.

How soft-spoken he is.

Rome’s physical presence—he stands roughly 6’3”, his front teeth are crooked, and, again, he dresses like the lead singer of a hardcore band—belies a thoughtful, measured, and mellow approach to conversation.

When we speak on the phone, I have to restrain myself from babbling to fill silences (I was once told awkward silence is where the best answers are born). I fear I’m being rude and stifling Rome.

How nice he is.

With labels and publishers offering him deals, high-profile rappers tapping him to write for them, producers as varied and successful as Bassnectar, Four Tet, Dun Deal, FKi, Childish Major, and Blood Diamonds clamoring to work with him, a wide array of touring opportunities, and no shortage of online love, it would be easy to imagine Rome as a rising star with a head inflated before fully due.

No such thing.

A general—for lack of a better word—niceness seems to underlie everything, quietly binding the pieces of his disparate existence. Rome is even-keeled, confident in a constant motion that doesn’t demand bragging.

•••

Rome is 25-years-old.

At 25, he exists on the fault line between digital natives and tourists, those born into the golden era and those who only heard about it, those who simply wore clothes while rapping and “fashion rappers.” As a young adult on the cusp, his first brushes with music seem fairly traditional:

“When I was a young’un, my mom listened to everything from Erykah Badu, to A Tribe Called Quest, to Zapp, to Sade, Teena Marie, Rick James—she put me on to so much…All my family’s from up north, I’m the only one from Atlanta. They were all onto Wu Tang. With my grandfather, it was all jazz, a lot of instrumentation and sophistication, and my grandmother it was soul—Luther Vandross and stuff like that. She never had the radio off in her crib, always on 24/7. When she’s not at home, when she is at home, when everybody’s asleep, when everybody wakes up. So there was always music around me.”

His introduction to electronic music came from a series of Heroes x Villains shows in Atlanta. He quickly saw the potential of a genre that “lacked human connection” and led to him working with a diverse group of talented artists.

Rome is a cultural omnivore with no fixed root save for an Atlanta hub that remains so by dint of upbringing and his two young children.

He is nomadic, renting AirBnB’s with his equally adventurous manager Mike Boyd, performing, recording, and collecting experiences and ideas in his constant travels.

He pulls fashion influence from the Internet, draws musical inspiration from festival observations, and combines seemingly incompatible parts in ways second-nature to a child of the Internet era’s dazzling, infinite possibilities.

The playing field hasn’t been flattened, but the plane on which incongruous, far-flung things exist is now two dimensional, allowing Rome Fortune to work with Bassnectar and Young Thug separately while dressing like a member of Black Flag and claiming all manner of roots. He is the odd hybrid creature on the border between generations, an appreciator of the past making the most of the present.

Rome—alongside a cast of characters that, perhaps not coincidentally, largely comprises Atlanta residents and artists in their late teens—sits near the head of a class of young creators melting the once rigid boundaries between genres, making the job of easy classification and, in turn, questions of radio format and “proper” audience complicated to the point of being laughable.

Rome, Raury, Daye Jack, GoldLink, Vic Mensa, Kevin Abstract, Pell, ILoveMakonnen, even, in their ways, Young Thug and Future—to name but a forward-thinking few—each keep hip-hop at the core of their DNA while exploring sounds, styles, and ideas foreign to hip-hop in its comparatively conservative late 90s commercial peak (though it’s hard to call an era that made hits of Busta Rhymes and Missy Elliott’s oddball singles wholly conservative). Unbridled creators, they see connection where past generations saw clear walls or nothing at all.

Befitting an era of such openness and ambiguity, Rome is still nascent, still forming and figuring out which of the potential paths his craft and life should follow as splintering synapses fire in all directions. Soft-spoken, but hardly introverted (particularly on record), creative, open-minded, and hedonistic, Rome ripples with the whirling contradiction of a necessarily confounded generation—one for which profound possibility and impossible fright lie along an invisible razor’s edge. Rome is neither savior nor messenger. His art is curiously pragmatic, a series of sieves for experiencing our fragmented world.

“I have different styles, different variations of myself, but they’re all myself. So I can play a show that has depth, and has a storyline, and can make you get hype and then make you feel down—have a journey—and then I can just have you partying all night…A lot of artists feel as if, ‘oh, I’m from Atlanta, I have to do this sound because I’m from Atlanta.’ You shouldn’t let a region define what your sound is. If it’s authentic, that’s your sound.”

Rome is the new everyman hero: inspired daily by the infinite, dealing with a difficult world by forging his own from the pieces he encounters.
Rome Fortune: Life in the Prism
Rome Fortune: Life in the Prism

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