Anaheim-raised rapper Phora hasn't had it easy. The 22-year-old has survived a stabbing, a shooting and has wrestled with thoughts of suicide. But his first album for Warner Bros., the recently released "Yours Truly Forever," isn't solely centered on tales of hard living.
His steadily growing fan base is one that's been built with honest storytelling about depression, love and grappling with religion.
"I feel like all types of music definitely helps people, but music that specifically and especially covers topics such as suicide — and that can be a very touchy topic — but songs that cover suicide, depression, family issues, even abuse, things like that, I feel like that's very important, most of all to make people not feel like they're alone," said Phora, days before the album's Aug. 18 release and fighting back a cough from a just-completed 35-city tour.
Phora's had the same vision since he was 17 years old and working on his first project, "Still a Kid," which was released then on his own label, Yours Truly (the Yours Truly brand has since expanded to include a clothing line).
Initially, he had uncertainties about unleashing such vulnerable music into the world, but fan reaction encouraged him to keep pushing forward. Today, along with artists such as Logic and Kendrick Lamar, Phora is helping to foster a more pensive, thoughtful take on hip-hop.
"Having a positive message is very important because it's just so rare nowadays," Phora said. "I feel like not only as artists, but as human beings, you have a responsibility as a human being to treat people right and put positive energy out there into the world.
"I feel like that's my job," he continued. "My job's not even to really be a rapper and make music. My job as a human being is first to put positive energy out into the world and be a good person to people whether they're good to me or not."
Recently, Phoroa wrote at length on Instagram in regards to the two-year anniversary of an apparent random incident, a shooting in which he was hit in his back and neck while in a car with his significant other."I still try and look for the light in a world that can be so dark," he posted.
Before fully committing to music and hip-hop, Phora was forced to grow up fast. At the age of 15, he says he was the victim of another seemingly random incident, a stabbing. He later dropped out of school and turned his skills as a graffiti artist into tattooing.
"Tattoos was just kinda like my gateway to becoming what I really wanted to become and that's an artist and all the music that I'm putting out right now," he said. "But I feel like tattoos — I love the art — but with tattoos, I'm telling someone else's story. Even though it's my art, I'm kinda still telling someone else's story. I wanted to tell my story."
Warner Bros. Records Vice President of A&R Eesean Bolden heard Phora's name in passing, and later noticed some of his Yours Truly clothing being worn by teens around the city. Some of the designs hold evidence of Phora's tattoo work with scrawling letters and detailed roses.
"It becomes more amazing when you realize it's his real life," he said of Phora, emphasizing that the artist stands apart from much of the high-energy music that dominates the pop landscape. "Then it becomes interesting. You're living this grown up story, but you're still a kid."
"Yours Truly Forever" invites listeners on an emotional journey. A song such as "Sinner, Pt 2," the sequel to Phora's 2016 song "Sinner," tackles topics of loneliness and substance abuse. The cut took the rapper, born Marco Archer, a few years to craft.
"It's difficult to release because I don't know what people are gonna say. I'm saying some kinda deep and dark stuff," he said.
The album opener, "God," begins with a roll of thunder, a sonic allusion to Phora's last album, "With Love." Phora explained that the track is meant to paint a stormy picture, transitioning from the stories on the last LP to the new one. On the song, he raps, "I've been unfaithful, God ... I went as far as saying I hate you, God."
"His story's not fake," said George Orozco, one of Phora's closest friends. Orozco has directed nearly every one of Phora's videos since they first connected via social media in the early 2010s.
"He had a bad hand given to him, but throughout it all, he made that negative energy and converted it to positive energy," Orozco said. "[Fans] see themselves in him."
During a recent sold-out concert at the Novo, Helen Gomez, 17, one of the approximately 2,000 fans in attendance at the album-release show, sported a Yours Truly shirt that said "blessed" on the front.
"He talks about struggles that go on with people like us," she said. "He talks about real stuff, not just girls and cars."
Yonic Gomez, 23, appreciates Phora's relatable persona. Gomez pointed to "Move Too Fast" — a song about love lost — as a tune that resonated with him.
"It's music you can feel," he said.
Warner Bros.' Bolden believes that Phora is on a similar path to success as J. Cole, a fellow introspective artist who rose to stardom in 2011 after a series of mix-tapes. The exec cites the success of "Yours Truly Forever" — it appeared at the top of the iTunes charts upon its release and debuted at No. 44 on Billboard's top-200 album chart — as early milestones.
"It's amazing," he said. "You gotta understand no co-signs [from major artists], no big features, it's just him and his fans. In a year or two, Phora's going to be a household name."
For Phora, the work won't stop there.