We had the opportunity to sit down with Bronx native Denzil Porter right after he finished his most recent album The Semantics of Mr. Porter. Denzil opened for D.R.A.M. last week in eastern Pennsylvania, and has been called “a force to be reckoned with in the world of hip hop.”
Hailing from North Bronx, NY, Denzil Porter is definitely a force to be reckoned with. Denzil Porter sounds like an artist fresh out of the golden era of hip hop. Adding substance to his witty lyrics, catchy hooks, quotes, and highly charismatic performances. What Denzil aims to achieve with his music is to allow its listeners to be inspired and to uplift them and others around them. Denzil may not be your typical conscientious rapper, he derives his lyrics from his experiences and allows his actions to tell his story rather than his words. The music captivates the mind and takes you into the world he envisions and you’ll always leave with.
Watch the interview in full or read the full transcript below.
Could you tell me a little bit about growing up in the Bronx and how that helped you decide you wanted to pursue music?
Growing up in the Bronx is definitely a huge part of influencing what I do because the stories, everything we go through, from the good to the bad, from the crimes to the jobs. Everything, just you know, the struggles in the Bronx and the good times in the Bronx make these stories that help me write. I’m a storyteller, so that’s what I do best. It goes hand in hand.
How did you get started establishing yourself? When did you know you wanted to become a musician?
I’ve been making music since I was in third grade. Since I learned how to rhyme, basically. Around high school, I started getting into the battle and stuff like that. I started to get more competitive. I built a studio inside my room, and from there, it was, “Okay this is what I’m going to do – all the way.” I started looking into maybe even going to school for engineering and stuff like that. So probably around 15 or 16 was when I decided, “This is it.”
Did you always preform under the name ‘Denzil Porter’?
Nah. I had another name. I used to go by ‘Young Flame’ back in high school. It was the name given to me on my block … because I was young, and a hot boy, all that stuff.
Then, I did a record called “Intuition”, and the song was so mature, I decided I need to use a more mature name. I was listening to guys like Common and Lupe Fiasco, and these guys – they had these names. I felt I needed to make a change to reflect my sound. So, the name was right under my nose! I’d use my real name: Denzil Porter.
It resonated with people a little bit better instead of my previous name, especially with the music I make, which is a little more mature than I used to.
Do you do less of the competition based stuff now that you feel your music is more mature, or do you still do a lot of that?
I don’t know. If it comes my way, yeah, I’ll do it. That’s how hip hop is – it’s how we grew up. In the Bronx, that’s a huge thing too. Growing up in high school, you would get into a battle just sitting anywhere. You could just be riding the train, listening to your music, and someone’d go, “Hey, you rap?” “Yeah.” “Alright, let’s do it.” The competition is second nature.
Is that how you write your songs you plan on recording, too? Do you start with the lyrics then come up the music?
No, I have to get inspired by something. Something that’s going on in my life. My most recent project that I’ve been working on is so special to me because I felt like I reached inside myself for inspiration. This is a very dope thing because usually we reach outside for inspiration – something happening on the streets, we’d usually be inspired by that. But this particular project is from inside of me.
Tell me a little bit more about your next project. What’s it called?
The project that’s coming out next is called Semantics of Mr. Porter, and I just finished it yesterday. I don’t want to give a description but it is touching, and more of me. My project Porter‘s pot, homemade music – those were compilation kind of things. So you could see different styles, and what I could do as an artist. Just showing off my potential. This project is more talking from what I’m going through, what I went through, you get to hear about stuff like relationship issues, my daughter, personal stuff like that.
What things other than rap do you pursue? Or, do you focus mostly on music?
I kinda have to focus on music. It’s like I’m addicted. It’s really what I do. Other than rap, you can catch me engineering. It’s all song, it’s all music, it’s everything I do.
I ask because, when I was looking you up online, I found this shirt design that you sell. Can you tell me a little bit more about that?
laughs What do you need to know?
Did you come up with that?
Yeah, I definitely did. Being a smoker, which I am, you hear this a lot: “Yo man, all my clothes just smell like weed.” So, we hope our weed don’t smell like clothes because then you know it ain’t good weed. So that’s what inspired this.
What’s interesting about this is, on my first tour, I had merchandise for myself, but it was just names and stuff. It wasn’t really pushing. On tour I was talking to my homeboy Skywriter from Arizona, and he told me, “You can’t be a new artist and expect people to be a billboard for you. You have to have something creative.” So that’s when this came up. I had it shipped to me. We were running short (on money) on tour because it was independent. This kinda brought us home. Shouts to the weed smokers all over America, from here to Arizona.
Can you tell me a little bit about what you like about performing? What your favorite part about performing is?
Performing is everything. I think what I come from is performing. The first time I wrote a rhyme – it was like, 3 or 4 of us, in third grade, like I said earlier. We said, “Yo, tomorrow, we’re gunna meet up in the park. We’re gunna rap right here.” That’s performing, right there. Performing is everything, from the lunch room table to the stage. You can write a dope song, but how do you deliver? That’s everything for me.
My favorite part about performing is actually interacting with the people: seeing their faces, how they resonate with the new songs. That’s one thing I like to do – I like to do a fresh song when I’m on stage, just to see if it works, before I even put it out. So there’s some people out there who have heard songs, partied to these songs, enjoyed these songs, thrown their friends up into the air to these songs that haven’t even reached the world yet, just because I use a performance to test the record, to test my sound.
Do you ever run into a moment where people aren’t really resonating with a song?
Of course, but it’s really performance. As an MC, it’s all about how you manipulate. Man, I don’t even remember my last bad performance. From a crowd of five to a crowd of 5,000, I don’t really remember it, because I just know what to do at this point. The MC – if the crowd is ‘ehhh’, I’m not going to perform to the crowd that’s ‘ehhh’ the whole night. I’m going to work to change that mood. I’m not going to fight with the crowd, I’m going to work with the crowd. As an MC, yeah, I don’t remember the last time I didn’t resonate…
Tell me a little bit about Team Backpack. I know you recently rap battled with Illmaculate.
Team Backpack is a platform that should be greatly appreciated. When I was introduced to Team Backpack, lyricism wasn’t really getting the attention that it deserved. Hip hop lyricism is what it is. We have to have lyrics, we have to teach. We have to show people what’s going on. Punchlines and wordsmiths – certain techniques just weren’t getting recognized on a mainstream level.
Team Backpack is a platform, mainly on the internet, which is now kinda mainstream, that focused on the technique, the style, what we as hip hop artists have been working on since we were 8 years old. It focused on trying to be the best. That was the platform for that. When I was introduced, I definitely fit right in. It’s very competitive. It’s a cypher. We’re not battling each other. We’re trying to show off. We’re trying to show who’s better.
There’s a difference between battle rap and cypher. Battle rap is very amazing too, but I’m directing lines at you, they’re just for you. With a cypher, I could direct these lines at everybody; I could direct it at the government; I could direct it at the people; I could direct it at myself. There’s a Team Backpack OCD: That’s me, Chris Rivers, and Oswin Benjamin where we were battling each other after doing a cypher with each other. Team Backpack is a platform for real lyricists.
Are there any up and coming rappers and artists that you’re listening to right now that you really enjoy?
Yeah, Oswin Benjamin and Chris Rivers. Yeah, Connie Diiamond. I’m listening to a lot of up and coming rappers. Who I’m vibing to right now? Or I’m getting ready for? OCD because we have a project coming out soon and it’s going to be crazy.
What do you look for in an artist? What makes you say ‘Oh, yeah, that guy’s good?”
Just like every artist – if you hear something that somebody’s doing that makes you say ‘Oh, why didn’t I think of that?” or “Can I do that?” That’s when it hits you. So Chris and Oswin and I have these ups on each other that make us wanna get better. That’s why I’m resonating with them at the moment.
You told me you just finished your new project, so where do you hope to take your career now? What’s the dream?
The sky has no limits. I don’t even know how to answer that. There’s always that next level, which is where I’m trying to be. I don’t know if it’s mainstream, but I really want to go on the road. I really want to take everything I’m doing here in New York on the road, from place to place, just to show the world. That’s where I wanna go.