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Rome Streetz is a rapper’s rapper. Recently signed to the powerhouse label Griselda Records, Streetz is one of the hottest names in underground hip-hop thanks to his distinctly gritty delivery and razor-sharp lyrics. Drawing on the classic New York rap style, the Queens-bred rapper has created a unique sound that is far beyond mere ’90s revivalism. His recent collaborators include the likes of producers DJ Muggs, Futurewave, Big Ghost LTD., as well as rappers Ransom and ANKHLEJOHN. Last September, Streetz’s debut Griselda album “Kiss The Ring” was released to critical acclaim, kicking off a multi-city tour and earning the rapper a spot on Rolling Stone’s list of the 25 best hip-hop albums from 2022.
“Kiss The Ring” was executive produced by Griselda Records president and founder Westside Gunn. The project is an unflinching reflection of Rome Streetz’s surroundings. His words paint vivid pictures of the New York City streets he comes from, filled with tales of drug deals, street violence, and the harsh realities of city life.
“The first half of it we did in Arizona,” Rome Streetz said during a sit-down interview inside The Harvard Crimson last month. “I was hyped to be there because it was the first time I was in the studio with Westside Gunn. It wasn’t the first time I did music with him, but every time before was through email. So this time I was like, ‘I'm gonna show you that it's not no fluke, like you're gonna see me do this shit right in front of your face.’”
Streetz described his experience in Arizona as intense, with both artists working for three days straight and making around 12-13 tracks after just the first two days. The second half of the album was recorded by Streetz himself in his own home studio. While Rome Streetz can create music on the spot, he explained that it took him nearly a year to finalize “Kiss The Ring.”
“It was one of those ones where I really took my time for real, even though I do on all my shit, but I knew this one was going to be on the biggest platform I’d been on up to that point,” the rapper said. “I wanted to pull out all the tricks.”
Rome Streetz's influences have evolved over time, but he was initially inspired by mainstream rappers like Ruff Ryders, The LOX, and Jay-Z. As he delved deeper into rap, he discovered underground artists like the late MF DOOM, Dipset, and Wu-Tang Clan. Streetz is often compared, by Westside Gunn and others, to the late Big L. The Griselda rapper wears his formalist tendencies on his sleeve, seamlessly integrating melodic hooks and patterns into his verses. However, his writing is also influenced by non-musical sources, particularly authors like Iceberg Slim, Donald Goines, and James Patterson.
“I like to read and I kind of got that from being locked up because you don't really have nothing else to do but read books,” Streetz said. “Every author has a style, and as a rapper, you have a style because you’re an author. When you read certain books from certain authors, and see how well they put the words together in a phrase or a paragraph, it's like, ‘Imagine if you could do that with a rap.’”
The “Kiss The Ring” album cover features Rome Streetz sporting a diamond-encrusted ring emblazoned with the Griselda Records logo on his middle finger. The rapper shared that “Kiss The Ring” came to him as the title for the project after comparing the work against the rest of his catalog.
“When I’m working on an album, I sometimes won't choose a title until the end,” the rapper said. “At first I didn't really have a super duper thought behind why I put ‘Kiss The Ring’ as the title. But then later on, I started listening to my music, like my older shit and I’m like, ‘Yo, I say that a lot.’ So it became fitting.”
As the album became finalized, Rome Streetz acquired his Griselda Records ring from celebrity jeweler Johnny Dang. The rapper visited Dang’s shop in Houston with Westside Gunn during Griselda’s “Claire’s Back” national tour last summer. The now iconic ring was Gunn’s idea, according to Streetz. “He was like, ‘You can't have your album be called ‘Kiss The Ring’ and not have a ring. We’re gonna put this shit together.’ That's literally how it came about,” the rapper said.
Streetz followed up “Kiss The Ring” with “Wasn’t Built In a Day,” a full-length collaboration with the anonymous producer Big Ghost LTD released at the end of last month. Yet, the rapper shared that he has even more unreleased music in his vault from the “Kiss The Ring” sessions.
“Even though ‘Kiss The Ring’ is what it is, I'm like, ‘Damn, I could do some better shit,’” Streetz added. “Like once I stepped back and sat with it for awhile I was like, ‘Damn, I can do some harder shit.’ So I kept working. The fact that I kept making more songs after that is why I have another whole tape ready.”
This interview took place inside The Harvard Crimson building on Feb. 25. The event included an interview with Rome Streetz and a roundtable discussion with artists that have been recently profiled by The Harvard Crimson including al.divino, 1000word$, Starker, and YL. As a nationally renowned rapper signed to a major record label, Streetz reflected on his career so far and his experience coming to campus.
“I would have never thought I'd be in Harvard based on how I was maneuvering in high school,” Streetz said. “In high school, I was a fuckup. I was always in detention. Like I was smart as hell, but I just never applied myself. So to be here based on rap is amazing.”
—Staff writer Ryan S. Kim can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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