When I spoke to Westside Gunn, he said you appealed to him because your music gave him a ’90s feel. How do you feel about that perception of your music?
Honestly, that’s good. That’s what I’m inspired by. My favorite era of hip-hop is the golden era of the ’90s, like ’98, ’97, and shit, even times before that. That’s the rap that I love listening to. That’s how I was rapping when I first started to rap. I feel like that shit is master-level rap. And coming from New York, this is our shit. Coming up, I remember we used to go to 42nd Street, and if you looked anywhere, you’d see a group of people and they’d just be rapping. Them motherfuckers is not doing no sing-songy melodies or none of that shit. Them niggas is spitting and kicking bars. At the end of the day, I always admired that style of rapping, so once I started rapping, that’s how I knew how to rap. Other styles are cool, yeah, but I’m representing my region. This is how I’ve been doing shit.
When you came back to New York, you said you felt like you didn’t have the people in your corner, career-wise, that you had in London. How hard was it trying to make your name in New York? What kept you focused on your goals during that time?
It was much harder, because when you’re from New York, everybody raps, so you have to know somebody that’s in the mix. At that time, I didn’t really know anybody. The way you get on is meeting a rapper or running into somebody who’s popping, then you spit your shit for them, or you get on a SMACK DVD, or you might battle a couple of people, and your name starts ringing, and you make that transition. So that’s what I was on, that’s how I was trying to run it, just fucking with niggas like that.
It wasn’t really hard, because once you know where rap is going on, it’s easier. At first, I didn’t know anything. As I got older and shit, I started finding out about parties and open mics, and that’s what I was on. But one thing that kept me focused was the fact that I was good. No matter where I went to go rap, I was always the best one there, so it’s like, “Aight, there’s no reason for me to stop. Keep going.”
The thing is, though, through this time, I wasn’t always focused. There were a lot of things that knocked me off of my square. I was going to jail and getting locked up. I was going through a lot of things, so there were a lot of ups and downs that came with this shit. But me knowing I was good kept me focused even through all of that. Even when I was in jail, I was always writing rhymes. I was battling motherfuckers. I was promoting myself. I was telling motherfuckers, “Yo, when I come home, this is what I’m going to be on.”
Even though I was still running in the streets, I was always doing music. I never really lost focus. Music just wasn’t always at the forefront until I realized that I could make a bag off it. Once I started making money off this shit, that’s when it became bigger, and it’s only been a couple of years. It hasn’t been the whole time. I always wanted to rap. I was always rapping, but I was just fucking up.
I read a Spin article that said you would make friends throughout the city in cyphers and battles. Can you talk about that time?
That passage was spanning a whole lifetime right there. When I was a kid—I’d say like four or five years old—my cousin is from Lefrak, so I would always be there. My mom was always at work, so my aunt used to babysit, and my cousin is five years older than me, so he’s the one that put me on to rap. Later on in life, as we both got older, that’s when CNN came out, Capone-N-Noreaga. My cousin used to be at Noreaga’s crib, so that was just a thing. It wasn’t like I met Noreaga, no. But I started listening to rap over there as a child. As I got older, going to the downtown Manhattan scene and running around Harlem and shit, that’s how I started to make friends, as far as people knowing I rapped. But I still wasn’t meeting any industry people when I was running around in the streets.
I would just start rapping with these niggas in Harlem, and we’d get cool. They weren’t necessarily famous, but they were people I was acquainted with who know what I do on the music side. I started to know mad people around the city because I lived in so many different areas. That’s why you can read a bunch of different articles that say, “Rome from here, Rome from there,” because I’ve lived in so many fucking places. So I might do an interview back in the day, like, “Yo, where do you live?” and I’ll be like, “I live in Queens. I’ve lived here for mad years.” So when you read that article, they write, “Rome is from Queens,” but then the last 10 years, I’ve been living in Brooklyn. That’s where my music started to really bubble at, so when people ask, “Yo Rome, where you from?” I’d say Brooklyn, but then I know people from all over the place, and it just ties into the whole “Rome Streetz” name. It’s everything. It’s how my life is.