When I ask 645AR what his favorite cartoon is he chuckles in a rich baritone before giving a quick answer: “Either Elmo or The Boondocks.” The Bronx rapper’s choice is fitting, considering his vocal style sounds ripped from the pages of an Aaron McGruder script penned immediately after a marathon listening session of Playboi Carti leaks. Songs like “Crack” and “Bible & A K” have spawned confusion and jokes across social media since last year and his latest single, “4 Da Trap,” is no exception. “Niggas said 645AR make music only dogs can hear,” one Twitter user quipped.
Born in The Bronx, the 22-year-old artist grew up listening to G-Unit and T.I. before moving down south at 11 years old. His family moved from Florida to Atlanta, where he would often stay with friends JayWitDaBeam and Slimesito. As early as 2016, Jay’s connections would start to bring bigger names into their orbit: Lil Yachty, freshly minted off the success of his debut mixtape Lil Boat, was one of their earliest guests.
As influencers began to come around more often, AR began to take music seriously. “It got to the point where all my friends was rapping and I just really didn't like the shit that they was making,” he elaborates. “I was like, ‘Alright, I'm going to try music that I would listen to,’ and then it was just that from there, for real.” It wasn’t until 2018 that AR would stumble across the sound that would change his life forever, which he affectionately dubs “the squeak.” A studio session goof-off yielded a sound he wasn’t keen to give up. Before he knew it, enough songs for a mixtape—his self-titled project from last September—materialized.
The self-titled tape is an easy listen, light and airy beats with AR slipping into and out of his many different voices like different outfits at a party. It’s the work of an artist still coming into their sound. His latest single “4 Da Trap” is a piano-driven street rap ballad, complete with struggle (“I remember those days, I ain’t have no racks”) and gun bars (“Hammer on me, and these niggas be nails”) to match. His voice may align more with Animal Crossing’s K.K. Slider than 50 Cent, but his music is deeper than just incoherent mumbling. “I actually take time and sit with my thought process and figure out what I wanna say on each song and how I want it to compliment the melody and shit,” he explains.
The decade is young, but 645AR intends to keep his growth consistent. His next project, titled 645AR&B, is slated to drop in late February. On the surface, his melody-first style may come across as gimmicky, a gonzo attempt to mutate a musical wave through sheer force of will. After all, the culture’s tastes change with the seasons. Standing out from the crowd is harder than ever, so being distinctive in any way is an edge. But as 645AR explained to me, his squeaking is no gimmick. The squeak stems from a genuine interest in the craft, one he hopes people are willing to sniff out. “People was cracking jokes because of my voice but it was also people saying they really feel that shit,” he tells me over the phone. “It’s been a lot of hate but nobody’s gonna stop me now.”
Where did your name come from?
Man, 645 is for the building I grew up in in The Bronx. Jackson Ave, 645. The AR is for my government name, which I can’t tell you.
What’s your favorite cartoon of all time?
It's really The Boondocks. I just grew up on The Boondocks. Just how funny it was and how so ahead of time they was, and you know, it was really doing skits of real events that was going on, so it was just funny for real.
When did you first fall in love with music?
Growing up, because I really grew up out here. I was growing up around the 50 Cent era, you feel me, when 50 Cent was going crazy in the clubs with The Massacre and shit, so growing up I wanted to be like 50, for real. I just wanted to do little things like... acting crazy and shit. I was real influenced by that gangster image. Then I had moved to Atlanta and then it was like TI started growing on me, you know? That's the era I was growing up in.
When did you first feel the spark to make music?
I was doing a lot of back and forth between New York and Atlanta, so I was really playing ball and that shit just ain't worked out for real, I really thought I was going to the NBA, that shit ain't work. Nah, I'm bullshitting, I knew I wasn't going to the NBA, so that's why I just stopped playing basketball and shit, I just didn't see it working out for me for real, for real, so shit, I was just like, I don't know. I had moved back to Atlanta because I was staying out here in New York. I was in a whole different environment. When I was out here in New York, it was around that time that Bobby Shmurda had just got locked up, then I moved to Atlanta.
I was living with my boy JWitDaBeam at the time in the A and it was just a lot of influencers in there on a daily basis. Jay had knew K$upreme and he would slide with [Lil Yachty] and Ian Connor and other fashion influencers and producers like SenseiATL. My boy Slimesito was there, too. So just being around that shit started having an influence. It got to the point where all my friends was rapping and I just really didn't like the shit that they was making. I was like, "Alright, I'm going to try music that I would listen to," and then it was just that from there, for real.
I’ve gotta ask—how’d you come across the idea for your voice?
Man, so shit. I want to say I started squeaking around the end of 2018. I was deadass in the studio just playing around. I was like, “Shit, I’m tryna make a commercial track.” We wound up keeping the reference track. As soon as I finished the song, my man Tony Shhnow was like “You not deadass.” I was dead serious, bro. He was like “I’m not hopping on this shit.” I kept asking and he kept telling me no. The joint eventually became our song “Crack.” That was the first high-pitched shit that started getting buzz in the city. I was like, "I want the money and I don't need to say no cuss words." I didn't even curse in the song, and then it just started going crazy. It went even crazier when we dropped the video six months later. Everyone thought it was a gimmick.
Is it your actual voice? No AutoTune or editing or anything?
Yeah, that's actually my voice. It's raw. There's no pitch correcting, none of that.
You dropped a self-titled tape this past September and quite a few of those songs don’t utilize the squeak. How do you judge which songs require which voice?
I just make a lot of songs throughout on any given day, for real. Some days, I might make some melodic R&B-ass shit with some AutoTune on it. Sometimes, I make some raw grimy street shit, some hard shit. I sometimes make songs in my regular voice and even switch it up mid-song. I just be choosing songs depending on my mood.
You seem serious about your craft. Are you having fun making this kind of music?
I was doing the squeaky, breathy shit for like a year before I started working on the self-titled [project]. I worked on that project for maybe two or three months. There were a couple songs on there I fucked with, but then I got to the point where I had made something digestible that folks would really eat up. When I’m recording like this, I’m using my voice as an instrument, for real. I wanted to do something that took me to the next step.
Your next step came when you dropped “4 Da Trap” last week, which leans into that melody you were talking about. What’s the next step after that?
I’m finna drop 645AR&B in late February. That’s the R&B project.
Folks couldn’t understand what I was saying. People go crazy off of stuff they can’t understand.
You’re not wasting a single moment.
I’m just now starting to get folks hip to my sound. “One Way” was the first AutoTune'd shit I started to push; I dropped that the week before and it did okay. Then I dropped “4 Da Trap” and it went crazy. Folks couldn’t understand what I was saying. People go crazy off of stuff they can’t understand.
Do lyrics matter to you?
It do matter what you’re saying because people just be saying a lot of bullshit. I actually take time and sit with my thought process and figure out what I wanna say on each song and how I want it to compliment the melody and shit.
What’s the one song you’d point people toward if they wanna hear you on some real shit?
People was listening to “4 Da Trap,” but they barely heard what I was saying. I was talking some real street shit, like how to get out, for real. I’m really tryna preach. People was cracking jokes because of my voice but it was also people saying they really feel that shit, and just the shit that I'm saying. People could really relate to it. They be saying it'd be way harder if I did my regular voice. I'm using my voice as an instrument, I'm not just rapping. My voice may be funny, but once they catch on, they get hooked.
So you’ve been paying attention to the reactions people are having to your music online?
I’ve definitely been paying attention. A lot of people they just don't like it at first, they're like, "Okay, blah, blah, blah, it's a joke, it's like a gimmick, boom, it's not for real." But then they're like, "I keep seeing his name. I keep saying his name. There's something about it." So then they listen again. They listen a couple more times. Now they understand what I'm saying because now they've actually been listening. Now they're like, "Okay, he's really spitting, but he's just doing a high-pitched voice," so now it's just a matter of time until they get used to the high-pitched voice, and it's all back to that.
Aside from 645AR&B, what’s next for you?
I don't really dial in on negatives, man, you know. I try to stay positive at all times. I think I’m gonna leave an impact on the rap game. It’s been a lot of hate but nobody’s gonna stop me now.