Every successful artist has that one song in their back catalog that’s a game changer. That song for Armani White was “BILLIE EILISH.,” his 2022 release that pays homage to Billie Eilish’s personal style and samples N.O.R.E.’s Neptunes-produced classic single “Nothin’.”
Doing the rounds on TikTok, the track proved to be a global smash outside of the platform, going quadruple platinum in Australia, platinum in Canada, and gold in the States. Thanks to the rush of success, major labels wanted in and came knocking on White’s door, hoping he would join their roster. In July, he made the decision to sign with the legendary Def Jam, the home to Big Sean, Justin Bieber, Stormzy, and Jhene Aiko, and has never looked back.
While he might be in the middle of what is considered his musical breakthrough, the West Philly-born rapper, however, is no spring chicken and has been doing the groundwork for some time now. Before appearing on the charts, White served as an independent artist and self-released his debut album, Keep in Touch, in 2019 before dropping his first EP, Things We Lost In The Fire, in 2021.
Fast forward a couple of years and White is now promoting his second EP, Road to CASABLANCO., as a major label artist with a promising future. The said project features collaborations with a number of rap giants, including Ludacris, Busta Rhymes, and N.O.R.E., who appear on the “BILLIE EILISH LEGENDS MIX.” Other noteworthy names include A$AP Ferg, Denzel Curry, Fridayy, and Fivio Foreign.
During a Zoom call chat with EUPHORIA., the 26-year-old discussed the new EP, signing a deal with Def Jam, early material, his upcoming album, and a whole lot more.
You have released your new EP, Road to CASABLANCO. How have you felt about the reception of it?
It’s been great. Honestly, I’ve never seen my face on this many billboards at once. It’s been a well-rounded reception. And even the conversations, people have been saying, ‘Yo, this should have been the album.’ And I’m like, ‘Nah, nah, nah.’ The goal of this project was to really just kind of introduce people and walk ’em into the world of Casablaco, so by the time we get ready for the album, they already know what this is, what to expect, and what to be excited about. I think we did a really good job at doing that.
You self-released your debut album, Keep in Touch, in 2019. How do you feel your music has evolved since then?
I think I’ve gotten a little bit more comfortable with being myself. I think I’ve gotten a little bit more comfortable with stepping away from the competition side of it and just having fun. If you’re around me, I’m just a fun person to be around. Like, I’m just goofy as hell. I make a bunch of weird noises and do weird shit all the time. It became a little more natural to add that side of my music, you know, as opposed to just thinking about it as if I have to make the best song ever, every time.
How do you look back on that material now? Is that a period where you think you were still experimenting with your sound?
No, I think it was healthy. I think it was really necessary. I still love that music. I think I used my personality and music to stretch the means of what I could do as a hip-hop artist and still be classified as a hip-hop artist. At the time, I was trying to mesh rock, I was trying to mesh gospel, I was trying to mesh soul music, and all of these different elements into rap. I think I did a really good job at it.
After your breakthrough single, “BILLIE EILISH.” blew up, you signed with Def Jam. What was it about that deal that felt so right?
I had a conversation with literally every label in the music industry, but with Def Jam, it wasn’t really about one song. It was about the artist project. It was about the entire, ‘What do you want your career to look like?’ And when I said, ‘I want to be the biggest fucking thing in the world!’ [laughs], Def Jam met me in the middle of the paperwork, and they just met me in the middle as far as the work ethic. And also, “BILLIE EILISH.” started off as a really big thing that I was able to pull together. But, they helped it grow to be a worldwide record, you know, like a worldwide hit. Hopefully, in 10 years, we can call it a generational hit, but yeah.
Does signing a major label deal after securing a huge hit add any pressure at all?
I wouldn’t say much pressure. It allowed me to think about creating music to a different degree. You kind of have to do things a little bit differently, you have to release things a little bit differently. You have to structure a plan and just put together a strategy. But it’s not so much, I wouldn’t say pressure. I was really excited to walk into the building and obviously, the legacy that Def Jam has but not only just the legacy but to be a part of the new regime that started. I was really excited to be a part of this and now be one of the people that’s being championed and spearheading this new regime.
Was the plan to always sign to a major label further down the line at some point?
Before signing to a label, my thought process was really just like, I wouldn’t say I was anti-label, but I prioritized ownership. I prioritized being in charge of your destination and your dreams and things like that. I definitely understood that I was able to structure a deal that made sense for what I was prioritizing. But yeah, for a while I was really just like, I wanna stay independent and I want to see how far I can go with it independently. At some point, you have to decide whether it be a major label or formulate some form of a partnership. I was doing everything by myself. I was managing myself, I was my own pr, and I was my own booking agent. I was doing everything.
“BILLIE EILISH.” earned you a few plaques. Where are you keeping them right now?
I’ve got a couple, especially my baby goldie, she’s sitting in my room right now. I just got a new place, so I haven’t hung it up yet. I’ve probably lived there for four months now and I’ve only been there maybe like 15 total days. I haven’t fully finished decorating, but I’m gonna make a collage across the whole wall, just of all the gold and platinum records, all of ’em.
What’s been the biggest change in your life since your music started to blow up?
I think friendships got real weird, friendships definitely got weird. Going outside, I gotta wear these panty holes across my face so people don’t recognize me [laughs]. I mean, me as a person, ain’t too much changed about me. I’m still the same person. I still eat apple sauce with my cereal instead of milk. I prioritize pretzels over actual dinner. I ain’t really changed, but the friendship circle has definitely changed a lot. Just like the way I have to move around in the world changed a little bit.
I see that TMZ is now approaching you in the street. I guess you’ve made it once that starts to happen.
Absolutely. They ran up, I didn’t even know it was them. I just saw somebody running with a camera and I was like, ‘Ok!’ [laughs].
On this EP, you have worked with many rap giants, especially for the remix of “BILLIE EILISH.,” which features Busta Rhymes, Ludacris, and N.O.R.E., who you sampled. How did that all come about?
I think the label had a big hand in it. It was a personal win for me. Busta and Luda were people I grew up watching. N.O.R.E., that record was just super big to me growing up. I think a big piece of it was me and N.O.R.E. doing the BET Hip-Hop Awards together. And after that, that’s when it all just kind of all started coming to fruition. I met Busa a long time ago. Busta sang me every birthday in 2018. Everything after that was just like, we were on tour and I started to get texts from my A&R team sending me the verses as they were coming in. I’m like, ‘Nah, ain’t no way we got Busta, we got Luda.’
What are you hoping listeners will take away from the EP after listening to it?
The goal with the EP was really to give a peek into the world of Casablanco and for them to follow me on this journey. For the people who have been around before this, I want them to be walking through this transitional phase with me. Like going from an underground artist that people know about, but they don’t want to tell their friends because they don’t want ’em to blow up and get too big. I want them to follow me through that transition of becoming a worldwide talent, a worldwide star that everybody knows. Also, I wanted this record to showcase me just being vulnerable and becoming human. I think that the biggest goal for the project was becoming human again and not becoming a song, not becoming an artist, but just becoming human.
You hinted at a second album at the beginning of our chat. Is that something you are already mapping out and working on?
Yes, sir. We started before we dropped this one, you know what I mean? The Road to CASABLANCO. is the teaser to Casablanco, the actual album.
Is the plan for it to come out this year?
It will be out this year. We ain’t got to hope about it.