It's not everyday you see 800 kids lined up single file on the sidewalk in Orange in the rain at 7 p.m. on a Saturday night. But if there's one thing we've come to know about rapper Phora's fanbase, it's that the words "Stay True" mean a lot. And not just because it's the title of one of the OC rapper's jams on his latest release Nights Like These, or the freshest tat he's got inked on his knuckles. In an age when rappers boast the power of their social media armies, few local independent emcees can gin up support like the tattooed, Anaheim-bred rhymeslinger. Over the weekend, his real-life army showed up outside Pachuco Tattoo on Tustin St. for a packed meet-and-greet that spilled out from the steamy, cluttered hallway of the shop's building and stretched around the block.
"That's what having a solid fan base is about," Phora says. "It's about having that connection with the fans. There's a lot of rappers that feel entitled to something, like it just comes. But a million fans just don't come. I guarantee you all those people waiting in line they got a solid connection with me. They're gonna come up to me like they know me."
That connection has turned into a local phenomenon when you look at how much of it comes from his ubiquitous presence on YouTube. For the last several years, Phora's become well-known for regularly pumping out sleek, well made videos. Aside from garnering millions of hits, they're also designed to give fans a dose of Phora's reality to compliment his diary entry, Drake-esque rhymes detailing his life and times on and off stage. And nothing really seems off limits--from his bouts with love and loneliness, to growing up in Anaheim, to controversies over stabbing incidents that happened to him at age 15.
But weathering storms harsher than the one outside on Saturday has been the key to Phora's success along with his key producers, the heavyset, soft spoken Eskupe fromTustin and his glasses and beanie sporting co-producer Anthro from LA.
"We thought [our music] was gonna pay off, but we also had out doubts," Eskupe says. "We'd go to shows and there'd be a bunch of dudes doing trap music and we'd be the only guys doing our thing, more of a boom bap style, but we'd still get love...We were doing these meet and greets a few years ago and it'd be like a parking lot with 20 people so coming home to this--it's like the work you put it in, you get it back."
While swaths of teenage fans bundled up with hoodies, blunts and umbrellas, inside the crew at Pachuco were having quite a busy night. Tables buzzed with sound of tattoo machines firing into flesh as shop owner Herchell Carrasco made every ounce of space possible for the hoards waiting outside to shake hands with Phora, his longtime customer.
"I started in this business tattooing close friends and family from my kitchen and it just grew from that," Carrasco says, sporting a tight black shit and well coiffed pompadour. Growing up in the low rider scene, the OC-bred artist began by tattooing on the side for extra money and now owns this 1600 square foot operation housing nine artists.
Coming up on it's fourth year, Pachuco has also amassed hundreds of customers also willing to stay true to their shop, including Phora himself, who has gotten several of his latest tats from Carrasco. Though he knew about Phora's dedicated fanbase, he wasn't counting on a thousand people showing up at his door.
"I pulled up to open the shop around 12:30 p.m. and there was already a line of 100 people waiting outside," Carrasco says. "It's been crazy!"
Elva Torres, a fan who came down from L.A., stood waiting for the rapper since 8:30 a.m. While that sounds pretty unfathomable to most people, Torres says she's been a diehard fan since 2013 and was determined to finally meet him.
"His lyrics are just amazing and he's very humble, you can tell in his songs. I'm so nervous, it's my first time meeting him," she says giggling.
Though he's become a well known "writer" or graffiti artist in his own right, many don't know that Phora was once himself an aspiring tattoo artist in OC before focusing on hip-hop.
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"That's my plan B, man!" the rapper says laughing. "You know this rap shit don't work out for everybody so I gotta have that. Herchell might be one of the first people I hit up, in case I fall out and shit, God forbid."
Standing in line shaking hands, hugging and posing with smiles and funny faces for endless Instagram photos is part of his commitment to making sure Plan A stays intact.