Marco Archer is just a few hours shy of his 23rd birthday, but he’s already been through a lot more than most people twice his age. The young rapper dropped his self-released debut album — appropriately titled Still a Kid — almost five years ago, followed it up with numerous music videos and four more records on his own label, survived multiple attempts on his life, turned a noteworthy run as a graffiti artist into a career as a tattooer, and watched as the people around him rotated in and out of his life through his successes and failures. But even after all that, the Anaheim-based artist known as Phora still can’t help but smile and laugh when he looks back on the years when his biggest concern should’ve been who he was taking to prom.
“I definitely just wasn’t a normal teenager,” Phora says. “Before I was making music, I was going to school with neck tattoos and hand tattoos, and then I stopped going to school so I could just put everything into the vision I had. Even relationship-wise nothing was normal — but I loved it, and I didn’t want to be a normal teenager. There was something about it that I liked about standing out, and even today I still like to do something that’s not normal.”
Over the last handful of years, Phora’s ability to stand out has seen him go from a complete unknown to signing a major record deal with Warner Bros. back in January. Whether it’s on the tracks he laid down while his peers were taking the SAT or in the final cut of August’s Yours Truly Forever, Archer’s primary goal throughout his music career has never been a secret. More than anything, the biracial rapper wants to stay true to himself while using positive messages to inspire others to smile as much as he does. That’s why when it came time for Phora to work with a record label for the first time this year, he’s thankful no one tried to push him away from what he would’ve done on his own anyway.
“Honestly, it wasn’t that different at all,” Phora says about working with Warner Bros. “They didn’t get in the way. They just let me do my thing. They help out with things here and there if I need something, and they help out with the legitimate side of things like sample clearances, but it was the same thing as my past four or five projects. It was just a little more funding and more legitimate moves being made behind the album.”
Long before major record labels ever began taking notice of him, Phora was just an artistic kid in Anaheim trying to get by any way he could. As he came into his own as a teenager, the pre-rapping Archer realized that rather than getting chased by the cops for sharing his artwork as graffiti and murals on public walls, he could make some money through a means that’d interested him for as long as he could remember: tattooing. Although he knew that truly making a living as an underage tattoo artist was an incredibly tall task, the new source of income gave Phora the financial wiggle room to make some investments in his new musical hobby.
“I actually started doing tattoos at a super young age before I even started making music,” Phora says. “That’s really how I started making money, and that’s how I funded everything when I was going into music. I was able to survive off of it, because I wasn’t making any money my first few years of making music — I was going in the negative spending money on things.”
To this day, art and music still flow together in Phora’s mind. Writing rhymes and drawing Dragon Ball Z characters come from the same creative space for the artist, and the rest of the world takes a backseat when he’s doing either. But when he’s not creating a new piece of auditory or visual art, Phora sees the utmost importance in giving his fans a window into his life at all times. His near-constant social media habits and online interactions would drive some public figures insane, but the young rapper remembers how much it meant to him to see into the lives of artists he admired and wants to give the same opportunity to his diehards. Of course, it’s that connection with his listeners that’s also helped boost Phora to the level he’s at today.
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“I want people to connect with me,” Phora says. “I like to put out a lot of video and photo content, because I like to put everything out in the open. I like to give people my whole life story, even if it’s something as small as changing my hair. Listening to music is beautiful and it’s amazing, but for me as a fan of Tupac for example, seeing his lifestyle and the way he moved and lived made me connect with him more.”
Although no one is confusing Phora for Tupac just yet, the current artist already has his sights on being as iconic as Mr. Shakur. Within the next few years, Phora wants to not only go to the Grammys but also become synonymous with the city in which he grew up. Outside of his previous struggles, discussing the bias he’s felt as a rapper coming from Mickey Mouse’s backyard is one of the only things that can wipe a smile off the perpetually positive lyricist’s face. While it might be easier for Phora to just adopt Los Angeles as his hometown on a bigger stage rather than repping Anaheim, he’s not willing to take a geographical shortcut and deny his upbringing next to “The Happiest Place on Earth.”
“It’s like being outcasted, honestly, and there’s a reason there are no artists coming up out of the area,” Phora says of his hometown. “If you’re not repping LA or one of the big cities, it’s difficult to get support from the industry and other artists. I want to be the biggest up-and-coming artist from California and tell people ‘I didn’t come from LA or Compton or any of these places — I came from Anaheim, California.’ Hopefully when people think of Anaheim, they think of me and they think of Disneyland. Mickey’s been my dog ever since I was a little kid.”