Victory depends on grinding hard in the face of opposition. Trials and tribulations invariably become stories worth sharing. Sometimes, these tales are so unbelievable that they just have to be true. That brings us to 22-year-old Anaheim-raised rapper, songwriter, and artist Phora—aka Mario Archer who learned about the hustle at a very young age.
“My dad was an independent rapper, and he recorded music, put it on CDs, and tried to pay the rent by hustling them out of his trunk the old-fashioned way,” he recalls. “Wherever we went, he would talk to people at the grocery store, gas station, drive-thru, or swap meet, and try to get them interested. I saw the struggles he went through. That made me respect the hustle. Everyone else’s dad worked in a cubicle, and I loved watching. I learned a lot of the dos and don’ts from him, but mostly the don’ts as I like to say,” he smiles.
Before Phora formally picked up a microphone, his life took more than a few detours. As he tells it, “I was doing a lot of graffiti before I got in some trouble at 15.” During his time in and out juvenile detention centers, he spent his days reading John Grisham books and writing rhymes with a pencil and paper. Around that time, he faced the dissolution of his family amidst a whirlwind of addiction and was brutally stabbed outside of his high school. He simultaneously transferred his art from the streets to tattoo parlors, becoming an in-demand and successful artist by the time he could get a driver’s license. Inspired by J Cole, Common, Atmosphere, Kanye West, and DJ Quik, he wholeheartedly turned his attention to rapping at 17 in 2011, funding his career by tattooing.
“I was making good money from tattoos, but my heart was focused on music,” he admits. “I started devoting more time to music and less to tattooing. It was a sacrifice and a risk, but it was worth it. There are so many songs that lifted me up. There were times where I either wanted to do some crazy things to other people or to myself. Many artists made me stop, listen, think, and realize I wasn’t alone and life shouldn’t be taken for granted.”
He didn’t waste a moment either. With an emotional delivery, powerful bars, and cinematic storytelling, he independently released projects at a relentless pace, starting with 2012’s Still A Kid. The record spawned his first track to crack a million views on YouTube, “Gotta Move On,” as he cultivated a fan base by booking his own shows and performing everywhere. He followed that up with “one album per year”—One Life To Live , Sincerely Yours, and the successfully crowd-funded Angels With Broken Wings . On the eve of the latter’s release, a car pulled up alongside Phora and his girlfriend, opening fire and speeding off. He took three bullets, but emerged alive…
“They never found who it was or got any clue,” he sighs. “The whole experience opened up my eyes to a lot. It made me that much more grateful to be able to walk and breathe. After everything, I started recording all the time.”
Fueled by his intense dedication, that fire translated into his art. He garnered acclaim from LA Weekly, DJ Booth, and Power 106 for confessional and catchy narratives. Walking away from a horrific car crash in 2016, he delivered the fan favorite With Love. The effort captured #1 on iTunes Top Hip-Hop/Rap albums chart, going toe-to-toe with A-list heavyweights and coming out victorious. Songs like “I Think I Love You” impressively generated 2.35 million Soundcloud plays and 3.2 million Spotify streams, while “Fake Smiles,” “I Think I Love You,” and more all surpassed the 2-million mark. A worldwide fan base enthusiastically embraced Phora and his Yours Truly movement, proudly sporting the clothing line and supporting his independent label.
“There’s a relatable story behind it,” he goes on. “It’s about a kid going through a rough patch in life, not letting it break him, and still having a little bit of hope. That’s me. The response has been incredible, amazing, and humbling.”
After logging six years without a record label, manager, or publicist, he inked a deal with Warner Bros. Records in January 2017. “I set goals for myself that I had to reach independently before I signed,” he exclaims. “With Lovebecame a number one rap album on iTunes, and I reached certain pinnacles. Things were getting hectic. Warner Bros. Records saw the vision and didn’t want to change it. I was anti-major label, but this particular relationship is going to bring everyone to new heights.”
On his Warner Bros. Records debut single “Slow Down,” Phora lets loose over a subtle beat and synth hum. He shouts out a homie who got shot, “I hope he was lucky as me,” and shares regrets about when his “grandpa passed away” and a promise to “mama,” before crooning on the hook, “I just think I need to slow down.”
“The song is about drifting apart from family and friends, hence the title ‘Slow Down’,” he says. “With everything right now, I feel like my life is going at crazy pace. I get so deep into this world that I lose touch myself and everyone around me. It’s a reminder take a step back and breathe.”
Ultimately, Phora finds truth in the grind and gives it back to millions everywhere. “I hope listeners can find themselves in what I do,” he leaves off. “I want to give them the harsh reality of what certain people are going through in certain areas. At the same time, I want to uplift them. We’re all going through something. The next man is fighting a battle you don’t know anything about. Respect and relate to each other. That’s my message.”