Shirt Breaks Down Fake New York Times Article, Talks New Album

Words by Daniel Isenberg (@StanIpcus)

Last Friday, Queens rapper Shirt shared a link on Twitter to what appeared to be a New York Times article about him, written by music journalist extraordinaire Jon Caramanica. His followers initially retweeted with joy, but slowly but surely as it spread from timeline to timeline, people began to realize that the article was fake. Some exclaimed, “Genius!” While others, including Complex, called it “desperate.” But regardless of the response, the article got clicks, and people read it to find out all about the rapper behind the creative marketing ploy.

We caught up with Shirt yesterday to have him break down the creation of his fake New York Times article (turns out he put it all together himself), and get his thoughts on the press coverage, as well as the reaction by fans and critics online. We also spoke to him about his 2013 campaign, Shirt Fucked Rihanna, and most importantly, his dope new free album Rap. Marketing moves aside, Shirt’s got skills, personality, and an ear for sick beats. And though he’s been around for a few years now dropping tapes and loosies, there’s something special about his latest effort, especially the banging opener “Take Off,” which should reel you in from the jump if you’re a rap fan that respects that authentic shit.

Read our interview with Shirt, and then stream/download Rap, below.

Idea Behind Fake New York Times Article

Shirt: “It was my idea. [Laughs.] My whole thing is doing something different. Fucking things up a little. That means in the music by saying the things I’m really thinking, but also in the way the music is presented. I was like, ‘What website could I buy?’ Because I knew the site itself was going to be important, the URL. When I saw that nytimes.la was available, I was like, ‘This is perfect.’ [Laughs.]”

Execution

“I knew writing the article would be hard. One of the guys that I mention, Kenneth Goldsmith, is a poet who believes in ‘uncreativity’. He says basically, ‘So much has been written already, why add more text into the world?’ He has a book called Traffic where it’s literally word-for-word of a traffic report in L.A. for a whole day I believe. Crazy shit like that. So the original idea was to splice up different articles written by Jon Caramanica, some others, on Jay Electronica, Jay Z, this person and that person, and take paragraphs word-for-word, as an ode to that style. But it was mad difficult. And I couldn’t find a lot of articles that said what I wanted to say. So I backed out of that. What I did is a mixture of a few articles, but about half of it is written by me.”

Design

“I designed it too, yeah. I’ve been designing and making shit for years. It started with just ideas I’d scream at other people, but then I actually learned Photoshop and stuff like that, because I like to be really hands on with my shit. I work with a designer that I actually mention in the article, Stephen Billick. But with me, it’s never something like, ‘Can you do this?’ And then, I’m not a part of it. I like to be really hands on. I was working on the site for a while, since November maybe. But then in the new year, they switched over to a new design, so I had to go back and redesign it all over again, which was kind of crazy.”

Reaction Online

“I put it out, and people started going crazy. There were only like 2 or 3 of my closest friends that I told about it. Most people had no idea. I wanted to get their real reactions.

“Another part of the whole experimentation thing is like, I’ve had fans for a few years now. And nothing that major has happened publicly like that. I can’t really say that, it’s all relative, and I’m really thankful for everything. If NahRight posts something, or whoever posts something, I’m excited. But I know the fans want something bigger. Whenever you like an artist, you want them to blow up and do really well, so people can be like, ‘This is my shit.’ Because then you feel like, ‘Word, I’ve been riding with this dude. So I thought a big Times article would make the fans happy.

“People got really excited and got behind it and started retweeting it. It also exposed a few people [Laughs.] It was just an onslaught of people sharing it. Then, a few people figured it out, [and realized that it was fake]. And that was cool, too, because it created a different reaction, like, ‘Okay, I see what you did here. This shit is genius!’ And that’s what I kept focusing on. Like, okay, it’s not a real article. But there’s balls and there’s style in that, even more than in a real article.”

Complex Coverage

“Everyone has a love/hate relationship with Complex. There’s so much that’s happened behind the scenes with them in emails and at parties and stuff. I know guys up there, and a lot of times, they just don’t support me like that. There’s this one kid I’ve been cool with, and I sent him the Times article along with the early listen of the new album. So he hits me back right away, and he’s like, ‘Dude, this is fucking crazy. This is so awesome. Everybody in the Complex office is saying, ‘Wow, this is amazing.’ So I was like, ‘Okay cool. Whatever you guys can do to share it would be appreciated.’

“Then, literally like twenty minutes later, that headline comes up [saying Rapper So Desperate For Press He Faked A New York Times Article]. I thought, ‘You don’t have to play me in the headline.’ But then again, it’s Complex, and they do what they gotta do to get clicks and make their numbers. It was cool. They spelled my name right and they linked me crazy, so I was fine with it. And almost all the responses to it were positive, and so many people were like, ‘This is dope.’ So I was like, ‘This is fucking awesome.’ I was definitely cool with it.”

Criticism

“One of my younger brothers, he reads a lot of that type of shit, and he tells me what he thinks. And he’s different from me. He loves rap, and he’s in school studying, but he’s a different type of kid, so I like to get his thoughts on things. He hit me, and said this dude [who writes for] Pitchfork was really going in [about the article], and he said something about how I didn’t put a comma in the right place [Ed. note: it was a hyphen]. It’s not like I put the comma in the wrong place on purpose. I wish I would’ve put the comma in the right place. It’s just mad funny to me that someone would comment on that. Like, we’re not in English class. He can comment on whatever he wants, but that’s just mad funny to me.

“The thing that I equate it to is Louis C.K., who to me is the greatest. Before every show or stand-up special he puts out, he sends an email to the people on his email list. And when he writes his emails, they’re hilarious, they’re fucking sick, but there’s mad grammatical errors. He could make every error under the sun. But it would be ridiculous to critique that. That’s not the point. Obviously, he can get it professionally edited, but he doesn’t. He wants it raw to the people.

“I’m not Louis C.K., but I’m also [not a professional journalist]. There were a couple commas in the wrong place, and I think I spelled ‘definitely’ wrong one time, which bothers me, but whatever. Actually, a Pitchfork writer going in was kind of sick. He wrote, ‘Who the fuck is Shirt?’ And someone retweeted it, and I was like, ‘Damn, that’s an ill tweet.’ And I went back to at least favorite it, and he erased it. And I was like, ‘Damn, I got him good. This is great.’ For a media writer to be like, ‘Who the fuck is Shirt?’ That’s gold.”

Goal of Article

“I wanted to gain some interest for this tape, for sure. I haven’t put out a full project in like a year. People are waiting, and I’m sure it would’ve gotten some love regardless. But probably the biggest reason is wanting to do something different. I take what I learn and try to put that into rap projects, and have it come through in this ‘rap’ way. That’s my whole shit right now. Trying to do new things for rap music. I know that sounds kind of funny coming from someone who’s basically a nobody, but that’s really what my goal is—to do new things in rap.

“What’s cool about the New York Times article is, yeah, you’re reading something that’s not real. It’s not really on the New York Times website. But the shit [I wrote in the article] is real. And now it’s been read a lot. So now people know more about me. They know more about where I’m from, they know some people I’m inspired by, and they know what they’re going to hear in the music.”

Being on Jon Caramanica’s Radar

“Yes, I believe [Jon Caramanica knows about it]. I didn’t [have any concern about putting his name on it]. [Laughs.] I’m a fan. I pretty much read everything he writes. He’s the rap writer and rap lover at the Times, why wouldn’t I put his name? It’s supposed to be a Times article. I wanted to get on his radar in some way, because dropping music the regular way wasn’t doing it.”

Shirt Fucked Rihanna

“The article was also my way of explaining my last move, which was the Shirt Fucked Rihanna [campaign]. In April, I dropped that website with the ‘Automatic’ video. And a lot of people were like, ‘Shirt Fucked Rihanna, what is this?’ It was my way of explaining where that came from, the [cultural connection to the graffiti artist COST who had a 'COST Fucked Madonna' campaign in the '90s]. Like, ‘Look at the shit I’m pulling from. It’s not just out of the blue. It’s not just to get attention.’ Yeah, I know the name of the game is to get people to look at your shit. But I’m doing things for a few different reasons. It’s cool to me. The shit that people do to promote albums is all over the place anyway. It ranges from the most crazy, fucked up shit, to the most boring shit. So this is my entry point. Like, ‘Let’s really do some new shit.’

“Certain people get it. I’ve been stopped on the street by kids who are like, ‘Yo, you the kid that fucked Rihanna?!’ [Laughs.] It’s cool, though. I love Rihanna, that’s what it is. [Laughs.]”

Rapping/Writing

“The [actual rapping] is where it begins and ends for me. I have my own take. I’m not saying my take is completely original, but if we have a conversation, you’re going to walk away from it saying, ‘That was an interesting take.’ That to me is everything. If I’m talking about kicking it with a girl, or maneuvering my way through the industry, I’m going to have my own take on it. That’s at the forefront when I write. I try to be honest. And my influences have a lot to do with it. My shit is like if Louis C.K. could rap sometimes. I’m saying real shit, but it’s covered in this rap thing. I’m a New York dude first, before I’m a rapper.

“And I’m not one of these guys that’s dedicated to the underground. [Laughs.] My taste is actually the opposite of that. It’s the dudes that are killing it. The Kanyes and the Jays. Those are the people that I look up to. I’m not trying to be an underground rapper. It just so happens that some of my free tapes’ production doesn’t have a lot of money behind it. So it’s just a beat and me doing my thing. But I have bigger records [stashed].”

Production on Rap

“’Take Off’ was produced by this kid Zygote in London. Right now, people will send me beats, sometimes hundreds, and I’ll pick one or two. And that’s always how it’s been for all my tapes. This particular tape was executive produced myself and Darvin Silva, who’s a producer friend of mine, and my show DJ. I trust his ears. Whenever we get new beats, we burn one, listen to them, and separate them.

“The production I use is the type of shit that I like. I’m from New York. My cliche answer for my favorite rappers is B.I.G., Nas, and Jay. So that’s where I am naturally forever. I’m always going to be down for some dope drums, and that type of feel. But I’m not one of those guys that’s like, ‘Man, music used to be so much better.’ I’m not into that type of talk at all. I love the era we live in. I love what ScHoolboy’s doing, I love what Drake’s doing, what Kanye’s doing. It’s definitely hard sometimes because I’m not in the position to get the crazy, crazy beats. But a lot of kids have gems that other people ignore because they’re not a name. So you’ll see names on my shit, and you may not of heard of these kids, but that doesn’t mean that the beats are not fire.”

“Queens cat waiting in the wing while they pick Bron/And I’m a fan, but fuck rap, give the kid a sitcom.”

“[Action] Bronson’s the man. No shots at all there. I think he’s ill. And I’m mad picky about the rappers that I listen to. To me, it’s not just about how you’re rapping. I come from the old school. Biggie was that nigga. He was not just that nigga on tracks, he was that dude when you met him. That’s what they say. I feel like a lot of rappers nowadays might have a cool verse here and there, but they’re weirdos.

“Bronson to me is in the old mold. He’s nasty. So they ran with his shit, and now it’s going crazy. I [acknowledged that in my verse]. He needs a sitcom! The way that I spit it, I wasn’t sure if anyone was going to pick up on it. It wasn’t a diss.”

Rapping Over Drake’s “Tuscan Leather” Instrumental

“Really, I just love that beat. I put that beat on one night and wrote those words. And I really liked it, and I thought that with what I was saying it would fit well on the project. And okay, yeah, it’s not an original beat, but who cares? It’s just music.

“I released that at the top of the year with another record that was the opposite of that, this sexy electronica beat. It was like a little care package. I wanted to show people what I’m into. And I built this thing where between projects, like every few weeks or so, I’ll release a freestyle talking about the climate it is for me right now. And people have been gravitating to that.”

Breaking Through

GQ wrote me up last year for the Purity Ring joint I did, and that was a real write-up, as opposed to the Times shit. [Laughs.] But I don’t think there’s ever one thing [that will take an artist to the next level]. A few months, when I was really promoting the Shirt Fucked Rihanna site and the ‘Automatic’ video, everybody was like, ‘This is sick. Where the fuck’s this kid been? He’s one of the nicest in New York.’ And I felt really good about it. I was like, ‘Man all it takes right now is for Rihanna to tweet ‘shirtfuckedrihanna.com,’ and that shit will send me outta here.’ But at the end of the day, it’s God. It’s something that’s completely out of our hands.

“When people hear my shit, as far as fans and bloggers, they’re like, ‘This kid’s nasty.’ I did something for [Peter] Rosenberg, and it did really well. But I’m not sure what it will take to ‘break through.’ A lot of people say it’s cosigns. That’s a little sad, but I get it. If Jay Z puts a link to the Times article, and he writes #newrules, I’m outta here. I know I’m doing mad cool things, but I be low. So I’m not thinking about, ‘Is this the one?’ I’m just doing cool shit.

“I have records produced by Dahi, [who produced ‘Worst Behavior’], that I made before the Drake album dropped. I have bigger records. But I’m not putting them out on a free tape. I’ve put out records that I thought were going to get some burn, and they didn’t. So you really have to be in a place where this shit is made right for you to really move out here. It’s all about where your buzz is, and who’s in the board rooms talking about you, and everything. That’s really what it is to get that big shine. I have dope music. I’m just trying to be smart about the things I drop.”

The Next Level

“I get some money from music. It’s a beautiful thing. I had the No. 2 record in Australia last year, with a producer named Flume. It’s called ‘On Top.’ I work with these great guys in L.A. who get music into TV shows, commercials, trailers, and stuff like that. So we’ve had some success there. Me and Flume’s joint had a GoPro commercial last year. Cool shit. To my understanding the NFL and MLB just licensed it.

“The goal for me is to get huge and stay the same. I’m not even gonna fucking lie. I want to be able to be in the million dollar studios with the big producers, and still rock with the [the unknown guys], and be able to craft these albums. We definitely have a style and an aesthetic as to how we do things, and I want to bring that to a larger scale.”

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Read all previous NahRight Features HERE.