Photography by Ryan Mayle
Interview by Thomas Agnew
Who’s been the most consistent out of Pittsburgh in the past 3 years? If your answer isn’t Hardo then you’re definitely not in tune to the Trap Illustrated movement. Or you’re just a hater. Hardo has worked with 21 Savage, Ty Dolla $, Wiz Khalifa, Meek Mill just to name a few, consistently sold out shows to the point other cities called him up to headline in their areas, and his numbers on streams, sales, and videos had major labels taking notice. I sat down 1 on 1 with him to talk his image, not being comfortable with only local fan base love, and how Pittsburgh artist should push forward.
You’ve dealt with a good amount of hardships. Do you feel like the representation of that in your music has proven to be positive?
Yes for the most part. It was all a growing thing and all of the experiences helped me better my music. When I first came out I was young, I would honestly say my music wasn’t too positive because there weren’t many things I had been through to understand that. I knew I was doing wrong but when you don’t really deal with consequences it’s hard to really touch on the negative and positive bases to help people understand. But now my main focus is on my music. The things I’m working on now for the future is for the soul and for understanding.
Your music has attracted many and some powerful folks such as Wiz, Meek, T.I. have reached to work and the list is growing. What is it that you think they respect the most about you?
I think it’s the realness and how down to earth I am. When you listen to my music I paint pictures regardless of when my music wasn’t the most positive, it still paints a picture of what’s going on. At the end of the day if you don’t give them the truth then they never know. Just the honesty of what I do plus talent. Being out of Pittsburgh, there isn’t a crazy spotlight so for people to see someone who actually has talent is what draws people towards me. I’m moving out of a small city so you can only respect that. I’m not just in Atlanta where I can make some shit tomorrow and it blow up because I’m in a city where the media is at and where it’s a bigger area. It’s the grind, the talent, and just the realness of what I’m doing.
Even with the positives you’ve had to deal with negative feedback from media. Did it bother you that they only referenced you in association with crime from certain music content?
Yeah it bothers me. Personally it doesn’t have any affect but it bothers me in just showing where we are at today in society. There’s a lot of positive things that I do. My whole life, my whole career, and everything I do now since I’ve been older has been about positivity and doing the right things. For them to never see that but to only see the negativity and paint that picture I believe that shit is terrible. I’m still working and I know the bigger I get ,the more I’ll continuously overshadow that.
With the negative publicity and the police banning you from performing, it only raised awareness of who you are. How much more did you appreciate your fan base after?
I appreciate my fan base a lot and that goes back to me as a person. If my fans were to just go off my music and just the pictures they paint of me, you might take me as a negative person. They might not support me. But I throw events, I do things where I interact with my fans, I comment back to my fans. When my fans meet me in person they say “oh its crazy you’re someone I can have a conversation with. You’re someone that’s very down to earth and you’ll listen.” So my fans know me personally and they’ll ride with me to the end period. And I love them the same and I felt that they would be there for me regardless because of the type of person that I am so that doesn’t surprise me that they’re real with me.
There have been Pittsburgh artist where you are but couldn’t get over the hump. How have you been able to maneuver differently while still utilizing the local base?
This is a great question. This is for all of the artist in Pittsburgh that don’t get it and don’t understand it. I love my city to death but Pittsburgh is not a musical city. You can not get stuck in Pittsburgh worrying about Pittsburgh. You can not worry about these DJ’s, you can not worry about these clubs here. It’s OK to start and figure out where you’re at with things but once you get that start up it’s time to move around. You have to move outside of this city to get this thing moving. Good thing we have social media where you can sit in the house and blow up but if you really want to build a cult following or a real fan base, if you’re not that person that’s going to get lucky and go viral, you have to move around. You have to build relationships. You have to build with the right teams and right people who have your best interest. End of the day when you first start this is not always that easy, it’s not as simple as you’re going to get people that’s for you. But, you have to learn off the mistakes and you have to learn off things and see things for what it is. Pittsburgh is just not the place for it until we build Pittsburgh up and that pipeline of the light and media. Until then, you have to move outside of the city. You can’t worry about Devils & Dolls, you got to worry about getting to other cities. I believe that’s the difference in me and why my shit moves compared to other artist in Pittsburgh who have the talent.
Do you think Pittsburgh only promotes certain people for example folks who’ve already made it or trap/street artist?
I believe the city waits to promote artist who made it. Like the core of the inner city, at least where I come from because I can’t speak on the parts outside of the streets. Outside of the streets I believe they support what they like. Like more of the white areas they support what they like. They supported Wiz from the jump, supported Mac from the jump, and they support me because they like my talent. As far as the inner city, it’s nothing but hate. They really don’t want to support the next man whether its talent or not. I do a show, I sell it out, and more than likely its white people. It’s never really the people who see me daily, who know where I come from, who know everything I’m talking about is true. Most of these people instead of wanting to support you, they want to hate. They rather it be them than you. They don’t understand why it’s “you.” So that’s what my city has a bad problem with. But, also I would say my music is undeniable. Regardless if they don’t come to the shows, I know they’re still listening at home. They still build on my views. Even people that don’t like me listening. The city also doesn’t support nothing fake. Everything has to be genuine. If that shit’s bullshit or fake, they’re going to let you know. That’s one good thing I could say that the city does. They don’t just jump on any bandwagon.
Do you think people that fall into that middle area need to be more creative in how they can gain more attention?
Yeah for sure. We’re stuck in this era where everybody’s head is wrapped around trap music or if you’re not already on a big platform and you’re stuck in that middle area you’ll get overlooked. Yes, I think it is about strategy. End of the day it’s the music. Whenever the music is undeniable they going to tune in. I take a listen to every artist for real, people who are not in that trap lane, who are in the middle. I be looking like this is different let me tune into this to see what it’s hitting for other than trap music because if you are different and you got good music then you’re sitting in a lane by yourself here which makes things way easier for you then dealing with 50 other trap rappers. I tune in, I take that CD, I don’t throw that, put it in the dash and most of the time to be honest it sucks. A lot of music people make here sucks. Maybe because they’re too focused trying to be other artist and not themselves. We divide the culture trying to be a million other people. That’s just the problem with here, people can’t be themselves. I don’t want to go into a room and the walls are painted white and you come with white paint. You make no difference. You come in with some blue paint then you stand the fuck out.
[Hardo, Jimmy Wopo, & Wiz Khalifa “Today’s A Good Day”]
Jimmy Wopo was another name buzzing heavily. How did you two finally manage to come together and realize your work would be great for the city?
That’s what real ones do at the end of the day. A lot of people claim they’re real, a lot of people claim they support but when you see someone else in your city that is moving too it’s only right to at least make the attempt work together. Not saying the music was going to end up as great as it did. It’s still an attempt. It’s like “I see you doing you, I’m doing me, let’s bring this together.” Regardless of the work or not it’s about supporting each other. We’re both from the inner cities of the city. For real I feel like I’ve been the only artist out here for a long time like by myself actually poppin. There has not been another artist out the streets of Pittsburgh since I’ve been around that’s been moving they way I do. And to see another one coming, I support that. That’s what I want to see. If I reach the top and nothing gets above that then we’re not growing. That’s just how it came together, us supporting each other. The chemistry was there and that’s another plus for the situation.
The city is separated by its communities and bridges which has caused riffs between people. Do you believe more collaborative efforts are needed to help push Pittsburgh forward?
For sure. For instance me and Jimmy Wopo come from different places inside the city. For us to do that we brought two neighborhoods together that usually isn’t together. So the collaborative efforts definitely bring things together especially when you have the power to control and people really look up to you where you come from. So people seeing Wopo dealing with people over here, its make them feel like that’s OK. I believe it makes things better and makes the city come together. I’m definitely used to just dealing with my people, dealing with people inside of my neighborhood. Now to really have friends outside and it’s about positive things. It’s not about selling drugs or shit like that it’s about actually doing something to better ourselves. I can pop up at Wopo house or some of his friends house because now they’re my friends. So it definitely brings the city together for sure.
Check out Hardo’s latest collaboration featuring Kizzl “Real One”