Since releasing Yesterday’s Tomorrow in January, Brooklyn’s Phony Ppl has crashed the Billboard charts, performed on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” with Fetty Wap and partied with T-Pain in the ATL.
Over its 15 tracks, the self-produced Yesterday’s Tomorrow showcases the diverse hip hop, R&B, funk and rock influences of the group’s six members – co-founders Elbee Thrie (vocalist) and Aja Grant (keyboards), Sheriff PJ (MC), Elijah Rawk (guitar), Aja’s brother Bari Bass (bass) and Matt “Maffyu” Byas (drums). The group, whose ranks once included 10 or 11 members, began as a collective of friends who attended various high schools in Brooklyn.
Recently, Mixologi sat down with Aja Grant, Bari Bass and Sheriff PJ at a Central Harlem McDonald’s, where we discussed why Kimmel is “family,” the spoils of clubbin’ with T-Pain and who they are not.
Mixologi: When Yesterday’s Tomorrow came out, you mentioned on Tumblr the route to making the record included lost band members, new friends and doubt that the record would happen. Can you explain what made you doubt the record would happen?
Aja: One of our lead singers, the one everyone kind of thought was our frontman (Dyme a Duzin), signed to (Atlantic Records). He kind of started doing his own thing and it was hard to keep up. That, in itself, made it hard to perform songs. There was also a time when Bari left the group for personal reasons. Last year and the year before last, we were just kind of panicking.
PJ: We were just in a very awkward place. There was a lot of pressure, money was tight and we needed jobs.
Aja: I was working at a restaurant. I couldn’t make recording sessions or meetings. The day Bari said he needed to take a break, we all were sitting there looking at how much money we owed, thinking we can’t do this. It was a difficult period.
Mixologi: When I saw your show at S.O.B.’s in January, Elbee mentioned much of the record resulted from you guys playing together. Did you guys hash things out in the studio or did you come in with ideas of how you wanted the songs to sound?
Aja: It was a crazy process. Some of it was in our houses. Some of it came from (Bari and I) trying ideas. I was at Maffyu’s house jamming. Elbee was hanging out with our friends The Skins at their manager’s house and just started making “HelGa.” He was just playing it for a month straight. It got in our heads. We decided let’s just make this something and I’ll write strings to it. (Ed. Note: Aja credited Ben Julia of Converse Rubber Tracks for believing in the project and letting him mix strings at Rubber Tracks for several months.)
Mixologi: Based on the difficulties you overcame, it must have been surreal then when the album landed on Billboard’s Emerging Artists chart and the Los Angeles Times wrote about you.
PJ: We were sitting there thinking people don’t mess with us anymore. We were so nervous about putting stuff out. We were so pressured about doing a good roll out and we didn’t do a good roll out at all. Then we found out we were on Billboard and we were like, what the hell?
Bari: We peaked at No. 7 with a DIY album. It was really interesting to get that kind of response.
PJ: Somebody sent us a tweet like ‘yo, you guys are on Billboard.’ I was like, ‘is this the real Billboard? This can’t be real.’ We were just going crazy, wild ‘n out.
Mixologi: What was it like playing as Fetty Wap’s backing band on Kimmel? (Ed. Note: 300 Entertainment hooked up Phony Ppl with Fetty Wap, according to the group. They performed “Trap Queen” and “My Way” together on Kimmel.)
Bari: The Fetty Wap thing really spiked interest in what we do. I think it showcased not only do we have original music but we can play other people’s music as well. Jimmy came up to us after and said, ‘You guys are pretty cool. Where are you from?’ We said, ‘Brooklyn,’ and he said, ‘Me too. We’re family.’
Ed. Note: Unlike “Trap Queen,” the band didn’t rehearse “My Way” with Fetty Wap.
Aja: We’re just there (on set) with phones to our ears, no headphones. I was like, ‘Elijah, what are you doing?’ We were nervous but it was great. People liked the second song a lot better than the song we rehearsed.
Mixologi: Any other cool experiences you guys have had in 2015?
Aja: One of the coolest things we did this year was we met T-Pain. He invited us to the studio. He said, ‘Yo, I’m a big fan of your album.’ He showed us his new music and new artists.
PJ: We were in Atlanta for my birthday. He brought us out to the strip club.
Aja: I was so spoiled. I got to go to the strip club with the strip club king. It was my first strip club experience and a lot of money was getting thrown around.
Mixologi: You also recently performed at Steez Day with Joey Bada$$ and Pro Era. What does it mean to be a Brooklyn artist today?
Bari: We represent kids who grew up in Brooklyn throughout all of our lives. That part of Brooklyn, born and raised, will never leave us.
PJ: It’s that history, that culture.
Mixologi: The group has used the phrase “no genre” to describe its sound. How do you turn your different tastes into a cohesive sound?
Aja: We all have different tastes in music but have the same taste. We all have a weird similar ear to things we like.
PJ: There’s never a time where we wouldn’t try something. Even if it’s a crazy idea we still do that.
Mixologi: What’s next for Phony Ppl? Do you guys have new music on the way or any tour plans?
Aja: We have another project in the works. It’s a lot different than Yesterday’s Tomorrow. It features contributions from everybody in the band – stuff we did at home and on the plane.
PJ: We do an album mostly live (Yesterday’s Tomorrow) and then an album mostly produced.
Aja: This one is our beats and B-sides of Yesterday’s Tomorrow.
PJ: It’s for the ladies.
Mixologi: It sounds like this is a great time to be in Phony Ppl.
PJ: It’s just a time to be yourself. Our name is Phony Ppl. We are ourselves. We’re not trying to hide who we are.
Aja: We are not The Roots. We want to strike that from everyone’s comparisons. Shout to The Roots though. They’re an amazing, talented band.
This interview has been edited and condensed.