In this era of all-turnup-everything and producers-as-celebrities, North Carolina MC Deniro Farrar is a throwback to the days when living what you rap was the name of the game. The matter of authenticity may no longer hold sway in popular music today, but Farrar has managed to make it matter for him. And that's because, while he's old school in spirit, he's a thoroughly modern, self-promoting artist, crafting a very specific persona and taking it to social media, complete with a consistent prayer-hands photo pose and a hashtag, to the point where he can now dub himself the Leader of Cult Rap without sounding like a cornball.

Upon first listen, cult rap can seem especially downtrodden and gritty, but if you pay attention, and maybe catch some of his interviews, it becomes clear that everything coming out of Farrar's weathered drawl is rooted in optimism. The menacing, violent lyrics are a tool to make the contrast more apparent; his unflinching accounts both highlight the realities and serve as proof that there's a way out. He doesn't just rep his hood, he talks about setting up daycares and actually funneling the proceeds of his art back into his hood. The leader of cult rap sounds more like a mayoral candidate. And it's that balance of realism, self-aggrandizement, and hope (and stellar beat selection) that has garnered him a loyal following.

Farrar recently opened for DJ Mustard at Brooklyn's Music Hall of Williamsburg, and we had a chance to sit down with him to talk about the state of hip-hop and his forthcoming collaborative EP with producer Ryan Hemsworth. Join the cult below, then get a dose of his lighter side in our ANTENNA Q+A, and catch him on the Bow Down tour with Denzel Curry.

You've explained Cult Rap to everyone by now, but why the word cult?

I use the word cult instead of fan because cult is more of a powerful following. Anybody can have a fan, if you sign your record deal tomorrow you can have fans depending on who you sign with. But a cult is organically built, meaning your following is genuine. Like, LeBron James is gonna have fans, but a cult following means that he’s gonna have people that fuck with him no matter what team. That’s my thing, that’s why I named it cult because my following is organic. It was built from the ground up, everybody is just really with it organically, it wasn’t forced upon anybody, I don’t have bandwagon fans. It’s a cult.

Do you have plans to bring rappers into the movement or start a Cult Rap label?

Yeah definitely, but that will all come after I build my brand as strong as it can possibly be. But I definitely have guys that I work with right now in my city that I know will definitely be affiliated.

You have so many aspirations beyond music, so is rap just a means to an end?

Everything is a means to an end with everything you do, no matter what you do. Because at some point I don’t think you can remain passionate, you know? Once the passion is gone, once the fire is done burning. When the fire is out it’s out.

So how do you stay motivated?

My children, and the love for it, the passion, it’s still burning in me. So, that’s the only motivation I need and my children is just like extra fuel to the fire. My little brother, who’s actually incarcerated, is fuel to the fire.

Do you feel like you’re more mature than most people your age?

Definitely, I mean you have 40-year-old rappers in the game with immature music still talking about crazy thug shit that has no type of substance that don’t even speak to people's emotions. That’s how you get cult rap, it’s the truth, it speaks to emotions with less flamboyant activity.

You rap about some harrowing shit. Is it tough for you to revisit all of those experiences?

When I'm writing it, no. It's like therapy, like going to see a shrink, but the world is my shrink. These rhymes are deep but they're fucking honest and brutal. They're therapeutic. It's nothing to me, if I go tell my story over and over again, maybe somebody will learn from it, maybe someone's going through the same shit and they can relate and know how to get through it. I don't always try to give them the problems, I give 'em a solution to some of the shit, too.

deniro farrar

What do you think of the state of hip-hop now?

I feel like rap is in a state where it’s settled and accepts anything out of people. You no longer have to be authentic, all you have to do is sound authentic. You know, your resume doesn’t have to match up to what you do. Hip-hop is at a state right now where it’s all about the money and not really the craft. So much of the music, I'm just like, really? Sometimes it's discouraging to think that these guys — well, it’s good because they're providing for their families, and anyone that can do that, more power to them. But to me and my situation, my music is so powerful, that when it doesn’t get the recognition it deserves it's like a slap in the face.

Do you think there’s a role for party rap, though?

That’s what rap is now. You turn on the radio, it’s turn up, bottom line. They won’t be playing too much shit unless it's an R&B collaboration with a rapper, everything else is turnt from that point on. Even R&B music is turnt up. I hear DJ Mustard killing shit, though. Literally, I can hear 10 DJ Mustard beats in one radio mix. Shout out to Mustard, man. I got a lot of respect for him.

It's almost like the production is a bigger draw than the MC these days.

It’s all about the production. You take away the production, you have nothing.

Who are some of your favorite producers to work with?

Ryan Hemsworth, my boy AJ Rice. Lunice is another dope one. Eric Dingus, he’s dope.

Which rappers are you a fan of?

Drake. Drake is like the Bo Jackson of rap. I’m a fan of Pusha T, I really like Kendrick Lamar. A lot of people sleeping on Jay Rock. I like Jay Rock a lot because he’s from the mud. I just got a lot of respect for shit he says. Freddie Gibbs is fucking sick.

Who are some of your favorite artists outside of rap?

James Blake. I still listen to D’Angelo, I still listen to Eryka Baduh, Lauryn Hill. Child Actor, Cults, Chvrches, I fuck with Little Dragon. I even like Coldplay, that song "Magic" I'm really in love with.

People love to hate on Coldplay.

Fuck 'em. People hated on Jesus, they'll hate on anything.

So, whats next? You said in an interview that you were going to expand after Rebirth.

A project with me and Ryan Hemsworth, a collaborative EP. That's the expansion. Because that’s gonna touch another genre, as far as a production standpoint. And with me experiencing more in life since Rebirth — Rebirth is a confessional EP where I air out all my dirty laundry, and my life is in another space now. I’m getting into different things right now.

When's it coming?

It’s in the works now.

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