In the midst of the swaggy, crotch-grabbing culture of hip-hop in 2014, Deniro Farrar remains a humble guy. As he pieced together the final bits of his major label debut EP Rebirth (dropping May 20th), he invited some guests to the studio in New York City for an impromptu listening. The intimate group was a cross-section of label heads (from both sides of his joint venture deal with VICE and Warner), his publicist, his manager, his sound engineer, three music writers, and maybe a groupie or two (though he maintains an anti-groupie stance). The only other attendees were boxes of Dominos Pizza, chicken wings, and an overabundance of liquor that Deniro doesn’t even drink (despite having a voice that sounds like he ate broken glass and chased it with a fifth of whiskey).
The Charlotte native’s success reached its tipping point last year, but he’s been a fixture in hip-hop since 2010’s Feel This. That project was the catalyst that ignited his eventual #CultRap movement. Farrar is as much a lyricist as he is a branding genius, where the only thing that isn’t calculated is his creative output. The result is a rapping wunderkind with a fan base that foams at the mouth for his art. In catching up with Deniro at his home back in Charlotte, he breaks down the origin of “prayer hands,” his potential side hustle as an underwear model, and life as a father and “cult-leader.”
Tell me about the origin of your prayer hands in your photos.
Well, the origin of the prayer hands – you know that all comes from cult-rapping, so it’s just its own entity inside of cult rap. That’s the thing that I feel like I wanted to attach to my brand to differentiate me from the other rappers. When I see rappers take photos with other rappers, if you’re not as big as the rapper you’re taking a photo with, you look like a fucking fan, regardless. I don’t give a fuck who’s taking the photo. If it’s like Jay Z and a small-name up-and-coming rapper – even though they’re both rappers taking a photo together – you’re still gonna look like a fan. But say you had something unique about the way you took a photo and everybody knew it, and then you had Jay Z do it, you no longer look like a fan. Now you’re gonna look like you brought Jay Z into your world. That’s my thing. I wanted to differentiate my style in every way, even from how I take photos. And then I see a lot of chicks taking photos with rappers, and they be like, boo’d up. Now in the comments, it’ll look like the rapper fucks with the girl, but really it was just a picture! I seen a girl I follow on Instagram post a photo with Nas – granted she may fuck with Nas like that, but it could have been a possibility where she was just a fan. But the way they were hugged in the photo, it looked like Nas really knew the girl! You know? So I don’t want to get wrapped up in that shit. I’ll make the girl do the prayer hands; none of that groupie shit with Deniro Farrar.
I think we both know that chick didn’t know Nas.
I’m just saying, if you saw the picture, you would probably rethink that! I was like, “Oh shit, she may know him!” She didn’t even say Nas; she said his real name! I was like, “What the fuck?”
Yeah! Fucking basic ass broad. I hate girls that feel like they know rappers on a first-name basis. I hate that shit.
When did you get to a point where you realized that you had a cult following?
Well I realized I had a cult following because I continue to drop music. I think people get discouraged and shy away from dropping music when they feel like ain’t nobody listening. From the time I dropped my first project, I had listeners. It was crazy. I don’t know how people just got hip to Deniro Farrar, but it’s like the first time I dropped, niggas was on it. I really, really realized it maybe two years ago. That’s when I started incorporating it into everything. Like, just started saying cult sayings and cult family. I’ve been tweeting, “Good morning, cult family!” for I don’t know how long. That’s the most consistent shit I’ve ever done in my life! It’s programmed in me now.
Coming from an independent background and being very hands-on with your movement, how has the switch been dealing with VICE and Warner, where you have to transfer a little bit of the control in the equation?
We’re not independent, but we still operate on an independent mindset. We don’t rely on Warner and VICE to make everything happen for us. Like us getting in the studio was an independent thought that we came about like, “Yo, we should get fucking studio time, invite people, have a listening session,” blah blah blah. Warner wasn’t like, “Hey Deniro, get in the studio! Make people come!” You know? It was like, my manager Mekoyo, this nigga’s always ahead of the curve. He just always makes shit happen.
Growing up, were you surrounded by a strong religious community? You’ve got the prayer hands, the project is Rebirth. Even in your talking, there’s something very religious about what you speak about.
I was forced to go to church, then I got old enough to make my own decisions. I was like, “I don’t want to go to church. I don’t like church.” So I was one of those kids. I grew up in a very Christian background with my grandma, my mom and all of that. I was in the choir, all of that kind of shit but I was always that kid that didn’t like church. I always knew about religion. A lot of my family members were like pastors and shit like that, and I seen the way that they conducted themselves and I’m like, “Damn, they’re only fucking humans!” At the end of the day, I thought preachers were like, God. I didn’t think they sin. I mean, fuck, we’d be in church and my uncles would drink beer and they’re ordained ministers and shit, and they would talk and curse and I’m like, what the fuck? That really fucked my mind.
Isn’t it weird that you kind of have your own church now?
Nah, I’m leading you down the right path. It ain’t weird though. I’m like a ghetto prophet. I ain’t leading people down the wrong path, because people know that I have my flaws and shit like that. I feel like that’s something that preachers don’t really expose enough – how regular they are as people and how they still sin and how they’re not perfect. They’ll pitch themselves to be perfect in an imperfect world, and then once people see the flaws they have, they begin to stray away from the church, when all they had to do was be a realist instead of being a fake motherfucker.
On the fashion side, have any designers latched onto you yet?
Man, I got a sick ass underwear brand that’s just like fucking with me now. My boy got an underwear brand, Ethika. I’m actually wearing a pair right now. They just sent me like 12 pairs of new underwear and they feel awesome, yo! Shout out to Ethika. I’m really waiting on Calvin too. As soon as I hear from Calvin, I’ma be like, “Nigga we made it!”
Outside of rap, what are you trying to do on the side?
I would definitely like to be a motivational speaker to the youth in poverty stricken areas of the neighborhood and shit like that. Definitely start my organization, get that off the ground to where we feed the less fortunate at least two to three times a week in certain neighborhoods. You don’t have to technically be less fortunate to eat. If you’re hungry, we’re gonna feed you. I actually do want to be a renowned speaker though, so now I’m trying to polish the way I speak. I want to start a chain of 24-hour daycare services, seven days a week. You got so many people that just want to do things and go here and there on the weekend, but they can’t find a reliable sitter. We’ll feed them, bathe them, we got activities. We’ll take them on trips once a day. I don’t give a fuck if we just go to the park, go visit a college, go to a museum…something happens every day with these kids. You can’t work there unless you’re specialized. You have to have a degree. We don’t want any dumb people around these children. I’m gonna start a bunch of those in my city, and it’s gonna spread around the country. I’m gonna do those shits. Watch.
Why are you the sweetest man on Earth?
I don’t know. I got two kids man. Having kids and watching the way people that I know struggle. Like my sister, she has kids but she works a lot so my niece has to go different places – maybe like with my mom or with my aunt. After-school daycares are high! I’m having to deal with that right now. I’m gonna be spending $150 a week. It’s $300 a week, but I’ll be going half and half with my son’s mom for my youngest son to get in daycare come July.
Being a father of two, has it really given you a different kind of focus when it comes to this career?
Yeah, hell yeah! I get in my zone before every show, but people be like, “You probably chant some satanic prayer.” I just visualize being with my children and the look in their eyes and how much they really need me to make it in order to reassure that their lives are better. So that’s all I visualize – being with my kids and talking to my little brother Tune. I just go out and kill every show. That’s all I do. I feel like a lot of people just do this just because…like, they don’t really have a motive for doing this. But nah, my shit is official.