The musical rehabilitation of Franky Hill’s User

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Franky Hill | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

The first time I saw Franky Hill, I didn’t know what to expect from him. The show was last month at MilkBoy, and Hill was opening for one of the dopest hip hop artist in the city, Ivy Sole. But the moment he got on stage and touched the mic, I felt like I was watching someone going to pulpit and share their testimony with the congregation. The music was amazing, his energy was very contagious, and you could sense that every song Franky performed felt like a wounded spirit had been healed, and was spreading his newfound joy all throughout  the crowd.

From writing battle raps aimed at no one to writing poems to cope with the loss of his beloved mother, to creating his debut album Blurred Lines to his recent project User, it seems as though Franky Hill was destined to use music as a weapon to battle demons, whether they belong to him or others. I recently got a chance to sit with the 24 year old Camden MC to talk about his early beginnings and how User found its way into the world.

The Key: I read that you were influenced by Jay-Z. The first rap songs you listened to were “Cashmere Thoughts” and “99 Problems” and you even read his book Decoded. What were some of the things that you picked up from Hov that you used when creating User?

Franky Hill: I guess storytelling. Storytelling was probably the biggest thing for me, and just having multilayered stories. Like “99 Problems”: every time the hook comes back there’s a different meaning to how it all fits in. It’s the same hook, but the verses are different. That multilayered storytelling aspect is what I wanted to use on songs like “Lies” where I’m lying from a different perspective, lying about being in love instead of being in love and lying.

TK: How did you link up with Kam DeLa what was it about him that made you trust him to produce all the beats on User?

FH: It was a while ago when we linked up, a few years ago. He just recorded me for the first time, a friend of mine brought me to the studio session on my birthday and that was the first time we had met. He recorded me and thought I would never talk to him again, but we had mutual circles of friends so we always kind of intermingled. The first song we actually did together was the intro on Blurred Lines, it was cool but nothing ever manifested from it. Years later we come back around and this time we made a song called “Here We Are Now” and at that moment I was like this was always the direction I wanted to go in with my music, but I never knew anybody who could take me there.

From there I knew what could happen if we put the time in and I was like “Yo man, let’s try to focus some time in and really do a project,” and he was with it. From there, Kam is like overly himself, I’ll say that, and that’s something that I had always strive to be and currently am now. So I trusted somebody that was honest in every aspect of their life or at least as honest as everyone can be, you know what I’m saying? So from there we got our little mojo and juice and the music came from there.

TK: That’s real. You said that harmonies and melodies intrigued you more than lyrics, which is something that tends to be common with a majority of rappers nowadays. Besides rapper Ivy Sole, all of the features on User are singers. What is it about melodies that seem to be more appealing than lyrics to public ear?

FH: I guess what I really wanted to say was that melodies are more intriguing to me because it’s a separating factor, but lyrics are still important. Those are most important to me but melodies are intriguing to me because as a lyricist I want to be able to separate, and I feel like the separation happens when you master melodies. Lyrics come easy because it was something that I always wanted to do, so I knew I could do that, but at the same time I wanted to create melodic things. That’s why Kendrick is one of my favorite artists because the melodic part is there with the lyrics.

TK: On the track “Aa,” you said “I gotta find life before it finds me.” Can you elaborate on that line a bit more?

FH: Yeah man, life comes at you fast. I’m pretty sure we’ve all heard that before. I wrote this at a point in my life where I was in a deep, I don’t know if I want to call it depression, but I was in a rough place mentally, lost. I lost my mom in high school, that was when I started writing poetry around 2011. Around that time I had been harboring all that trauma and pain, never really dealt with it properly I guess in a healthy way. So what happened was when I wrote that line, I was like damn, that was kind of what I needed to hear from myself. “Alright you’ve dealt with it, digested it, you know what it is, now it’s time to attack it. You can’t let it stop you, you can’t let it kill you.” That was always my thing of not letting cancer get another person in my family, I can’t let it get me too. I wasn’t going to allow it to take my mom and me. I got people looking up to me like my nephew, so that’s where that line “I gotta find life before it finds me” comes in.

TK: The next track, “Nicholas Caged,” talks about how you found music as a way to find peace in your life. Describe the moment where music became a instrument of peace for you. Was it the start of writing poetry, creating Blurred Lines, or User?

FH: Honestly it was all of that, all of those contributed to me finding peace, but the true peace is truthfully on stage in front of people. Sharing that energy or connecting with people or even people reaching out to me like “Yo this is crazy, I was going through this and all that stuff.” That’s the true serenity for me because it lets me know that I’m not alone and that’s been my whole thing throughout this whole User thing: stay useful. It le’s me know that I’m not alone and reminds me to not let others be alone. That peace comes from being on stage and connecting with people.

TK: As I listened to “Something I Can Use,” I’m wondering what is something that you’ve found in someone you once loved that you used while you were with them or use to this day in your own life?

FH: Hmm, I would say probably from my mother it would probably be joy. Just understanding my joy, happiness and really cherishing it. When my mother was going through her situation, if you didn’t know you couldn’t tell, and that was wild to me. She’s going through so much and she’s smiling everyday, she’s up everyday. She can’t do everything she used to but those who do know know, but for the most part, her joy can’t be stolen. When she passed, that’s when I went through that mental stuff because I lost how to do that for a while, and through music and collaboration I regained that feeling. So I would say joy, man, joy is what I got that I still used to this day.

TK: You said that “Lies” is about the struggles of admitting that you’re in love. What do you believe causes this struggle?

FH: The internet, the lack of being able to trust people. Especially now. The world is so shallow and empty at times. It feels like everything is fake or is done for a like, click or follow. Relationships are based on monetary gain instead of love and God. I think people often like the appearance of being in love and then what actually happens, which is crazy, is when they do feel something real, they’re hesitant, like “Hold up! I’m not supposed to be feeling like this. Me and shorty were supposed to just link up, what is this emotion I’m feeling?” Growing up, you’re taught to hit em and quit em and all that stuff like that and it makes it hard to admit and I’ve dealt with it too.

TK: It’s crazy how “Lies,” and “Firefly” connect with one another. The first song you find something real, but you’re not being honest to yourself about how it makes you feel, and then finally you get to a comfortable space of obtaining with the love bug. What do you think gets you to that space to finally catch a firefly?

FH: With “Lies,” is it’s like a love song that’s not really a love song, and “Firefly” is actually a love song, it’s actually what people thought “Lies” was. But to get to that space you just got to be real, be real with yourself. It’s tough to admit, because pride will have you like “Nah, you ain’t bag me.” But if you think about if shorty bags you, fam, it’s aight, especially if she rockin’ with you and hold you down and elevating you mentally and spiritually. You gotta run with that. That’s not everyday.

TK: You said that a couple conversations with God and one jam session was the beginning of creating the album User. Did those conversations with God inspired the self titled track “User?”

FH: The reason the project is called User is because of the poem. We were going to name the project Aa and going to do this whole alcoholic anonymous theme. But as it went on it, felt forced, it didn’t feel natural but I knew this collection of songs belonged together. They married well, but the mission statement was wrong, so I was still searching throughout making this album, like I got everything else but still didn’t know the reason yet. In the back of my mind I knew I wanted to put a poem on this album, I just didn’t know writing the poem would put it all together for me like it did. So I wrote the poem and was “Oh snap there it is, User. That’s the theme.” This is “Lies,” me not wanting to be attached to somebody, not wanting to lean on somebody for support. I’ve been using music this whole time, my Nicholas Cage moment, to find peace. That’s why I left the “Aa” title for the first song: in the beginning I was kind of snapping and the second half I’m calmer. The first half is supposed to be me belligerently drunk, and the second half is like after the crash I’ve come down from that drunkenness and now a little more coherent. The word user kind of tied all of that together for me.

TK: You also said that you believe that the words “escape” and “user” keep people from getting help or attempting to get better. Even at the end of the song you say “I really enjoy using.” What made you come to this realization?

FH: On the surface it sounds like we always want it, it always seems to be paired with this beautiful word after like freedom. I’m escaping to be free from pain, but escape to me only feels temporary. It doesn’t feel cemented, and that’s why I was hesitant to use the word user because for so long the connotation has been negative, using drugs, using people and that’s where that fine line came in. Where it’s like I’m teetering, but I’m going to be brave and just do it. With the word user now, it’s more of letting go and knowing you can’t control everything, just that realization that you need help. It’s tough to accept that your demons are real and confront them. I’m paraphrasing terribly, but I remember Lauryn Hill once saying that the only way through trouble is through confrontation and that always stuck with me, because no matter what, you can smoke a little weed, drink or et cetera, but as soon as that activity…that temporary escape is done, reality snaps back immediately and you still have to deal with it. You can’t escape forever, you can’t escape to freedom, you have to gain it. And the only way to do that is attacking that thing that’s getting at you, and a lot of people think you have to do it alone. Just because it starts within doesn’t mean it can’t end with others. That’s where user comes in, use people to lean on or use healthy ways to deal with your issues. That’s why I say use God, because to me He’s almighty, the GOAT. If you don’t use nothing else use Him because he’s the truth.

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