By Dana Getz
The adolescent years of Russel Llantino’s life read more like a lifetime. At the age of 19, Llantino has garnered a fan base of over 250,000 people, toured across Canada with J. Cole and performed in front of thousands of fans at Lollapalooza, all the while supporting his mother in her fight against cancer. The Canadian native shrugs it off, insisting his expedited childhood simply came with the territory.
Inspired by Eminem, the popstar rapper began releasing music to the online community under the moniker of D-Pryde at the age of 14, quickly earning title as a YouTube phenomenon. His channel currently holds over 46.5 million views and almost 300,000 subscribers, consisting of an amalgamation of freeverses, covers and freshly baked originals. His sound is a collection of bright and bouncy feel-good hooks punctuated by clever lyricism, always executed with purpose and a distinct sense of honesty. Though he keeps his rhymes lighthearted, Pryde is all but airy when it comes to his music, dropping out of school at 16 to sign to Mars Music Group in pursuit of a full-time rap career. Three years later, the now New Yorker has released his debut EP Canal & Richvale and is finishing up a U.S. summer tour. We caught up with D-Pryde after an intimate show at the Calvin Klein CK One Color Music Lounge held at the Hard Rock during Lollapalooza, where he discussed making a name on YouTube, staying positive and the little-known intersection between Ontario and New York City.
Was there a large music community where you lived in Ontario?
I found that I was kind of doing it on my own. I just kind of fueled the internet, you know, utilized the internet more than anybody else. I couldn’t really find a music scene. I always did open mics around the city, but they were so spread out—there was really no “scene.”
Did you find you had a lot of support in the online community?
Yeah, definitely. It was a much better idea for me to spread myself on an outlet that nobody used. Nowadays everybody’s on YouTube, but when I started doing the whole YouTube thing it was only a few people, and they were mainly singers. So I came out with rap videos and that got really, really popular. I wasn’t the first, but I was one of the people who blew up off it—one of the only people back then. I was really young, so people were interested in that. I was standing out a lot. I used my racial difference as a huge advantage.
When did you know you wanted to make music your full time career?
At 16, when I dropped out of school and I was like, ‘You know what, this is what I gotta do for the rest of my life.’ You know, I signed to a label, I had no time to go to school or do normal kid things so I was like, ‘All right, I gotta do this. This is it.’
How did your mom feel when you dropped out of school?
She promoted me because she loved what I was doing. She couldn’t say anything because she dropped out of college, so she was like, ‘Do you. Do what you gotta do. I’ll stick by it.’
Who are some of your music idols?
Eminem, most definitely, and Drake being a figure from my city. I would just say those two right now in terms of rapping. For singing it would probably be Chris Brown and Bruno Mars, most definitely.
How would you describe your own style of music?
It’s just a fusion of hip-hop and pop. The subject matter is all light, but it’s all real life experiences—really relatable. My main thing is always being relatable.
In the time that you’ve been making music, you’ve also been growing up. How have you balanced being a kid and also maintaining a serious music career?
I’m just a serious person altogether. I have a lot of older friends, so whenever I hang out with my friends I just feel like I’ve grown a bit more than I’m supposed to. A lot of 19-year-olds have the 15-year-old dude mentality, but I hang around a lot of older people and I listen to my parents a lot more than the normal kid would.
Is there a reason you’ve always had older friends?
Well, in high school I could never make friends with kids my own age ‘cause they all didn’t like me, so I hung out with my brother and his crew. They were always two years older than me, and they hung out with kids older than them so they were influenced by the older kids and then that made me influenced by all of them together. I was just never friends with kids my age back then.
How has growing up so quickly been reflected in your sound?
Well, my EP that’s out right now, that’s basically what it’s about. It’s called Canal & Richvale. Canal is the street I work on in New York and Richvale is the street I used to live on. It’s like an intersection of my walks of life. It’s just like a kid going through a location crisis with everything changing, you know? So I wanted to jot that down in six songs and make a kind of story about how things have changed and how things have really grown.
Do you feel at home in New York now?
Yeah, somewhat. I always want my family to be there. I don’t think it will ever be home without my family.
So you miss your family a lot?
Yeah, all the time. They’re great people, I love being around them. They just have this positive energy about them. My mom at the moment has stage four cancer, and she’s still smiling, she’s still working, she’s still hanging out with everybody. So just off her optimism alone I take it and channel it through being happy every day, ‘cause you know, it could be worse.
You’ve spoken a lot about the hardships of being an Asian rapper in the music industry. What have you done to overcome some of those obstacles?
I just ignore all the hate and I take advantage of my cultural difference. I see it more as an advantage of being different that separates me from the other rappers—I kind of have an upper hand.
Do you feel the same way about people who criticize your young age?
Yeah, I don’t pay attention to that either. I use it to my advantage. I have a couple years on me, but there’s always room for growth, there’s always room for improvement and progression so I just take it as I’ll get better in the future when I’m, like, 25. I’ll be way better than what people think I’ll be.
After you played at Calvin Klein’s CK One music lounge I noticed you stuck around to hang out with your fans after the show. Is that something you do often?
Yeah, all the time. I like hanging out with people that adore my music and I like the compliments. I like people taking time out of their day to really tell me that I did a good job. That must mean that I’m doing something good. So as long as I have some people in the room feeling me, I’m totally fine.
Have you had any favorite fan moments so far?
I’ve had a lot of people who tattoo my lyrics on them and that’s still really overwhelming. It will always be overwhelming to me, but every fan is a favorite of mine. I have a lot of fans I know on a first name basis, too, so that’s really a cool thing.
Let’s go back to your EP, Canal and Richvale. How does it compare to your first two mixtapes?
The six songs I made are way better in terms of crafting. We composed them way better than we did the other two mixtapes. The other two mixtapes were very, like, mixtape worthy, and the mixing and mastering are way different on this tape. The whole sound of it is polished and way better composed than the rest of the projects. The songs are a little more relatable, and it’s a better sum up of everything that’s happened in only six songs, rather than working full songs that I have to try to tell the story in.
Do you have a favorite track from the EP?
Yeah, “Proud.” It’s a cheerful, uplifting, motivational thing for me to listen to and perform, so it’s always great to hear myself on it.
Have you been happy with the response so far?
Yeah, definitely. You know, it’s my first project, but I really don’t care about the sales and I don’t really care about the critics. At the end of the day, I just care about getting the music out there for my fans and having them entertained. At the end of the day it’s all about them.
How do you think the music reflects your personality?
You know, I’m a cheerful kid, but I’m also real at the same time when it comes to my mood and my emotions. So I mix the happiness in with the realness of life. Like I said, it’s all about being relatable. I wanna be relatable. I want everybody to kind of feel like they can always go to me if they have a problem.
What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re not working?
I’m not a foodie, but I like exploring different cultures of food. I’m never a picky kid when it comes to food. I like trying everything. So food searching, and if it’s not music I always try to spend as much time talking to my family as possible. They’re really good people, I like staying around them.
So you’re 19 and you’ve already toured with J. Cole and played Lollapalooza. Tell me about those experiences.
It was fun; it was a growing experience. For both of them it was a huge growing experience, not even in terms of music but in terms of work ethic and personality. You know, handling myself out there and holding my own to an extent, just being a way grown up person about traveling and handling everything. You can’t depend on so many people; you can only depend on yourself. That’s what I learned being on the road. And the thrill of performing in front of huge audiences—I usually perform at, like, 200 cap venues—but when I did the Cole tour we packed in like 2,000 people at the Sound Academy I think, so just seeing all that and seeing the thrill of it and feeling the thrill of it is amazing, too.
Did J. Cole give you any advice?
Yeah, every now and then. It was really casual; we just chilled around every now and then. He was a great guy, really humble. He definitely influenced me to be more humble with my fans and keep the same persona throughout my career as the same small town kid.
What other accomplishments do you hope to achieve within the next few years?
I wanna buy my mom a house. I wanna buy my brother a car. These are all monetary things, but they’re also just goals I set for myself in order to work hard. I want everybody around me to be happy before I get happy. I just want to be the biggest star I can be and do the best I can to make this blow up. I know it won’t happen overnight, so I’m just gonna progressively work and get better at my craft.
D-PRYDE WILL PERFORM ON SATURDAY, AUGUST 17 AT THE HIGHLINE BALLROOM IN NEW YORK CITY. HIS DEBUT EP, CANAL & RICHVALE, IS OUT NOW.