R. City: Two Caribbean Brothers’ 20-Year Journey From Poverty to a Top 10
November 2, 2015 - accent chair
R. City, a swat twin behind a Number One Pop strain in a country, have been behaving together given they were facile propagandize students on a island of St. Thomas in a U.S. Virgin Islands. But brothers Theron and Timothy Thomas are unexpected anticipating themselves in uncharted waters.
The span are removing prepared to go onstage during a 45th annual Atlanta Pride Festival, a largest LGBT festival in a Southeast. It’s 6 o’clock on a Saturday evening, and a skies over Atlanta’s Piedmont Park are filled with dark, rumbling clouds. In front of a theatre in one murky dilemma of a park, a few dozen people — several wearing rainbow flags as capes, one sporting pinkish angel wings — indent around, chatting, checking their phones. Backstage, Theron is a small nervous.
“We’re used to behaving in front of Caribbean people and thousands of black kids,” he says. “Now we’re behaving in front of thousands of white kids, thousands of homosexuals, that’s a conflicting demographic. When we travel out here and start doing this are they going to say, ‘Yo this shit is wack?'”
As it turns out, no. R. City firm onstage, arms and legs flailing, and launch into “I’m That,” a raw, high-energy jam that’s musically apart from their strike “Locked Away,” a cut of Caribbean-inflected pop-rap featuring Adam Levine on a silky-smooth hook. The formerly usually millers raze and are shortly assimilated by hundreds some-more who tide from tents in other tools of a festival toward a murky array in front of a stage.
A few songs into a set, Theron looks out during a crowd, and nods. “I see people looking like, ‘Who a ruin are these dudes?'” Timothy picks adult a thread, “We consider y’all know us yet don’t know we know us.” And with that a span flog off a miscellany of songs they’ve created for other artists — i.e., a work that has kept them well-fed for a past few years: Nicki Minaj’s “Only,” Usher’s “I Don’t Mind,” Rihanna’s “Pour It Up.” The assembly screams their approval. When a clouds open and a sleet starts to tumble in complicated sheets usually before a span launch into “Locked Away,” no one scurries for cover.
R. City’s road to success has been longer and harder than most: dual desperately bad kids from an island of 50,000 people, sticking firmly — for some-more than dual decades — to a faith that they’re going to be general recording stars one day.
“My daddy was deliberate crazy,” Theron says. “He was usually a genuine non-traditional cat. That’s given me and my hermit are such clever believers in formulating a possess rules. Only crazy people are remembered.”
The R. City story unequivocally starts with their father, Miguel “Kiebo” Thomas. Kiebo was a revolutionary hip-hop conduct on an island of calypso fans. He was a basketball star, a black romantic and a burglar. The 5 years he spent in jail when Timothy and Theron were kids — and their mother’s continued friendship to him by it all — desirous “Locked Away.” He was a man who kept duffel bags of weed in his closet yet threatened to “tear a ass” out of possibly of his sons if he held them smoking with their friends. He was also a group’s initial manager.
“My father taught us all we know,” says Theron. Timothy, sitting conflicting from his brother, on a leather couch, nods.
“Hip-hop was underground,” he says. “It wasn’t popular. There were usually a few people via a Virgin Islands who had an appreciation for hip-hop culture. My father was one of them. So flourishing up, we was shabby by all these good hip-hop artists from Public Enemy, Eric B. and Rakim, Tribe Called Quest. The Fugees altered a lives.”
Theron is 10 months comparison than Timothy yet many everybody assumes it’s a other approach around. Theron is hyperactive and witty — “Everything about me says ‘little brother,'” he admits — while Timothy is ease and composed. Theron, dressed currently in a striped Puma line fit tip and red sweatpants, is in consistent suit even as he tries to lay in a studio’s swiveling table chair. He swigs from a H2O bottle. He spins around. He stands adult to act out a story, or sings snippets of songs — his possess and many others — to illustrate a point. Timothy, wearing a white “All Hail a Virgin Islands” T-shirt and black pants, is friendly, yet some-more subdued.
“We’re totally conflicting musically, too,” says Theron. “He’s Kendrick Lamar and I’m Fetty Wap. He’s underground, trek —it’s about a message. I’m commercial. we feel like if we’re not creation strain for everybody on this world to enjoy, what a fuck are we creation it for?”
The dual grew adult in a Oswald Harris Court projects — famous locally as a “Housin” projects — in Charlotte Amalie, a largest city on St. Thomas. Verse Simmonds, a writer/producer/artist who has created for Kanye West, Jay-Z, Chris Brown and others, grew adult in Charlotte Amalie, and has been parsimonious with a Thomas brothers given 7th grade.
“Theron was in an RB organisation with me,” he says. “We would run around a island and indeed sing to conflicting women for, like, Valentine’s Day. People would compensate us to sing during their wife’s pursuit or whatever. That’s how we would make money.”
Simmonds says a brothers were scarcely focused on strain from a immature age. “Their father would make them discipline their moves and all their songs as shortly as they got home from school, before even homework. He was unequivocally critical about their performances and creation certain they were show-ready during all times. It would be an any singular day thing.”
“My father pushed us, pushed us, pushed us given he was like, ‘This is what’s going to get y’all out of here. Y’all ain’t gonna be like me and your mother.'”
In a early days, a brothers, afterwards famous as 2Ekwip, done what Theron calls “kiddie rap” — rhymes about Kool-Aid or unresolved out with their friends — and got renouned via a Virgin Islands doing it. After high school, a brothers relocated to South Florida and altered in with Simmonds, who was vital there during a time, and several others. They slept on a sweeping on a dining room floor.
“It wasn’t like we had a plan,” says Timothy. The span had $85 between them.
“We were young,” Theron says, jolt his head. “We were like, ‘I don’t wish to get no fucking job. we came here to do music. We gonna blow up. We dope, man!’ We usually didn’t wish to work and do that form of hustle.” After 10 months and not most progress, a span used an event to perform in Atlanta as an forgive to pierce there. They were so pennyless they had to censor on transport cars so they could nap there after a line had tighten down for a night. Later, a writer crony let them nap in his studio. “It was us and Bubba Sparxxx,” says Theron. “Bubba slept there too.”
Things began to demeanour up. The brothers were introduced to some producers out of St. Louis who gave them a possibility to write songs for other artists. Trina cut dual of their songs yet never expelled either. They were being totally bankrolled by these producers, and when there seemed no approaching lapse on investment, Theron and Timothy were shuttled behind to St. Thomas.
“They were like, ‘We’re going to send y’all to a islands for a small while and afterwards we’ll move y’all back,” says Theron. “But they usually sent us there and left us there.”
It was a low indicate yet also a transformational moment. “You know when we go by that one indicate in your life when you’re like, ‘I can’t take it no more—everything is going bad?”’ asks Timothy. “That’s when we were like, ‘Fuck everybody!'”
The span altered their name to Rock City. (They still impute to themselves as such, yet had to digest it to R. City for copyright reasons.) Their strain got some-more assertive and sincerely political. (“We was like fucking Public Enemy,” says Theron.) They grinded tough behind in St. Thomas, holding down mixed jobs any (Cold Stone Creamery, FYE, PriceMart supermarket warehouse, Little Switzerland watch shop) while building their hometown fan bottom considerably. Jamal Samuels, who was a fan behind then, vital on a adjacent island of St. Croix, and is now partial of their government team, says, “They’re outrageous in a Virgin Islands. They’re Michael Jackson there. we used to get a conflicting outfit any time I’d go see them.”
Still, a span had an eye on a lapse to a States, and after a year of saving their income they did usually that. Akon, who’d they’d met by crony years before, sealed them to his Interscope imprint, Konvict, where they spent 4 years yet ever releasing an album. Their strain was a infrequently unclassifiable hybrid of hip-hop, roots reggae, dancehall, calypso, RB and pop. They would mostly swat one hymn in an American accent and a subsequent in their island patois. Label execs would blemish their heads, suggesting they collect a line and stay in it, yet as Theron explains, “That’s a usually approach we know how to make music.”
“In America, they have segregated radio: Urban, Rhythmic, Hot AC, AC, Pop,” he continues. “We don’t have that in a Virgin Islands. We have one audience. If we don’t like Jay Z, it’s going to play. After Jay-Z? Bob Marley. Right after Bob Marley? Taylor Swift. That’s how we were raised.”
The Thomas brothers’ disappointment with a tag became so strident that a twin started releasing a array of mixtapes underneath a banner, PTFAO or Put a Fuckin’ Album Out. Akon and Interscope never did put a fuckin’ manuscript out, yet he let them out of their agreement in 2011. As Theron recalls, “It came to a indicate where he was like, ‘I’m sleepy of arguing with y’all. Y’all motherfuckers are like irritating insects.'”
By this time though, a span had determined themselves as songwriters, scoring hits with Sean Kingston’s “Take You There,” a Pussycat Dolls’ “When we Grow Up” and Iyaz’s “Replay.” But they suspicion of themselves as performers initial and set about operative on manuscript they patrician Free At Last that they eventually deserted themselves. Unfortunately, this misfire coincided with a downturn in their songwriting fortunes.
“2011, 2012, we didn’t have no hits and we were in a studio any day,” says Theron. “We didn’t make no money.”
Tiring of sophistry their careers as songwriters with their careers as performers, they focused on a former, given it had paid a bills. The hits returned: Miley Cyrus’ “We Can’t Stop,” Rihanna’s “Pour It Up,” Becky G’s “Shower.” They met popsmith extraordinaire Lukasz Gottwald, a.k.a. Dr. Luke, in their ability as writers, who afterwards offering them a possibility to work on their possess music. After signing to Luke’s Kemosabe label, R. City spent over a year crafting What Dreams Are Made Of, with Luke and his major Cirkut, producing.
“Working with Luke is conflicting given Luke comes from a Max Martin propagandize where they spend 3 or 4 days on a melody, afterwards they put difference to it,” says Theron. “Ninety-five percent of a songs is a initial thing that came to mind. We make strain off of feeling and Luke creates strain off of science. It’s a formula. We would quarrel and argue. Most people in a room with Luke are like, ‘Man, we’re operative with Luke!’ We’re like ‘I don’t give a fuck how most Number Ones we got. we ain’t doing that bullshit!'”
Ultimately, they feel like a formula clear a process. The manuscript is a low-pitched and informative mash-up fitting a brothers’ singular backstory. “Over” starts with Timothy’s up-from-the-bottom rhymes filled with genuine sum from a duo’s early life (“First bed we slept on came out a rubbish can”), afterwards Theron slips into his Caribbean accent for a few lines before a strain opens into a chorus, an island-style interpolation of Lenny Kravitz’s classical Philly-soul redux, “It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over.” “Make Up” weds a lax reggae slit to an memorable pop-soul chorus. They reunite with Akon for Nineties-style unwavering swat on “Live By a Gun” and move in roots-reggae buttress Tarrus Riley for “Crazy World,” a strain they creatively wrote for Rihanna afterwards motionless to keep for themselves. Beyond usually synthesizing a Thomas boys’ past, Theron believes there’s a vibe that comes from these songs that’s formidable to ignore.
“Our strain creates we happy,” says Theron. “Whenever we listen to a music, it creates me wish to smile. Nothing about that creates me feel assertive or angry.” This is as tighten as you’ll get to a arrange of foundational truth behind R. City’s sneakily rebellious cocktail music.
“Do we know how tough it is to make certain strain cool?” asks Theron. With that, he’s on his feet, adult from a table chair, swiveling his hips and singing some examples. “‘One love!/Let’s get together and feel alright.’ The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is damn nearby a gospel album! ‘Forgive them father for they know not what they do.’ Do we know how tough it is to get a gangsta to sing, ‘Jesus walks!/God uncover me a approach means a devil’s perplexing to mangle me down!'”
With this line his hermit joins in, rapping along with Theron and a Kanye in their heads, and their whole tour starts entrance into clearer focus. Not usually their early days in a Housin projects in St. Thomas, with their crazy ex-con father drilling them after school, or their days sleeping on trains or their misfires with Trina, with Akon, with themselves, yet all a approach adult by “Locked Away” and yesterday’s uncover to this really moment.
“Do we know how intensely formidable it is to contend something that’s positive,” Theron continues, slipping in a discerning carol of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” “and make people be like, ‘I don’t feel like I’m being preached to, we don’t feel like I’m being judged for my choices, we usually feel good when this comes on?'” He sits down and takes a breath. “That’s what a fuck we creation strain for.”