One of the standout tracks on ForteBowie's Internet-approved EP — the seven-song Vice Haus, released earlier this year — is titled after the notorious Atlanta trap rapper known for spending more time in jail than he does on the charts. "Gucci Mane" is not an ode to the Mane himself, but a slick pun ForteBowie flips into an ego-bolstering metaphor after a former flame bruises his heart.
"It pretty much describes what you go through after you have a fallout with somebody that you love or fuck with like that. At first you're like, 'I'm good. I'm Gucci Mane,'" ForteBowie says, reciting part of the hook. "You're telling yourself that, but you're kinda in denial."
In essence, it's a lover's lament disguised as a bitches-ain't-shit anthem. ForteBowie seamlessly blends rap and R&B — complete with vocal ad-libs circa M.J.'s "I'm Bad" era — on the self-produced track. And he pulls it off with a subtle brilliance that reveals his knack for peeling back the layers of human contradiction.
At 22, he's familiar with life's incongruities. His parents emigrated from Cameroon but raised him and his brothers in Clayton County, where he grew up between a low-income apartment complex and a nice suburban home, listening to everything from his father's Kenny Rogers records to Master P's "No Limit Soldiers." It's no wonder his music tends to swing like a pendulum between two extremes.
But somewhere between the cultural confines he claims as home on Atlanta's Southside and the close-knit New Atlanta scene from which he's emerging, ForteBowie is crafting his own lane.
Despite being one of the latest additions to the ongoing rapper-slash-singer trend — one who also occasionally employs Auto-Tune — ForteBowie's vocal range makes any comparisons to established artists like Drake or Future laughable. A trained vocalist who participated in chorus from middle through high school, ForteBowie began rapping around ninth grade. By then his musical palette ranged from Backstreet Boys to Bell Biv DeVoe and Savage Garden to Sade. But his favorite genre was alternative/indie rock.
"Growing up, I knew I was different from everybody else 'cause no one was into the shit I was into," he says. "So I knew I was just a different [dude] in a whole 'nother environment, but that never really bothered me to a certain extent."
After graduating high school in 2008, he went to college but only lasted two weeks before his dorm room became his real classroom. He'd stay there all day recording music. Flunking out was no big deal for ForteBowie, who'd known since childhood that music was his destiny.
Today, he calls it his full-time gig. On a Monday afternoon he sits in the living room of his co-manager Ty Baisden's home surrounded by the rest of his team: road/co-manager, Freeze; marketing/promotions assistant, Es Famojure; and ForteBowie's younger brother, Slice. They're supposed to be strategizing the video treatment for "Gucci Mane," the first visual from his current EP, but they seem to be spending more time debating the enigmatic genius of Prince, the deceptive intelligence of Marilyn Manson, and the marketing savvy (or potential lack thereof) behind rapper J. Cole's recent decision to release his album on the same day as Kanye West.
ForteBowie's EP grew out of a more ambitious project titled Passion and Confusion, which was supposed to be a follow-up to 2011's Something About #Bowie. But he obsessed over it for so long it became overwhelming. Instead, his team convinced him to release a handful of the best songs timed to capitalize on the momentum of "Southside," a Trinidad James song he'd produced and rapped on before the gold rush of James' ubiquitous "All Gold Everything" single. He sewed the EP together with interludes and decided on a title that would convey a theme. Despite the worldliness implied by the title, "there's no meaning to Vice Haus," ForteBowie says. "I came up with one just to be politically correct in interviews. Really, I just thought that shit was dope."
Whether questioning the hypocrisy in contemporary religion ("Take Em to Church") or deconstructing gender roles in the most thought-provoking stripper anthem ever ("M.O.B. Pt. I & II" feat. Miloh Smith), Vice Haus showcases ForteBowie's ability to straddle heartfelt melodic pop and Southern street gospel. Since releasing it in February, he's been deemed the next it-artist to emerge from the city's hashtagged rap scene, #NewAtlanta. But Bowie's more focused on making music than a movement.
"It's a 'movement' but I don't think it should be labeled as that," says Bowie, who maintains it started out as a core collective of like-minded, young artists, producers, rappers, and fashion heads, but grew into its own beast as more people attempted to attach themselves to it without invitation. "It's just, like, too much shit. It should be what it was in the beginning — raw and organic. We ain't gotta go and holler at The Source about doing a whole fuckin' spread on all of us. We gonna make it happen regardless."
ForteBowie and his team already have plans to re-release Vice Haus this summer with additional songs. In the more immediate future, they're planning to watch the Harmony Korine cult classic Gummo for inspiration for ForteBowie's upcoming video shoot. The thought of them studying Korine's debut film to inspire a video for a song titled "Gucci Mane," when the real Gucci Mane just had a starring role in Korine's latest film, Spring Breakers, almost seems too coincidental.
The irony probably isn't lost on ForteBowie, either.