Armani Doc, Italian Rap with some elegance. An interview.
We reached out to Armani Doc, the newest young addition of the M.R.G.A roster, the label founded by the italian rapper Gionni Gioielli. We asked him about his artistic rise and the importance of being excellent in rapping, avoiding being put in a box.
Yo Armani, thanks for your availability. We are finally able to ask you some questions! Actually, we were already watching you thanks to the music video of “Disciplina” and way before your recent debut album with the MxRxGxA (Make Rap Great Again), the collective captained by Gionni Gioielli, and even before the 2019’s “Serie A” tape: it’s quite rare here in Italy to listen to a young man who spit bars not conforming to the mainstream sound and doing it very well. What led you to make this stylistic choice and go “against the grain” in a certain sense?
I’ve always lived in Milan, in zone 7 and I was born in ’95, so I’m old enough to have grown up with the second wave of the italian rap, (mainly Fibra, The Dogo’s, Onemic, TruceKlan and Adriacosta), but I am also young enough to have discovered Atlanta’s trap music, Chicago’s drill, the Louisiana rap or Detroit one, when I was at the high school. So honestly, the talk of what is in vogue or not never bothered me. I find it a paranoia that often hovers in the Italian rap scene. Often there is a false perception about it, because people think that in the States they are all the same and if the Migos do billions of views on Youtube, and Griselda a million, so just one kind of sound is in vogue and the other isn’t… Actually, if you go to New York they listen to the grimey shit or, more lately, the Nyc’s drill , rather than the Migos or the stuff from California , because the Ny kids feel it more.
In Italy , many artists followed this trend of copying the most popular sound, but at the end it’s only an excuse to not admit “I am doing what they do because they have more views
Because if you really listen to it, you know that there isn’t only a trending sound: the Migos raps with their Atlanta sound but Travis Scott, instead, is from Texas and he has a whole other style; but people who don’t even know how many kilometers are from Atlanta to Houston, it may feels the same sound. Also “the bars thing” , for the way I spit them, I am not just rhyming words but I say things with a sense. In the States, not only the pure lyricists do that, but also the more mainstream rappers. Yesterday, I listened to Fivio Foreign’s “Bop It” or the 21 Savage album and they are not known for being some super lyricist rappers but both spit fire bars with double meanings, also they are not rapping on a Dj Premier beat, tough…You know what I’m saying, right?
Anyway, in my opinion what I’m doing it’s the fundamental of what a good rapper should do; but I do understand the fact that if you take the Italian Hip Hop scene for exemple, it could look different. To me the weirdos are those rappers who rhyme thousands of difficult words without saying shit…
I’ve grown up listening to both Nas and Gucci Mane though. I don’t want to put my music in a box or doing what is considered against the grain, because what we do with MRGA, in my opinion, is absolutely something in step with the times.”
Where does your passion for Hip Hop come from?
However I have been listening to rap since I was 7-8 and I heard Caparezza “Fuori dal Tunnel”, at 12. I bought “Bugiardo” ( Fabri Fibra Lp ) and some Eminem CDs, then, since middle school, I started to deepen this culture thanks to the internet. So I can say I’ve always been passionate about music and rap, in particular. I started writing something with a couple of friends, at 15 y.o. in my spare time but at that time it was unthinkable to make some bread with rap music. At 17 I quit to write, but I remained passionate about rap and I kept listening to it. At 22 years old I got back to writing and I noticed I was writing better than worse: I was more fluid, more mature, and especially, I had more things to tell.
How has your stage name evolved from Doc, as in your first mixtape “Berlusconi Tape” to Armani Doc? Why did you choose this name?
About my name I can say Doc it’s the name that the most of the people from my hood always called me by since I was 12 y.o., so when I started recording I didn’t even have to think of a stage name.
The story about my name’s change also explains how I met Gionni (Gioielli ed’s note) and how we chose the album concept more or less. Gionni did YBS ( “Young Bettino Story” ) in 2018 and I really loved it, also because three months before I had released the “Berlusconi Tape”, so we were probably the only ones, at that time, to have done something that dirty, raw and underground, but with an italian excellence imaginary.
In particular I loved the “Giorgio Armani” beat, so when he launched the contest I sent him a verse that I had discarded from “Serie A” Lp, above that instrumental. I sent him an email in a hurry and I only wrote “ARMANI MILANO”, and he liked it, but he thought that Armani Milano was my actual name. So when we met he wanted me to keep this name. We discussed and, at the end, we agreed for Armani Doc, that anyway so far is the one I prefer.
You recently released “Alta Moda” ( “High Fashion” ) for the MxRxGxA collective, entirely produced by Gionni Gioielli: How were you recruited by Gionni Gioielli to join M.R.G.A ? How did the idea for the album come about and what’s the concept behind the album’s name?
The album idea was born from my name’s story, because Armani Doc however was fitting well for a fashion-themed album and when Gionni ( Gioielli ed’s note) proposed it to me, I immediately loved the idea.
We can say that the album itself has 3 major concepts throughout its tracks: our rap as High-Fashion style, made of a superior quality than the industry standards ( already from my well embroidered bars you can understand that it’s not some H&M stuff)
Also a reflection about the state of Hip Hop in Italy, as usual for the MRGA albums ( with my point of view more “pro trap” oriented than the others one, for example ). Then, the motivational side ( for example “Nike X Off White” or my second verse in “La mia Ex veste Prada“) that connects the world of the streets and the trap one, from where I come from, with the rap music environment where I’m involved into about 2 years now.
I talk about the transition from one world to another that I have made in these years. By the way is also inspired by Ma$e, as I say in a verse: “I was murda murda Doc, but Gionni created Armani / had other things in my mind but rap changed my plans” reprising his “I was murda, P Diddy named me pretty, did it for the money now can you get with me?” .
The idea was to do something that was absolutely rap but at the same time stylish, fresh and trendy let’s say. Then the album is full of many other influences from Jay-Z’s and the first Kanye’s , Cam’ron, Styles P and Dogo’s.
In your album there are some heavyweights of the italian rap as Ensi or E-Green, in addition to the MRGA roster represented by Gionni Gioielli, Blo/B and the young bull Rollz Rois: how were these collaborations born? Can you tell us something “behind the scenes” of your album?
The night I met Gionni Gioielli we were in the recording studio and there were also Ensi and Blo. Ensi had never listened to anything of mine so I let him hear some bars and he got lit with my shit and for me he’s a legend so it was normal for us to collaborate at that point. From there, we reached out some other times in the studio and at some live shows and finally we have done “Villa Versace” together. With Egreen it went rather the opposite, as Gionni made him hear something of mine and finally we reached out…but it was more or less the same situation.
With Gionni and Blo I did a lot of songs, so these two feats were quite obvious, while I discovered Rollz thanks to “Vetri Neri”. I remember that day I sent his video to Blo and Gionni and they liked it, so a week later Rollz was in the studio with us and from there he joined the MRGA project and then he featured my album.
You are the first member of the MxRxGxA crew that we have interviewed… What can you tell us about the philosophy and the goals of this movement? Can you anticipate us for any next project?
MRGA is a collective formed by me, Gionni, Blo, Lil Pin and Rollz, but actually there are so many people that are collaborating with us that I consider it mostly a platform for the élite of the italian underground rap. The word underground, for us, doesn’t mean “I do too few numbers to be mainstream”, but it means that If you are looking for this kind of rap, you know that with MRGA you will certainly find it.
Moreover, in the last year we are doing better numbers and we are cooperating with new people, even from the mainstream industry, who may like the genre of rap that we are doing and they really want to participate in our albums. Now we also have a better organized digital and physical distribution so I believe MRGA is and, I hope, will remain the greatest and best reality of the italian underground rap.
And, in my opinion, working as a team it’s a super Hip Hop thing and It encourages productivity ( in 2020 we already got 6 albums out for the moment) and the quality, because we are always working hard and we are also inspired by what the others of the team are doing. We already have some other projects in mind for the next year and some of them will be epic, but I can’t spoil nothing or Gionni will kill me.
In a certain way, at least in the States, we are attending to a comeback of lyricism and of the underground rap, not intended as the nerdy backpacker rap, but we refer to it as that rap music that brings back the street hardcore attitude with dope bars and styles… You and MRGA are trying to bring back this trend in Italy, but do you feel it could reach a certain success also in this country? In your opinion what are the necessary ingredients?
Uhm the “lyricism comeback”… I don’t know. In my opinion, more than anything else, in Italy after the rap thing reached a wider audience in 2016, now everybody is used to it. Now there is a more mature and conscious public than before about what rap really is (I mean we left behind the dogmas about “what rap should be” in Italy, that the older ones have imposed for years) and people want something fresh and enjoyable, but are not satisfied with something that just sounds good. That hype about that thing here called “trap” is now dead and the copies of the american rappers are too “cringe” at the moment.
In my opinion, more than to look at lyricism, which is only a technical thing, we should look out for who is representing something: I am thinking to Gianni Bismarck and the 126, to the Drilliguria movement, Geolier or the youngins of Z7 (Zona 7) who blew up this year.
Among them, there are those who are more technical, who are less, but all the guys above are fire, because they speak about how it was, how it is and how they would like it to be the place where they come from. For what concerns America, the scene that Griselda brought into the spotlight has always existed and I have been listening to it since high school: Westside Gunn did not invent anything that Roc Marciano, the Wu Tang, Smoke Dza, Lox, Currensy, Pro Era and others already did. But If I shall do a comparison between us and them, we are trying to utilize the attention that there is at the moment on MRGA and Griselda, to merge all the existing dope underground realities. Like the old motto says: “unity is strength” .
In your last album you paid homage to different legends, from the Club Dogo to Raekwon of Wu Tang: who are the artists who have you inspired the most over the years? What are you listening to in this period?
Coming back to my favourite rappers, they are Ice Cube, Jay-Z, Styles P, Ghost & Rae and Master P. About the Italian rap scene, since I’m from Milan, I grew up with the Dogo. They influenced me a lot and I think every rapper from Milan should have something of the Dogo in his style. For the rest I listen to everything and I’m inspired by everything I listen to, so I could do an endless list: Nas, The Game, Gucci Mane, Lil Bibby, Drake, Dave Santan, 21 Savage, DMX, The Lox, Dipset, Kanye, Skepta, Odd Future, Griselda, Kool G Rap, MF DOOM, i Mobb Deep, French Montana, Future, Lil Durk, Kendrick, Schoolboy Q, Pop Smoke, Nipsey Hussle, Meek Mill, Headie One, 50 Cent, I Clipse, Ma$e and Biggie and… obviously Harry Fraud, Currensy e Wiz Khalifa, when I smoke I listen only to them.
What are your plans for the future? What is your biggest ambition?
Given the last two years results, I’m investing in my music and I can only speak about another project that will be out before the end of the year, it will be not a MRGA one but a Think Fast Records project, that is my own label.
Moreover we will also release the album of two kids from the hood (Cornish and Lefka), always under Think Fast. So the plan is to be able to create a great team also here, so I can go on with doing music with MRGA, but at the same time having my own label, making projects with another sound or with a different mood. My ambition is to have MRGA still active for some years and my label launched, so I could live with my music and I would like to work also behind the scenes as A&R.