Phora: One fan at a time

Dec 21, 2017 - Artist Stories

Growing up in Anaheim, Calif., Marco Archer — better known to his fans as Phora — learned the art of grassroots rap promotion early on, shadowing his MC father at a local grocery store parking lot as he tried to get shoppers to buy his album. "It was that strict street hustle," says Phora with a chuckle, "selling CDs out of the trunk of the car, trying to get to that next level by just word of mouth."

While those days may be long past, this spirit isn't so far removed from the path that Phora, now 23, has forged for himself using the tools of his time. Since 2010, the rapper has uploaded dozens of videos for his self-produced tracks directly to YouTube, racking up 135 million views and a rabid fanbase in the process. “I’ve never recorded my music in a professional studio. I've always recorded my own stuff. I mix my own stuff, master my own stuff.” Phora explains. “I’d be up until 3 or 4 in the morning watching tutorial videos on how to mix things, on how to set your mic up or acoustic sound treating a room, how to build your own studio. I spent hours and hours and hours doing my homework on YouTube.” This perseverance and DIY ethos has led to over 500,000 subscribers for the MC, who after nearly a decade as an independent act recently inked a record deal with Warner Bros.

“My videos are probably the single most important thing in my career," the recent Artist on the Rise featured singer tells YouTube. "My music is very concept based, whether it's a storytelling song or me talking about something I've been through. I like to give the full details and in a song, you can only get so in-depth — paint the whole picture. I feel like the listener connects that much more directly when they see something visually.”

Like with his music, Phora initially took a hands-on approach to this visual work. “In the early days it was guerrilla style.” he explains of early clips like that for his 2013 West Coast feel-good jam “The Old Way.” “I went out, picked a spot and shot it there. I rapped in front of the camera and it was all said and done.” But over the last few years, he's handed the reins to a director, which has allowed Phora to keep up a staggering pace — as many as 10 videos per album — while growing his artist brand Yours Truly.

"Yours Truly is about being honest, open, and vulnerable," says Phora. "It's telling everything like it is." It’s a message that rings true in both his music and accompanying videos. Take July's spare but haunting video for "Numb,” wherein the MC stalks a small room bleary-eyed, voice cracking as he shouts his anxieties about a lost love at the white walls. Or September's "God," where Phora wrestles with regret while the camera travels between light  — the rapper in a desert feeling his humility — and dark — in a bedroom with a bottle and his pain. And in longtime fan favorite "My Story," Phora lets it all spill out, baring his soul to a growing legion of fans not only in audio and video form, but also in frequent back and forths via the comments section.

“There's been multiple times where I've dropped comments, like on ‘God,’ because I wanted to let people know — yo, I'm here.” Phora explains. “I didn't just put this video out and go about my normal life. I put this video out because I want to know how you guys feel. I want to know if you can connect with this, if you can relate to the situation I was going through.” It's a sentiment that aptly reflects both the level of sincerity that Phora brings to each video and the level of respect he has for his growing legion of fans.

A lot has changed for Phora in the nearly seven years since he first launched his YouTube channel. He's built Yours Truly into a clothing company and a music imprint capable of releasing albums that reach a huge audience. And earlier this year his major label debut, “Yours Truly Forever,” climbed to No. 44 on the Billboard 200. But for Phora, it has never been just about numbers — it was about forging his own, credible path to the top. "It's that I did this on my own," he says. "No one said, 'Here's a million dollars, a feature or cosign.' This was grassroots. I built it all fan by fan."