One of the fastest growing songs in the world at the time of publishing of this article is Armani White’s ‘Billie Eilish‘ and how it all came together is even more interesting.
Earlier this year, the 25-year old rapper from Philly scored an unconventional hit with the song named after one of world’s brightest pop stars. Before that, Armani was still making solid music but it was a change in strategy top of 2022 that paid dividends for him. ‘Billie Eilish’ has topped 40 million streams on Spotify alone and remains as one of the most used sounds on TikTok even after months of release.
But the journey to this place hasn’t been easy for Armani who has had to experience two house fires, in 2006 and 2020. In the former, he even lost close family members including his cousin who was his best friend. After going through a house fire two years ago, he recorded his Things We Lost in The Fire as a form of audio therapy which helped heal his wounds to some extent. It also made him think of fresh ideas — ‘Billie Eilish’ being one of them.
Armani’s hit came after a lot of hard work and patience. He first had to clear the sample (‘Nothin‘ by N.O.R.E featuring Pharrell and produced by The Neptunes) which he was able to do with industry connects. But then came the more difficult part — Universal said they can’t allow Armani to release the song without Billie Eilish’s clearance on the title of the song. The rapper made full use of his knack at TikTok to catch the popstar’s ear, convincing UMG to eventually green light the record.
The song was initially released independently but as what usually happens with viral hits, the Philly artist was bombarded with offers from multiple labels. He decided to go with Def Jam because of his connection to Tunji Balogun (CEO & Chairman, Def Jam) and the legacy that the iconic label carries.
In an exclusive chat with HHNM, Armani White talks about how he caught the attention of Billie Eilish to clear his song, signing with Def Jam, past traumatic experiences, upcoming ‘Billie Eilish’ remix, what he’s doing with the new money, dream collaborations and more. Check it out below.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
Navjosh: Congrats on all the success on ‘Billie Eilish’ and everything going on right now. How does it feel?
Armani White: Oh man, it feels really good. It always feels really good when you put so much hard work into something and it pays off. I’m not just talking about the ‘Billie Eilish’ moment but the entire career moment. Like we’re finally cracking the ground and making a lot of noise. Something that we’ve been fighting and fighting for so long. Then you have these tangible moments that really matter. Like I sent my mom my coverage in the HitsDailyDouble magazine so she could see it. She didn’t know what it was until she saw me and was like “oh my God!” Stuff like that is always cool.
To a lot of people, you’re a newcomer but you’ve been doing music for a while. Now that your single has gone crazy, I peeped some of your previous material and I noticed that the music was always solid but there’s a slight change in the presentation now. Was that a conscious decision starting with ‘Billie Eilish’ ?
Yeah, honestly, I think I was so macro before and we were so minimal in our approach. Like there is a quote I saw which said “perfection isn’t finished when you’re done adding but when you’re done taking away.” I had to really find my sound and I call my sound “happy hood music” which comes from the same pain as some of the street & aggressive hip hop music. But I have a more bright and colorful way to share that story. So I found that way to tell my story and still be aggressive but have fun with it at the same time.
Sometimes you gotta change things up a little bit when you’re stagnant and not experiencing growth.
Yeah for so long, I was so focused on making this grand sound that I stopped having fun with it. Because I was holding myself up to this bar that was so high and the next thing had to be higher and higher. And I realized that I wasn’t having fun with it. Then I decided to make stuff which I can also have fun listening to and that’s how songs like ‘Billie Eilish’ came about.
The way you got the sample cleared on the song – like your manager was in touch with Pharrell’s people and all that. Not many indie artists have that luxury. That tells you how valuable network and relationships are.
Oh yeah, it took a long time, like it took about 2 months. But who knows it could have taken even four or six months. The way they go about clearing samples is such an antiquated method. Like you have to send this carrier pigeon to this place and they got to drop the letter there? Wish there was a quicker way to do it but in the end I am really grateful that it happened the way it happened for me.
I was very happy to hear your hit too because that’s such a classic sample and not many artists are experimenting with their sound in the mainstream anymore. Like the middle eastern and Indian samples of the Timbaland and Neptunes era.
Oh yeah, I grew up on that sound. I was even trying to figure out if Pharrell and them folks did that sample themselves or where is it originally from.
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Once Billie Eilish gave you the co-sign, that must have been a surreal moment. How did you find out about her sharing the song on her story? Were you already following her?
Oh yeah, I was already following her. There was a moment in about April when I was really bummed out about the song. Like this song is never going to be cleared, it’s never going to happen, we just hyped everybody for nothing. Like damn, my career is over (laughs). One day I was doing a bunch of things sitting on the stairs and my creative director called me a couple of times and was like ‘yo call me’ because I wasn’t answering the phone. Then he sent me a text to Billie’s story and I saw it and dropped the phone. I was like ‘nahhh no way bro’ and ran up the steps a few times. Right before that, I was really down and disappointed because Universal told us you got all the clearance needed on all sides but we can’t let go of this master until you get Billie Eilish’s clearance. Like you gotta get her approval to use the title of the song. And I was like ‘how the f*ck are we gonna get that?’ Like who just casually knows Billie Eilish? (laughs). Like how do we get her attention? But when she did the story, that was all we needed. They released the claim right after that.
Your ‘Things We Lost In The Fire’ EP. That was a very introspective project based on true stories. You’ve experienced two house fires. That’s so crazy. You’ve obviously faced a lot of traumatic experiences because of that. How did that EP help you deal with circumstances at that time and let that trauma in your music out to the fans?
Erm.. that’s a good question. My first house fire where I lost my aunt and my cousins in it. It was in 2006, so I was a kid. I was really young at the time and I ran from it. I ran from the concept, I ran from the idea, I ran from ever having to speak about it out loud or anything. I just wanted to get as far away from it as possible. I think over time, it just kind of like, I blocked it out and in 2020 when I dealt with the other house fire and had that full circle moment, it was just kinda like… these are the things that you need to be strong enough to face, strong enough to get on the other side of because they’re mentally, they’re emotionally and spiritually holding you back from going where you need to go be, finding peace the way you need to find peace. It mellows into the Happy Hood Music a little bit more. It was a little bit more darker than the usual music that I make but it was necessary. For me, that record, it wasn’t even really like… you know, on streaming platforms it’s an EP, on streaming platforms it’s a project, it’s whatever people call it. For me, it was therapy. It was just audio therapy. It’s five records that spoke to what was going on in my life, how I was coping with whatever was going on in my life. The record ‘Melinda’, it’s an acoustic song just like saying her name. Melinda was my best friend growing up, she was my cousin that was like two or three years older than me. She passed away in the house fire as well. It was just therapy. It was like grief counselling almost and I think that’s necessary. It’s necessary to face some of these problems head on and just get on the other side of them rather than let them sit with you that long.
Yeah, you feel lighter after you do that, in the heart.
Yeah. I think my biggest thing was I knew… I was scared of the idea that I’m never going to get over this. This is never going to stop hurting. This is never going to not be something that’s on my heart and now I’m okay with that, I live through it. I live for those people instead of trying to run away from the fact that I don’t have those people anymore.
Right. After ‘Billie Eilish’ blew up, I’m sure you must have been approached by many labels and music companies, distros and what not. Why did you decide to go with Def Jam? What was it about Def Jam that really stuck with you?
It was a few reasons actually. One of the reasons was that a lot of the labels, they only did it like in phone calls… I don’t know, you kinda got the vibe that like, ‘you guys are just here for the record, you guys like this ‘Billie Eilish record, you think y’all can maximize it’ and that may be it. When I had those conversations with Tunji, who I’ve known for years, when we sat down, it was different because it was in person. We did it at the studio in L.A. and we just played song after song after song after song and I’m like, this is what I’m working on, this is my body of work. We had real human conversations. That was one of the biggest reasons I think. Not only the fact that obviously Def Jam, well, I wouldn’t even say it’s a big imprint in Hip-Hop culture, it is the imprint of Hip-Hop culture. It’s where Hip-Hop started. It’s very good to have that legacy behind me but also to be a part of the new generation and new era of what Def Jam is gonna do. To be one of those clouds in the sky as Def Jam fills back up. I’m really just excited to be a part of the next episode, next chapter. Yeah, it felt refreshing and one of the things that I haven’t done ever before this moment in my career and this year is work with my friends. You know what I mean? Work with people who I consider homies, people who I trust in this industry so it was one of them opportunities to do that and I wanted to try it out.
Fair enough. Usually when a record like this blows up, we see a remix later on to push it further. Is that being planned? Is the label thinking about that?
It might already be done bro (laughs). It’s definitely in the works. It’s definitely in the works. I can’t speak too much on it. If I could I’d just deliver it to you, but it’s definitely in the works.
That’s great. Looking forward to that. Naturally that will improve the performance of the original as well and shoot it up the charts.
What’s the best thing that you’ve been able to do with the new money that you previously either couldn’t afford or you didn’t necessarily want to spend on earlier.
Oh. The best thing I’ve done with the money is when I gave my mom $100k. That was the best thing I could’ve did with the money. Other than that though, I wanna say I buy more expensive jeans now (laughs). I think jeans just cost more money in general but I’m cheap as hell bruh, I ain’t gon’ lie. I’m real cheap, I don’t really be spending too much money. I’m still tryna decide if I’ma get a chain or Rolex like the other rappers and sh*t like that (laughs). I’m super cheap bro, I’m super cheap. Oh, and I got a Tesla! I got a Tesla.
Which hasn’t been delivered to you (laughs)
Oh my God, what? (Laughs) I done went through high school twice still waiting on that car. It’s been taking years for that thing to go through.
You still haven’t got it? I saw how frustrated you were in your IG stories.
Nah, so right now they saying it’s gon’ come on September 6th but my first date was in April then they pushed it from April ‘til now. So hopefully you see me whipping the Tesla, you can see the sky through the ceiling, you know (laughs).
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(Laughs) Yeah that’ll be nice. You recently dropped a new single ‘DIAMOND DALLAS.’. What are your upcoming plans? Are you working on a project right now, a full-length album, EP, what’s the plan?
Both, both. I’m in the sweatshop bruh, I’m working (laughs). Every day, day in, day out, it’s work. It’s a new record, it’s a new verse, a new this and that, whatever. I’m just working right now. The plan is we rolling out the EP this year and then, you know, we just carrying the legacy of the Happy Hood Music. We gon’ do it until it’s a real job and it pop up on iTunes or something. Then follow up big projects next year. A lot of features. That’s one of the things I’m able to do now. I didn’t realize I can DM rappers and other artists and be like ‘yo, I like y’all’, they like ‘oh, I like you too’ (laughs). So now I’m taking full advantage of that and having my way with it, just having my way with everything going on right now.
Yeah that’s one of the main advantages. Once you sort of blow up, you gain more leverage and people know you, it becomes easier to reach out to people. That was actually my next question. What are some of your dream collaborations with both artists and producers?
Man, it’s a long list. Shout out to my dawg Charlie Heat bro, we been talking about we gon’ get one in forever. Charlie, it’s gon’ happen. Tay Keith, Tyler, The Creator, Pharrell, Uzi, I’m an Uzi fan… It’s a lot of names I’m missing, I don’t know, Kanye West obviously. I don’t know if you want me to name the titans but Kanye, obviously, people that’s up top. I like Janelle Monáe a lot, I know that’s not Hip-Hop but… Yeah, it’s a long list. Shout out to KAY, too, KAYTRANADA, I just seen him at the Kendrick show the other day, we just ran into each other. Me and KAYTRANDA gotta put something together. I gotta get back on my dance vibe. Man… it’s a lot of names bro, I could just swipe down my Spotify and be like ‘and that one and that one and that one and that one’ (laughs). I like a lot of the Trap music too. I’m a big 21 fan. Latto. I like Nudy. I like 6LACK. I like Blxst, me and Blxst just met last night too. I need an Ed Sheeran feature. Ed Sheeran be rolling through the hood, I respect it. I’m only telling you this ‘cause I’m like, yo these are the names I sprinkle in and they might happen. I might be giving you some inside information! Yeah, I’m a big 6LACK fan. 6LACK like with the number 6.
Of course, 6-LACK (laughs)
Yeah, 6-LACK, 6-LACK (laughs)
My next question is something interesting because this is something we ask everybody we interview here at HipHop-N-More and that is Prince or Michael Jackson and why?
Oooooh. You know what? The problem with Prince is that Prince fought the internet so much that he won and I don’t know that much Prince music because it wasn’t accessible to me growing up. But when I got into Prince, I remember one time I took the train up to New York and I got into Prince, I just put on Prince radio and I was like ‘yo this music is amazing’. Mike is up there… I mean obviously Mike is Mike (laughs). I gotta go with Michael just because I know a little bit more about Michael than Prince. But Prince is a star. If I could move my career after anybody I would be Prince. Like in 5 years I’ma come out with my scarf tied up, I’ma pick my chest, throw the comb out. Yeah. Like I’m tryna walk out like Prince for sure.