Profound, yet buoyantly energetic, Armani White wants to trademark happy hood music. Pairing dexterous flows with dense introspection and spurts of impassioned melodies, the 26-year-old delivers a colorful, but poignant soundtrack for survivors.
On songs like 2021s “Grateful,” he channels wounded optimism as he reflects on evolving relationships, tragedy and perseverance. Meanwhile, for more free-wheeling tracks like “Billie Eilish,” he lets loose, fusing zany wordplay with machismo he earned from his upbringing in West Philadelphia.
Bouncing across an infectious wood flute sample from N.O.R.E.’s “Nothin,” Armani unloads swaggering couplets that are dismissive as they are confident: “Put it in perspective/Bitch, I got everything I wanted and some extra/I am not the type for turning into a detective/Got two of my own phones, barely even check ’em.” With a nimble flow, quick-fire flexes and a playful nod to a pop superstar, “Billie Eilish” is a feel good theme song laced with irony and a trace of menace. The single has earned TikTok ubiquity. It’s also marked just the latest step in the journey for one of the most unique voices Philly has to offer.
Before he crafted a viral single, Armani soaked up the sounds of Ludacris, State Property and Eminem. “It was the soundtrack of our lives,” he recalls. Before too long, he pantomimed the art of the MC, spitting lyrics from his favorite rappers when he played outside with friends. Growing up in a troubled home, he found healing in beats and bars. “I like being happy. I like being energized and I like positive spirits, so music became therapy,” he says.
By the age of 11, Armani and a friend tried their hand at making songs, using trial versions of Mixcraft to compose their first offerings. Soon, Armani became aware of his gift, and the outlet it provided him. “I felt like it gave me a voice,” he remembers.
After finishing high school, where he’d won both Class Clown and Most Likely to Be Heard a Mile Away for his school yearbook, the idea of a rap career began to crystallize. In 2015, he earned attention from “Stick Up,” a pulsing boom bap single coated in braggadocio and comical flashes of danger. The video for the track quickly accumulated tens of thousands of views, and the next year, Pharrell even played one of his songs on his Beats 1 Radio show. “Some of these things I was dreaming about like, ‘Yeah, this would be cool as hell if I could get it, but there’s no way I’m gonna get it,’” Armani remembers thinking. “Then some of those things just started happening.”
While he had been building up momentum, tragedy brought his career to a halt. In 2016, two years after his uncle was killed in Philadelphia, his father died of cancer. “Those were traumatic experiences that make you protective over how much you care and how you’re willing to fall into someone’s life,” he says. After taking time to process his feelings and take care of his family, Armani re-introduced himself to the rap world with “Public School” in 2018. Lighthearted but existential, the track further cemented Armani’s knack for multidimensional songwriting. It also recharged a buzz he began cultivating a few years prior.
By 2019, he’d consummated his reinvigorated journey to rap stardom with Keep in Touch, a project that reaffirmed his all-around songwriting abilities. It was preceded by the release of “Onederful,” a melodic single that contextualizes Armani’s journey for an uplifting anthem. That same year, he was touring with the likes of Vince Staples, earning new fans with each stop.
He eventually hit the stage for dates with Nas, James Blake and Aminé, too. Last fall, he continued to elevate with Things We Lost In The Fire, a heartfelt EP that addressed personal tragedy with unflinching transparency. In mid-2022, Armani parlayed the momentum of the EP and “Billie Eilish” into a deal with Def Jam Records.
Looking ahead, Armani plans to collect platinum plaques while being an inspiration for listeners from circumstances like his own. “I want people to feel safe in being that anomaly,” he says. “You can carve your own way, wherever you are and you can fully be who you want to be.” Of course, that message is a thematic throughline of Armani’s music, songs borne from an instinct for storytelling, a reflex derived from a life of turmoil and the resolve to grow from it.
“The reason why I call my songs happy hood music is because I went through a lot of trauma and pain,” he says, “And I take that dark, murky color, throw it at the wall and watch a rainbow come out.”