When Julian Stephen was growing up, he let other people do the talking. The aspiring Queens, New York, rapper was happy doing the listening.
“I was a quiet kid and I was just surrounded by people that would always tell me what they’re doing with themselves, how they’re going to do it,” he says today. “I wasn’t quick on my feet when it would come to responses. I was just real quiet. I came to the conclusion that I’m never going to tell people what I’m doing. I’m just going to do it and let it happen.”
Now the rising rapper has people talking about him, his moves and his mixtapes -- including the recent “Prince Charming,” which has earned him comparisons to Drake and J. Cole. The mindset he developed as a child helped him navigate though his early college days and how to build his brand as an artist.
“At the time, I wasn’t really well-known around school at that point,” he says of his initial time at City College of New York in Harlem. “I put out the song ‘Prince Charming’ and the song had a bigger impact on my career than I thought it would. Eventually, it molded my image as an artist and the way girls saw me. It became my nickname. It just grew organically and I just stuck with it. I wanted to expand on that whole concept.”
Throughout his material, Julian injects doses of optimism that are balanced with equal parts uncertainty. It makes songs such as “Tomorrow Never Comes,” “Cheerleader” and “Balloons” entertaining and thought provoking.
So when I express myself in a song, I like to do the cause and effect and give people the reason why I’m doing this or why I’m this way.
Making cuts that are easily enjoyed on the surface but that merit further examination is a direct outgrowth of Julian’s personality. “I think a lot,” he says. “I think about a lot of situations and sometimes I think I’m over analytical of things. So when I express myself in a song, I like to do the cause and effect and give people the reason why I’m doing this or why I’m this way. So, if I’m bitter in this one song, that’s because of a breakup I had in my past. If I’m feeling a certain kind of way about a female, it’s because she did this to me. I’m never going to do a song without reasoning. That’s definitely one of my main goals when I make music. If I say something disrespectful, I always back it up with the next line coming up so that people get it, so that I’m never questioned.”
As Julian works on a new mixtape that he plans to drop around the end of the year, he plans to do so with the same type of precision, purpose and vision that made him stand out from his friends as a kid in New York.
“A lot of people aspire to the same thing that I want, the same goal,” he says. “I feel like a lot of people are so anxious for it that they skip steps. They don’t want to work, to do the little baby steps that lead to the big move. They just want to have success automatically. This whole process, I don’t think people are willing to be patient enough to wait for it to let it happen on its own.”
For more from Soren Baker follow him on Twitter: @SorenBaker.