Photo: Gianny Matias

Why Keeping It Real Is A Priority for Squidnice

Sinking back into a peeling, fake leather sofa with a languid smile, Squidnice is in surprisingly good spirits for someone just arrested two hours prior to our interview. The 20-year-old emerging rapper spent half his Saturday afternoon locked up at the 121st Staten Island Precinct for lighting up on his own porch. Now back at his childhood home in Port Richmond—where he was born and raised but is currently just visiting—he shows me his pink ticket. A $20 fine. “It ain’t shit,” Squidnice laughs. He’s already puffing on a new L.

Empty bottles of Jameson, Hennessy, and Reposado crowd the far cabinet of the living room like trophies of long-gone turn ups. It’s clear when Squidnice talks about ‘family,’ he’s referring to the tight orbit of shirtless boys lounging around us or congregating outside. His cousins, brothers, and best friends all keep him committed to his craft: Juice produces his beats (as does Adrian Lau, but he’s from Brooklyn), Thirteen acts as security, and Smacc is his rap protégé (or as he puts it, the “heir to the throne”). “Anything I’m doing, they know that if I’m not in the hood it’s not because I’m avoiding them. It’s because I’m staying safe,” he explains. “They make sure my name is good out here.”

It’s no doubt that Squidnice has been on his grind. Known best for his signature droning flow, which simmers over tracks like ‘Trap by My Lonely,” “Everywhere I Go,” and the recently released “OMG” with The Bronx’s Smooky Margiela. Performances at 2017 SXSW and 10.Deep’s Culture Clash alongside Smokepurpp all seem to be building towards the drop of his 2017 debut, The Craccen. The mixtape’s name is a double entendre that falls in line with Squid’s casual maritime branding. Modify the spelling a bit and the kraken also happens to be a multi-tentacled legendary sea monster sourced from Nordic folklore. It’s an ambitious title for a young gun.

However, Squidnice’s achievements aren’t limited to music. He broadened his listener base through unexpected Internet fame and side-hustles in fashion. Visibility for an up-and-comer is crucial. After “Trap by My Lonely,” someone doctored his baby picture with diamond studs and a face tattoo for what would go on to become the viral “If he’s 5, I’m 5” meme, skyrocketing his profile once more. A runway stint for Hood by Air here, a catalog appearance for Carrot’s Spring/Summer Lookbook there, and it’s clear to see Squidnice is basking in his glow up. Now kids go crazy for him, screaming just to touch him at performances in Staten. Girls slide into his DMs declaring their love for him, but, unless they level with him mentally, he only views them as distractions.

Squid’s rise to prominence has done little to change his values or what he raps about. “You ever notice how all these niggas say, ‘Ice on my wrist, 80 on my wrist, 100 on my wrist,’ and you never see a watch on ‘em?” he asks. “I’m never gonna talk about a watch I don’t have or a car I’m not driving. I talk about what’s really going on my life. If I’m broke, I’m broke. I speak the truth. I just make it sound good.” His raps aim to hypnotize but never deceive audiences about his reality.

Perhaps the only physical evidence of his promising career is the tiny black “22” etched on his left cheekbone. The tattoo is another double entendre. The numbers represent the last two digits stamped on the Xanax tablets as a reminder from his days of trapping, and nod to his persona as a “too, too” nice guy. Most of his social media handles @Squid22nice reference back to this. He tells me success in music is the only option for him as his face now bears a permanent mark, which precludes him from regular employment.

Photos: Gianny Matias

“One of my gym teachers told me that if I don’t come dressed in my gym clothes they’re gonna have a nice McDonald’s uniform for me,” he says, recounting the series of events that ran simultaneously to his ascent to fame and led him to drop out of school. Improper guidance. Disrespectful instructors. “So I spazzed on him. I told him, ‘Don’t make me throw a stack in your face and your kids is ugly, da, da, da. I dropped out shortly after that. I think it took one more argument with a teacher before I was like, ‘Fuck it, I’m not going back.’”

Instead of empty flexing, the newcomer uses his influence to uplift those around him. While he says Port Richmond struggles with gang activity, drug trafficking, and addiction, the neighborhood is ultimately home. He still remembers the year he was forced to live with his father in Maryland, a dark time he describes as “torture,” marked by frequent gunfights outside of school. His ties with the Island deepened as a result. “Whenever I walk down the street, everyone is always so happy to see me. The only reason why I’m still over here is to give back to the community,” he says. “Financially, I help out the people close to me. Always. Til I have no money in my pockets.”

Squidnice is no longer rapping on a hand-drummed beat to lunch ladies in his high school cafeteria. Now he gets his bread rallying crowds at SoHo functions, but he’s still that kid from Staten Island. The past is not so distant. The tired, dusty pink walls that slope around him serve as physical reminders of his days recording on a $30 mic. “I will forever be myself. I’m Crippin’ out here with my nails painted half the time,” he jokes. The lazy grin slides back on his face. “I think I get a lot of step out of just being genuine.”

Squidnice’s ‘Trap By My Lonely’ EP release show is June 29 at SOB’s.

Photo: Gianny Matias

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