Pressa is one of the hardest people to get ahold of: “I be busy as shit doing other things,” he affirms. After a series of rescheduled dates, desperately trying to make this interview happen, I can attest to the fact that Mr.Gardner’s hands are quite full these days.
Since relocating to America, the last few years of his life have been about growth and development, marking the dawn of a new chapter in the rapper’s budding career. Pressa’s still adjusting, warming up to the idea of the newness that’s currently underway – new people, new experiences, and new opportunities.
On an evening in December, he’s actively trying to find a quiet place at home before our interview starts. “Yo, hold it down baby,” Pressa says, presumably to his girlfriend, Coi Leray. Moments later, he returns to the phone, attentive and ready to engage in conversation.
Despite his efforts, Pressa’s search for peace of mind has been an uphill battle. From constant run-ins with law enforcement at an early age, to his hardships back home in Driftwood, he’s managed to power (on) through adversity each and every time. He raps with gusto, penning the soundtrack to unchanged ways through a nasally, narrative-driven flow. His lyrics spotlight a hedonistic lifestyle, brewed by an incessant lust for hustling. He’s still “Beenie” from the block at heart; but now, Pressa can rap a verse (instead of a brick) and make ends meet.
Gardner Express (Deluxe) is a 28 minute trek through Pressa’s memory bank. His street savvy bars pay homage to the city of Toronto, detailing the specifics surrounding his come up. As he explains, the original album (Gardner Express, previously released in 2020) “had too many features,” whereas the deluxe release allows Pressa to flex the true extent of his rhyming capabilities.
And though he hasn’t made it quite yet, he’s learning to fall in love with the process: “My process is that I’m happy with taking it slow and making people gravitate towards me slowly instead of fast,” Pressa tells Dirty Glove Bastard.
You’re one of the hardest people to get a hold of.
I’m more than just a rapper my bro. I be busy as shit doing other things.
I think you’re easily considered a beacon of hope for the streets of Toronto. What does it mean to represent the trenches?
It means a lot because it’s not many real dudes in this thing from when we were coming up. What I stand for and what I represent, I’m probably the first one to do it, ya feel me. I represent all my friends and the neighborhood. Before me, there was nobody from the block or from the trenches to be rapping. There were rappers, but they weren’t getting nowhere, ya feel me.
After developing somewhat of a violent reputation during your adolescence, what ultimately made you want to shift focus?
I lost my best friend. Before I did anything, I used to go and hustle. But now that I make music, it provides for me and my family. I like making music, it’s fun. I don’t need to be in all that. I was risking my life for the littlest things back then. I used to do anything for a little bit of something. Now, I can hit the mic and get a little bit of a lot.
Do you feel a sense of pride after making it out of your situation?
It makes me feel good, ya know. And it makes me want to cherish it because I never had this before. I never dreamed about this. This life wasn’t even a thought when I was younger: my mind wasn’t even open to this. I remember wanting to be the biggest gangster back in the day. I never thought I’d be doing this shit for real.
You didn’t have hoop dreams as a kid, or what were some things you aspired to do?
Yeah, I had hoop dreams, but my friend, I was coming back from practice and my friend came up to me and was like, ‘Fam, do you think you’re going to the NBA?’ These times, there was one out of a thousand people tryna make it to the NBA. He kind of crushed my hoop dreams. I was nice (and still am).
If you got the call right now, would you join the Drew League to play ball?
Yeah. If I got the call right now, I got my starting five ready.
Talk to me about leaving Toronto and relocating to America. Did that come with an adjustment period? Some people from your section are either dead, in jail, or barred from leaving the country.
I’m still adapting, still getting used to it right now. Ion have many people around me that I know. A lot of people that’s around me, I just met them in America.
Are you learning to establish trust with the new people in your life?
I’m really a traveler, so I can go anywhere: China, Australia etc. I can go by myself and I’ll be good. I’ll figure it out. I’ve been to a lot of places in the world.
What’s your favorite place to travel?
I can’t even say because everything is its own thing. It’s all different. Scenery wise, Jamaica is fire, but besides Jamaica, I like Paris.
Why Paris, though?
I like the hookah lounge. The hookah lounge there is fire. They got these fire hookah lounges where you can play music, smoke weed in it, and do karaoke. The shopping and running around there is fire, too.
I want to reference an Instagram caption you shared online: “Been following Marcus Garvey from I was 7.” What exactly does this mean?
My uncle used to always put me on the great men that were powerful, ya feel me. Marcus Garvey, he was from Jamaica, and I guess America was giving him money to bring a lot of the Black people from Jamaica to work in America. When Marcus Garvey took that money, he brought all of his family, all the soldiers and guys that would work with him. Instead of bringing Black people to America to slave and work for white people, he used the governments money to bring people that would fight with him. I was wearing the sweater at the time so that’s why I said, “Been following Marcus Garvey since I was 7,’ because my uncle would put me on a lot of that stuff.
Is there any part of Garvey’s doctrine that resonates with you the most?
Yeah, he stands for where he’s from. That’s what I stand for too because I know I can track back some of my family (to Jamaica). He used to be like, yeah I’m from here, know what I mean.
Family, your lineage, is important to you?
Yeah, for sure.
I think it’s cool as hell for you to have these meaningful moments with the different male influences in your life. From your uncle teaching you about Marcus Garvey, and your pops raising you through collect calls.
Exactly. I ain’t really have nothing but I still had my father. To the regular people, they’ll think that they threw us in a bucket where it’s nothing. My neighborhood (Driftwood), they just threw us there: they gave us nothing. But growing up, I had everything because I knew how to maneuver and I learned how to hustle.
“Wass Gang” is credited as a staple in Toronto rap culture, and that video was shot in Driftwood. At this stage in your career, are you considered a Canadian legend off the strength of your musical contributions alone?
Yeah, for sure. You ain’t gon’ hear nobody that sounds like me, and can’t nobody mimic it even if they wanted to. They could never say what I say. Everything I say is from what I was growing up on, so in order to mimic me and say what I say, you’d have to be from my neighborhood, or go through exactly what I went through in life. There’s no one that could express what I’ve been going through since a child. No one can express my lifestyle because they haven’t lived it.
We’re slowly approaching the one-year anniversary of your Gardner Express project. Now, you’re back with the deluxe version and even added seven new songs. Why the wait?
I felt like the tape was short and I just wanted to add to it.
Do you feel like you had unfinished business and wanted to pick up where you last left off?
Yeah, exactly. I felt like the tape wasn’t finished: it had too many features at the beginning. That EP only had two singles from me.
How have you improved as a rapper over the years — what’s changed for you? You’ve been making music since 2016.
You know what it is? Some people’s careers go different: some people have a hit, blow up to the top and fall off because they don’t have fans building with them and the fans don’t really care. They only love that song, they don’t love you as a person. Once that song goes away, they stop loving you. With me, I’ve been building since 2016, so I have a lot of fans that have been watching me for 4-5 years, praying that I make it. They’re still supporting me now until I make it. And when I finally make it, they’re going to feel like they’re a part of the process. Everybody else, if you have a one-hit record, they’re going to feel like they were a part of that record, they’re not a part of you. My process is that I’m happy with taking it slow and making people gravitate towards me slowly instead of fast. There’s other people it works for, like Lil Baby: you can have people gravitate towards you fast and keep them, but that works for him, he’s super talented. There’s other ways to go about it, too.
Visually speaking, I feel like the energy behind “Attachments” changed this time around with bringing Coi into the picture. The sentiments expressed throughout the song remain the same, though. Can you describe what it’s like to mix business with pleasure?
Mixing business with pleasure is a no go. If you’re here on a business and you go to a video shoot, start fucking with a girl at the video shoot, and she start switching on you, she’ll fuck up your whole business. Now, you’ve mixed business with pleasure and fucked your whole shit up. That’s why being a rapper and fucking with a lot of girls is kind of hard. It’s not a good thing because a mufucka will come out and get you in a whole different case.
That’s an interesting take on things, but I feel like we can leave it off here. Do you have any closing remarks?
Shoutout to gang. Free my niggas, and long live my brothers.
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