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PnB Rock Went From Singing in a Cell to Killing It Onstage

Berman Fenelus for XXL
Berman Fenelus for XXL

Show and Prove
PnB Rock won’t be comfortable until he’s famous.
Words: Sowmya Krishnamurthy
Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the summer issue of XXL Magazine, on stands now.

Art imitates life for PnB Rock. The 24-year-old Philadelphia singer is known for jailhouse melodies and street realism because he’s actually lived it. A self-described “problem child,” born Rakim Allen, PnB was kicked out of his mother’s house at 15 and turned to selling drugs and squatting in abandoned homes to get by. “It was pretty much a day-to-day survival. I ain’t really have no plans,” he says of his early days.

At 19, PnB was sent to prison for violating his probation from previous charges (he refuses to reveal) and discovered his musical talents. “My celly liked the sound of [my voice] so he hyped me up,” PnB says. His cellmate encouraged the new talent to sing for the prisoners in the yard at Pa.’s SCI Graterford. Despite the trepidation of never having performed, PnB took the plunge and inmates loved it.

After the two-year stint, PnB was released in 2013 to (and fled from) a halfway house. While on the run, he garnered early buzz on social media with early mixtapes including his celebrated debut tape, RnB (Real Nigga Bangaz), in addition to his hit record “Fleek.” “It was a whole different sound of music for Philly,” says PnB. “Like singing. People wasn’t doing that.”

But, life comes at you fast. After a show in Atlantic City, the singer was sent to jail for leaving the halfway house. What could’ve derailed a burgeoning career was a blessing. The three-month bid gave the upstart credibility and catalyzed his fan base. “That was the thing [that] helped my career go crazy,” says PnB. Record labels came courting and he signed with Atlantic Records in August 2015, three months after his release from the halfway house.

PnB has kept his nose to the grindstone ever since. This year, he’s working on a solo mixtape and project with Fetty Wap, whom he’s already collaborated with on the viral hits “Jealous” and “Spend The Night.” “I just gotta go hard,” PnB says. “I’m just in work mode.” The singer has also gotten in the lab with ubiquitous producer Sonny Digital. “He’s really fly,” says Sonny about PnB. “People just need to realize. He reminds me of me, shit.”

PnB had the block. Now he has the Internet. What he wants next is worldwide acclaim. “I’m not comfortable where I’m at,” he tells. “I’m like a famous person to some people, not to everybody. I want to be big.”

Check out more from XXL’s Summer 2016 issue including our 2015 XXL Freshman year-end report card; Joey Badass, Raury and Dizzy Wright talk about The Four Agreements, Madeintyo‘s Show & Prove interview, Bump J speaking straight from prison, Cardi B’s rising rap career, Le’Veon Bell‘s rap skills, Zoey Dollaz’s Show & Prove interview, Eye Candy Jess Taras, five of the most infamous murder-related cases in hip-hop and more.

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