Camden, N.J. native Mir Fontane is on the come up and it's time to pay attention. At 23, the rhyme-slinger is proving that a slow and steady grind really does pay off. Dropping music consistently for the last three years, Fontane caught the ear of record labels with his 2016 project, Who’s Watching the Kids. In early 2017, Mir revealed that he inked a deal with 300 Entertainment and that he was working on new music. Late last month, rap fans finally got fully acquainted with Mir when he dropped his debut project, Camden, a 12-track ode to his hometown.

"I definitely notice people kind of look at me in a different light," Mir tells XXL. "Now it’s like, 'You got to figure it out.' Before I was signed, I was just another artist in the city that was trying to do what everybody else is doing. So now, it’s a different type of respect and admiration, not only for me but for the other people who look up to me and the city as a whole."

A talented storyteller from an underestimated city already paints the picture of a hip-hop success story, but Fontane goes beyond that. The 23-year-old rapper has an ear for production, engineering and prides himself on sharing every detail of his rough situations to make his audience really feel, not just listen. Soon after Mir took listeners to Camden, the artist sat down with XXL to give a glimpse into his creative process, speak on 50 Cent and Lil Wayne's influence and more.

XXL: How do you feel about the reception of Camden from other cities—from people not from Camden, or not even from the Northeast?

Mir Fontane: I feel like I’m really accomplishing what I set out to do. I wanted to not only speak for my city, but I wanted my story to resemble and resonate with those outside of Jersey, outside of the Tri-state area. So for people to gravitate towards that and have them tell me I’m their favorite new artist or one of my songs is their favorite song even though it’s a story about South Jersey and they’re from South Africa or somewhere, that’s dope to me.

That’s one of the reasons I started making music, because I knew I could touch people on a grander scale and to see that actually happen, actually come to fruition, it’s taking awhile to register. You find yourself always pinching yourself on the sly to make sure it’s all real.

How many songs did you have planned for the project that didn’t make the final cut?

Well, written? I don’t even record a song if I don’t think it’s up to par or I don’t think that it would fit the feeling of the story of the album. But those 12 songs, I was like, This the message I want to get across, this is the feel, this is the type of beat I want. I would really come to my producers with what I needed to fill in track number seven.

Let’s talk about “Frank Ocean.” That’s the latest single that's taking off from Camden. How did you come up with the concept for that one?

It was years that I didn’t want to sing on my raps because I ain’t want to come out as “soft” or even be branded as a singer before a rapper. “Frank Ocean” pretty much came from the fact that Frank Ocean is one of my favorite artists period, aside from Stevie Wonder and stuff. I don’t really have favorite rappers. I like entertainers and a lot of the new rappers don’t really perform well, so yeah.

But the concept of [“Frank Ocean”] is just like, every independent artist goes through a point where everyone around them, whether it be their friends or whoever claim to be your so-called No. 1 fan, but when you’re around them and they got the aux chord, they’re never playing your music. It’s always Drake or Frank Ocean or whoever. It was pretty much an ode to that. It’s like, I got be Frank Ocean for you to fuck with me? Let me make a song kind of like a Frank Ocean song and have people come around and be like, "Remember I was fuckin’ with you way back when?" But it’s like, now you’re pressed because I’m not checking for you because you weren’t checking for me?

It’s pretty much one of those situations and I think that’s why the song pretty much blew up is because any artist who’s not signed or any artist who’s tried to get the support of their crew or their hometown, they can understand that. That’s why I think it’s gaining the steam that it is.

I try to make music based on situations artists don’t talk about. Some rappers write love songs and they just talk about love, there’s so much to talk about with love. There’s so many different parts of love to dissect. Like when she gets mad when you don’t text her back but the whole time you were in the studio. That right there is a whole song. That’s not a bar or a couple lines, that’s a whole song that can be relatable for somebody and if you get so deep into detail, you see everything because you’re already so specific with the shit. That’s how I try to approach all my music; giving as much detail as possible because the deeper you go, the more strings you pull, it’s like the deeper you go into one person you’ve never met before. I try to make music for your mood, music for situations.

What’s your favorite track on the project?

Really it depends on my mood, but usually my go-to is either “This Life” or “Real Niggaz.” “This Life” is like the perfect in-between song for me. It’s smooth, but it still has that uptempo and at the same time it also has a message. It’s also the first song on the album so I think it like sets the tone for everything that I was trying to have you, the listener, feel throughout the entire album into one song.

“Real Niggaz” was just the first time I tried to sing a song straight from beginning to end, so it’s cool to hear my voice do something I’m not usually doing. Plus I feel like that verse is one of the more well-written verses on the album.

Which was the hardest track to record?

Either “Aint Afraid” or “Cold.” “Cold” I just took so much time on because I was basically trying to embody Biggie and 2Pac, so I wanted to make sure I did that right, did them justice. With “Ain’t Afraid,” it’s a club banger and most club bangers don’t have substance, but that’s what I like writing about. So for me to write a verse about ass, I had to really think about it [laughs]. Trying to make that song a whole or complete was probably the hardest.

How do you feel you’ve grown as an artist now that it’s out?

I feel like I’m more confident in my voice and my abilities. Camden being the first project that was really released to the world and getting this good reception is pretty much giving me the confidence to do what I’m supposed to have been doing for years. There’s no pressure for me to change or to elevate anything different. It’s just more about building upon what I already have.

There was a point where I didn’t want to sing over my albums and now, I’m singing over damn-near the whole album just to make it more cohesive and marketable—while still remaining gritty, unforgiving and true to the Camden that’s been instilled with me since I started rapping.

Who are you still itching to work with?

Beats-wise, I think me and No I.D. could make a classic. Since I was young, No I.D.’s just been crazy with his beats. I’m a big fan of sample beats and he’s the godfather when it comes to that. As for label mates, Tee Grizzley. I think me and him could make something crazy. Who else? Travis Scott. And even outside of a rapper, I would say I want to branch out into producing. Not even as far as beats, but I can put together a record really well. I can listen to a beat and I can automatically hear certain rappers on it, on some DJ Khaled stuff.

I really take time to think about several ears, not just my ears. Me as a perfectionist, I listen to a song myself. Then, I step outside of myself and listen to it as a fan, and that’s when I become my biggest hater. I find anything I can hate on and I just tell myself, You should just fix that because if that prevents this album from being a 10, you’re going to be upset.

Who are you inspired by lately?

All my life I’ve been inspired by 50 Cent. Lil Wayne, mixtape Wayne, back when he was dropping 100 songs a year. I fell in love with his work ethic and just the fact that he was everywhere at all times, whether it was his own stuff or killing a feature. Kanye’s creativity, Kanye’s artistry as far as not being afraid to push the limits. But mainly I’ve been listening to a lot of smooth jazz so I have a free range of melodies.

But as a young kid, all I listened to it was ‘90s R&B, Tom Joyner, Quiet Storm, that’s all I had to listen to because I was always with my grandpa and we was always in his BMW listening to that. I know those songs like the back of my hand.

You mentioned No I.D. earlier. What do you think of JAY-Z’s new album?

I’m not even a big Jay fan, but I think that’s the best album JAY-Z came out with ever. I think Reasonable Doubt was good but for me, I think this is his most relatable album. It took him 20 years to be vulnerable. Like for years, Jay’s been telling me for years about his cars and his paintings, but he wasn’t telling us how to get it. He's opening up about his relationship with Bey and everything. And since it's so short, I feel like I don't need to skip anything. Other albums, I would kind of pick out the ones I want, but with [4:44] I can play the whole thing through easy and that to me is a mark of a truly perfect, great album.

What’s your plan for the rest of the year?

Touring, touring, touring. Then I just want to make more music. Hopefully, if I make more music I’ll drop another project before the end of the year. I’m always writing. We get in the studio when we get the chance but I work very quickly. If I book an hour in the studio, I could probably knock out three songs, just recording, not counting the mixing and stuff. Yeah, I can record at least three songs in an hour.

Right now, I’m just trying to put my head in a different space, whether it’s trying be a continuation of Camden or I go somewhere completely different. If anything does drop it’ll probably be an EP. And hopefully we do a video for every song off Camden.

Stream Mir Fontane's Camden below and cop it now via iTunes.

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