‘Keep It Kind. Keep It Creative’

FortéForté. Photo by Adrianne Mathiowetz.

Somerville-raised Rapper Forté On His Art and His City

Forté never leaves the house without his crystals, which he wears around his wrists. Most are gifts, and they’re meant to promote creativity. While leaning back in his chair, the artist pulls a jagged Amethyst crystal out of his pocket and turns it over a few times before returning it.

McSergio Estnay started going by the name Forté around 2015. The 28-year-old was struggling with his identity at the time, trying to figure out which part of his personality he wanted to highlight. 

“I hadn’t really known what my forte was, and I regarded myself as like a jack of all trades,” he says. “Then I started feeling like a master of nothing.”

He also just didn’t want to be referred to as Pops anymore. He earned the name from his tendency to fall asleep frequently and from having “wisdom that was beyond my years, from being a knucklehead and learning.”

“I said Forté is cool because it was something that I felt comfortable in, almost like it was freeing to say, ‘This is my forte,’” he says. “I like to take pictures, I like to rap, I like to dance, I like to sing, I like to talk, I like to draw. Forté felt fitting, being an artist. I feel like a lot of people could connect with that in many ways, and find out what their forte is through listening to my music.”

His most recent release, “Grumble Rap,” showcases his desire to leave a “positive carbon footprint as opposed to making people unhappy,” he says. 

“It’s cathartic for me to make music,” he explains. “It’s therapeutic. So when I make it, I make it to release and also to relate. It’s for people to have fun and not to take life too seriously, but also to think about the things that they’ve been through, like I do myself when I’m creating my music. It’s to try to elevate, whether it’s their consciousness, their emotions, or just like their way of life. I’m just trying to give them a better option.”

Forté tugs on the loose threads of the hole in his jeans when he is more focused on what he is saying than on his surroundings—like when he is describing the plot of a recent movie he watched, an anime called “MFKZ,” or “The Black Jacobins,” a book about the Haitian Revolution.

Forté has been deepening his connection with his Haitian heritage recently. As a child, he became involved with music through church choir. He credits that experience with teaching him to understand good vocals, but admits he still doesn’t think he is the greatest singer. Haitian Gospel is what his parents listened to while he was growing up, although he gravitated more toward popular hip-hop music, citing Joe Budden’s self-titled debut and Chingy’s “Jackpot” as the first CDs he bought. 

Forté is no longer involved in the church, but he does try to incorporate kompa, a genre started in 1950s Haiti, into his performances as a way of paying homage to his upbringing. He says that being born to Haitian immigrant parents informs some of his lyrics.

In the past year, Forté has played at Cambridge’s Atwood’s Tavern, Allston’s The AERONAUT, the Somerville Armory, and Boston’s pop-up event series the Black Cotton Club. He points out that historically it has been challenging for hip-hop artists to get shows in Somerville and Cambridge.

“We have a lot of underground hip-hop artists, but a lot of the time, I feel like there’s a disconnect,” he says. “I feel like the cities don’t know how to handle hip-hop, which is weird because it seems like a lot of other genres can get their foot in, as far as getting shows.”

Rock ’n’ roll has had a storied history in Greater Boston, but Forté points out that hip-hop artists often haven’t gotten equal opportunities, in part due to misconceptions about the genre and the crowds it attracts.

“It’s been real, like, tight and I don’t want to say hostile, but it almost feels that way sometimes,” he says. “I think that’s part of people not knowing what to expect from a lot of hip-hop shows, and going off of what they heard or what’s propagated in national media or certain isolated incidents where things go awry. People want to generalize it and make it a hip-hop thing, when it really could just be that one person or that one show that that happened. A lot of people don’t say that about like heavy metal or rock concerts, where people are literally throwing ’bos and getting bloody noses.”

He is hopeful, though, that the city is beginning to open up to hip-hop as it overtakes rock as the most popular music genre in the country. 

“I’ve been seeing more local artists getting more chances,” he says. “I think it really is a leap of faith on both sides. I’m sure there could be a culture out here where we hold a bunch of hip-hop shows and there is not anything wrong, which would promote more progressive and positive relationships between locals and venue owners, especially those of marginalized groups who mostly partake in hip-hop.”

Forté doesn’t get nervous before he performs; he describes his pre-show feeling as being closer to anxiousness to get on stage. For him, music is a way of feeling free and out of his own head. 

“There’s this feeling,” he says. “There’s something brewing and I feel like staying consistent, persistent and compassionate towards each other is going to help bring about a whole new renaissance over here as far as music, especially hip-hop. I’ve been seeing a lot of collaboration lately, and I think we should just keep it up and keep it kind. Keep it creative.”

To listen to Forté’s music, visit soundcloud.com/Forté1804.

This story originally appeared in the Voices of the City issue of Scout Somerville, which is available for free at more than 200 locations throughout the city or by subscription.

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