Photos courtesy of Bryan Chong
It’s about 10:00 p.m. in a Brampton, ON McDonald’s, and Pryde, a.k.a. Russell Llantino, is staring into the distance as he sips an iced coffee.
A few years ago it might have been an Arizona Iced Tea instead of the coffee and Hennessey habits he now talks about in his songs. Pryde, then D-Pryde, gained a massive following at an early age from his comedic YouTube videos and explosively popular rap covers. He was a young kid growing up in the Toronto suburb of Brampton expressing himself through these videos — videos that landed him a record deal with Mars Music Group at the age of 16. It felt like his dreams came true, but as he reflects now, they came with a cost.
“Man, I missed out on so much,” says Llantino. “Like, I was 16 going on 21. I missed things like my high school prom. Of course I never got to finish high school. I don’t regret that, I don’t really regret anything in life, actually. It was just like a missing piece, you know?”
YouTube helped Pryde gain the following he has today, but it was a double edged sword — People didn’t take him seriously, simply dubbing him the “YouTube artist.”
In recent years, Pryde found himself struggling to pretend to be someone he wasn’t anymore; the familiar artist’s path of trying to grow and mature without losing the fan base that has grown to love “the old D-Pryde.”
What that means to Llantino is breaking away from the “YouTube artist” moniker. He’s toured with J. Cole, Sammy Adams, Down With Webster, and Son Real, among others. After the release of his EP Canal And Richvale in summer 2013, the single “Lifted” took over the radio. He was featured on MuchMusic, named an artist to watch by XXL and MTV, packed out Toronto’s Mod Club venue, and — the Internet Holy Grail — was verified on Twitter. A few months later that buzz started to slow down, and 2014 came and went with no new D-Pryde projects released. Llantino was stifled at that time by the need for change. He wanted to break free from his signature sound.
“Right after Canal and Richvale I was in a huge personal depression,” says Pryde, recalling the months following his then biggest release to date. At that time, he was contemplating the maturation of his image. His interests were changing but he was stuck pretending that he was still his 16-year-old self. “I was like, ‘Should I just drop the D from my name?’ But I had somebody tell me not to. I was running through a huge personal conflict. I got so accustomed to being told what to do, I finally got molded into that, and it sucked you know? I had to work out of it, to finally find what I love. And now I love what I do.”
Late last year, Llantino slowly started introducing his new work; a string of new tracks was the perfect time for him to make the name change he’d been considering.
Hours before we would end up at the Brampton McDonald’s, Pryde spent the afternoon whipping around a quiet suburban street in a minivan. His friend Neil and photographer Bryan Chong were hanging out the side of the van filming scenes for a video. Llantino stood out from the top of a bright red Jeep Wrangler. Outside of his work, he’s a regular 21-year-old who loves burgers and making fun of his best friend Danny (“Your cowlick looks like a hair boner!”).
It’s easy to get inflated ideas of who someone is through Twitter or Instagram; the real Llantino is revealed when you watch him glow in the dark mini golf, finding hiding spots (“crevices”) around the course, popping out randomly. He and his friend Shainy later engage in a battle for bragging rights as they play an intense game of air hockey. And while Llantino obviously loves to entertain and keep the mood light, his cool, calm leadership emerges when it’s time to work. Pryde knows exactly what he wants, from every single musical beat to every shot in a video.
“I’ve been doing this since I was 16,” he says. “So it’s like, OK; you know what to do. So just do it.”
With the help of the Internet, Pryde’s fanbase has been able to cross borders and spread through the U.S. He will soon head out on a five-date tour stopping in Michigan, Pennsylvania, New York State, and ending in Toronto. This will be his first headlining tour since 2013. This year, he has two new releases to support: Plan A and Richvale Summer.
Like a lot of artists, Llantino is motivated by having something to prove to more than just himself — every single fan who believes in him, his friends, and most importantly, his family. Earlier this year, he lost his mother — his hero, his role model — to cancer.
I ask him if there’s one thing his mom said that will always stick with him.
“She said ‘We didn’t have anything, but I gave you everything.’ And it’s true. You gotta really appreciate your parents, because what they give you could be all they have.”
“The moment my mom died I said, ‘I gotta make this shit work or else I’m useless.’ And my mom didn’t raise trash, so fuck that. I’m going to chase after it.”