At 20 years old, Troy native Gabe Woodley AKA Johnny 2 Phones has sold out a headlining gig at Upstate Concert Hall, opened for major hip hop artists like Lil Uzi Vert and Juice Wrld, and released a slough of punchy, college party rock anthems like “Code Red,” “The O,” and “Stock” that have racked up fans from Plattsburgh to Washington D.C.
It’s been a steady climb over the past three years, peaking just eight months ago when Woodley met Hunter Galvin at their SUNY Oneonta campus. Galvin, AKA Hunna G, had been producing beats in his bedroom for years and after a failed attempt to coax 2 Phones via SoundCloud DM, he showed some tracks to the rapper’s roommate. Woodley heard the beat and texted him right away to meet him at the local Five Guys. He had a plan.
“I told him, This is how it’s gonna work. We’re gonna make five songs, we’re gonna release them two to three weeks beforehand and we’re gonna get this A Boogie opening at Siena. We’re gonna do the same thing at O Fest [Oneonta’s spring festival]. Opportunities after that will skyrocket,’” Woodley grins. “He was looking at me in that Five Guys like, ‘Yeah fuckin’ right.’”
“It blew me away a little bit,” Galvin laughs.
From then on Hunna G became part of the team, along with sound engineer Jake Mannix who has been recording, mixing, and mastering 2 Phones tracks for the past three years.
An accomplished student of YouTube university, Mannix has experience to boot. He recently spent three months under the watchful eye of the New Jersey based engineer David Bendeth, who is credited on projects by Elvis Presley, The Vamps, Papa Roach, Paramore and several pop punk outfits of the past 15 years.
“Ever since then it’s just been reaching out to people and having them criticize my stuff so I could get better. We’ve learned there’s so much work that goes into it that’s other than music,” Mannix says.
“He knows what he’s doing. It’s a system. If something’s not broke, why fix it? Everything I do I’m really careful with. We don’t cut corners,” Woodley says of Mannix.
When it comes to assembling his team and understanding what it takes to be a success, the rapper is all about structure and organization. In the few years he has had to make a name for himself in his hometown and college campus, Woodley has carried the discipline acquired from his long term basketball career into his music. When it comes to rap, he eat, sleeps, and breathes the stuff.
“I’m centered around business. I know how to network. I built my name up in that. This summer I threw a show where I was one of the headliners: me, Suave [The Don], and Souly Had. We have proof that we sold 703 tickets so if you come into meetings with that you have a little pull. You prove you can do something, people are gonna come out,” he says.
When asked about the influence of social media on his budding career, along with those of his peers like Entréband and Suave The Don, Woodley shrugs it off. “We kind of use it as a tool of measurement. After every show, if you get 2,000 followers, you grew. We’ve accomplished a lot in this small amount of time but there’s still so much that I don’t feel right getting caught up in it.”
In the grand scheme of things, he’s too busy to obsess over it. Johnny 2 Phones is consistently playing shows all over the state and the largest pockets of his fanbase are located in New York City, Boston and Washington DC. When he meets with The Collaborative for an interview on a Friday night, he’s fresh off of a drive down from Oneonta to record in Mannix’s Schenectady home studio before hitting the road again to play Plattsburgh. With the help of A Little Booking Agency’s Greg Kornegay, he’s opened for artists like A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie at the Times Union Center and, most recently, Juice Wrld at The Palace.
“It’s cool to see hip hop as a whole grow right now. A lot of people don’t like mumble rap and stuff but rap is an art,” he shrugs. “If you were in a museum and saw the Mona Lisa and the thing next to it just has splattered paint on it, to people who actually enjoy that, it’s just as important as the Mona Lisa. Mumble rap and conscious rap both have their place, the internet gave everyone a platform to listen to what they want to listen to,” he laughs, describing overheard discussions of listeners being “force fed” pop and mumble rap. “Everything is fine, listen to what you want to listen to.”
In the midst of their come-up, Woodley says the team receives several direct messages through Instagram, Twitter, and SoundCloud from a wide ranging age group of local artists. “The younger kids are really trying to figure out how to do it, they genuinely don’t know and they’re eager to listen. ‘What equipment do you start off with? How do you flow?’ I’ll also refer them to YouTube because that’s where you can legitimately learn anything. College isn’t really necessary, it’s kind of crazy.”
Taking a stance as a drug-free rapper, it’s become increasingly important to Woodley to be a good example of self-made success for his hometown, without playing into the stereotypical expectations of rap culture. His motivation, he says, has become focused on showing his friends and family that you can exist outside of the routine. You can achieve something new and different if you dedicate yourself to something that excites you.
“One of the kids asking questions might be the next ‘us’ and do it 10 times better. I think the fact that we’re doing something like this is a really big deal for kids like that,” Woodley says. “I think overall in our area, the tide had changed, people are more open to hip hop.”
The rapper does address that, with such a heavy touring schedule all over the Northeast, he and his team are already a bit past playing just the local scene. “We have fans here but I think it’s really cool that we get to be at the forefront of this. We get to make the mistakes.”
Have a plan and stick to it. If you don’t focus on it, it won’t happen. I’ve been an athlete my entire life, so I treat it like a sport. When was playing basketball I woke up thinking about basketball, went to sleep thinking about basketball. Now it’s switched to rap.
Critique yourself. That’s how we do well because we’re super hard on what we do. Critiquing yourself doesn’t mean that you believe in yourself less or that you think you’re never gonna make it because obviously, we think we’re gonna make it. We wouldn’t be here if we weren’t. Always try to find ways to make it better.
Cross network. Working with the people who are on the same level as me have done 10 times more than a picture of me with Juice Wrld would do.
Really, just believe in yourself, because a lot of people around here just do it and are afraid to say they do it. Just how I was, being like, “Oh I wanna rap but I’m not gonna tell anybody I rap because I’m nervous and I know they’ll make fun of me.” Most of the people making fun of you are mad because they’re afraid to do what they’re doing, or want to do.
Build a team. That’s huge. When I met Joey BadA$$’s producer Kirk Knight, that was the one thing he told me. A team is the most important thing. Ever since we’ve assembled this team, we’ve gotten a lot more done.
Don’t make the same mistake. Early on, I was making the same mistake over and over without learning from it.
Watch the people you keep around you and don’t take things for granted. A lot of times I’d show up to play a show and just go in trying to get it done without taking in the moment. Even at The Palace, I had to stop and just look at it. It’s a huge thing but we do that and go back to school and get tested. How are you gonna tell me I have homework? [laughs] I just played a show for 2,000 people.
Practice makes perfect isn’t true, perfect practice makes perfect. If you’re here, really tapped in, you’re gonna get better and you’re gonna see results. A lot of people think if they’re working, something is gonna come. That’s why you have to critique your work to see what you’re missing. Sometimes it may seem like I’m a little too invested but no, I’ve broken everything down to a science. It’s all laid out. I think that’s why we feel so welcoming to younger artists because I got here in two or three years, but I can get you here in two or three months. We figured it out for you.
Listen to Johnny 2 Phones on Spotify, SoundCloud, YouTube and Apple Music. Catch him live on Dec. 8, 10PM. He’ll be opening for Smokepurpp with Mahadhi Walker, Kenetic and DJ Siroc at Jupiter Hall, Albany.