TJ Porter is better than Sheck Wes.
At least, that’s what he says. Of course, he’s referring to their oncourt skills more than their other shared passion for rapping. The 18-year-old TJ swears his hoop game is nicer than Sheck’s, but it’s impossible to tell at the moment. Neither Harlem teen has participated in a tournament for some time and neither ever had the buzz of. Bronny James or a Zion Williamson. The only evidence I’ve seen of TJ’s inclination for getting buckets is an extended NBA 2K session taking place on the sidelines of a multi-artist recording session being held by his new label, Def Jam, in Hollywood, and his approach to music is far different from his New York City compatriot’s. It is, however, undeniable. The kid has an ear for beats the way he’s got a Harlemite’s gift of trash talk, the likely impetus behind his braggodocio and competitive streak with his friend Sheck.
It’s clear which of his two passions TJ is destined for success in. While you can find glowing profiles of him on Slam and his Overtime profile still sports a handful of his point guard highlights from New York powerhouse high school Cardinal Hayes, his social media is dominated by clips from his Soundcloud and praise for his first single under Def Jam, “Glowin’ Up.” It’s an exuberant, upbeat slice of trap motivation music that’s already made its way from his Harlem blocks to the sound systems of some of his fellow, more well-known hoopers like Kevin Durant of the NBA’s Golden State Warriors, who posted a social media video of himself bopping along in his car to the youngster’s unreleased mixtape. Soundcloud tracks like “Tricky” and “Heartless” have amassed truly crazy listen totals, considering he was releasing them entirely indepently until just this summer, when Def Jam came calling.
Unlike many of his young peers, TJ largely eschews the “fake it til you make it” ethos of flossing chains and other flashy accoutrements in his video, save for the standard rented Lambo. His rhymes, deft and sharp with Harlem’s natural proclivity for quick wit and bucket drummer cadences, are leavened by a singsong delivery that sounds modern, but anchored in a traditionalist’s slickness. For now, the street tales are told with a high school college prospect’s studiousness — he’s street adjacent, not mired in the drug game and accompanying grimy behavior because the OG’s always saw a different future for him. And though they share a region and similar interests, TJ’s music is bright and aspirational where Sheck Wes pushes his rumbling, cathartic Mudboy ethos full of guttural shouts and wild-eyed, non stop motion.
Porter isn’t completely separated from the traumas of the street though. At 15, he lost a close friend, Juwan Tavarez, to gun violence, an incident that redoubled his drive to pursue music professionally. As he told Slam, “I wasn’t doing it for me. I was doing it for him. He always wanted me to.” So while his hoop dream may be a thing of the past, confined to the occasional pickup game or studio 2K session, he still brings the nonstop hustle mentality to his music. It’s why he’s “Glowin’ Up” and just might end up competing with his old friend Sheck in a different kind of game soon enough.