“Pardison Fontaine wrote the Violent Crimes verses,” Kanye West tweeted in 2018, following the release of his eponymous eighth studio album, ye. “[He’s] the ghost in the industry.”
But when asked if he feels like a ghost, Pardison Fontaine scoffs, “Absolutely not. From my understanding a ghostwriter is someone who you don’t see, who stays behind the scenes and gets paid to just write, I make my own music, I rap, and I’m on my way up.” Some may have heard of Fontaine for the first time when he released Backin’ It Up, a collaboration with Bronx rapper, Cardi B. The song, which enjoyed mainstream success, arrived after the success of Cardi's debut album, Invasion Of Privacy, a record that couldn’t have happened without his help.
The two artists go way back; after meeting in a strip club in Yonkers, the burgeoning New York rappers developed a friendship that led to a professional quid pro quo. “Cardi would come up to Newburgh,” where Fontaine grew up, “and play shows back in the day, and even then she would go hard. She’s still the same,” he reminisces over a crackly phone line, talking to us from his New Jersey home on a snowy night across the tri-state area.
Cardi had approached Fontaine early on looking for advice on her new venture into hip-hop, and he obliged seeing the talent and charisma we’ve witnessed blossom over the past few years. So when it came to working on the release of her first album, it only made sense she’d tap an old friend for some help.
Working with Cardi in the booth, Fontaine, who is affectionately called Pardi by his friends, co-wrote 12 out of the 13 songs on the record, including the resplendent Bodak Yellow. After penning verses for Cardi and Kanye, Fontaine is ready to move out of the shadows and into the spotlight with his highly anticipated debut album, UNDER8ED.
“I’m 100 per cent underrated as an artist,” he concedes. “As far as what I know my skill set to be and where my talent level is and the amount of recognition I get..." he trails off. “[I understand] that it takes time, but if you look at pure talent, I should be rated higher.” Fontaine speaks with a muted braggadocio that is unparalleled in hip-hop, where claims of greatness are roared rather than explained. Instead, he saves it for the music. “Look, before a n***a popped, I was sleeping on a cot/Look, now I got it lit, 100 watts in the spot/Look, [I] know that I'm that n***a, but I be acting like I'm not,” he smirks on Take It Down assisted by Atlanta rapper Offset.
But on the album’s opener, Not There Yet, he’s especially vulnerable if not, insecure about his new brush with fame. “It’s crazy how you gotta be eager and patient,” he booms. “You can’t work a regular job, cause, locally, you famous.” Yet, what shines the brightest on this record is Fontaine’s way with words. Weaving in and out of pop culture references and promises of making it to the top, he zones in on women who he loves, loathes, seduces and most of the time celebrates. “You should send a invoice for all the time that they wasted/For all your patience you deserve payment,” he purrs at an unnamed woman on title track Under8ed.
While his foray into songwriting was never part of his plan, the newfound medium has allowed the rapper to channel his energy differently, suturing together fantasies he’d otherwise have no part of. “It's definitely given me the opportunity to get some things out there that I couldn't with my own music,” Fontaine reveals. “I don’t mind being in a room with people and being part of their creative process.”
What distinguishes Fontaine from other artists isn't just his laissez-faire attitude but his roots. Growing up in upstate New York, in a town called Newburgh located just under two hours from Manhattan, it’s a concrete jungle that has been otherwise forgotten. One of the most dangerous cities in America, Newburgh is grey, littered with convenience stores and shops with boarded-up windows. The town is a far cry from the New York we’ve grown accustomed to hearing about in rap. "There's a music scene here but it's totally different from [the city],” he admits, “[but] Newburgh made me who I am today.” Determined to bring a spark of joy to his hometown, Fontaine is a local hero who signs autographs and poses for photos everywhere he goes.
"[Pardi] describes Newburgh in a way that’s vivid,” Charlemagne Tha God told GQ last year. “It’s like the way that Jay used to describe Marcy or Big used to describe where he was from in Brooklyn, or the way Snoop would describe L.A. I knew his whole life after listening to [Not Supposed to Be Here]."
Now, as the 29-year-old rapper navigates his newfound notoriety and a list of unexpected accolades he hopes to fulfil his passion for visual art. “Something I really want to do is focus on the visuals for the album, there's so much that can be done and it's overwhelming but that’s what I’m really excited to do next.”