Molded under pressure

John Polanco plots his course to success as a rapper with debut mixtape, The Pressure Book


When you first walk into John Polanco’s Porter dorm room, it looks like any other sophomore boy’s living space. There is a steady hum from a laptop in the corner and his friends are sitting around playing video games. His walls are covered with football jerseys and a poster of the New York City skyline to remind him of his hometown.

But in the center of the room lies something important to the sophomore – a microphone.

The lone mic stand with a pair of headphones nestled snugly between the microphone and a concave sheet of foam casts an immaculate presence in the dimly lit dormitory. Polanco stands beside it, bobbing his head to the rhythm of the beat. He lifts his headphones from the stand and places them over his ears.

At that moment, Polanco isn’t a college student anymore; he’s in tune with the music.

It’s days like this that created The Pressure Book, Polanco’s first mixtape.

Polanco, a sophomore communication major, has dreams of selling out shows and being featured on tracks with his rap idols. Every day, the Bronx native devotes time trying to make his dreams come true.

“I have to write at least one thing a day, even if it’s a couple lines,” Polanco said. “Sometimes I’ll have writer’s block, but I’ll sit down and work through it. I’ll usually do around one verse a week.”

He doesn’t like talking about his problems too much, so he writes about them instead. This practice helped him get through his day-to-day struggles in the Bronx.

As a child he would get into trouble, including being kicked out of school, Polanco said. When he got to high school, he would freestyle with his close friend, Scott Midgett.

It was around their sophomore year of high school that Polanco and his friends decided to organize TNF – The New Frontier. They started out as a fashion line “making ‘merch,” including clothes and accessories, like the wood chains and bracelets Polanco still wears.

The chains have a special place in the Bronx rapper’s heart; they represent his roots and how TNF came to be.

With members transferring schools and pursuing other hobbies, what started as a clothing brand eventually evolved into a music group. That’s when Polanco “really picked up rapping.”

The duo – Midgett and Polanco – would work on their freestyle rap while they were “chilling out,” Midgett said. It wasn’t until junior or senior year of high school that Polanco started writing his lyrics down.

Polanco and other TNF members began to focus solely on music, but didn’t record or release any songs until this summer when Polanco launched his mixtape, The Pressure Book. It took more than three years to put the mixtape together. The rapper began honing his craft because he wanted to master his style before it was released.

Polanco’s dedication to music became well known to his family and friends after the mixtape’s release.

“I [found out about his rap career] not that long ago,” said Barbara Polanco, John’s older sister. “He told me about it last summer. That’s when I first heard him. We’re extremely close with one another. We’re two years apart, but people constantly mistake us for twins.”

Although Barbara recently learned about her brother’s passion, she was supportive of his decision to take his music seriously. She became heavily involved with the mixtape and went to the studio with her brother every day.

“I couldn’t imagine people wouldn’t enjoy the final result,” Barbara said.

Polanco spent most of his summer going to and from the studio and working for hours on end to tweak the sounds to his liking. The attention to detail stands out, as listeners will be able to hear these subtle features.

Even the name of the mixtape, The Pressure Book, has a profound meaning.

“There’s a lot of pressure for me to do well, plus when you listen to it, you might find a few diamonds,” Polanco said.

Certain influences of The Pressure Book can be credited to the sophomore’s hometown, the Bronx, the birthplace of Hip-Hop. The iconic boom-bap beats and lyrics are littered with punch lines that bring a ’90s New York City sound to the mixtape.

The rapper loves displaying his versatility. The album also has R&B tracks like “30 Days’ Notice,” as well as a few more progressive beats like “Polanco” and “Ease the Pain.”

Jeffrey Tavares, who also goes by ‘Giraffage,’ a sophomore intended aerospace engineering major, produced the songs “Mirrors” and “Ease the Pain.”

Tavares has been making beats almost exclusively for Polanco on and off for around a year now. The producer can often be found in Polanco’s room, working with him and building up a musical arsenal for their next project.

“I don’t mind working with other artists as well, but right now everything is for John,” Tavares said.

Polanco has a variety of musical influences. J Cole’s narrative elements and the way he delivers his lyrics influences Polanco. Polanco compliments his lyricism by slowing down the pace of his words, which in his opinion helps the lyrics flow better.

As for what’s next, Polanco says he’s planning on recording a few videos to accompany his mixtape.

As much as he loves rapping, Polanco also thinks grades are important. The communication major said he holds a 3.7 GPA, even though he sees his music as his primary goal.

School is just, a “fall back,” he said.

“[Music is] definitely [my] career path,” he said. “I’d rather do something I love rather than to be institutionalized.”

For now, he continues to balance school and a budding rap career.

“I trust him with his decisions,” Barbara said. “I genuinely believe he has talent.”

The wooden chains and bracelets Palanco wears stand as a testament to his origins and developing passions both as a student and aspiring rapper. Like the origins of TNF, The Pressure Book is just one of the many pages Palanco hopes to write in a long rap career.

The Pressure Book is on Soundcloud under “JohnPolancoTNF.”