In high school, Troya Pope was voted most likely to be on television.

A native of Wilson, Pope—who performs as Troya—was a star athlete whose charisma and warm spirit inspired her peers to root for her success. Her North Carolina roots fuel a specific kind of hospitality one could only get in the South. Her caring attitude is reflected in her community-first music, and she’s equally humble and hungry—and it’s no surprise that others want her to win, too. 

On February 25, Troya will be performing for the very first time in her hometown, a show that she and her team put together as a love letter to the 252.

Her debut project, Heart of Wilson, was released in February of 2022—and, as suggested by the title, is an ode to her city and the people she cares about most and is inspired by both personal experiences and those of her family and friends.

“[My goal] is to show the ‘real,’ because we’re real people who have really gone through things,” Troya says. “We’ve learned and are still learning life lessons. I wanted it to be uplifting. The vibe is really hopeful.” On “Black Boy,” she directly addresses police brutality and its impact on all families while reminding young Black boys of their value and brilliance.

Track four, “Collect Call,” narrates a story about Troya’s cousin, who has been forced to navigate life with her son’s father in prison.

“She’s raising a son,” Troya says, “and I’m watching her figure out being a
single mom.”

“My baby daddy won’t be participating,” Troya raps in her melodic voice. “How he gon’ raise these kids at visitation? / How these boys gon’ be a man without no demonstration? / Clearly you ain’t give a damn.”

According to Prison Policy Initiative, “Half of the people in prison are parents to minors, leaving 1.25 million kids struggling to cope. Nearly half (47%) of the approximately 1.25 million people in state prison are parents of minor children, and about 1 in 5 (19%) of those children is age 4 or younger.”

In “Collect Call,” Troya’s tone and cadence create space for listeners to both hear and feel her pain.

While recording Heart of Wilson, Troya revealed she was suffering from depression. After graduating from Gardner-Webb University in 2012 with a degree in chemistry while on a full-ride basketball scholarship, she returned home to live with her mother in public housing. 

“When my mom downsized from HUD housing to the projects, I didn’t like where we were staying,” Troya says. “I was upset about having to be there. It was really a wake-up call for me. I knew either I was going to be really depressed or create something that could change my life. I believe that energy is real, and I feel like our apartment had bad energy. I’d literally rather sit in my car than walk inside the house. In poverty-stricken neighborhoods, they don’t really do much to the area.”

But even in discomfort, Troya found inspiration. She turned her small bedroom closet into a makeshift home studio by adding a red light and a few comfortable pillows.

“Ain’t no carpet in the projects,” Troya says. “It’s that cold tile … that lunchroom-floor tile. Once I put some pillows on the floor, I just locked in and began working on my project—that was my space.”

She credits her mother for instilling a make-something-from-nothing attitude in her.

“My mom always made ends meet,” Troya says. “Whether she had to rob Peter to pay Paul, she figured it out. So we didn’t have it super rough because of the sacrifices she made.”

These days, things are much brighter for the hip-hop artist. She’s based in Raleigh, works for a pharmaceutical company, and is not navigating the music world in isolation anymore. Her team consists of a producer, a DJ, a manager, and a stylist, all of whom have invested in her rap dreams. Troya first heard about her producer Swim Harder (Samuel Scott) through mutual friends, and eventually the two connected on Instagram.

“[Swim] reached out and was like, ‘Hey superstar, you want to come work?’” Troya says. “I was super nervous because I had never worked in that way before. You know, where I’m working in front of somebody. I’m really private about my words. I like to sit with my music.”

This new process entailed collaboratively creating music from scratch and challenged Troya to step outside her comfort zone and do something different.

“Swim and I just meshed well,” she says of her musical relationship with the producer. “It’s like we already knew each other.”

Professor X (Xavier Skinner)—who has built a reputation, over the past two years, as one of the hottest producers and DJs in the Triangle—is Troya’s DJ. After seeing the Wilson native perform at a show where he was DJ-ing for another artist, Professor X told himself he was going to work with her; the two then met and have been a dynamic duo ever since. Then there’s Benard Allen (also known as just B, or Back End B, as Troya has nicknamed him), whose role is to help Troya come up with innovative ideas to generate revenue and to make sure her money is right. The final member of the crew is Troya’s stylist, Simone Bey, who is also her girlfriend.

Nowadays Troya’s only job is to focus on being an artist.

“I feel like God kind of places people in your life when it’s time to wake up,” Troya says, adding, in regards to Bey’s influence in her life, “She’s the one who taught me a lot of things about myself and who I am.”

Guided by Bey’s impressive fashion sense, Troya’s comfortable androgynous looks are always paired with some dope kicks and can be described as simple yet swaggy. Her aesthetic is inspired by the pride she has in being a Black Southerner, a theme also embedded in her music. And more often than not, she is supporting a Black-owned clothing brand. A staple in Troya’s looks are crown headband pieces from Raleigh designer Santina Brown’s Beyond Me Apparel collection.

“I look at the headband as my crown,” says Troya. “I didn’t want to wait for someone to crown me. I wanted to crown myself.”

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