Quelly Woo is an anomaly, even if he looks like just about any other young Brooklynite in a gray Nike Tech suit. As he makes himself comfortable in his manager’s home in Canarsie, not too far from where he grew up in The Flossy, his look complete with Dior slides. Quelly sits in the living room with his friends and focuses on rolling the perfect blunt while his own music videos play on the television.
“I would be a physician’s assistant if I didn’t rap,” Quelly says. “Or if I could really sing, I would only make R&B music.”
It may not necessarily be Quelly’s look or vibe that sets him apart from the rest. Maybe it’s in the way others listen intently when he speaks. Maybe it’s his confidence and an aura of mystery that makes him hard to read. Whatever that “it” is, it’s landed Quelly Woo (who has declined to give his birth name) at the forefront in the Brooklyn drill scene — thanks in no small part to a devotion to his own mantra, “T.P.”
In Quelly’s home base of Canarsie, “T.P.” is an acronym for “think positive.” An independent artist, hungry to make the most of his budding music career, Quelly has adopted the phrase as his own, assigning new meanings to it as he transitions through various stages in his personal life and career.
“They was booin’, now they clappin’, wait/I knew I could make it happen,” Quelly raps in “T.A.P,” the first single from his album. “Time, perseverance/Just T.P., you gotta hear this.”
“Time and Perseverance” isn’t just what it’s taken Quelly to get to this point. It’s also the title of his second full album, released March 17. But even with all the momentum he’s gained, it’s not easy being “Mr. T.P.” all the time.
“If it wasn’t for the people around me, I would’ve been stopped making music, if they didn’t tell me ‘Keep going,’” Quelly admitted. “It’s been difficult just getting here,” he shrugged, “but it’s different for everybody.”
A little bit humble, a lot impatient
Quelly Woo released his first two projects — “Tactical Pressure” (2020) and “Top Prospect” (2021) — through Equity Distribution, a platform by Roc Nation that supports independent artists. Songs from these sessions and other singles got a boost from being featured on Spotify’s hugely influential Rap Caviar playlist; fellow drill artists Fivio Foreign and Rowdy Rebel have endorsed him.
Accolades like these are not easy to come by for new artists, yet Quelly knows he can do more and he is itching for the rest of the world to know it too.
“He’s impatient,” says one neighborhood friend. “We know he’s great, but people just have to open their ears and it takes time, sometimes.”
Sitting next to him on the living room couch, Quelly’s friends are careful not to interrupt as the rapper discusses his work and his own self-imposed high expectations. Finally, they have enough and break their silence, tired of hearing Quelly discount himself.
“He’s too humble,” his friend Tucker says. “He doesn’t know that he’s a little bit famous. He thinks he can walk around like us, but that’s not life, he has fans everywhere.”
Quelly listens quietly, looking down at his hands and laughing to himself. Another friend chimes in. “No one else in Canarsie is doing his numbers right now. Everybody’s on drill right now, but he knows how to switch it up.”
As the genre continues to gain popularity and recognition by mainstream media, the drill scene is inundated with artists looking for new ways to break into the industry — and fill the void left by the passing of Pop Smoke. Fortunately for Quelly, he brings something unique to the drill sound.
“In drill, people don’t be sayin’ nothing,” says J1, a producer and friend of Quelly’s. “I feel like Quelly’s different because he’s using imagery, he’s painting a picture. Even with other rappers that produce with him, he sets the trends. He sets the tone, and they ask him for validation.”
“I be walkin’ with my demons everyday like Billy & Mandy,” Quelly raps in “Crafty” from his latest release, referencing the Cartoon Network show. “Sin for the money, then save it, I guess I’m a vigilante.”
While many artists jump at the chance to work with others to reach a wider audience, Quelly has been intentional in releasing “Time and Perseverance” without any featured performers. Despite his strong support system and the respect he’s earned within the Brooklyn drill community, Quelly is determined to make his own mark in the industry.
“I just want to make it on myself,” he says. “If I do make it, I don’t want anybody to say, ‘Okay, he made it because of this person.’ I want to build organically.”
And for that to happen, he needs time and perseverance. He needs to fall back on that T.P. state of mind.
“Nothing comes easy, you gotta work hard to achieve what you really want,” he said. “You never know what the outcome might be, but you gotta keep pushing.”