You made your first push into the industry at the age of 14. You are now 19 and have been more than successful so far. How has it been?
I’m just trying to stay focused on the music. That’s the hardest part about this industry because it has so much fluff to it and you can get caught up in it easily and develop an ego. For me, I’m just trying to stay humble and keep working. I’ll let people say what they want to say about me whether they give me complements or hate on me. I’m going to just keep doing what I do.
How do you feel you have grown since the first time you sold a beat at 14 to now?
Well, just aside from music because I was so young at 14 and so naïve about the industry but I feel like now I understand that it’s a business. Anything that you do in this world that you make a living off of has politics to it and you have to have a business mind state when it comes to completing tasks and doing other things. Also it takes creativity and that’s something that has more politics because it has a life of its own so you really can’t just force creativity. I feel like now that’s the hardest thing to keep because of having to deal with all the industry politics.
Creativity is something that you take pride in obviously. When do you think you were at your most creative point in your career so far?
You know what, I feel like I have yet to reach my most creative point. I feel like I’m still peaking.
To have that level of creativity you obviously had to have a lot of passion for the music. When did that passion spark?
When I was in kindergarten I fell in love with hip-hop. When I heard that song by Outkast that went “Now throw your hands in the ayur/and wave them like you just don’t cayur/and if you like fish and grits and all the pimp shit/everybody let me hear you say oh yayur.” That was the first rap song that I remember hearing that made me feel like, ‘Damn I can’t wait to hear this song again.’ That’s what made me want to rap and ever since then I’ve always wanted to stay tuned to music. When I got into the 3rd grade my brother found a 20 dollar bill and a bought a DMX album and I really studied that hard and learned how to rap from that. I then got real deep into other artists like Eminem, Outkast, and Nas. T.I. was probably the first southern artist that I was really feeling at the time when I was really coming up and it’s funny because now I am signed to his label.
Obviously rapping came at you first but when did you seriously take up producing and song writing because you are now known just as much known for these two aspects of your career as emceeing?
You know what, I always wanted to make beats but I never knew how. In 9th grade my cousin Sway taught me how to make beats and I did that using Fruity Loops and from there I have gotten deeper and deeper into music. To be honest I used to play trumpet when I was a kid and I never thought I was going to end up producing.
Does more stress come along with being in demand for so many different aspects of musical production that usually can only be mastered alone?
You know I’m not going to lie, I’m human so there’s always going to be stress and ups and downs. I’m just going to have to remember that it’s just a life. I don’t want to get too caught up in making it like some tragic struggle stressful Hollywood story. I just want to take it lightly and do my job that’s it. If people want to know me for that than that’s cool because I don’t want to turn it into something bigger than what it really is.
What aspect of your career, rapping, producing or songwriting is taking up more of the workload?
You know it’s the same thing its just that there is just more people. For me I don’t really focus on too much of the fluff and all of that. I feel like it’s the same thing if they want me to get on the beat or do some writing or spit a verse. For me it’s the same thing but just more of it comes at you. You just have to balance it out and just take it at an even pace so that you don’t overwork or under work yourself.
Coming up I’m sure you had a few role models that helped keep your creativity alive. Now you are starting to become one yourself, does that feel weird to you at all?
(laughs)Yeah it is pretty weird now that I think about it but I don’t place any pressure on myself and be like – I got to do this and that. I just have to stay true to who I am. If people are going to look to me in admiration I want them to look at me for me and not a false image or what they want to see.
You were just featured in the “Freshman Class of ‘09” in XXL, how did that come about?
You know it’s crazy because at the photo shoot everyone was just vibing and networking and enjoying the moment. We even went into talks about doing a reality show. Charles Hamilton, Asher Roth and I did a song. As an entire group we also talked about doing a tour and it’s crazy how so much can happen when you get artists together like that. I heard last year the artists that were featured didn’t vibe like we did and it was just a huge ego fest so I feel like times are changing and what it means to be an artist has changed in this industry and everything.
The artists selected in the “XXL Freshman Class” last year have all been very successful. Do you feel any more pressure because you are featured in an article that expects greatness from each artist they select?
Honestly I want to have an impact in what I do but the biggest challenge is not putting that pressure on myself to do that. I can’t be like, ‘I got to do this I got to do that, if I don’t do this I’m going to look bad.’ I take things for what it’s worth and I don’t put the pressure on myself. Honestly the more notoriety or success I get the less pressure I feel because literally I have to not feel pressure because it will only amount to more and more. The more people that have an opinion or have something to say can hurt your focus if you pay attention. You just have to stay focused on the important thing and that’s the music.
Meeting all of your up-and-coming rap peers must have given you an idea on where everyone is at. Who was the most interesting person that you met there?
I couldn’t really just say one person but the interesting thing to me was that they had one part of the interview where all the artists sat down together and had a group discussion where we discussed what we had to do to get into the industry and who had co-signs and who didn’t and all of that. We talked about everyone’s background and you know it was crazy hearing Charles Hamilton’s story of being homeless last year and stealing the issue and now being on the cover. Everyone just had different stories, you know, so it was just weird because every artist had such a different background, styles of music and fan base but you could still feel that everyone wanted the same exact thing.
That thing being very successful in the next 1-2 years, I’m guessing?
Was there a sense of competition because of all of you wanting that same exact thing? We see competition within the industry today more than ever.
You know what it is; it actually felt better and even more non-competitive. You know you get there and you are like seeing all these other artists and you’re asking yourself what do they do that made them somewhat successful and after awhile you realize that there really is no competition. It’s really just people making music because they love it. I don’t think there was a time where anybody felt any intimidation or competitiveness. I think that is needed right now because the rap industry has turned into such a competition where everyone is worrying about what their rap peers are doing and I feel like now we don’t have to worry about that we can just make music now and be free.
Do you feel that younger artists should come into the game in thirst for different lanes besides just a smooth voice that goes well over an industry beat?
I definitely think that a lot of artists coming up in the industry need classes or something about what you want to do. You know what, that actually gives me an idea like maybe I need to start a blog site or something where I talk about the industry and all of that.
To play off of that, do you think up-and-coming artists can be more ignorant?
Definitely, to be honest I feel like artists that are young are ignorant. That doesn’t mean it is a bad ignorance necessarily it’s just ignorance because you don’t know all that there is to know.
Being up-and-coming yourself, it must have been huge to be a part ofT.I.’s Paper Trail. Can you explain how that came about?
It’s funny because I got two songs on his album and the “On Top of the World” I am singing on it and I wrote that with my cousin. Then on “Slideshow” Playboy Tre and I wrote it and it’s surprising that those songs got on one of T.I.P.’s biggest albums. I would have never expected to participate and get two songs on it. My manager B Rich played “Slideshow” and “On Top of the World” for Tip and he liked both which is crazy. It’s all just relationships it’s about who you know and good music. If you know people that’s one thing but to have the talent is something else. In this industry a lot of people complain about the politics but if you have true talent it will speak for itself and you will get to the right people. The right people will take note and they will hear you. I don’t know if there is a set formula for getting heard but if you’re talented it will speak for itself.
How have performances been with T.I. and Ludacris, just being on stage with them and performing alongside these heavyweights must be an incredible experience, helped you grow as an artist?
I’ve performed twice with them “On Top of the World” but I’ve opened up for T.I. before. It’s crazy because I’ll just be sitting there with T.I.P. and Luda and just be chilling. It happens so fast that you don’t really have anytime to think about it.
What was it like backstage? Was it intimidating being with artists who have gone so far into hip-hop that they have even been successful outside of the music industry?
You know what, it’s crazy man because this industry is just like high school. It’s just like T.I.P. and Luda are the stars of the football team and everyone’s back in the locker room with them talking shit and drinking liquor, just kicking back. It’s not all star-studded and smoke and mirrors. It’s just a real organic vibe. When you leave the dressing room it becomes really crazy because artists at their caliber try to keep a really tight and close dressing room, you know to hold down the traffic and all of that.
I’m sure you got a lot of advice from T.I. in the past few months. It’s almost like you are his prodigy.
Yeah, T.I.P. gave me a lot of advice on several different occasions. When I was going to his house he would tell me what I needed to do in the industry and how he could help me music-wise.
Is it hard for you to stay humble right now when you are already all over the industry especially on the mainstream without even having an album out?
It is hard to control but the more you know, the more power and control you will have. This will make you have to be humble with what you do or it will get out of hand. You learn so much in this industry so fast so you have to take it slow and trust your instincts.
You have a new mixtape coming out called The Unclearables. Can you explain the meaning behind that title?
It’s like all the unclearable samples and songs that we couldn’t complete. We just want to put them out there because we can’t clear them because of publishing. We just wanted to get those out there so we decided to do it with the mixtape over the internet. It’s kind of like a treat because we are putting it out there.
Are you annoyed right now with how publishing in the industry works in today’s industry?
Not really. I just make whatever I want to make. I let the label take care of that. I’ll tell you what is annoying in the industry, when you have people in the studio trying to micro manage because I’m very stubborn and I know what I want so when I’m in the studio I want to work. I hate when people try to micro manage, it’s kind of like a job for A&Rs to give advice and put together songs but when it comes to me I know what I want to do. I am not a very good listener when it comes to other people critiquing my music. Regardless if someone is trying to change me or not I just don’t pay it any mind because I will do what I want to do no matter what it just annoys me when someone thinks they have the right to change that.
You were a featured act on two big tours this year (Hip Hop Live and Rock the Bells) how were you able to get put on to those tours which feature such well established live acts?
For Rock the Bells it really happened through word of mouth and the producers of the tour hearing about me. They wanted to see what I could do on stage and the fact that I was the only southern artist on the tour it showed me how they would take my music for a very hip-hop oriented tour. For the Hip Hop Live tour I was not the only southern act because David Banner was on that too. With that tour it was cool because we had a live band and I felt good to be in the roster with Talib Kweli and David Banner. Especially because of being in front of a band because it is very live and organic. You can do a lot of improvisation for example at the end of one show David Banner, Talib Kweli, Playboy Tre, and I freestyled for over an hour. That was all pretty dope.
What’s the situation with your debut album? Have you started selecting tracks yet?
I actually have tons and tons of songs but I don’t think I have a masterpiece yet. So far if I put it out now I think it would be a great album but not a masterpiece. I want it to be one of those albums that lasts for decades and centuries. I’m just really trying to keep everything under wraps.