In a corner lounge at Atlantic Records' New York office that overlooks midtown Manhattan, Kevin Gates is listening to Gucci Mane on a portable speaker. He says he carries it with him everywhere. Music seems to be embedded in his brain; multiple times during our conversation he bursts into spontaneous rhyme. He’s been making music since about 2006, but the Baton Rouge rapper didn’t get widespread attention until he dropped The Luca Brasi Story last year. With a hit song ‘Satellites’ and other deeply emotive records like ‘Paper Chasers’ and ‘Neon Lights,’ his style is all his own with more than just the trap on his mind.
For a guy riddled with criminal cases and depression, he seems calm, centered, almost Zen-like when VIBE sits down with him. Some answers are roundabout, while others are more profound than we expected. He’s playing Gucci’s ‘Truth’ loudly and I feel like an imposition with my iPhone-turned-recorder, but when it’s time to go, he cuts the music and says, “Ask me anything.”
Was the story [about his child’s birth] on ‘Movie’ true?
Yup. They’re all true stories. I’m inspired by everything that goes on around me. I may make a song about this interview. I’m a sponge. I’m very analytical. I notice the things that most people don’t notice. Like you got on Dunks.
Yours are cleaner.
Yeah, I wear mine two or three times and then throw them away. But I just wear the same [types of] shoes over and over. These are like the only shoes I wear, so it’s different. It’s really…I have a phobia, such as…I really didn’t have a lot at one point in my life. So it’s like if I get one little scuff on my shoes, I gotta…you know what I’m saying? For fear of how…I just love to be clean. I wear the same things, all of my clothes pretty much look the same. I’m a plain and simple type of guy. I don’t really do a lotta busy colors and things of that nature. I feel like less is more.
How do you feel about the early comparisons to Future when you got popping with Luca Brasi Story?
They needed someone to compare me to because it was new. We make comparisons…but if an individual were to go back and listen to Luca Brasi Story now, my voice is very distinctive. I know my voice is very distinctive because in a room of 100 people, my voice is always picked out. So I don’t look at it as a bad thing, they just needed someone to compare me to. [Starts singing] They sayin’ me and Future sound alike, I’m soundin’ like Future, maybe meanin’ Kevin Gates the future.
Who are some artists that inspire you?
I can’t say any artist inspired me, because I’m inspired by the things that go on around me. Now as far as the artists I listen to, they aren’t really in the rap genre. Lately, I’ve been listening to Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran, Edwin McCain, Lifehouse, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Ron Pope. Things of that nature.
Now as far as rappers that I listen to currently, it’s probably Fat Trel, Starlito, Fred the Godson, Maino and Gucci Mane. Because it’s realistic. I can relate to it. I’ve lived that. Starlito’s my brother. We’re gonna do more music.
Is there an official “Album” on deck?
I don’t look at it like that because By Any Means is an album. It was all original tracks and it was a body of work, a collection of songs. When I say By Any Means, we gon’ eat by any means. When I say eat, we gon’ get to this money by any means necessary.
I don’t pay attention to sales because it’s not about that for me. It’s about the music. Music is all I have. I suffer from depression. Severe cases of it. Not one case of depression, not a severe case, but severe cases of depression. Music is my only outlet, it’s therapeutic to me. It’s a release. It’s how I vent emotionally. So it may come out as anger on one song, it may come out as sad on one song, it may come out as happy on one song. Whatever I’m feeling at the time, that’s how I vent. I vent through my music. That’s the only outlet I have. And getting tattoos.
How have you dealt with depression in the past?
I don’t remember. Well…I did a lot of drugs. I didn’t do multiple drugs, but I overindulged in whatever drug of choice. As far as drinking syrup, if it was syrup, I’m drankin’ nothin’ but syrup. It’s an opiate, so it has the same effect as heroin on your body. You nod out. It’s like morphine. But it’s got a beautiful, wonderful taste to it.
I know you got a psychology degree in prison. What made you want to study psychology?
I just always wanted to study human behavior because every psychologist that I would talk to would tell me I was bipolar, and I know I’m not bipolar, so I had to perform a psychoanalysis on myself to find out that I have unresolved grief. I have trouble with letting go. That’s my problem. Anybody that has extreme highs and extreme lows is bipolar to any psychologist and that’s not necessarily the truth. You have to be intimate with a person to know that person, and when I say intimate I mean to know, so how could you come up with the opinion that this person is, in your professional opinion, bipolar when you deal with hundreds of people? You don’t know this person, you don’t live with this person. You sit down with this person on the couch and talk to them and let them talk about their problems. They’re not gonna let their hair down with you because human beings, and I’m included, are naturally guarded. I have trust issues with allowing other individuals to know my innermost secrets for fear of how I may be viewed. Everyone has this.
Can you tell me what you think some of the unresolved grief is over?
It’s everything…it’s on By Any Means, it’s in the music. I don’t want to just say it because my following, they connect with me through my music. They develop relationships with me through my music because of how honest I am, so if I were to just tell you some of the issues, that would take away from upcoming songs, and music is all I have. I don’t have anything else.
You’re somewhat of an avid reader, right? How’d you get into reading?
I’ve just always been a reader. My grandmother just expressed the importance of literacy, if I said that correctly. She just always expressed the importance of being able to write and being able to read. It was something she always instilled in me since I was young. Being in the neighborhood and the poverty stricken environment that I grew up in, I took a detour. I gravitated towards some of the individuals that did a lot of the wrong things with the right intentions.
Are you reading anything lately?
I’m re-reading a book I read because I rushed through it. It’s called The Master Key System by Charles F. Haanel. It’s more about meditation, and what made me want to study meditation was…it’s like when working out, I used to box. And everything is controlled by breathing, so I was like if breathing has such a great effect on the body physically, what kind of effects would it have psychologically, emotionally, and mentally? Breathing is so important with physical activity, then how much more important is it with psychological activity? And I’m a big skeptic so I won’t just go off what an individual may tell me. I gotta do the research. I’ma get different literature on that one subject and just compare and contrast. I do my own selective studies.
What are your favorite kinds of books to read?
Whatever intrigues me, whatever piques my interest. I love vampire novels by Anne Rice but I also love Nicholas Sparks. Those two individuals couldn’t be more opposite. So how do you go from liking a Nicholas Sparks book about The Notebook and then read Anne Rice Memnoch The Devil about Lestat being a vampire?
A lot of people hinged on you mentioning The Notebook on Luca Brasi. What do you like about that book?
It was a true depiction of romance. It was the happy ever after and I never saw that in real life, I never got to see the happy ever after in reality. He didn’t do anything incredible, all he did was loved a woman. He said it in the book, “There will be no monuments left here for me after I’m gone and I won’t get any gold medals of any type, I’ve never won any awards. But I’ve loved a woman with all my heart.” That’s what he said. It was simple. It was beautiful. It was me. It resonated with me spiritually because that’s me, simple. If you see me tomorrow I’ll probably have on something similar to what I have on now because I’m just simple. Less is more, to me.
You talked to Peter Rosenberg about taking a lot of losses, whether being imprisoned or getting knocked out.
Teeth knocked out, broke nose, yeah…I done took a lotta losses.
What’s the worst loss you ever taken?
I don’t really know yet, because I have more losses to take. And then I can’t really call them losses. I just look at losses as a lesson for me because my greatest losses made me an even greater individual.
What’s the biggest thing that’s changed in your life since the music caught on?
My approach, my mentality, my perspective of it all. It took a minute to process it all, but I can see where…I used to have a certain attitude in the illegitimate realm and [now] I have a different attitude in a legitimate realm. I’m Kevin Gates more than I’m Luca Brasi [laughs].
At one time, nobody ever knew who I was in Baton Rouge. Nobody. No one cared about Kevin Gates. No one knew me. No one gave a flyin’ flip, I guess. No one. But I made believers out of men. I made them believe. They believe now.
What’s been the best experience for you since you’ve started taking music seriously?
I don’t really look at it as a best experience with it all because whatever moment I’m in, I have to completely engulf myself in that moment. Like right now, I am completely engulfed in this moment. I could have left the music on and bullshitted, but everywhere I go I like to turn it into a trap house environment. Even though we working right now, we got music on in the background, I bring my lil’ speaker everywhere I go. We waitin’ on the money to come, but we just talkin’.
The reason I don’t look at my greatest experience is because I would long for that experience to have been longer. So I’ve had good times and I’ve had bad times and I reminisce, maybe when I lay down, but throughout my day I keep myself engulfed in whatever moment I’m in because it could steer me into a depressed state. And I really don’t want to be in that state because then I would become an introvert, I’d be aloof. I’ma be somewhere else.
Who are some of your favorite producers to work with?
I don’t really know, because I know it’s a bunch of new producers I haven’t worked with yet.
Who do you want to work with?
I donno. Because a hot producer might not make a hot beat for me. I just love music. Most of the producers I work with, I don’t even know who they are. They had to tell me what song they did. I don’t want to get caught up in knowing what producer is who, because I would allow myself to be judgmental. “Who? I don’t want to hear him.” Let me hear the music. I’ma let the music instruct me on which way to go. Forwards, backwards, left, right. It’s like boxing. I’m only as strong as my opponent.
It’s like when I first heard that “out my window” [‘Wish I Had’], when I first heard that beat. First time I heard that song, I was in the car, “roamin’ around, all my thoughts been roamin’ around.” I just…it just…I knew. It’s like when I heard it, I got excited. My heart started beatin.’ I knew I was about to do it. It was a beautiful woman, I couldn’t wait to undress her. I told everybody, “Y’all get out the room. I wanna be alone with her.” Everybody got out the room. “In the car while roamin’ around, all my thoughts been roamin’ around, where I come from like a hole in the ground, ‘cept to me, still holdin’ it down / every car pass by with the music up loud while bumpin,’ roamin’ around / and then, tellin’ me to make a hit, but I really don’t get, why they walked on “Roaming Around?”
What was that B.o.B. and Flo-Rida line about? [“With Flo-Rida, nothing in common, I’m not a B.o.B.”]
Oh, because at one time the label was saying, “You know Kevin, you can make the song like that,” but I’m not him. I have nothing in common with him. He’s a great artist for what he does. I’m not him. And B.o.B. is a great artist but I’m not him either. I can’t be them. I only know how to be me. I’d rather you hate me for who I am than love me for someone I’m not. Any day. For real.
Can you take me through the process of how you write a song?
I don’t really know, but I know I write a lot of my best music in the car, like late night. Three, four in the morning. I’m in the passenger seat, I got my driver, my getaway driver. My Bonnie, I’m Clyde. That’s when everything is just settled. In the daytime it’s chaotic. Everybody just goin’ nowhere fast. In a rush to go nowhere. [laughs] The long road to nowhere!
The energy in the daytime is so different because everyone is so unhappy and depressed and you can pick up on that energy psychokinetically. So I like to come out at night. Everything’s settled, you can see more. You know, that’s when things like, “My favorite book’s The Notebook by author Nicholas Sparks / built a fake case just to run away but she won’t make it far.” That’s when those types of things come out, things like, um, “Deep conversation where I was always elated as if celebrating a thing of the past / ‘happy belated’ while handing her Franklins, just thought I restated if stated too fast / went to the pen and was livin’ upstate but feel I got away ‘cause I skated with cash / Made crooked lawyers and dirty attorneys who take all the money and say that they workin’ / FUCKIN’ WITCHU! STUCK IN THIS LOOP! WE JUMPIN THROUGH…” You know, I channel that emotion.
Some songs, like ‘Roamin’ Around,’ I rode around and listened to that beat for a month. It wasn’t on a project, I just had to leak it. Which is a greater, better song than ‘Satellites.’ ‘Satellites’ is a great song, but ‘Roamin’ Around’ is a bigger song. It’s way bigger. To me.
I would agree.
But I know this. It will come back and be bigger than ‘Satellites.’
Are there any artists you haven’t worked with yet that you want to work with?
Really, I believe what’s meant to be will be. And I don’t say that because I feel like I’m a psychic or anything, but if I wanted it to not rain today, that’s beyond my control. I couldn’t do anything about it not raining. So whatever’s meant to be, will be. It’s like if I don’t make it to one of my interviews today, it just wasn’t meant to me. So any artist that’s as serious about making music as I am, I’m cool with that. But if you tellin’ me, “Man, send me a verse and I’ma send you a verse.” No. That’s not collaborating. We don’t know each other and I’m serous about this music. I’m not about do to it because I think cross-marketing would be a great – no. Eff that. I don’t wanna do that. I wanna work with you. So if I’m not important enough for an artist to want to work with me, come sit down, block your schedule out, I’ma block my schedule out, let’s work, then we don’t need to work. And whenever we get a chance, we’ll work then.
I didn’t want to take my mixtape and pile it with features. For what? I don’t need that type of look. I can stand on my own. I’ve always been like that. I’ve always stood on my own two. I don’t need a team. I don’t do the entourage thing, you know, 30 people. I don’t do that. That’s just not me.
I want to ask you about video footage of you performing…
Go ahead, ask me.
You were on stage and you said, “I’m about dick too.”
I am. I meant that but they misinterpreted when I said, “I’m bout dick too.” I eat pussy good, but I got a big dick. I’ll dick you down too. Yeah I’m bout slangin’ dick too. In New Orleans – ah, I’ma say Louisiana – we call each other “bitch.” Like me and my dudes, “What up bitch? Bitch, I love you, bitch. I miss you, bitch. Wazzamn, bitch?” And people might misinterpret that like, “Y’all call each other bitch?” That’s just part of the culture. I ain’t gon’ lie. Gates will eat that pussy, but bitch, bout dick too. I got a good dick report. So a lotta people misinterpreted that, but I really don’t care. I don’t think it hurt anything, to me.
And then…everybody’s entitled to their own opinion of me. You could have your own opinion, but that’s not fact, because no one will ever think what I know. And it’s just all about me being secure in who I am as an individual. That’s opinion, that’s not fact. “What you mean he about dick?” Yeah, bring your ol’ lady over here and I’ll show you.
Because I rap a lot about eating pussy, eating booty. I do all of those things and people think, “all he gon’ do is eat pussy, all he gon’ do is eat booty.” Man I’m ‘bout dick too. Yeah I’m ‘bout dick. Don’t get it fucked up. I dick shit down. When I finish with her, she gon’ say she felt it in her stomach ‘cause I’ma put something long in her shit. That’s what I mean. So a lotta people tease me a lot, they used to tease me, ‘Kevin, all you do is talk about eatin’ pussy and lickin’ hoes in the ass.’ Yeah I eat booty, I eat pussy. But I slang dick too.
I tell every woman, if you want to be respected, Drake is a gentleman, but if you want a nigga that’s gon’ put you in your place, come fuck with me. Because when I approach women, ‘Good evening. How you doing? You’re very beautiful. I mean this with all due respect.’ ‘What?’ ‘I wanna spit on your pussy.’ [mimes gasp] ‘No one has ever told me that before.’ No, no one has ever had the confidence to tell you that before, but you look like a slut. I just really wanna treat you like a lady in the streets but treat you like a slut in the bedroom. And most women that love me are aggressive, like Luca Brasi, because I fight hard, I hustle hard, I also love hard, I fuck hard.
There’s been a lot of talk on the internet about Young Thug calling male friends “love” and what not.
Yeah, I call all my patnas love. “What up, love? I’m coolin’, love. What it do love?’ I can call right now on the speakerphone and my brother will pick up like, “What up, love?” Or “What up, loved one?” Things of that nature. “Loved one,” that’s too many syllables, so we’ll just say “love.”
But it’s misinterpreted. Most individuals are sheltered. They didn’t grow up in the streets. I grew up in the streets, I’m from a poverty stricken environment. I have a D.O.C. number, a Department of Corrections number, so my terminology and my colloquialisms will be different from an individual that never was around it. It doesn’t make them a bad person or anything, they’re just trying to figure out. But it’s a culture. It’s a way to speak without speaking. It’s a way to speak without words, but a lot of people don’t know that. It’s hand signals and everything that come with this shit.
Most people, they try their best to understand it and they take things so literal. But it’s really a beautiful thing because slang terminology is code lingo. Other people understand exactly what I’m talking about. Some people don’t, and that’s cool. I ain’t trippin’. Like I got an Elvis tattoo. Most people don’t understand what that Elvis mean. But if you’d have been in the streets, like they got dudes I’ve seen with a black panther tattooed on ‘em. I know what that panther mean.
Thank you for clearing that up.
I don’t feel like I cleared anything up. I don’t think I provided clarity. It’s just me. Not knocking anybody that’s involved in anything. I’m not opinionated. I love all of humanity. Whatever an individual chooses to do with themselves, long as it doesn’t affect me and they’re respectful with it, I don’t care what they do. Because I’m not perfect and I have flaws, so who would I be to be judgmental?