August cracks open a can of peach Crush in his living room. It’s a couple weeks after his 106 & Pretend appearance and he’s lounging on his elegant, khaki wrap-around couch playing Grand Theft Auto on a titanic flat screen. He bought the three-story condo in a cozy, suburban cul-de-sac earlier this year, but with the April release of his debut album, Testimony (Def Jam), and 2 Good To Be T.R.U., his first major tour (supporting 2 Chainz and Pusha T) having just ended, he hasn’t had the chance to settle in. He reaches for the remote, shuts down the video game and flips the channel to MTV Jams. The loose wifebeater he’s wearing shows off the tapestry of tatts covering his skinny frame. The caution tape snaking around his wrists, the “SELF” and “MADE” sideburns, the pin-gouged voodoo doll (a nod to his Louisiana roots and crave for control)—and yes, even the cliché music notes and microphone—are all significant life chapters chiseled into his skin. The most painful, though, is his late brother’s epitaph, “4.15.86 - 8.31.10.”
Just days before August’s 18th birthday, his 24-year-old brother, Melvin LaBranch III, who he credits for inspiring him towards the music and crack game, was fatally shot in the head a block from their East New Orleans home. His murder, which remains unsolved, was a major impetus for the young teen. Nearly four years later, August would dedicate his debut album to his brother (It dropped on Melvin’s birthday). It was his way of thanking his sibling for helping him get to where he stands today. “When I was staying with my brother,” he recalls, his slight, syrupy drawl creeping up like an aftertaste. “He had the little Pro Tools shit set up in the crib. So I was writing and recording my own shit. I won’t lie, some of it was terrible, but as you keep doing it, you get better.”
While AA gives the bulk of the credit for his career to big bro, it was his mother who initially nurtured a 14-year-old August’s swelling passion for music by scraping together enough money to buy the family a laptop. Then one day, while searching for footage of a high school brawl, her son discovered YouTube. “My mama got me a webcam,” August recalls. He picks up his phone and takes a few moments to tap out a text. It’s Friday night, but he’s not making party plans—he’s got a meeting with his manager and a studio session later.
“We never had bread to get those type of gadgets,” he continues. “I never was one of those kids who would go on American Idol thinking I could sing. I’m the nigga looking on the Internet. I started going on there to sing in a fucking shirt that was too big and a hat that wasn’t for me––my brother’s shit. I was on there like, ‘Aye y’all fuck with this? Let me know if I can sing or not. And if y’all keep telling me no I’m probably just gonna quit.’ The response was cool, but then we had to pawn my computer because [my family] didn't have enough bread to get by. So I stopped and fell off. That was some bullshit with family issues.”
Those family issues were rooted in the same drug trade he entered following Melvin. Except August’s wonder years showed him the ugly from the consumer side first. After Hurricane Katrina, his own father’s and stepfather's battle with crack addiction drove his mother to uproot him and flee New Orleans for Houston, Texas. “[My stepfather] would go do drugs, take everything out the house, and come back and act like it’s okay. ‘Nigga, you just sold my motherfucking clothes! What do you mean, that’s okay?’”
The troubled relationship between his mother and her addict husband got worse, and ultimately, the fallout left August homeless. “Sometimes when you’re in a relationship with somebody, you love them more than you love yourself and get caught up trying to fix them.” Kicked out at 16, he returned to Louisiana to live and eventually hustle with his brother. “Initially, I really did try to go to school, but I ended up stopping after a while. For so long I just chilled and was getting bird fed, but I’m in this car with all this dope. I am at the crib when niggas is cooking the dope. Fuck, if I’m gonna take a penitentiary chance, nigga, I’m going to get my motherfucking money.”
Unfortunately, August would learn that an addiction to green could be just as deadly as hard white. “Crack fucking ruined my family. So to be selling that shit and seeing what it do to people, you start to realize, ‘Damn, my heart might be a little too big for this shit.’”
CLICK THE ARROW ABOVE TO CONTINUE READING