Imagine picking for ripe avocado and bruise-free strawberries at your local grocery store, and all of a sudden, another shopper begins screaming in excitement, celebrating personal news in the produce section. That’s exactly what shoppers experienced the afternoon that NLE Choppa first heard “Ain’t Gonna Answer,” his first collaboration with his favorite rapper Lil Wayne.
“I was yelling out loud, man. I was in Whole Foods, I was distraught. It was such a great moment,” described NLE Choppa, slightly blushing reliving the moment on a Zoom video call last month. His full smile highlighted his diamond grillz as he casually continued the conversation.
“A lot of white people was looking at me crazy while the song’s going on and I’m like, nah, I just got a Weezy verse. It was real crazy.”
Serving as a single from his album Cottonwood 2, due Friday (April 14), “Ain’t Gonna Answer” is produced by Ben Billions. Through the lyrics, interpolations, and music video, NLE Choppa pays homage to not only Lil Wayne but also Cash Money Records and the Hot Boys.
Emerging onto the mainstream scene with his 2019 single “Shotta Flow,” the breakout record was certified platinum six months later. With an official remix featuring Blueface, as well as “Shotta Flow 2” and additional tracks released in between, NLE Choppa released his debut EP Cottonwood, named after the area he grew up in Memphis, to close out the year.
With a slew of mixtapes, freestyles, and features four years later, the “Slut Me Out” rapper is poised to follow up with a different state of mind. At only 20 years old the rapper, born Bryson Lashun Potts, has channeled the raunchy, rambunctious energy of his New Orleans-bred predecessor. As he enters a new era of his own career, NLE Choppa is incorporating lifestyle changes into his creative process, naming spiritual strength and sobriety as important factors in his health and wealth.
“I’ve grown tremendously. I’m more patient, way more disciplined, way stronger on faith and muscle, in a way, a better mental space. The first Cottonwood, I was still trying to conquer the fight on the inside. I was going through a lot during that time and it drove me away from the focus of the music,” explained the 2020 XXL freshman class member.
“I wasn’t too involved in the marketing, I wasn’t too involved in the visuals, so I was just pretty much out of it. It was just like a, ‘Hey, I’m going to just throw this out’ type of thing. This one [Cottonwood 2], I’ve been taking care of this album like a baby. I’ve been cherishing it, I’ve been nourishing it, like how a mother would. Just being grateful this go around, being more precise, persistent, consistent, and doing all of these things to make sure it’s real dope.”
In discussion with NLE Choppa, he continued to discuss some of his favorite moments creating Cottonwood 2, his lifestyle changes, and what he hopes to establish as his legacy in Hip-Hop and beyond.
VIBE: Are there any specific things that you made sure to practice or work on as you were creating Cottonwood 2?
NLE Choppa: Everything spiritually has been more in line with just me. It is really personal life things that carry over to my work, which is just being grateful, hitting my knees every morning, praying, hitting my knees every night, meditating when I have to, fasting, keeping great eating habits. All of these things, spiritually, help me when it comes to dealing with music and dealing with the work. It helps keep a balance, it helps keep me grounded.
What are some of your favorite songs on Cottonwood 2, and could you break down a few of the tracks?
I think ‘Pretty Brown’ is one of my favorites because it’s speaking to women. I don’t really do a lot of love songs. I’m trying to start back trying to get in the groove of doing that. It’s pretty much a love song for the women. That one is one of my favorites. What else? I like ‘Glide with Me’ towards the end of the album. “Round and Round,” I want to shoot that in Africa, it has an Akon sample. It’s a lot of great songs on there and some great moments.
What were some of the most memorable moments that you had while creating this project?
Just being in the studio with the artists that I was making a song with, or even just hearing the verses that I sent them, too. Being in the studio with [Rick] Ross, meeting him [for] the first time, and having conversations. Being able to hear the verse that Lil Wayne sent me the first time when I was checking out fruits at Whole Foods. There’s so many different stories and it is just crazy.
Meeting Ross for the first time, was he able to share any advice or knowledge with you, as y’all went through the recording process?
Man, it was a lot of things he was saying. I remember one thing that did stick in my mind. He was like, ‘If you want to be able to eat or if you want to be able to live like 10 Kings, you got to put in the work of 10 Kings.’ That’s always in my mind. That’s in the back of my head every time I’m working hard.
You also have some other features on the album, tentatively. I think I heard Polo G and Kevin Gates. How did some of those features come about?
Fivio [Foreign], I was in the studio with him. We was in New York. They was drunk as hell and I was sober and I was just watching everybody have fun and we all had fun. It was a good studio session. Polo G, I got in with him and actually the song with Polo G, G Herbo is on as well. All three of us was in the studio recording it, so it was real dope. Kevin Gates, he sent me the verse back and the verse is top 10 freakiest verses I’ve heard in my life. It’s been a treat.”
What was your mindset when you went into the studio for most of the songs? What can fans expect from Cottonwood 2?
Man, kill everything. Don’t leave nothing on the table, go hard, don’t hold back this go around, because you know you shorted yourself last go around. That’s pretty much what’s in my head. I did whatever I could to make sure that this project was my best body of work. I got a lot of visuals behind the songs. I’m shooting music videos every other day, doing a lot of groundwork with just making sure I’m presenting freestyles on the side and all of these things, and making sure that the merch is A-1. I got my hands on a lot of things to where when I wake up sometimes it’s like it’s all over the place, but it is going to be a dope rollout.
With it being the 50th anniversary of Hip-Hop, what do you think are some of the culture’s most notable moments?
Tupac happened and I feel like that’s the best thing Hip-Hop could ever have, a man that stood on morals, boundaries, and things that he loves so dearly, loves so much. It was beyond music. Just him as a person. I feel like that’s one of the best things that ever happened to the Hip-Hop industry in 50 years, Tupac.
What do you hope that people look back and say in 10, or 20 years about your career?
I feel like life has generational GOATS…greatest of all time. I think it’s hard to pinpoint the greatest musician of all time. A lot of people would say MJ [Michael Jackson]. Then a lot of people on the flip side would say Prince. With rap, a lot of people say ‘Pac, then a lot of people say Jay [Z] or whomever. I like to look at it in basketball terms. You had [Michael] Jordan, he’s the greatest, but then you got Kobe [Bryant]. When Kobe came, a lot of people going to say Kobe’s the greatest. Then you got LeBron [James], and now a lot of people are going to say LeBron is the greatest. Musically I just want the torch to pass to me for the generation to be like, okay, NLE Choppa is the greatest of all time or the greatest of his generation. When it gets into arguments of the greatest of all time, I want to be there.
How do you plan to achieve that status?
Working hard. Keep working hard. Out-working all my peers. I think the edge that I got above everyone is, not only do I work hard, musically, I work hard on myself. When I look in the mirror I say, what can I change? What can I improve? Who can I become? I feel like that’s what separates me from a lot of other people.
What was the defining moment that you made huge lifestyle shifts? Do you think that you would’ve been able to evolve as a rapper without making those changes?
Hell, no. Not at all. Not at all. Not one bit. Those lifestyle changes, I feel like I owe it. I feel like that’s the reason why I’m here. When I was in my lows, back against the wall and just remembering how they feel and being so uncomfortable with that feeling because I knew it was people that was counting on me and rooting for me and I wasn’t the best version of me. I couldn’t even root for myself. Just being real familiar with being in my lowest point of my life, I didn’t like it. I don’t think that’s in my DNA to be there. I don’t think that’s in my blood. I’m a fighter, I’m a warrior.
What advice would you give to someone who’s in a similar position?
Well, I get very firm in prayer. That’s what helped with me. That’s what started with me. I had these five little things I did. I got very firm in prayer. Secondly, came meditation. Just breathing the right way, proper breathing. Third came a diet shift, which was when I went vegan. Fourth, I stopped using drugs. Lastly, I changed the people I was hanging around.
Listen to Cottonwood 2 below.