YFN Lucci’s melodious and unfiltered raps—many of which tackle growing pains and everyday struggles of poverty-stricken youth coming of age in the Summerhill section of Atlanta—have turned the 27-year-old into a notable and highly respectable MC.
After garnering a deal with Atlanta-based label Think It’s a Game in 2014, the father of four unveiled his debut mixtape Wish Me Well the following year. It was the second installment of Wish Me Well, however, that took the budding rapper’s career to new heights, thanks to the chart-topping single “Key to the Streets” featuring Migos and Trouble. The rapper (born Rayshawn Bennett) followed-up “Key to the Streets” with “Everyday We Lit” featuring Philly’s PnB Rock. The song spent 20 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and peaked at No. 33.
On Friday (Mar. 9), the ATL-raised MC released his official debut album Ray Ray from Summerhill (T.I.G/Warner Bros.). Fresh off a flight from the SWAT, a sporty-looking Ray Ray strolled through VIBE‘s office rocking designer jeans with wads of cash purposely hanging out of both pockets. During the interview, Lucci discussed discovering his vocal range, recording Ray Ray from Summerhill, and lessons gleaned from growing up in Summerhill.
VIBE: Given that Ray Ray is your debut album, did you approach it differently than your mixtapes?
YFN Lucci: With this album, all my music is heartfelt. It’s the same, but you can see and hear my elevation. I’m still talking about what I been through, what I’m going through now. It’s not all about the money. I’m rapping about true stories. I’m talking about sh*t that matters, sh*t people are going to feel. On this project, it’s more on that Wish Me Well feel. I’m rapping—I’ve always rapped, but I’m singing on my hooks. But you have to listen to what I’m saying. I’m telling you about my life, my past. I made it rapping. I’m from Summerhill. We don’t make it out of there.
What’s the most inspiring situation that you’ve seen in Summerhill?
The only person that ever came down there was Jeezy. We saw that. That’s probably what motivated me to get out of there. Seeing him shoot videos there, he just used to ride through. We’d see the Lamb[orghini] coming through the ‘hood. We’d say, ‘That’s Jeezy with the truck.’ You know, everybody wants to do that.
Is it hard coming up with different ways to tell your story?
Not really because we’re still living it. Even though I’m in the rap world, I still go home. All of my friends aren’t rich, so I know how they feel. I went through it 23 years of my life, so I got a lot to talk about. But sometimes you get in there it may take a while because you don’t know how you want to come. You don’t want everything to sound the same. But other than that, it’s always something to talk about.
With each of your projects, I feel that your flow gets better—not saying that your flow wasn’t sharp, but I definitely hear the improvement.
I used to always second guess myself, lyrically. But that’s a good thing because you don’t ever want to just say anything. But I have learned that I am who I am, so I can’t second guess myself too much. Do [me]. Say what [I] say. People are gonna relate to it because they going through it, too. I used to be in the studio, and it’ll take me a little longer to do a verse because I’d get stuck. I was thinking too hard. I had to learn not to think too hard, just go.
That’s interesting. None of your music sounds forced.
With the hooks, I just go in the booth, I hear the beat and I might hum. Or I might do my verse first and then I’ll start humming. If I like it, I just fill in the words. That’s why the hooks sound like that, sound just right.
Were you always singing? Or did you figure out later in life that you had a voice?
I used to listen to R. Kelly a lot. My momma used to say she had to hide R. Kelly’s CDs from me [Laughs]. But I figured it out later in life when I was about 18 because I was never in a real studio. Once I got in a real studio, the engineer told me that I didn’t need Auto-Tune all the time because my voice sounds good. Once he told me that, and he mixed it just right I got comfortable with [my voice].
Speaking of your mom, I read that you didn’t know she paid attention to your music until she saw you writing raps in the car. Do you remember what it was like telling her about your deal?
We had a dinner for her. It was right before I signed and before I dropped the project, so it was in November. It wasn’t a long talk, but I said, ‘See, I’ve been telling you. When I used to ask you for $100 to go to the studio, now we got a deal.’ She just smiled, and said, ‘I’m proud of you, and I just want you to be safe. I know you’re going to do everything else. I just want you to be safe.’
Are your two kids aware of who you are?
Liberty is 4, Justice is 3. I got an Honest and Rayshawn now, too. They know who I am now. I take them places and they see how everybody runs up and take pictures. They already listen to me so they say, ‘Damn, my daddy a rapper.’ My son is like, ‘I’m Lucci.’ When I’m taking pictures with people, they’re jumping in the pictures and sh*t.
How do you manage to maneuver through your career while getting so much attention from women?
I got tunnel vision. I’m not going to let anything stop me. This is my dream. I have baby mothers, but I have my own house. I go home, so I won’t get distracted. I don’t have to argue with you, or none of that. My mind is focused on being at the top of my craft.
The ‘hood, and life in general, teach us valuable lessons. What’s the most important schooling that Summerhill has taught you?
In Summerhill, you can’t be scared of anybody—the biggest or the tallest. In Summerhill we don’t back down from anybody. My big brother used to put hands on me my whole life. He said, ‘My little brother ain’t gonna be no punk. I might not be here, he’s gonna have to take care of things.’ And you had to be a hustler. Some people sold dope. We didn’t have plenty junkies in our ‘hood but we always found ways to hustle. We used to make bankrolls when we were 12 and 13 years old.
Now that you’ve made it out of the ‘hood, why can’t more of us do the same?
Everybody doesn’t have what it takes. We didn’t have a father or a lot of OGs, so everybody feels like they learned it on their own so they feel like they just know everything. You’re not going to get anywhere if you’re not going to listen to anybody. If you’re not coachable, you’re not going to get anywhere.
Stream Ray Ray from Summerhill below.