To most of the Internet, Kevin Gates is a relatively new name. To most of Louisiana, he’s been a phenomenon for the last 18 months. When I was reporting on the Boosie trial last May, Gates was already the biggest star in the state. You can watch the clip of him packing out the Varsity last February, full of collar-popping LSU frat boys and sorority girls. That June, I took a trip out to Thibodeaux, a country town an hour out of BR, to see a Gates show. The show was in a strip mall next to a Dollar General Store and vacant storefronts and it was the most mobbed scene I’ve ever seen. People fanning out the front, fighting to get in. The nightclub was a fire waiting to happen, impossibly swarmed and sweaty. Gold-toothed girls in leopard tube tops and kush tattoos singing every word of “Satellites.” Ratchet white girls with “I am Complicated” necklaces, heart tattoos, and enough thugs to rival any Motion Family video you’ve ever seen. The only commonalities in the state were that everyone loved Gates and daiquiris.
Over shrimp skillets at the Cheesecake Bistro in Baton Rouge, Gates and I spoke for what was supposed to be my follow-up article on Boosie. Thanks to the authorities at Angola, the timeline was delayed and the angle of the article altered. The result was that the interview never ran and this has been sitting on my hard drive since June. With the release of his newest excellent tape, “The Luca Brasi Story,” I decided to run it. If Luca was your introduction to Gates, you should dig deeper into the wealth of jams that he’s dropped over the last half-decade (some posted below). Over the last year, there’s been a bidding war to sign him between Young Money and Atlantic. The news of that will break sooner than later and his star will only rise. Gates is one of the best musicians out right now. 64 parishes can’t be wrong. — Jeff Weiss
Q: I’ve read that you were born in New Orleans, but grew up in Baton Rouge. At what point did you move here?
Kevin Gates: I grew up in New Orleans and I grew up here. As a child I lived in New Orleans and then I moved here. My grandmother, she’s from New Orleans, so that’s where I lived for a little while and then we moved here to Baton Rouge. And I really grew up here for the most part.
How was New Orleans different from BR?
It really isn’t. They have a Cajun accent in New Orleans and New Orleans is a lot faster. So I guess it’s fair to say that I live life at an accelerated pace, I grew up at a rapid rate of speed. By thirteen and fourteen, I was advanced.
When did you start rapping?
KG: All my life really. But when I sat down and wrote my first rap I think I was in the eighth grade.
Where did you go to school?
KG: I went to a couple different high schools. I went to McKinley, I went to Lee. Academically, I excelled, but I missed a lot of days because I was in the streets. But as far as my grades, as far as being smart, that was me. I excelled in school, but I missed a lot of days. I remember when…I think my second 9th grade year…8th grade was the last grade I completed. I kept doing 9th grade over and over again. My first 9th grade year I played basketball for a private school called Temple Christian Academy. My second 9th grade year I missed like twenty-seven days my first semester. I just remember small tidbits. I went McKinley also [Boosie’s High School]. That’s the high school in my neighborhood, in south Baton Rouge. It’s on McKinley street.
What was it like for you growing up in Baton Rouge?
KG: As far as growing up here, there’s a lot of poverty. And if you look at it and really pay attention, you know, the people here don’t make enough money to even live. If you making two grand month you’re doing great. Down here it’s very poverty-stricken. The neighborhood I grew up in [the South Side] is impoverished. So I gravitated towards the individuals I saw doing things, which happened to be drug dealers. So like I say, there wasn’t no doctors, there wasn’t no lawyers in the community in which I was raised. So I had aspirations of being a drug lord, being a kingpin.
When did you make the decision to start hustling?
KG: At thirteen or fourteen. It was either go hard or starve.
What were you selling?
KG: Sold it all.
What sort of music were you listening to coming up?
KG: I always listened to a lot of different genres of music. I was never one-dimensional when it came to me listening to music. I always listened to south rock, I always listened to punk rock, I always listened to rock and roll, I always was a hip-hop fan. I even listen to country. Reggaeton, I listen to it all.
Where did the Jamaican influence come from?
KG: I know some Jamaicans. And I think I was fifteen or sixteen…I was just so fascinated with the culture and they just kind of took me in a little bit. I even lived with them for a little while. But the unity that I saw, I really loved it. The vibe was always good. The energy was always good. And I always loved the music. So that’s when I started incorporating that into what I do.\
When did you put out your first mixtape?
KG: My first mixtape I think I put out was in 2006….Well it was 2008. I put a promo disc out in ’06. Probably put about eight or nine projects out.
KG: Me and some individuals from my neighborhood—me, my father, and one of my other partners—we started, or they started a record label. And the record label was called Dead Game Records. We all came together and we did our part. I was the rapper and my father and another individual they were the two CEOs. And we made it work. We all worked together. All us worked together. We gave it away. We just went around passing it out for free. And it was hot, so everybody gravitated towards it. It was hot. It was undeniable. So we developed a buzz and it ignited the people and everything was about to take off and then I was incarcerated. I was incarcerated for two and a half years, almost three years. Upon being reinserted back into society I…I guess me being gone, that’s what raised it, that’s what raised the bar. It was hotter than ever.
Why do you think it took off the way it did?
KG: Because the individuals around me can attest to my lifestyle and can attest to thee things I rap about. Nobody else in the city was giving the depictions that I was giving through my music. Everything else was elementary rap. It was ABC rap. And the older individuals wanted something new. They wanted Kevin Gates. Kevin Gates was refreshing in a sense. Cause I didn’t sound like anyone else. So when I left you know, I had so much work out. I had done so much work to where my team was still releasing CDs while I was incarcerated. So that’s what made the streets really like me.
Where you were incarcerated?
KG: Rivers Correctional.
Was serving the sentence hard?
KG: No. Cause I had been going to jail since I was a child. It wasn’t that. You know, I looked at jail like jail came with the streets. And I accepted it for what it is. See, like a lot of people look at the streets like the streets…No, jail and the streets go hand in hand. You can’t have one with out the other. They coincide. So being that they coincide, I never looked at it like, ‘I’m not supposed to be here.’ This comes with the game that I play.
I went into lockdown a couple times. But I mean, it was jail. Jail not like how they show ‘Locked Up’ on TV. That’s fake. Cause in a violent prison system, you not bringing no cameras in there. They show minimum-security prisons.
What happened to put you in there?
KG: I was pulled over and I was caught with a firearm. And I had already been a convicted felon. I was supposed to get five years…They tried to give me thirty being that I was already a convicted felon. And they found a gun and some drugs. So both charges carry ten to fifteen. Convicted felon with a firearm. Convicted felon with a firearm around controlled dangerous substance.
Was it frustrating knowing that you had got locked up on the verge of stardom?
KG: I can’t say that because I was blessed. Me going to jail, me being incarcerated was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. I already had a name so it was what it was. It was a cakewalk. I already had a name from the streets. All that guerilla shit that could have went I had already been through that. So it was a cakewalk.
Did you read a lot while you were in Rivers?
KG: Yeah, I read a lot. I’m a bookworm. I don’t even watch TV. I like spiritual based literature such as the Celestine Prophecies. I like Robert Green. Art of Seduction. But I had read all that when I was like fifteen. I like Donald Barnes. I mean, really anything, any kind of literature. And I love Anne Rice. I’m infatuated with vampires, so…
What do you think about the current violent spiral going on in BR right now?
KG: I feel like the youth lack guidance. And being that they lack guidance I saw a lot of individuals that were children when I left, I saw them spiral downhill. And that’s what made me have something called the ‘Achievement Academy.’ We go around talking to young people. We go around to different high schools and I share with them past experiences. We talk about choices and we talk about decision-making. I live by the ten percent rule. Save one, you save a thousand. So if I talk to a thousand people and only one hundred people get the message, I did something, I accomplished something.
Why do you think you’ve been the one artist to really crossover from BR since Boosie?
KG: It’s the spirit. It’s my spirit around me. It’s the way…when I walk in a room, my spirit will fill up the whole room without me even saying anything. That’s what it is. Like I say, me going to jail, that gave the world a chance to catch up. I was going over they head.
Why do you think Baton Rouge has never had a platinum artist?
KG: It’s about to change. That’s me. About to change that right now. There hadn’t been the right artist yet. I mean, anybody that you interview from here, like I say, the school systems are very very shitty. And any individual that you interview or speak with, being from where were from…it’s almost impossible to communicate with them because their understanding is so poor. Like I say, and it’s not our fault. It’s not our fault that this is what it is. It’s a very poor city and you ninety percent of the people here, they hustle. But being from the neighborhoods in which were raised in they hustle.
School is put on the back burner because we had to feed our families. We had families that we had to take care of. We not doing this to go buy rims or to go buy jewelry. We doing this to feed our families. So when you say about another artists…I mean, there are some artists out there that people don’t even know about that are very intelligent, that make great music. They got a dude named Ronny My. He real nice. They got another artist named AR. He nice. But a lot of people don’t know who they are. But these are individuals from Baton Rouge that have platinum selling abilities. You could probably look them up on youtube.
Do you think the racial problems in Baton Rouge are severe?
KG: It’s underlying. It’s like an unspoken racial tension. But I don’t have that problem being just the way I look. Maybe a darker person will probably have that problem. But I don’t have that problem because people, you know, people might be apprehensive at first based on my physical appearance upon meeting me. But once you sit down…I haven’t met a person yet that’s like, ‘I don’t like him.’ And that’s from…It’s the spirit that I possess, you know. White people, Asian people, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, Columbians, Blacks, whatever. And I love everybody. I don’t see color. But there are individuals here that feel like that. And I notice it more so in Louisiana and Mississippi as opposed to others states such as California and New York.
What was your family like? Did they stress education?
KG: My grandmother was an English teacher for a while. And she stressed to me the importance of reading, being able to articulate well. She stressed to me those things. My grandfather, he was an attorney. He died. That was like the only real father figure I ever had in my life. He passed away when I was like in the seventh or eighth grade. And I think that’s when everything kind of…that’s when everything started going off the normal path.
What was it like working with Lil Wayne?
KG: I worked with Wayne [and] I worked with Birdman. My whole approach to music is different now, since working with Wayne. He really coached me. So my whole approach to music is different.
KG: I go more off what I feel instead of what I think will work.
What are your plans for the rest of the year?
KG: I’m going to keep working and the universe will open up and whatever path that presents itself, then that’s which path I’m going to go. I love to make music. This is what I love to do. I love to make music, I love to get tattoos…That’s just what I love. If I wasn’t getting paid I’d still do it.
Are you a religious person?
KG: Spiritual. I don’t have a religion. I ain’t nothing wrong with church as long as they selling chicken. Cause I read the Quran, I read the Kabalah, I read the Bible. They all got the same three basic principles: Love God, love your neighbor as yourself, and…As far as me being, I live by those principles. I love God, I love everybody else around me as myself, and I love my enemy.
Has it been hard to implement those ideas in a place as violent as BR?
KG: That’s anywhere in life. But you have to separate yourself from those type of things. I’m held accountable for the places that I’ve placed myself. And I realize that me going standing up in the middle of the projects right now, I’ll do it. But I’m held accountable for anything that goes on while I’m there. Anything that goes on with me, because I know the demographic. If you know the demographic then that’s ninety percent of the battle. So I know the demographic so if I’m there, I put myself there. I’m really asking for whatever comes with it. The same thing with selling drugs. Jail comes with that. You will go to jail.
What do you think people don’t know or understand about you?
KG: I don’t feel that there’s anything people don’t know. I just feel that when it comes to me as an individual, I don’t feel that I’m appreciated in my entirety. I feel like people have concepts of Kevin is this and they try to put a name on it. But there is no name. It is a name for it, but we don’t know to call it. No one does. No one knows what to call it. And that’s just what I feel. Some people will say, ‘Kevin, you know, you rap good like this or…’ No. I do it all.