Only blue Benjamins on Miguelito, no dubs.
It’s raining on a Wednesday in Los Angeles and Peewee Longway is hiding under the hood of his Fendi sweatshirt, though he’s not very good at it. Despite the drizzle and early December breeze, Hugo’s Restaurant on the western half of Santa Monica Boulevard is humming from the lunch rush. More than a few diners sneak glances at the rapper from Atlanta’s Zone 3 while passing our table near the middle of the restaurant’s main walkway. His outfit is a Fendi ensemble—‘Fendi to the flo’ as he describes it— but immediately you’re drawn to the MPA diamond necklace suspended over the deep blue of his hoodie. MPA is an acronym for ‘Money, Pounds & Ammunition’ and the name of his collective, MPA BandCamp. “I don’t hang around people,” he claims, “It’s just MPA. It don’t make no sense to hang with civilians.”
The only reason it makes sense for the 33-year-old rapper to be around civilians today, and listen to them murmur about vegan mac-n-cheese at nearby tables, is because he’s on a press run for his latest project, State of the Art, which dropped last November. It’s his fourteenth project since 2013 when he released the first installment of the Money, Pounds, Ammunition series, signed a deal with Gucci Mane and 1017 Records soon before Guwop’s incarceration and bared his tattooed gut alongside Young Thug to tell us he walks through the Beverly Center “with etiquette”.
While it’s important to mention his affiliation with these Atlanta acts for biography, Longway’s creative arc shouldn’t be bogged down and oversimplified with that information. Peewee is magnetic across his catalogue, immersive and clay-like where others might be surreal or lethal or cartoonish. Gucci Mane will call the sniper rifle ‘Toni Braxton’ cause it’ll “make you never breathe again.” Longway tells about it laying next to him in the car on the way to a meet-and-greet with adjectives that leave a residue. His lines are idiosyncratic flashes that slip away before you have time to absorb, like the quickly fading impression of his weapon on the seat upholstery. That makes much of his work immediately re-playable. I ask about where he picked up his descriptive skills and who inspired the slick phrasing and he pauses before answering, “I’m self-taught.”
On State of the Art, Peewee Longway shimmys across his stylistic diversions, dialing into the wit and likeability that’s attracted fans since Running Through the Lobby. He’ll craft the kind of hook you end up humming at the grocery store no matter how vulgar (“Bout It Bout It”), then repurpose Otis Redding’s “The Top of the Bay” to talk about girls wanting to jack his PayPal account (“Top of the Bank”) or give a speech on the effects of technology in the black market, i.e. you can sell bombs on Craigslist. Young Nudy contributes a solid verse in his diabolical tone (“Shootem Up Bang”), as do Houston’s Maxo Kream (“Let’s Be Real”) and fellow MPA member Lo Life Blacc (“Get Me One”).
Longway has never tethered his albums to one musical frame or song structure, but made an effort to hone his singing and chorus writing over the last few projects. The beats on State of Art range from the melodic offerings of Quay Global (“Bout It, Bout It”) and Atlanta staple Cassius Jay (“Get Money”)—that give him room to earn his Trap Sinatra moniker—to Cicero’s springy “On Dat Freestyle”, the album’s climactic moment and one of the most fun Longway tracks to date.
Peewee released the video for “On Dat Freestyle” a couple months back and has already drawn over four million plays. It’s a gauntlet verse that flaunts his humor and ability to isolate and feed you details in just over two minutes. Longway often uses end rhyme to toss a thread between observations but here he rides that seam so effectively it commands attention to the specifics. (What about a brick makes him call it ‘Harry Potter’? Why does he make the word ‘booger’ sound cool?) In the video, the self-proclaimed Mr. Blue Benjamin lounges on the hood of a lifted Ford Raptor, shows off his “dope boy physique” and wears a Gucci pom pom ski mask that barely leaves enough room for him to squeeze out lines about Cartier Buffs making him look like a cyborg.
He’s also wearing black Buffs at the restaurant, only showing a sliver of his eyes while answering questions. They don’t make him menacing here though, probably because the conversation was simple and grounded. We spent time discussing his wife and two daughters, one of whom, Journee, was born last year. She deserves credit for him leaning into soul and blues. “That’s how she goes to sleep,” he says, “So if I’m just playing [that music] for her on Pandora or something, I can’t help but get inspired. I prolly heard something that morning then went to the studio and flipped the Otis Redding song.”
If he’s in Atlanta, he wants to be at home. He gave respect to Gucci Mane for pulling him out of respected street roles and encouraging his music, saying he wouldn’t have released anything without the 1017 label head. Realizing that makes him laugh and mumble, “That’s fucked up ain’t it cuz?” “It’s a job now,” he follows-up, “I feel like I’ve progressed as a rapper cause I take it serious, I get paid, it’s a job. I got fans and I guess my music has upgraded. That’s what people say at least. It’s not something conscious for me, I’ve just been doing it more.” Longway doesn’t go much further than that on any creative questions:
“Did any moment stick out to you in the recording process for State of Art? A time when you surprised yourself on a record?”
“Naw, I just make songs. I walk in there and do what I gotta do.”
“You’ve worked with experimental producers and Atlanta trap pantheon, what kind of beats are you leaning toward right now?”
“I can rap on anything.”
He was respectful and honest, even amused, about not fully grasping how he creates. Most of his answers started with a wide smile and ended with him laughing because he knows he’s funny. He’s typically guarded in interviews, rightly shutting down entrapping questions from predatory outlets like Vlad TV, but he’s not playing legal gymnastics here. As he reflects on old Instagram posts of uncomfortable airplane travel and boasting 610 followers—today he has almost 700 thousand—it’s clear he’s the most surprised by his progress. It’s not necessary to dig into the little causations and “reasons” that make him Peewee Longway.
There’s no special access that will reveal secrets about Atlanta’s Blue M&M magician. Everything you’ll get is already in the music. He realizes how unlikely and drastic his career change was over the last six years and that’s what makes his rapping elastic and free. At one point near the end he stopped mid-thought and said “Damn, I’m rapping and it’s still kinda unreal”. Then I hear a buzz and he pulls three phones out of his pocket to figure out which one was causing the noise. Once he attended to business he jumped back in with, “But yeah, I’m just Longway bitch.”