King Von doesn’t particularly care for the rap game. He’s in Atlanta now, home to the biggest rap scene in the country, but he’d be back on his street in Chicago if he could. The law felt too heavy on him there, so he’s settled in the land of Future and Coca-Cola. He occasionally goes back home, where the people know him, and heads to his block with handfuls of cash to give away to young kids and adults struggling―even the ones that didn’t give him shit when he was in jail. King Von misses his block, but hates the city. Cops fuck with him relentlessly, old friends only come back around when they need something. The rap game has allowed King Von to escape this, but as soon as he gets enough cash, he’s leaving. For good.
“If I want to make music, I’m going to do it, but I’m trying to get enough M’s so I can just ball and sit around. You’re not going to see me perform, not going to see me making videos, none of my old shit,” he explains.
For now, though, we have a discography full of street-rich tails, menacing and vengeful but empathetic, too. He exists within Chicago’s post-drill framework, spilling confessional bars over hardened beats, a descendant of Herbo and Bibby’s metal-machine delivery, but his melodies are thicker and his flow more varied than some of his peers who also claim Herbo, Bibby, and Keef as influences. He rarely raps without the assistance of menacing piano keys, which can leave the music monotonous from time-to-time, but Von’s ability to switch his flows with regular consistency makes up for any lack of diversity in his beat selection.
His latest album Levon James, is loosely based on the NBA’s best player, an homage to balling hard and making any situation you arrive in immediately better. The record has a star-studded cast of guests, including fellow Chicago hero G Herbo and his childhood friend Lil Durk. It’s another addition to his two year run of stellar hits, a high point of a skyrocketing career. Appreciate King Von while he’s still rapping, because as soon as he can afford to quit, he will. — Will Schube
What have you been getting up to with the quarantine? Have you just been staying at home, hanging out?
King Von: Oh yeah, I’ve always done that. I don’t have much to speak of, but I like to stay low.
Are you in Chicago these days?
King Von: Nah, I’m in Atlanta right now.
Do you like one or the other more, between Chicago and Atlanta?
King Von: I like the people more in Chicago, but it’s just smarter to live at where I am now. I love Atlanta because I can live there with no problems and shit, and that’s where there are more rappers. I like Chicago better though because I have my people out there, but the police know me too well in Chicago and there are people that don’t like me. If you want to work there, be able to speak and be able to live and be able to enjoy life, you have to separate your stuff.
You have such a distinctive storytelling style. How did you develop that? What sort of rap music did you grow up listening to?
King Von: I’m from the streets so I like rap music; that’s what makes up the streets everywhere. I like to read, and there were a lot of books when I was locked up. There were a lot of novels and shit like that, so that’s probably where it came from. That’s not really shit I think about, like where this shit comes from, I usually just go with the flow.
How long were you locked up for?
King Von: I was locked up a lot of times. The last gig, I was locked up on a case of third [degree aggravated battery]. Before that I was locked up for three and a half years. I beat my case and got out. Before that, I was locked up for fifteen months, and then before that, I was locked up for fourteen months. I was locked up for different periods of time throughout my life. It started when I was 16, that’s when I started going to jail. I got in for fourteen months, got out for eight months, be in for fifteen months, get out for four months, be there for three and a half. Got out for about a year, and then got locked up for third. Now I’m on house arrest.
Are you at the point now where you’ve made changes?
King Von: I’m old, I’m tired. I can’t get in trouble, I’m 25. I’ve got a lot of money, so now for sure. It gets pretty old; I was getting locked up for all types of shit. It’s growing up in Southside Chicago, you know. Motherfuckers ain’t have no real grasp, so it gets really old. You learn your lesson.
When did you start realizing that you can make a career out of being a rapper? When did you realize that you have that ability and talent?
King Von: Around the end of 2018 or the beginning of 2019. I don’t know, but when I got out Durk was keeping behind me and watching out. We have a studio in the basement, so I’d be recording one song and I’d get through it. I kept my foot on the gas and I figured that shit out.
Do you still feel like you have to prove yourself to your fans and the rap world, or are you content with where you’re at right now?
King Von: Everybody that fucks with me, they fuck with me, but I have to get busy because it’s all about building and going up. I’m trying to get worldwide. You have to go harder so everybody can talk about you. The more people know you, the more money you get.
Can you talk about what you like about Lebron and why you decided to name the tape after him?
King Von: Lebron’s the dawg. He’s built from scratch; he knows what the fuck is going on. No matter where he goes, he’s going to make that shit happen. We know Lebron’s name. Fool goes crazy – all-around best player in the NBA.
Did you grow up watching ball much? Were you a Bulls fan?
King Von: Yeah, plenty of ‘ball and watching ‘ball. I was one of those little kids who was outside all day, playing basketball, baseball, football; but basketball heavily. Basketball was tied-up heavily to the hip-hop shit, especially in Hyde, and with Nas and all of that.
It’s funny, they say that rappers want to be NBA players and NBA players want to be rappers. The worlds are very well linked.
King Von: Oh yeah, we want to be rapping or we want to be hooping. Everybody wants to be a rapper now, but every rapper wants to be an NBA player for sure.
Growing up in Chicago, what sort of music were you listening to? What scene were you exposed to?
King Von: It depends what time we’re talking about.
How about as a young kid, six or seven years old?
King Von: I don’t know what the fuck I was doing at six or seven years old. I wasn’t getting busy like that. Whoever was hot on the radio, or whoever my mom would be listening to. In 7th or 8th grade, it was really Gucci, Lil Wayne, and 50 Cent. Before, I liked Jay-Z, and Flocka when he came out with all that shit.
You were probably a teenager when Keef got big in the city, right?
King Von: Yeah. I was in jail.
Did you hear about it from in jail, or were you pretty isolated?
King Von: You know, me and Sosa are from the same year. That’s one of my best friends, we’re from the same block – O block.
So, you’ve known him since you were a little kid?
King Von: About 12-13.
What do you think it is about Chicago that produces so many national rappers?
King Von: I don’t know why the fuck we’re blowing up like that, I really don’t know. I don’t even think about shit like that, I just go. I stay on the move. There’s going to be a time where I’m going to look at all this shit and try to find the answers to everything, but now I don’t think about shit like that. I’m just happy it’s going on like it is, and we’re doing what we’re doing – enjoying that shit. I guess it’s their lifestyle, they know what’s going on with the drip. They see it and they follow that shit. While Sosa was rapping, and before I started rapping, they knew me, and he’s old blood – he’s established. We’ve been famous before that shit.
Do you think about your legacy much and the mark you want to leave on the rap scene, or are you just head down right now?
King Von: I don’t give a fuck about any of that, leaving no mark, none of that. I just want to get my money right and take care of my people. I don’t care. I don’t give a fuck about nothing. If that shit didn’t come with the money, then I wouldn’t do it. I couldn’t care less about that shit. If the awards come with a big sum of money, give me that shit – I’m going to work and get that shit. I’m really just trying to be me, trying to be raw because I need the checks and that’s what the fuck is going on. I’m going to keep doing this until I don’t need to do it anymore. Other than that, I’m trying to be the greatest rapper in the world – I never cared, y’all can have that shit.
Do you think you’ll get to a point where you can quit music and live off what you have? Is that the goal?
King Von: I’m going to quit the music shit when I can put the money to everything. I’m dropping trucks, and I have cribs that I’m buying. It’s to the point where I’m buying everything up until I don’t need to do anything anymore.
Talking to interviewers like me, no more of that.
King Von: Yeah, I’m not going to have to do anything.
Do you want to go back to Chicago and help the community out, or are you focused on you and your people?
King Von: I go back to Chicago – I went back last week and gave my ‘hood one-hundred thousand dollars. I do shit differently. I didn’t have a community; my community gave me nothing. I’m going to go to my block, Parkway 64th & King Drive 65th, and I’ll be giving out money. It just started; I’m going to be on another level where I’m going to be doing more shit for the kids on my block. I don’t fuck with Chicago like that. It never did anything for me, it never gave me a chance.
The city just put you in jail, over-and-over again.
King Von: Listen, they can suck my dick. I’m not doing shit for anything; I don’t give a fuck about any of that shit. I don’t care about people; I care about my people. I’m going to go right to my block, and I’m going to make sure everybody over there is straight. Chicago, the mayor, whoever – I’m not with any of that shit.
Take care of yours.
King Von: No one’s going to take care of you if you’re locked up. No one. You’re going to have to go to trial and fight for your life. You don’t have any money and have to take that shit to the public. You have to put on a dirty suit and figure that shit out for yourself.
Do you see people coming back around, now that you’re out and making good money, that were ignoring you back in the day when you needed help and were in jail?
King Von: Nobody gave me nothing but dirt. No one except my mama, the immediate people, and a few people off of my block. Once you’re in jail fighting a murder and three years pass, you’re in that bitch and nobody knows what’s going on; people don’t know. People have their own problems. They care about themselves.
You’re just another number at that point.
King Von: I’ve got outside people that will be looking at me, talking to me, and asking for shit. I say it to their face that they never did anything for me when I needed shit, just so they can feel it. But I still give a motherfucker money, I still help a motherfucker with anything. But you have to let a motherfucker know, “You were wrong. Don’t play me again – you sitting there playing me when I was broke.”
What’s your goal for the rest of 2020? What are you trying to accomplish?
King Von: I’m trying to get some more M’s. A lot of green – that’s it. That’s the only thing: money, money, money. I want to spread that shit out.