Even though artists such as Nelly and Chingy transformed St. Louis into a hip-hop hotspot with their chart topping singles and platinum plaques, the Midwest still suffers from a bit of a identity crisis. For the most part, MCs from The Lou have delivered nothing more than predictable, bubblegum party hits. According to 19-year-old rapper Huey, though, that’s all about to change. Hailing from St. Louis’ notorious Arlington Ave., Baby Huey started as a producer/MC during his mid-teens and gained notoriety through local shows and mixtapes. Powered by his popular smash, “Pop, Lock & Drop It,” Huey saw his Unsigned Hype mixtape quickly sell out. In 2006, the budding rapper’s buzz attracted the attention of producer TJ Chapman who introduced Huey to Jive Records’ VP of A&R, Mickey “MeMpHiTz” Wright. Impressed with the kid’s mic skills, Wright signed the Midwest representer to his HiTz Committee imprint. Earlier this year, “Pop, Lock & Drop It” was released nationally, landing at No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles charts and selling over 200,000 ringtones. Riding high off the success, Huey released his debut LP, Notebook Paper, last week. XXLMag.com spoke with hip-hop’s newest sensation about his overnight success, the perception of St. Louis rappers and why he’s much more than a one-hit wonder.
Take us through the creative process behind making “Pop, Lock & Drop It.”
I was just lookin’ for a club banger. I wanted to talk about something different than bustin’ heads or fightin’. The song just came [into] my head. I wrote the first half of the hook and my manager’s daughters were there. They kept sayin’, “Pop, lock, and drop it.” I actually was like, “That’s the second half of the hook.” So we went to the studio instantly and I made them record it like how they were saying it at the house. That’s how it happened. I never knew the song was gonna be as big as it was, though.
Notebook Paper just came out, but what should people that haven’t heard it yet expect?
Expect everything you wouldn’t expect to come from the city of St. Louis. It’s very versatile. We got lady-love-you records, we got swag records, we got conscious records, we got gangsta records, and we got the lifestyle of Huey. It’s the whole package.
How is this an album nobody would expect to hear from a St. Louis rapper?
It’s totally different. You definitely not gonna expect this, like, seriously. Everybody that came out of St. Louis been different. And this is just beyond different right there. This is really the new St. Louis.
Everyone says they’re the new something. How is it really different?
I would say that everybody that has came out gave people industry stuff. Everybody just made songs because people want those songs. I actually made mines ’cause that’s how I felt and it’s real life. There’s nothin’ fake about it. There’s actually songs on this album that’s gonna make people sit down and think about things [in] a different way.
So you think the perception is that St. Louis produces only commercial music?
I wouldn’t say St. Louis in general, but so far, some of the things that has come out… like, if it was gangsta, it just wasn’t the right type of gangsta music. And if it’s commercial, it was too damn commercial.
But based off of “Pop, Lock & Drop It,” people are gonna assume you’re just bringing the same old thing. Was it important for you to spread beyond dance tracks on your album?
Everybody asks me if it’s just about “Pop, Lock & Drop It.” That’s a big no. We gonna get it in, they gonna see [and] they gonna understand.
Is there an overriding theme to Notebook Paper?
Nah, I don’t know. Basically, I’m placing [my] life into a notebook—things that I’ve been through, things that I’ve learned, seen, or lookin’ forward to doing. I’m placing it into a notebook and after the notebook; I’m [gonna] make paper.
What do you want people to understand about this new batch of St. Louis MCs?
That [there’s] actually talent in The Lou. Yeah, they heard Nelly, Chingy [and] Jibbs, but look how few artists that is out of a whole city. St. Louis is hardly looked at. I’m tryin’ to make them look a little harder. Even if I gotta step it up myself, it’s gonna happen. It’s gonna make people actually realize St. Louis is grimy [and] it’s gangsta. At the same time, we got sense in our brains, too. We not stupid.
So how much of your personal life are we going to hear?
You’re gonna know everything you need to know about Huey. I ain’t leave nothin’ out. I actually explained my whole life. After everybody hears the album, they gonna know exactly who I am. I just want people to know I was the same as everybody else. I had a dream, a struggle and all that. I stayed focused and even though I’ve made it, I’m still regular. I don’t feel like I’m better than nobody. I actually tell everybody that at my shows and everything. There’s really nothin’ in my life that people don’t know because I’ve already told it through a lot of interviews and on the album. Everybody is gonna know everything that I’ve been through.
What was it like growing up in St. Louis?
I grew up in Kinloch and it’s very hood. Right now, we don’t even have that many houses. It’s a real hood. It was rough growing up. There was a lot of junkies, drug dealers and whatnot. I was just another child in the hood.
Is there anything you took away from living there?
Nothing. [Just] be strong. You gotta keep yourself focused. Don’t let hard times down you. Just keep it movin’ and keep from losin’, that’s my motto.
A lot of people don’t know you started out as a producer first. How did you get involved in making beats?
I grew up in church and I got a keyboard. I just started making beats on it. It wasn’t nothin’ special. I just got a keyboard and that’s what I was doing. Finally, I found out how to make beats.
So what prompted you to get on the mic?
Everybody from the hood told me I was good and I should keep doin’ it. So I got with a local label and we got in the studio and recorded. I did my first show and it was like motivation. After that, I knew I wanted to do this.
How will you judge whether this album is a success?
I don’t know. I never thought about that. I ain’t gonna get my hopes up too high. I’m just gonna say I’m gonna do good. I damn sure ain’t gonna flop. I think it’s a success for me to actually be 19. Most 19-year-olds from where I’m from don’t even make it to 21. Me being 19 and signed to a major label, to become a successful young Black man, that’s successful enough for me.