It’s almost noon on a late April Tuesday, and the sun is beating down on a yellow Lamborghini parked on a side street off Edgewood Avenue. The giant rapper Gucci Mane stands next to it, eating lunch out of a Styrofoam container. His cronies Shawty Lo and OJ Da Juiceman sit against a nearby brick building, talking. Assorted crew, stylists, label reps and photography assistants scurry around, preparing for the arrival of Soulja Boy.
The teen star has just touched down on his flight from Florida, on his way to be part of the cover shoot for XXL’s second-annual Hood 2 Hood issue. This year’s hot spot: our current locale, Atlanta. The A has been consistently producing top rap talent for 15 years now, but—as represented by today’s quartet—there’s another new wave coming up from the streets, the MCs leading hip-hop’s leading city into tomorrow.
Four solo artists of varying ages and stages of their careers—Gucci, Soulja, Shawty and OJ,—have developed a strong friendship, be it long ago, through the streets, or more recently, through rap. When Gucci was locked up this past year on an assault charge, Soulja Boy shot a “Free Gucci Mane” video and put it on YouTube in support. They’ve all appeared on each other’s songs, mixtapes and videos—most recently gathering for Soulja Boy’s “Gucci Bandanna”—presenting a united front.
Unsurprisingly, perhaps, Atlanta’s new generation has clashed with the previous one. Gucci Mane endured an all-too-serious beef with Young Jeezy after the success of their collaboration on the 2005 hit “Icy.” And Shawty Lo was at odds with his old Bankhead neighbor T.I. for over a year, before squashing the problem at the local Club Crucial in March.
But today is about the new generation, not the one before. The youngest of the bunch, and the most successful so far saleswise, S.B. arrives in a black SUV packed with a swarm of security and a dozen or so Louis Vuitton suitcases and bags. But while he’s taken the pop path, and never dealt drugs, like the others, the greetings are warm and genuine.
After the camera captures the moment, the four sit down at a table in a location trailer to chop it up in the round.
What did you guys think of the photo shoot today?
Gucci Mane: Personally, I think it was history in the making. I enjoyed it. It didn’t feel like it was no work. It was fun, and I got to kick it with my boys. Get to chill with them. We have busy schedules, so even though it was a photo shoot and it was work, it was good for us to get with each other and to just see each other again and touch bases with each other.
Soulja Boy: I feel like it’s a good thing for Atlanta and just for all us to be on the XXL mag at the same time. That’s just gonna mark our star. So it’s going down real big right now.
This is XXL’s second-annual Hood 2 Hood issue. For the first installment, last July, we had some popular Florida artists on the cover.
Soulja Boy: Rick Ross!
Yeah, we had Rick Ross, Khaled, Trina and Flo Rida. That was the hot hood, musically, at the time. Now, a year later, we feel that you guys, collectively and individually, have been making a big buzz down here—like, a new wave, the new big faces of Atlanta.
Shawty Lo: I believe y’all are really on point with your idea, because we’ve been grinding so long and so hard. And for us to be the underdogs and getting out there good, it’s a real good look for the city and for the rest of the world.
You’ve recorded a lot together. Gucci, Lo and OJ, you are all on the same label. But Soulja Boy, you aren’t. How did you guys come to all work together? Is it that you are friends? Did the labels put some of you together?
OJ Da Juiceman: I think it was a good thing. You know, Atlanta cats, we keep it two, 100. We don’t play soccer—save that for the folks over in Brazil, know what I’m talking about? But it’s a good look that we came together and make the hip-hop better than what it is, because it ain’t nothing without us, ya feel me? Juiceman said that. All we got is that. The music me and Gooch make, you know, it’s just a good vibe. The music that me and Shawty Lo make, it’s a stupid vibe. And the music that me and Soulja make, it’s a wonderful vibe. And if anybody say different, I wish they would, you feel me? And this here’s Atlanta, ya feel me? And we swagged up all the way to the max. Swag 200 for the 100. For the fool that ain’t keeping it 100, you know we 100, anyway. So I say 200—100 for us and for the folks that ain’t 100. Da Juiceman, aye! [Laughing all around]
Shawty Lo: No labels done put us together. We all homeboys from the jump.
When did you first get to know each other?
Gucci Mane: In, like, ’89 I moved to Georgia from Alabama. The first person I really met was OJ. We met picking up cans in the hood.
OJ Da Juiceman: Trading Nintendo cartridges. [Laughing] Awww, man.
Gucci Mane: He used to steal my Nintendo cartridges. We started hustling early teenage years—12,13… And then just went to school together, hung out together, had beef with folks together, all coming up through the years. And just parlayed that into a rap career, man. Just glad we ain’t doing what we used to be doing.
OJ Da Juiceman: Damn sure right about that.
Gucci Mane: And as far as me and Shawty Lo, that’s, like, one of my best friends. We like brothers. And Soulja, that’s, like, my protégé, to me. I parallel myself to him at the same age. He got a lot of things in common with me. He’s a hard worker, just like myself.
That relationship is an interesting one. Gucci, you said in an interview, in our May issue, that Soulja Boy was an inspiration to you, and you applauded him for his positivity. Soulja, you did a “Free Gucci Mane” video when Gucci was locked up. How did you two become friends?
Gucci Mane: To be honest, Soulja Boy told me he was a big fan of my music. But he wouldn’t even imagine I’m a same big fan of his music as he is of mine. So we had mutual respect for each other. That’s my dawg.
That surprised a lot of people. Your images are so different.
Gucci Mane: Me and Juiceman had that conversation when we was coming over here to the photo shoot. We were like, even though me and Juice came up hustlin’ and doing all kinds of things, we was like, Soulja Boy from the hood, too. He made something out of nothing, just like we did. That’s what we were talking about before we got here. We gotta tip our hat to him, just like anybody else.
OJ Da Juiceman: Can’t never knock a hustle.
Gucci Mane: That’s how I am.
The Atlanta rap scene has been hot for so long. Cities rarely maintain that kind of consistency. Houston went up, went down. Same with New Orleans and St. Louis. But Atlanta stays producing
national-level hip-hop talent. What do you attribute the city’s success to?
Gucci Mane: I think what keeps us afloat and what keeps us in touch with the streets so much—not saying that Houston ain’t got that street shit, or Florida, or Cali, or New York—but I think that the lifestyle in Atlanta is just the party atmosphere all the time. And just the people traveling, always coming down here. And the culture that just keeps us with a different, like, swag. Not even swag, just different flavor, you know what I’m saying? Because everybody always say that. A whole different way of seeing life. Partying every day, clubbing every day, you feel me? That definitely gotta be an influence on the music in some kind of way.
Shawty Lo: It is. We got basically all the clubs poppin’ everywhere. It ain’t one, two, three places open—we got 20 places to go to. We got the busiest airport.
Gucci Mane: We see it on a daily basis. So even before I got history, I was partying with stars, even if I wasn’t a star myself. You know what I’m saying?-VANESSA SATTEN
For more of the All For One cover story, make sure to pick up XXL’s June issue hitting newsstands June 2nd.