“Music has always been my diary to me,” he says, and it’s through his lyrics that a listener can really connect with Gates. In and out of jail since the age of thirteen, he detests tape recorders because they make him feel like he’s being interrogated; in interviews he’s almost always testy, on edge, wary and weary of the publicity game he has to play as the music takes off. He’s almost constantly with a cup of lean in his hands, another way of fighting off the hopelessness that seems to permeate everything. “I deal with depression—music is my release, how I release,” he says. “I vent through the mic, that’s how I release. I’m depressed. [This interview] right now, I don’t like, but I know we have to do this because it comes with the territory. I don’t like this. I get irritated. That’s why I drink syrup, ’cause I flash up; I really have blackouts. Next thing I know, three or four people be beat up and when I come to, I’m fucked up. And what I’m telling you, I’m really fucked up. For real.”
Everything, with Gates, is in the moment—even his music is over and done with in his mind after he puts it on tape, packed away until the next record—and it can lead to contradictions. He says he trusts no one, but is fiercely loyal to his team, his friends and his record label, Bread Winners Association, embodying his Luca Brasi nickname—bestowed by his Grandmother when he was a kid—even more than he probably realizes. He says he doesn’t really care about performing, but his attitude on stage nullifies that statement, too. For all his time creating music, he puts every aspect of the marketing, promotion, album preparation—even track selection and sequencing—in the hands of his BWA team, not even really knowing or caring about what shows up on a particular release.
“I don’t like to do nothing but make music,” he says, and says again. “I might have one song I like, and I’ll be like, ‘Look, I want this song on there,’ but that’ll be that. I don’t care about what songs I made yesterday—I made that yesterday, that don’t have value to me anymore. I make the dope, they package it and sell it, or whatever the fuck they do, I don’t care. They’re in charge of their department, I’m in charge of my department. Together it works.”
His life’s struggle is never far from his mind—part of the reason why it’s captured so forcefully on his records—and his old neighborhood in Baton Rouge, his old life stealing cars in New Orleans, the family and friends that couldn’t find a way out of the cycle of depression that grips his home region, his legal troubles that saw his most recent release from prison come seventeen months ago—well, they’re never very far from his mind, either. As much as he hates the interviews, the press, the constant critiquing of his work, the focus on his least favorite question about his “creative process,” he deals with it with his struggle in his head, caught between his old life and his new one. “I really love my hood, but I realize that if I wanna make this music work, I can’t be there 24/7,” he says. “I can dip through and go see the people I love, but other than that I gotta keep moving. I gotta make a way for myself first and then I can reach back. And that’s the hardest thing, because you want everybody with you, you want your family members with you, you want the people that you come up with right with us. But it can’t be like that. I wish it could. But that hurts, that really hurts.
“I’m just very honest with everything that I do,” he says. “I am the epitome of not allowing the circumstances and your surroundings to dictate who you are, or who you become, or what your future has to be, or what your future entails. So I guess people see all the hardships and the struggles that I’ve been through, they identify with the underdog. Things aren’t how I want them to be right now. If I had my say, certain things wouldn’t go on the way they go on. I have to accept the things I can’t change. But the only thing ever been perfect in my life is music.” —Dan Rys (@danrys)