Not a bad year for Kevin Gates, all in all. Sure, the rapper started 2014 locked up after being arrested last December on probation violations. But ever since he got out, shortly before SXSW this March, Gates has been on fire, building on the fast-rising success of 2013 with the free album/mixtape By Any Means, which dropped Mar. 18. Since then, Gates was named a 2014 XXL Freshman and has embarked on his first truly national headlining tour, with his first major performances above the Mason-Dixon Line proving that his appeal extends far beyond his Louisiana home turf.

Before his show in New York City last week, Gates swung by the XXL offices to talk about life on the road, juggling his relentless work ethic with the constant demands of the rap game and why, sometimes, it all reminds him of being in jail. It's a hard knock life, but Gates keeps moving at his own speed. —Dan Rys

XXL: How are things going on the tour?
Kevin Gates: It's been going how it's been going. Every show has been sold out except for, I don't know, one or two, and then the ones they say didn't sold out were at maximum capacity. I've just been going hard, recording every day. I got my studio with me on the road.

How has life been since the Freshman cover?
It hasn't really changed me, 'cause I ain't changed. Only thing I'm doing is making music, the same thing I've been doing. Living life. Sending money to jail, making songs, spending time with my children when I can. That's what it is.

Your most recent single is "Posed To Be In Love." Can you break down that song a little bit?
I don't wanna break down what it means to me, 'cause I don't want to ruin it for any new potential listeners. I want everybody to get what they get from it instead of listening to me. Because listening to me, who says what it means, and what a person gets from it is different. So I don't wanna ruin anybody else's moment. Music is the most important thing in my life right now. I don't have anything else.

Do you ever think about that when you go to make music videos? That you might present an idea to a viewer that they didn't have?
No, 'cause most of my music videos, they give me a treatment or I come up with a treatment and then I change it as soon as I get there.

One of my favorite lines on By Any Means comes in "Movie," when you say, "I'm only one man and it's hard to operate when it ain't no sleep."
Yeah, I don't sleep much. I don't sleep much—I work, I work, I work. And when people talk to me while I'm trying to be creative, it's a problem. I don't really like talking, I like to execute. I'm not a talking person, I'm an action person. I never did so much talking in my life until I started doing these interviews. I swear to God. I don't get tired—that hashtag (#IDGT) is just something I came up with.

Is it hard to juggle the two sometimes?
No, it's not. It came with the line of work. In order to do what I love, I gotta do the shit I don't. It's like jail; you gotta do the shit you don't wanna do, so just do it. Fuck it.

What do you have coming up music-wise?
I don't know, 'cause I have a bunch of new music I've been recording. I don't have a title for it or anything. I could say I'm working on The Luca Brasi Story 2, but that's been finished. Since Luca Brasi 1, there's just songs that were too graphic at the time for me to speak about certain things. I say a lot of names, you know, and I just had to take some names out and things like that. I didn't want to incriminate anyone or anything like that.

When you see some of the unrest going on in the country right now—
I was there when [the Mike Brown shooting in Ferguson] happened. I was there when that happened. But me being intelligent, I can't speak about a matter that I know nothing about, because I wasn't there to see it actually take place. So I would be foolish to say what I think about a situation if I don't know the ins and outs of the whole situation.

You're from Baton Rouge and New Orleans. What's the best album to come out of New Orleans?
I don't know, brother. I don't particularly listen to albums from New Orleans, to tell you the truth. I don't. I don't know the best album that came out of New Orleans. Luca Brasi Story and By Any Means, to me. I had favorite rappers, but they let me down. I had favorite rappers but they stopped doing what I liked that they did. You know, I used to really love Fiend, but he stopped. He just stopped. Every time he had a project, every project—There's One In Every Family, Street Life—I had to have them. And he just stopped. And that was disappointing, 'cause that was my favorite rapper at one time.

Do you feel any pressure to not stop what you're doing?
No, unless it gets boring to me, then I'll stop, I swear to God. I'd go back to doing something else. I'm just gonna die in this moment. And if I'm still livin' after I give it my everything, tonight, we'll see what happens.