August Alsina Wants to Spread Positivity on His New Album
For a few months, it seemed that August Alsina had all but disappeared. The Def Jam singer and 2014 XXL Freshman was in the midst of a breakout year, releasing his debut album, Testimony, in April 2014, heading out on tours with Usher, 2 Chainz and Chris Brown as well as his own headlining stint and taking home two BET Awards—for Best New Artist and Coca-Cola Viewer's Choice—at the 2014 ceremony. With Testimony landing at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 chart and his tour dates selling out across the country, August was quickly assuming a role as one of the brightest young voices bridging the gap between hip-hop and R&B and doing it in a hurry.
But that momentum came to a scary, eye-opening halt almost exactly a year ago, when August collapsed on stage during a performance in New York City and wound up in a coma for three days, canceling a slew of performances and bringing his insane workload back down to earth. Musically, he stayed largely quiet through the beginning of 2015 before re-emerging with the first single from his upcoming sophomore album, This Thing Called Life, called "Hip-Hop" in April. The song is an ode to both the genre as well as to the need for better days and the song's video, shot in his New Orleans hometown, underlines the point. August Alsina isn't making music for the club; instead, he wants to use his position and his talents for positivity and awareness.
With his second single, "Why I Do It" featuring Lil Wayne, now out as well, August is fully dedicated to the rollout of This Thing Called Life, due out this fall. After a summer touring the festivals of Europe and with new music on the way at any moment, XXL caught up with August Alsina to talk about his past year, the importance of a song like "Hip-Hop," how he met Drake and why he's focused solely on his music right now. —Dan Rys
XXL: What have you been up to lately?
August Alsina: I've been almost in hiding. I was just with one of my friends the other day and they saw me and they were like, "Man, you look like you've been working on the album." [Laughs] If you could see me right now, I look a little like a mad scientist or some shit. But I've just been working, bro, working on this album trying to get everything tied together as far as that go. I'm kind of done, but I'm just waiting on the feeling, I want to feel like I'm about to drop the heat on my second album, being that my first album was so special to people and I think it did way more than anybody expected. With me being a brand new artist and being so new to the game, I'm just playing my cards right so that I can go bigger than that next time.
What has life been like in the past year?
People don't even know the shit that I experienced. My new life has become my normal now, it's normal to me so it's all I know is to go in. I'm really out the hood, I'm really out the slums, so it's a whole lotta muthafuckas that I gotta take care of, a whole lotta muthafuckas looking for a handout. On top of the people looking for a handout, if they don't get that handout you gotta worry about these same niggas tryna kill you or snake you. For example, what they did to Lil Snupe, and that was just getting started. Pretty much every situation that you could think of, I dealt with that shit when it comes to this new lifestyle. It's like I always say, if you go against what God's plan for you is, he finds a way to sit your ass down. That's what it was: "Sit your ass down, August, because you're doing too much." [Laughs]
The video for your first single, "Hip-Hop," was very well done.
I went back home, I went to New Orleans and there was a shooting. It's a lot of shit that's been going on in New Orleans; there's a lot of shit that's been going on everywhere in the world, but I know I can speak on where I'm from and what I know that's going on. There was this 16-year-old girl and she got murdered, then a 19-year-old girl got murdered and then a cop who was transporting somebody to jail and he got killed. All of that was going on back to back, so I feel that record is very important to a lot of people. I hear what people got to say, like, "Why would that be your first single?" I feel like a lot of people expected me to come back with, I guess, some club shit. There's a lot of people who need uplifting and positivity. There's a lot of people, for instance, who have never in their life been to church, bro, or never heard what would be considering uplifting, gospel music. So for me, as an artist, I'm the closest thing for my fans and people that they have to church, or the closest thing that they have to the "Gospel," quote-unquote.
How important was it for you to shoot that video in your hometown of New Orleans?
It's the most important to me, just because of all the shit that I said was happening. I know what it feels like. I was watching the news one day and I was actually in the city, and that 16-year-old girl's momma was on the news talking and I could just see the hurt and pain in her eyes and you could hear it in her voice. And it just made me kind of stop and say, "Damn, man, I want to try to do what I can and use my platform to bring some positivity to the city and to the world." I know what that shit feels like, to lose somebody close to you like that.
You just played some festival dates in Europe, right? What was that experience like?
It was pretty fuckin' stupid, it was pretty epic. The most memorable shit that I've probably ever experienced. I think I'm just now finally getting into a place where I recognize what's going on in my life. Because for a while, with my year and my come up, I was going and going and going and I had never stopped. When you do that you can kind of become numb to a lot of shit, and I think that's what happened to me. Even from the whole BET Awards, that whole experience, I was on my very first tour I went with 2 Chainz, then I did my own tour right after, then I did a tour with Usher right after that, then I did a tour with Chris [Brown] right after that. I was literally going and going and going that whole time to the point where now I'm actually in my house and I feel weird about it. I feel like I'm supposed to be doing something, you know?
So the festivals, it was so dope just to be able to, you know, I'm just a little dirty nigga from New Orleans. So to be able to be all the way overseas and receive the type of love I received, it was the most beautiful thing in the world to me and I'll never forget it. Performing in front of, I think every show was like 60,000 people, 20,000 people, it was just ridiculous, man. And just to be able to make the connections I made out there... Actually at one of the festivals I went to see Jada Smith perform, I was sitting on the side and that's how me and Drake actually connected. It was a whole lot of dope experiences over there. I mean, who the fuck can say that Jada Pinkett introduced them to Drake? It was dope, bro.
You've got some tours you're planning, too, and also these Alsina Fan Experience shows. What are you putting together for those?
I'm really still putting it together; it kind of got pushed back a little bit because I want to do it around the album time. And I've been picky about when I want to put the album out, because like I said, I just want to feel something. I was talking to a friend the other day and I let him hear the album and he was like, "You know what? You're pretty fuckin' selfish, man." And I was like, "Whatchu mean?" And he said, "You got this good-ass album and you don't wanna give it to the people yet. We gotta wait for you to feel a feeling for us to be able to have it. And that's fucked up." [Laughs] So I'm waiting to feel whatever it is I'm waiting to feel.
And my fans, they just go so hard for me, and I feel like they deserve to be able to kick it with me on a whole different level, just to get that real experience for me to show my appreciation for them for how much love they show me and how hard they go for me. When I was on my Testimony Tour, literally all the shows were sold out. I was doing venues that the big dogs were doing at that time, selling out 4,000 seaters and 5,000 seaters. I remember in London I had to do, it was like a 4,500 seater, I had to do three shows back to back because of how many people came out. At this point, the fan base is there and it's only getting bigger and bigger, so I want to take some time to be able to have an experience with my go hards and the people that have been down since day one.
What do you want to get across on this album?
You know, I know what I deal with on a daily basis. And if I can help just one person... You know, I think Testimony was so one-sided, like it was really just me, me, me. But this is just everything I live and everything I see and kind of adopting a persona, too, seeing other people's situations and kind of giving my insight on that. I just want people to be able to grow from it, because that's what life is all about. Just find that balance and be able to grow from the album. I want you to be able to fuck to the album, I want you to be able to cry to the album, I want you to be able to heal from the album, I want you to be able to hurt from the album. I know for a fact that there's a song on the album to touch every emotion that you hold. It's so fuckin' good, bro, and I don't even brag on my shit.
Is there anything else outside of music you've been working on, in fashion or movies or anything like that?
You know what? For me, I always say that I think it's better to be a master of one than a jack of all, that's just my personal opinion. I haven't yet accomplished what I've been put here to do in this music world. I feel I'm still grinding like I got something to prove—although I don't got a damn thing to prove to nobody—but it's something that I want to prove to myself, personally. So I'm really just focused on being better in every aspect of my life when it comes to this music and really owning it and solidifying my lane, creating this lane that I'm in on my own.
It's a lot of shit that come my way when it comes to fashion, and I like to do that type of shit in my spare time, I do that type of shit for fun, but I can't say I've done anything seriously with it. And as far as acting, I really do have a huge passion for acting, but I feel like I want to take it seriously. I don't want to disrespect anybody's craft. If I do it I really wanna do it. I don't wanna be like these fake-ass rappers and fake-ass niggas who be doing this terrible fucking acting that you see in these movies. If I do it, I wanna do it damn good. It's about timing for me; I really want to be able to focus on it. And with music taking up all my time, I haven't really had time to focus on it. But some day soon I will.