Ralo has come a long way from being on the wrong side of the law. Just a few years ago, the Atlanta rapper was behind bars. In 2015, he was released from prison and got to work immediately on his music career, dropping two solid mixtapes (Famerican Gangster and Diary of the Streets) and linking up with Future for the breakout single "Can't Lie." By the time Diary of the Streets was released last year, Ralo's name would be everywhere in the south. 

The rapper has worked with plenty of artists in the game including Lil Uzi Vert, 21 Savage, Shy Glizzy and Young Thug, among others. Hailing from a neighborhood in Atlanta called The Bluff, Ralo has built a reputation for himself that his fans respect.

His latest project, Ralo LaFlare, which dropped last month, is a solid 12-track effort featuring big names such as OJ Da Juiceman, Young Dolph, Fetty Wap, Lil Durk and Sean Garrett as well as production from Honorable C-Note, Cassius Jay, Wheezy, Moochie and more. Ralo LaFlare is Ralo's first release since signing to Gucci Mane's 1017 Eskimo record label back in February and a follow-up to Ralo's Famerican Gangster 2 mixtape.

The rap newcomer owes all his current success to the people that helped him out along the way. Through criticism from his peers, Ralo has learned how to succeed in hip-hop and excelled by working on his talents as a rapper.

While in New York City, Ralo sat down with XXL to discuss his early struggles, signing to Gucci Mane's label, accepting criticism and what he has planned for the future.

XXL: You discuss the struggle you had to start with. Can you elaborate on that? What did you mean by the struggle?

Ralo: You know everybody got a struggle. And I feel like everybody got a story to tell. If you’re a millionaire and you lose $100,000 it’s a big loss to you—if you’re a thousandaire and you lose a $100 it matters to you. I feel like everybody got a story, I just had my story, my story to tell. And most people can relate to every story. Any story that’s being told you could always gain something out of, whether it’s from the elderly or whether it’s from a younger person. And that’s what struggle I’m talkin’ about.

In the beginning when you started rapping, what were some of the obstacles you faced?

In the beginning when I started rapping, the obstacle had to be nobody was there to teach me, teach me how to make my art. Nobody was there to record me with my engineer, helping me catch my voice, helping me with mixing and mastering on my songs and stuff. I was just putting out anything, any type of way. It took criticism to make me become a better artist.

It took criticism to make me paint a better picture ’cause if you coming outside and you’re looking all crazy, people gon’ tell you you’re looking crazy—somebody will. And there’s other people that stay silent, and I was one of the people that just reacted from it and turned everything around. And now if you listen to Ralo LaFlare, you can hear every word I’m saying now.

Most rappers usually don’t take criticism well. When people said, "Hey, that’s not right. You should do this," what made you listen?

I think everything that went wrong in my life, I tried to make right. Like, I love the struggle—the beauty is in the struggle. If you don’t respect the struggle, then you’ll never become a better person. That mean you’re gon’ always struggle. You gotta always listen to what other people sayin’ about you to become a better person. If you want people to like you, you gotta give people what they like.

When did you think you made the turn from being a hustler to a rapper?

I really don’t think I ever turned. I think the hustle will always be in you, even as a rapper. If you look at Gucci Mane, he ain’t doing nothing but hustling. The show ain’t nothing but a hustle, everything about it. Everything in life a hustle; the man who works at the post office, he’s passing out mail every day. I feel like everything’s a hustle.

When did you make the big break, when you went from "I’m trying to make it" to "I actually look like I’m getting some money, getting some looks"?

Actually, I went from doing shows for a thousand to $1,500, to $2,500, to $3,500, then to $5,000, to $7,500 to now $10,000. Now I’ve been getting $10,000, $15,000, and with my Ralo LaFlare project, I’m trying to go up to $20,000 a show. And when that money start going into that account, and it just start looking so pretty and you know that you can buy anything that you want… I can literally go buy anything that I want. Any kind of house.

If I want to go buy a house for $1 million dollars. And once you start doing that you start perfecting your hustle, you start to want more ’cause it’s always gon’ be somebody bigger and better than you. So in order for you to be the best at it you gotta compare yourself to the best, you gotta compete with the best. You gotta want what they got, you gotta want to be they plug, you feel me?

When did Birdman come in to help you? When did Future come in to help you and when did Gucci? What did you learn from them?

Actually, my first single was with Future—my first single ever. When I got out of prison I said that I wanted to make a mixtape and I wanted to cheat. I wanted to get in the game faster and quicker, and I wanted to start getting show money quick. So I invested my money in buying a feature from Future, which was the biggest artist in the game, and still to ’til this day one of the biggest in the game.

So I kinda got me a cheat code from them, and then I took off. I got me a little buzz with that one, and with that, you gotta always come back with more. You can’t just stop, you gotta continue to put out more work, you gotta’ continue to put out more projects. And I start knowing what the people like, and like I said from the other question, I give people what they like.

Why sign to Gucci? And how does it feel now that you’re on Alamo Records and 1017 Eskimo?

You know, sometimes you gotta take advantage of every opportunity that’s given to you. He was fresh out of prison, he had a nice wave—he still got a nice wave—and everybody was looking over there. And everybody in the world wanna be signed to him, and if I can have the opportunity to be the first artist? Shit, I won. All day. It ain’t no losin’ in this situation.

Then I met the dude and he was a real nigga. He’s a real solid dude. He supports me throughout my music, even after the music. He fucked with me just because, so I just like him as a person. Him and I got the same birthday, Feb. 12. We got the same last name and it just felt like it just go together. It felt like God sent me that way and I don’t ever wanna fuck up God work.

On Ralo LaFlare, it sounds like you’re real confident about it. Do you think this is your best project yet? Where do you think this project takes you?

Me, myself, I feel like I get better every mixtape. Everything that I said has a meaning to it and I just like when people do stuff and have a meaning to doing it. Like, I don’t like when people just putting out shit and it has no meaning to it. Whether it’s a diss song, whether it’s a motivational song, whether it’s a dance song, everything need to have a fuckin’ meaning to it. If it ain’t got a meaning to it then why do it?

I feel like everything on my mixtape, Ralo LaFlare, is meaningful, from No. 1 all the way to No. 12. You could be in a stressful moment, or you could be in a partying moment. Whatever moment you in, whatever vibe you in, whatever mood you in you could listen to it. So I really love the project and I’m ready to drop Ralo LaFlare 2 right now [laughs].

In the future, what’s the goal you want to accomplish when everything is said and done?

The goal that I want to accomplish is a goal that not many people say when people ask this question. I wanna learn the game more, I wanna learn more. I ain’t gonna say I wanna be the biggest rapper. Within the next five years I just wanna be the smartest, or try to be one of the smartest. And I want to continue to use that knowledge and make more money. I’ve been looking into JAY-Z real heavy, and the man is smart, he’s a genius.

In order to be that person you gotta learn. You gotta sit back and relax and study. I just wanna study the music game and see how I could make the best out of it, and invest my money that I have made off the music into making more money in the music business.

You seem real business-minded. You seem like you’re the "bigger picture" type person rather than "at the moment."

Yeah, you know if I knew the game I wouldn’t even be rapping. I’d be just signing artists. But it ain’t no better way of learning something [than] going through it yourself. You gotta go through it yourself, the best lesson is to be self-taught. And I wanted to come in the game and teach myself, and now I know just about every aspect of this shit. I know how to make the money, and it’s all about the money.

You can’t feed the people without money. You can’t make your artists look good without money. So I’m learning how to make more and more money in this shit, and I just want to become the biggest and the best label or idol, whatever God got planned for me. Whether it’s rich or poor, I’m ready for whatever, though.

Niqko

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