Show & Prove
Words: Georgette Cline
Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the Spring 2019 issue of XXL Magazine, on stands now.

Taking a chance on a new barber is risky business, but Blueface has no problem stepping outside of his comfort zone. After all, this is the same guy who moved across the country from his West Los Angeles stomping grounds, where he pledged allegiance to the School Yard Crips at 18, to play football at Fayetteville State University in North Carolina. Luckily, Dex, the rapper’s groomer for the day, proves this risk is worth the reward as the West Coast native sits inside XXL’s Manhattan office with clippers pressed against his head. “Oh, that’s perfect,” the 22-year-old rapper says while peering at his reflection in a mirror, approving of the finished look.

For someone who keeps a trusty tool handy (“Blowdryer on me in case a nigga need his hair done,” he raps on “2 Coccs”), Blueface seems to pay as much attention to his haircut as he does his music. As far as rap standards go, Blueface is fairly new to this. West Coast rappers before him like Snoop Dogg, Kendrick Lamar and YG have been spitting rhymes since their teenage years, yet Blueface is just one year removed from entering the rap game. “I feel like I’m a freshman of the year,” he says, sporting a smile, two Cuban link chains draped around his neck and a blue plaid hoodie with matching pants.

Blueface’s confidence is warranted considering his piano-driven, Scum Beatz-produced banger “Thotiana” has climbed to No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart after debuting at No. 75 in January, almost a year after the song was initially released via SoundCloud. With an off-kilter flow that nearly dodges the instrumental’s bassline, the self-described choir orchestrator opts for a conversational delivery that defies the typical formula of a hip-hop track. “It’s gonna be No. 1,” Blueface predicts of the ascent of “Thotiana,” which sits on his first official project, Famous Cryp, also released in 2018.

The rhymer, born Johnathan Porter, has social media to thank for much of his early recognition, which in turn has helped to push his single up the charts. From quips that his voice sounds like Courage The Cowardly Dog to sororities mimicking his Bust Down dance—a move in which Blueface licks two fingers, smoothes his eyebrows, grabs his front waistband and twirls his hips as he bends his knees—Blueface has seen it all on Instagram and Twitter. He’s also aware of his own meme-worthy moments, Crip Walking in all kinds of weather—rain and snow included—to capitalize on his viral factor. “I don’t know if you seen, but I used to suck,” he admits of his former C-Walking skills.

Years before anyone was doing the Bust Down with Blueface, he was more interested in football than rapping. Since age 7, under his father’s tutelage, the rapper, who appeared in a McDonald’s commercial as a kid, was in cleats on the field. According to Arleta High School coach Bill Coan, “he was very coachable” as the team’s starting quarterback in 2014. Admittedly antisocial in high school, he graduated from Golden Valley High School in Santa Clarita, Calif., in 2015, receiving a scholarship to play football at North Carolina’s Fayetteville State University. He attended the college for two months before dropping out due to homesickness and being disgruntled with the athletic department’s redshirt process.

Once he headed back west in 2017, Blueface had a plan. “I was gonna keep trying to do football, play like, junior college, until, you know, [I] make that happen,” says Blueface, who has one brother and two sisters. “My mom had moved after I went to college, so it was just me, trying to pretty much do college and support myself and get a car and shit like that. Once that became too hard, I guess I just went back to the streets and shit.”

The streets, a job as a porter for an apartment building and being a stay-at-home dad for his son, JaVaughn, now 2, followed. But music wasn’t far off. Blueface found himself in his very first studio session when he returned an iPhone dongle to friend and fellow rapper TeeCee4800 in 2017. That moment, which he refers to as destiny, provided him with the opportunity to hit the booth to record vocals for the first time. “From that day [on], I was serious,” Blueface remembers. “I was like, I’m a rapper today.”

Months later in 2018, Blueface, who grew up listening to 50 Cent, The Game and Snoop Dogg, dropped two projects—his first full-length, Famous Cryp, and the Too Coccy EP. He hit local high schools to perform and built a following off that grassroots self-promotion combined with the release of early songs like “Dead Locs” and “Respect My Cryppin.” Then the labels came calling. Blueface scored not one, but two deals in 2018: eOne for the Famous Cryp album, which includes “Thotiana” plus any remixes of that song, and Cash Money West/Cash Money/Republic Records for future releases.

Wack 100, Blueface’s manager and vice president of Cash Money West, opted to sign the rangy rhymer because of his “diversity.” “He was different, sound was different,” says Wack, who also manages The Game. “His music is what got my attention. He made you like, ‘Hold up. What did he say?’ And go back. That ‘Mop the floor, hide the wet sign just to catch ’em slippin’,’ [from ‘Respect My Cryppin’]—when you hear that, what he’s tryin’ to say and how he sayin’ it, it’s a friendly way, but it’s some real street shit goin’ on.”

The rapper’s time in the streets caught up with him on more than one occasion. In November of 2018, Blueface was arrested after he opened fire on a man in retaliation for robbing him. Four months later, in February of 2019, he was arrested again for gun possession.

Blueface will showcase his unique style on his forthcoming major label, as-yet-titled debut album, which he plans to drop this summer. Ahead of its release, he’s already locked in collaborations with Drake, Quavo, Lil Pump, G-Eazy and Mozzy. Then there’s an additional remix with French Montana that he plans to drop to follow the “Thotiana” remixes featuring YG and Cardi B. For a rap novice whose initial project had no features, it’s evident his next go-round will be stacked.

As 2019 gets underway, Blueface’s vision for success is crystal clear. “Right now, just go higher and higher,” Blueface manifests. “Be No. 1, at the top.”

Yeah, aight.

Check out more from XXL’s Spring 2019 issue including our Dreamville cover story featuring interviews with J. Cole, J.I.D, Bas, Cozz, EarthGang, Lute, Omen and Ari Lennox; Show & Prove interview with Flipp Dinero, a look into how Hot 97's Ebro Darden went from fish mascot to hip-hop gatekeeper and more.

Here's the Ultimate Guide to Rappers With Acronyms in Their Name

More From XXL