Kevin Gates Gives XXL His First Interview Since Being Released From Prison
As the cliche goes, there are two sides to every coin, and rarely is that more evident than when talking to Baton Rouge's next great hope, Kevin Gates. The rapper often refers to his life as a movie, with him just playing a part in a larger screenplay. But just as the coin, there are at least two sides to Kevin Gates: one, the painfully emotional storyteller who bares his soul in his music, spinning street tales with a force and melodic power that others could only dream of; the other, the heavily-guarded, overly-suspicious man who can't stand the sight of a tape recorder and can't seem to stay out of trouble.
Indeed, Gates the man ran into trouble again just recently, getting locked up on a probation violation for four months right at the same time Gates the rapper was flying high off a year that saw him receive critical acclaim for his monstrous Luca Brasi Story mixtape and his leaner, but no less powerful, Stranger Than Fiction indie album. It was a road block that's led to some uncertainty about his future, both his ability to tour and his ability to stay out of the pen.
In the beginning of March, Gates got out earlier than expected—not unlike another fellow Baton Rouge rapper, Lil Boosie—and immediately set to work promoting his next mixtape, By Any Means, out March 18. And while in Austin for SXSW, Gates sat down with XXL for his first post-prison interview, discussing his latest brush with the law, the release of Lil Boosie, his new mixtape and why there may be more than just two sides to Kevin Gates after all. Make 'em believe. —Dan Rys (@danrys)
XXL: Weren't you scheduled to perform at Pitchfork's showcase just now?
Kevin Gates: [Shakes head] I wasn't there. I didn't perform. We got stopped on the highway. Police ripped the cars up.
God damn. Well congrats on your newfound freedom. What happened that you got put back in jail?
I'm on supervised release, and I guess I violated my stipulations.
Was that frustrating to have to go back in?
[Shakes head] That's my home away from home. I mean, I'm not gonna say it's my home away from home, but it's not an unfamiliar environment for me. It was frustrating being away from music. That's the only thing I love. The only frustrating thing about jail is that I can't make music.
What was your reaction when you knew you had to go back in?
There wasn't no reaction. Just, let's get it. Let's do it. That's how I am about every situation in life: let's do it. It's gonna be what it's gonna be anyway, let's do it.
Has getting out put any restrictions on you, in terms of travel or anything like that?
I wouldn't know until we cross that bridge. I can tour, because it's work. It's no different than me working offshore, or being a welder. I work 90 days on and 90 days off, or I worked one month on and one month off, it's no different than that. It's just working.
I know that Atlantic supported you a lot when you went back in.
Yeah, they did. That's my team, that's my family. I really don't pay attention to the outside world when I'm incarcerated, because being in prison is like being in a different world. So I don't pay attention to what's going on outside of jail, because it's all beyond my control. So I'm very appreciative toward the people that were there [outside of prison], but I don't have any expectations for my life at all.
Is it weird to live in that duality then? Two separate worlds going on at once?
No. I adapt and I adjust to whatever environment I'm in.
What was the first thing you did when you got back out?
Studio. Music. Nothing in particular, just music.
Do you feel like you had built up a lot of momentum before you'd gone back inside?
I never pay attention to it. I'm never on Twitter, I'm never on Instagram. And that's not by choice, it's just that those things never really interested me. I might post a picture here and there, but that ain't really been my focus. My only focus has been March 18, By Any Means, my new project coming out.
How long have you been working on that?
It was a collection of songs that I already had. We didn't expect for me to be home this early, or this soon. This is the fastest I've ever came home, really. I did half of my time instead of the rest of the time that I had. It wasn't an aggravated charge, it was just a violation of a stipulation of my supervised release. My supervision.
What's some of the best stuff you got on the new tape?
I like "Posed To Be In Love." I like "Arm And Hammer," too. I don't know; there's certain days I gravitate towards certain songs. It's like mood music, really—it depends on what mood you're in.
Who were you working with?
There's a lot of different artists on that mixtape, but I didn't specifically say, "I'm gonna work with this artist on this song." It's just when a song is coming up, I'll be like, "Hey, you like this? See if so-and-so likes this." And we'll go from there. I don't believe in forcing anything when it comes to music. It's supposed to be natural, it's supposed to be second nature. It's supposed to be nostalgic when you feel that beat.
I was talking to [Atlanta producer] Dun Deal the other day, and he said he did "Stop Lyin'" with you off the new tape.
That's my dude. We developed a chemistry, just from working together. Me and different engineers, we've developed a chemistry where without even talking, they know what I expect, and I know what they expect.
I'm sure you heard that Boosie got out. Have you spoken to him?
Yeah I heard that. I haven't spoken to him.
What's your relationship with him?
I don't really have a relationship with him because I haven't seen him. But if I was to see him, we'd have a speaking relationship, because we know a lot of the same people.
Is he somebody you might want to work with in the future?
Do you enjoy SXSW?
I look forward to it every year, I enjoy it. Because I'm hands-on. So it gives me a chance to connect with individuals who might not be familiar with Kevin Gates.
How do you approach performing? You've said before that once you get on stage, you love it.
I gotta feel the energy. Once I feel the energy, I go from there. It may be mellow energy, it may be an intense energy. It depends on the energy in the building.
Do you have any hopes for By Any Means?
It's gonna be what it's gonna be. I can't change it. Those who love it will love it, those who like it will like it, those who dislike it will dislike it. And I'll still be me at the end of the day. I don't have no hopes for it, I just love to share my music with the world. That's the only thing I love. Like, if I make a new song, I gotta let everybody hear it. I love to share my bodies of work with the world. So I mean, I'm excited, I'm anxious to see how people respond to it.
My brother lives down here, and he was telling me how much he loved Stranger Than Fiction. A new Gates project is always exciting.
I've been having fun just making music. Mixtapes are like albums; we call them mixtapes, but they're really albums. But Stranger Than Fiction was Kevin Gates; Luca Brasi was Luca Brasi.
What's the difference between the two?
I think Kevin Gates is a very intelligent individual, a very creative individual, so you're gonna get all kinds of different genres of music, such as "Sattelites" and things of that nature. But with Luca Brasi, you're gonna get more of an emotion-based music, because that's more of an individual that has trust issues, is defensive, you know. Psychologically and emotionally, he's defensive. And he's protective. Protective of the individuals that he cares about. I look at them as two different characters.
When you're recording, do you separate them? "I'm going to record this as Luca Brasi," or "I'm going to record this as Kevin Gates"?
No, because all of my music is emotion-based, so it depends on how I'm feeling at the moment. I can't tell you how I'm feeling an hour from now.
You're up for the voting for the XXL Freshman 10 spot right now. Got a message for the fans?
Yeah. Follow your heart. It will never lead you astray. For real. Ten years from now, I don't want to be like, "I made a wise decision, but it doesn't feel good. I made a wise decision, it was smart, but I didn't like it." Just follow your heart. That's what I love about SXSW—you get to see the creativity of other individuals, you know what I'm saying? It's almost like the hippie movement or something, but as it relates to music. The flower children or something like that; it's just, you know, you get to see everything, what everything has evolved into since last year, years prior. So that's what I love about coming to SXSW.
What else does 2014 have in store for you?
I don't really see that far into the future, it's really been just March 18. That's the only date on my mind right now, By Any Means. I just keep going over the mixtape, I just keep listening to it, you know. I just keep listening to it.