If you aren’t familiar with Louisiana's Kevin Gates, you need to educate yourself quickly. Despite being a stone-cold gangster rapper in the truest sense of the word, Gates is one of hip-hop’s most gifted, young lyricists today. He's a Louisiana Ghostface, crafting thoughtful crime narratives steeped in both real emotion and the type of novelistic details that can only be drawn from real life experiences.

During a trip to New York City, Gates swung by the XXL offices and chopped it up about some of his favorite gangster film characters, why he finds getting tattoos to be like therapy and why he’s a fan of romance novel author Nicholas Sparks. —B.J. Steiner (@DocZeusXXL)

You are a big gangster movie fan. What are some of your favorite gangster films?
I really like the Mafia movies the most because I love the structure of the criminal enterprise. It’s not a bunch of wild gunfire and things of that nature. You know, it’s structure. You had to get permission to touch a made man. I love everything about that. I just love the infrastructure of the Mafia. I love it. I love how they kiss each other on the cheek. If I kiss you on the mouth, you’re a dead man. Decisions that you gotta make for the family. When you do things for the Family, you always keep in mind the longevity and the lineage of the family.

What character in a gangster film do you identify with the most?
If you look at the movie Belly, I identify with Sincere the most. I am a gangster. I love my lady to death. I’m not in the game for the wrong reasons. I’m not in the game for the glory. I’m in the game to survive so the people that I love could be straight. I’m a highly intelligent individual. He’s a "recreative" reader. I’m a
"recreative" reader. “Recreative” is a word that I invented because in urban culture with colloquialism we invent so many slangs. I don’t like the way that “recreational” sounds—I don’t like to say I do a lot of "recreational" reading. I like to say that I read “recreatively.” I do a lot of “recreative” reading. That’s why I identify with Nas’ character.

What authors do you like to read?
I started reading the 48 Laws Of Power and things like the Art Of War but once I started reading from a vast selection of literature, I realized that Robert Greene only took derivatives of vast selections of literature and interpreted them in his own way. Like The Art Of Seduction and The 48 Laws Of Power, they were a bunch of derivatives of other books. I did study religion for a little while. I studied the Torah and the Holy Koran, Helios Biblos which is considered by most people to be the Holy Bible. I just wanted to know, even with Buddhism and the Dalai Llama. One thing that I liked that Buddha said was, "The cessation of all desires was the end of all suffering." We only really suffer because of the things that we desire. I'm a bookworm. I know with my physical appearance that I don’t look like the typical reader. I’m in Barnes & Noble all the time and you can look at people that look like they are supposed to be in there. I am in there, pants sagging, hat backwards.

In previous interviews, one author that you’ve mentioned you like is Nicholas Sparks, who writes romantic-drama novels. What appeals to you about his books?
[Sparks] said, "There will be no monuments here for me after I’m gone. For this, I’m sure, but I did love a woman with all of my heart." It was the perfect depiction of how I feel a relationship should be. When you grow up in the streets and you grew up how I grew up—no father, none of that—the next best thing is a relationship. Most young individuals that grow up in an impoverished environment get their heart broken early; it spins them into a cycle of “I don’t trust no woman.” When you listen to a lot of rap music, [you will hear a lot of] “Bitches ain’t shit but ho’s and tricks” and you feel like that because I felt like that, you know? But you never put yourself in the shoes of the woman and realize that she probably came from the same thing that you came from and an older guy probably handled her this way so she felt like you would do the same. It’s a continuous cycle until you develop an understanding.

The sentiment you are describing seems to be echoed in a song like “Neon Lights.” Do you draw anything from him in your music?
It just resonates spiritually at a place that I was in—a relationship. If you listen to the song, it’s so self-explanatory. When I say, “she do the talking, I can’t be too personal”—I’m afraid to get close. I love so hard to where I’m afraid of betrayal. I tell a woman, "Just lie to me. Whatever you doing, I don’t want to know. Just lie to me.” because I'ma live in the moment... That’s something that I got from Nicholas Sparks. The simplicity of what he writes about. I’m a very passionate individual. I love being in love for however long it lasts. If it only lasts 90 days, I gave it my all. When I was in it, I was in it.

Despite it appearing on different mixtape [Stranger Than Fiction], "4:30 A.M.," feels as if it is almost the B-Side To “Neon Lights.” How did that song come about?
It’s a true story. The whole song. True story. Even when I got to the end where I got to, “Jessica 'round me.” We experienced a moment of passion that I came to. “Get out!” That comes from getting hurt, being in a relationship and getting your heart broken. You become guarded. That was me experiencing a moment of passion in my vulnerability and then coming to saying, “Get out!” I ain’t mean to handle her that way but at the same time, you are not the woman.

You’ve spoken about struggling with depression in the past and one of the ways that I’ve read that you dealt with it is that you get tattoos. What is it about getting tattoos for you that helps with coping with depression?
When you undergo the pain of the needle, whatever pain that you psychologically or emotionally going through, it fades. It’s not there. It’s therapeutic to me. You’re body becomes numb. We have natural painkillers in our body so if you undergo that pain long enough, it begins to almost feel euphoric. I get a lot of tattoos.

When did you get your first tattoo?
I was like 15. I was in high school. The first thing I ever got was my wrist done. I got my name on my wrist. I got my sister’s name on my wrist. Then I got my neck done. I’m in high school. I got my neck done. Yeah. That was the shit. No one had their neck done in high school. It was a conversation piece. You didn’t see people sleeved up because I wasn’t sleeved up at the time. I saw Travis Barker and I went crazy.

Travis Barker? Are you a fan of Blink-182?
Yeah. Once I saw Travis Barker, I started getting everything tattooed. All my sleeves. Me and him bump heads, he’s going to be like "Yeah."