It's been nearly a year in waiting for Houston's Kirko Bangz, whose long-delayed debut album Bigger Than Me will be out this summer on Atlantic Records. But that doesn't mean he hasn't been working—in the past year, since appearing on XXL's 2013 Freshmen Cover, he's dropped his Progression 3 mixtape and hunkered down in the studio to make sure his proper debut would tell the story he wants it to.

"I don't want to go for the big things now," Kirko said during a recent stop through XXL headquarters. "You know how it is these days—me and you could go make a beat and it could go to number one. I wanna do it how I started it; I want to show and prove, I want to show those guys that I deserve to be in the studio with them. It's a challenge that I'm taking on."

At the same time, he's heading out on a Spring tour with Houston godfather Bun B, who along with Paul Wall and Slim Thug—icons from an H-Town scene that has come and gone—has become a mentor of sorts for Bangz. "For the most part, they let me work," Bangz said about his three elders in the city. "They sit back, they just see what I'm gonna do. You never just wanna coach somebody—'Do this, do this, do that'—you want them to do things for themselves, for the most part. So I always have to prove myself. It never was said that I had to prove myself, but I always knew I had to gain my stripes, and that's what I'm doing, and I like it that way."

With his tour getting started in early March and a new single, "Hoe" featuring YG and Yo Gotti, starting to heat up, Bangz spoke to XXL about what's changed the most for him in the past year, his newfound maturity (despite the fact that his lead single is called "Hoe"), and why he wants to give back to the city and neighborhoods that raised him. —Dan Rys (@danrys)

XXL: Tell me about the album.
Kirko Bangz: It's my coming out party. I've been working for this for a long time, man, and everything really just came together. Right now I got that record with YG and Yo Gotti called "Hoe." Put it out there to get that buzz going and to get shit poppin' in the clubs. I got another record that's a monster, and another record that's a monster after that. I got everything lined up, and now I'm just waiting for this moment. But I'm ready.

Is there an overall vision, lyrically, for you?
I'd say that my overall thing is to get my point across. I haven't literally written down things I want to talk about, but in my head I know a couple things I wanted to address: who I am, why I am the way I am, where I've been, the things that have happened in the time between records, stuff like that. Where I'm going now, people don't know I can actually rap. So I wanted to get that out of the way, but actually be rapping about some shit. I got the mature records, the ones that are uplifting to the females. Lyrically, I didn't want to rap like this or like that, I just wanted to mature in every way, 360, just a way more mature sound for me.

Then where does "Hoe" fit into that maturity?
Because there's hoes in the world, too. [Laughs] I'm always gonna be me. I'm the type of person that's always gonna be honest. I know I say a lot of shit that most people wouldn't say. It's just one of those, I'm just reporting the news. I'm just saying what's happening, you know. You know hoes, you know good women, you know girls that go to church; I'm just having fun with it. But it's so friendly on the ear, it works.

What role does Houston play in what you do?
Oh man, everything. My album is called Bigger Than Me, and that's one of the reasons, it's about the city as well. It's about those little kids that grew up out there without their mom, those little kids that grew up without their dad around, or had a hard time in school, had trouble getting top rankings in school, the kids out there ballin', trying to play for Syracuse, for the little girl out there who's pregnant and don't know what to do. It's everything. I'm just trying to be an ambassador for my city. I feel like this is one of those steps towards getting to that point. I don't wanna skip no steps, so I feel like I don't wanna start trying to do things before I have everyone's attention and people will start listening to me. I feel that in this world, when you have a lot going on, if you walk into a building with a whole bunch of gold on, a person is gonna listen to you more than a person who just walked in off the streets. It's fucked up that it's like that, but it's like that.

But most of all, I want to get out there and touch the people, let everyone know that I'm there and that I'm one of the soldiers that's fighting for the good of the people. People's Champ like Paul Wall. Just being there for people, whether it's going out there and talking to the kids, I wanna go back to my old neighborhood and rebuild the whole apartment complex. Have everything right, and do what anyone who might've made it who I looked up to growing up would've did for me.

What have some of those older guys—Slim Thug, Paul Wall, Bun B—said to you along the way?
Paul was the first person to call and he was just asking me about my family and stuff, how everybody doing. Slim, he tells me about a lot of money management things, stuff like that. And Bun told me to learn how to talk to people. Learn how to talk to people, learn that one day I'm not gonna be dressed like this, I'm gonna have to put on a suit and a tie, turn into a business man. He was like, it's good for you to get that going early before a lot of us did, because that can be very helpful for you, another tour for you. You gotta just pay attention.

When Bun was coming through, and when Paul and Slim were coming through, there were real, identifiable Houston scenes. Do you see one right now?
It's coming together. It ain't just about the rappers and stuff like that, I see models out there blowing up, promoters. There's another superstar from our city every week. And it's crazy—people are realizing, we got some shit out here. What it takes is for everybody to do their own thing, stay in their own lane, and make it happen. I feel like everybody is working towards making more money for everybody. And everybody's out there working. It's real family-like, it ain't real bougie.

What was the biggest thing that changed for you since being on XXL's Freshmen Cover?
How I think. My mindstate. I know where I wanna go. I know what it takes to get where I wanna go, and I'm willing to do anything. I'm willing to get there. So I'd say the way I think, and my work ethic. My work ethic has picked back up, and it's crazy. I want it. I want it, and I'm ready for it. I feel like a year ago I wasn't ready for it, I was just going through the motions. I never came into interviews with a passion or excitement for what I had going on. It was just like, "You'll see, I don't wanna talk about it," 'cause if I talked about it and it didn't work then I was gonna look crazy. Fuck that shit. I ain't gonna look crazy, 'cause it's gonna work. So I'd say my state of mind.