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

Polo G is just out of his teens, but he has a clear perspective on all that accompanies his success. The Chicago rapper has relocated to Los Angeles—Calabasas, to be exact—to support his blossoming career. But a new zip code isn’t the biggest recent change in Polo G’s life. In July, he became a father. The task of caring for a son and being a role model is already changing the 20-year-old’s outlook.

“I have to be responsible with my character, my image and my reputation,” he says via phone on a late August afternoon, just one day before his 20-date nationwide Die a Legend Tour kicks off in St. Louis. “I know somewhere down the line, he’s gonna be old enough to see what I’m doing and he’s looking up to me. I have to be the best man that I can be for him.”

The rapper is well aware of how high the stakes are: His debut LP is named Die a Legend. The album, which dropped in June and debuted at No. 6 on the Billboard 200 chart, features the platinum single “Pop Out,” a moody collaboration with Bronx rapper Lil Tjay that reached No. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart this summer. Despite setting a high bar for himself by way of Die a Legend’s title, Polo G thinks the only pressure he feels comes from his own ambition. “I’m competing with myself to outdo previous achievements, but I can’t feel any pressure from the fans, the media or the people at all because I know what I’m capable of,” he says with confidence. With a son to raise and a list of goals to achieve, Polo G’s focus is the future.

Polo G laughs when thinking about how different his son’s upbringing will likely be from his own. Born Taurus Bartlett on the North Side of Chicago, Polo grew up in the Marshall Field Garden Apartments. He has fond memories of his upbringing. “Everybody knew everybody, everybody showed love to everybody, the hood is the hood,” he explains, noting that music was his way of processing the rigors he routinely witnessed in his neighborhood. “There’s so much stuff that you see every day that you want to talk about, but I’m not the type to open up, so the only way I could open up is through music,” he shares. “I’d see so much going on and I’d just put it in a song. Or instead of talking about it with one of my homies, I’d make a song out of it. That was the best way for me to tell my story.”

Although he reveals he began writing songs at the age of 9, Polo didn’t take music seriously until his senior year of high school. He was accepted to Lincoln University, an HBCU in Pennsylvania, but the thought of being a “struggling college student” deterred him. “The same day I was supposed to go to college, I ended up hitting the studio and then poppin’ out on the block after that,” he admits. “So, I decided you have to take off as a rapper if you aren’t gonna carry your ass to school.”

The gamble paid off. Last year, he released the reflective, piano-driven “Finer Things,” which he wrote during a two-month stint at Cook County Jail after a series of arrests for theft and weed possession. The single, which has since been RIAA-certified gold, showcases Polo G’s knack for harmony as well as his ripe introspection. “Don’t pay them haters no mind, you can be what you like/Tryna leave this in the past, grindin’ for a new life,” he sings on the hook. The industry took notice quickly. Columbia Records signed Polo G last fall, and his rise has been meteoric ever since. “As he speaks you feel him—you’re there for the ride,” says his mother and manager, Stacia Mac, who believes his versatility and uniqueness are keys to his success. “With every track, he sends you on a journey. Polo is hopping on his own waves and trends he’s creating.” In an era where music surfaces so rapidly that it’s a genuine struggle to truly digest any of it, Polo G sets himself apart from his peers through a meticulous approach. Simply put, he doesn’t want his shit to be disposable.

“I take music so seriously, to the point that I could be in the studio for two or three hours working on the same song just because I want it to be perfect,” he affirms. “I don’t want to freestyle anything. I want to write it all out and really figure out what I’m trying to say, so I can get these people to really feel where I’m coming from.”

That attention to detail shines through on songs like “BST,” “Deep Wounds” and “Through Da Storm,” all from Die a Legend, where Polo G gets candid about the paralyzing feeling of depression, as well as how common those feelings are. “Tryna work towards these blessings but the devil keep interfering/Everybody go through something, it’s all about persevering,” he raps on the latter song’s chorus. For all of Polo G’s confidence, he isn’t too proud to be honest about the toll life can take on the psyche. And as someone who wants to ensure that listeners feel him on a visceral level, he believes it’s important to be honest about mental health struggles.

“Where I come from, everybody who looks like me—or even people who don’t look like me—are going through something, dealing with their demons,” he acknowledges. “For me to shed light on it and let people know, ‘Yeah, I understand where you’re coming from and I feel the same way, too,’ could make people feel better about their situation. Like, ‘I ain’t the only person who experienced this or that.’”

Polo G sees the big picture. His awareness is perceptible when he discusses the changes in Chicago like a much older man. “Back when I was a kid, there were a lot of things we had going on that you could do that’s unheard of now,” Polo G expresses, recalling the afterschool and summer programs that raised him. But that wiser perspective also comes across when he discusses ambitions outside of rap, from real estate to entrepreneurship to investing. “I definitely want to tap into my business side as I get older,” he asserts.

Longterm mentality.

Check out more from XXL’s Fall 2019 issue including our cover stories with Juice Wrld and Lil Baby, Show & Prove with Lil KeedSaweetie and NLE Choppa, a candid interview with A$AP Ferg, Damian Lillard talking his music crossover and more.

See Photos From Lil Baby and Juice Wrld's Fall 2019 XXL Magazine Cover Shoots

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