Kevin Gates Talks Newfound Success, ‘Bread Winners’ and ‘By Any Means’ [EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW]
Kevin Gates has seen his renown skyrocket over the past few years, but it should come as no surprise that his artistry has finally resonated with a wider audience.
The Baton Rouge, La., rapper’s natural songwriting ability, penchant for catchy hooks and lyrical prowess make him one of the most well-rounded artists in hip-hop today. But his ascent hasn't been easy as plenty of obstacles -- some self-inflicted -- have come up along the way.
As a kid, Gates spent time in and out of juvenile detention centers before he began recording around the age of 17. He kicked off his career as a lyrically-focused rapper amidst a Baton Rouge scene dominated by "jig" music. He found himself in a uphill battle as the jig scene inspired more dances and fights than it did reflection and wordplay dissection.
“It wasn’t really accepted at first,” Gates says of his early music endeavors. “I was bringing something different to the table and a lot of people weren’t receptive to it. So I just had to be persistent and persistent and persistent, and eventually people came around over time."
When Gates broke through, he did so in a major way. By 2009, with just a couple of mixtapes under his belt, Gates had become one of the top names on the Baton Rouge scene. His style and skill allowed him to separate himself from the pack in his hometown. But it was his emotion that enabled him to connect with a wide-ranging audience. For Gates, music was the best way to express himself.
“I always had music growing up, but music was also like a journal,” he says of his inspiration to record. “It was like my personal diary or personal journal. A lot of the things I couldn’t express to an individual, I would express them in my music.”
But just as he began to solidify himself on the local scene, he once again found himself in trouble with the law and ending up serving a three-year sentence in the Rivers Correctional Center. Despite this, his national buzz seemed to grow. In Gates’ mind, this was no coincidence.
“The world had time to catch up,” Gates says of his growing popularity during this time. “I was so ahead of the curve. While I was incarcerated, my stock so you’d say, it elevated and went to a whole ‘nother level.”
His incarceration also provided an opportunity for Gates to grow as an artist.
“I had time to really learn myself and study myself,” Gates says of his time in prison. “I had time to experiment with my swag and my style and my genre of music.”
These new elements showed up in Kevin Gates’ music and clearly broadened his appeal. Media attention for Gates rapidly grew as the once regional star became a frequent selection as “the next big thing” for journalists and fans alike.
“I usually don’t say this in interviews, but it was all God,” Gates says of his success. “Glory be and praise to God. I didn’t do any of this. God did. I don’t have a recipe or a blueprint. I prayed for it and my prayers are continuing to be answered.”
By late 2011, he’d caught the attention of Lil’Wayne and Young Money’s Fee Banks soon became his manager. Many thought this would lead to Gates signing to YMCMB, but the association came to an end by 2013. But for Gates, his time dealing with Birdman inspired him to create his own label.
“I never go into a situation with any type of expectations,” Gates said of his Young Money stint. “I sat around Birdman for the longest and he was telling me about how it took 20 years, but he owned his own company, he owned his own label. He inspired me with that. That’s when I came up with my label, Bread Winners Association.”
And while Bread Winners Association is ostensibly a Kevin Gates-centric endeavor at the moment, he has big plans for his creation including building a roster of artists.
“I can’t tell you what I want, but I know what BWA is gonna be,” Gates says. “It’s gonna be one of the biggest brands in the music industry. I hate to speak so confidently about it, but I know what it’s gonna be.”
When asked if he regarded his latest release ‘By Any Means’ as his best work to date, Gates explained that he didn’t look at it that way.
“I don’t feel like it’s my best,” Gates says. “I look at it like this: it was how I was feeling when I made the certain songs that I made. Those songs are an expression of who I am as an individual, emotionally, psychologically and things of that nature.”
“Sometimes I feel like being an intellectual,” he explains. “Sometimes I like to just be aggressive and all the way in my feelings. Sometimes I might be emotional or sometimes I might drag on the track and be lazy. I just like to share the different states of existence of Kevin Gates with the rest of the world.”
And for Kevin Gates, there is no game plan when it comes to making a specific project. It all comes about naturally.
“There is no album process for me,” says Gates. "I record every day. I just make music. If it fits the project, I’m cool with that. I don’t have time to go in there with a mindset. I like to just make music."
Gates lamented the idea of artists limiting themselves by not working organically.
“You can end up being one dimensional or miss things when you go in with… that’s close-minded to me because music has no boundaries,” Gates emphasizes. “So if I go to the studio with a preconceived mind of what I want it to be, then I’m not allowing myself growth. It’s gotta be natural. I hate things that aren’t natural. I hate things that seem like they’re forced or set up.”
He also expressed his frustration as a creative person dealing with the business side of the music industry.
“That’s really one of the things I hate about the business is there’s so many distractions that’ll take you out of your creative zone,” Gates says. “Sometimes being an artist, you have to be an assh--e.”
And while he is signed to Atlantic Records in a partnership with his Bread Winners Association imprint, Gates is not concerned with the idea of recording a major label debut.
“I don’t focus on anything, I just allow things to be as they are,” Gates says. “Whatever’s meant to be will be, that’s how I feel. I don’t have any expectations, like the other question you asked me. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. I don’t even like to think about albums. ‘By Any Means’ was an album, we just called it a mixtape. It sounds better to me than most albums I’ve heard this year.”
Though this might sound cocky or arrogant, Gates doesn’t see it that way. In fact, Gates feels he’s his harshest critic.”
“Not to toot my horn, but I have a high standard that I set for myself,” Gates asserts. “I think I’m my worst critic. I’m really hard on myself. I put myself under the utmost scrutiny because if I beat myself up, no one else will ever be able to. I’m not in competition with anyone but me.”
As our conversation came to an end, I asked about a local beef with his former home of Dead Game Records and the track ‘Get Up On My Level’ that appeared to address them on his ‘By Any Means’ mixtape. Gates jokingly made it clear that he’s moved on.
“I don’t even know who that is. I don’t know who those individuals are. I can’t see ‘em. Get up on my level," he says with a laugh. "I had to be stupid at least one time or I wouldn’t be Gates. You print it just like that. I can’t see ‘em. Get up on my level. I can’t see ‘em, like Stevie Wonder.”