Baton Rouge, Louisiana rapper on why he’s focused on being a better person

Kevin Gates is no stranger to the rap game. Over the span of 10 years, he built and maintained a steady following in his hometown of Baton Rouge, Louisiana with four mixtapes.

His debut studio album Islah (pronounced ees-lah, which is also the name of his daughter) was released in January of this year. It features hits like “Really Really”, and has already been certified gold at over 500,000 sales.

Gates talks to Urbanology about future projects, his growth as an artist and why he’s focused on being a better person.

HOW DO YOU FEEL YOU’VE GROWN AS AN ARTIST ON ISLAH FROM YOUR PREVIOUS MIXTAPES?

I’m taking my time with the music . . . Anything that you do every day, you grow from . . . you get better. I’ve gotten better.

YOU’VE MENTIONED IN PREVIOUS INTERVIEWS THAT ISLAH IS ABOUT TELLING THE TRUTH AND ABOUT YOUR LISTENERS GETTING TO KNOW THE REAL YOU. WHY NOW?

I’ve been saying that all along. I can’t give you anybody else, I can only give you me.

Kevin Gates // Photo Courtesy of. Jimmy Fontaine

Kevin Gates // Photo Courtesy of. Jimmy Fontaine

“I think there’s a stigma around people being themselves in the rap industry.”

YOU’RE FROM BATON ROUGE. HOW DID GROWING UP IN A CITY WHERE RACIAL TENSION HAS REACHED A NEW HEIGHT IMPACT YOU?

Not too much impacts me, because I was born a loser so I didn’t have anything else to do, but win. I was already born a loser, I already had nothing.

HOW DID IT SHAPE YOUR MUSIC?

If I die today, I did more than what anyone from where I came from ever did . . . The odds were against me.

AS SOMEONE WHO SUFFERS FROM DEPRESSION, HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO YOU AS AN ARTIST WITH A PLATFORM TO HAVE THE CONVERSATION ABOUT MENTAL ILLNESS?

It’s not important to me. It’s what I suffered from and that’s why I shared. I really don’t care too much about what other people deal with. I just talk about what’s going on with me. I don’t like to disrespect anyone, I like to respect everyone around me, and everything’s good. I don’t really sit around and think about other people. I’m busy trying to make myself a better person, and that’s a full-time job.

“I wasn’t the person that you could have had a conversation with a couple years prior to us talking today.”

OF COURSE, BUT IN THE RAP INDUSTRY IT IS VERY HARD TO TALK ABOUT THINGS LIKE THAT JUST BECAUSE THERE IS A STIGMA AROUND IT BUT DO YOU THINK YOU’VE HELPED PEOPLE BY EVEN MENTIONING THAT YOU DID?

I’m not going to say there’s a stigma around [it] in the rap industry. I think there’s a stigma around people being themselves in the rap industry. For a long time, people felt that you had to be a certain type of way, and that’s cool, but I’m this way so I can’t be something that I’m not.

People tell me that [my music’s] helped them, and if it has, that’s wonderful, but that’s not what I’m in it for. I’m just leading the path that God wanted me to lead.

And note I wasn’t the person that you could have had a conversation with a couple years prior to us talking today. People see how much I’ve changed, and that makes them want to change.

HOW DO YOU WANT YOUR LISTENERS TO FEEL WHEN THEY HEAR ISLAH?

However they want to feel. I’m not in control of anybody’s feelings.

WHAT IS THE LEGACY YOU’RE TRYING TO CREATE FOR YOURSELF AND YOUR SOUND?

I’m not trying to create a legacy because most of the people I talk to, they get off on displaying me in a negative light. Even though I’m doing this interview with you right now, I don’t know what you’re going to write when we get off the phone. That’s why it’s really discomforting to even do interviews.

I’m big on kindness, I’m big on love, I’m big on caring and compassion and there aren’t a lot of people like that on earth. There aren’t a lot of people like Kevin Gates. I care more about people than I do about money, but me caring about people gets me in f*cked up situations. Some people like negativity. Society thrives on negativity.

I love humanity, but I don’t trust people, because I haven’t had one person that’s come around me without an agenda.

Main photo courtesy of. Jeff Forney