The Gospel According to YGTUT
The Chattanooga-born preacher's son talks to Noisey about the power of the almighty dollar and his latest project, 'I.O.U.,' out today.
via Courtney Dunn
Deer Run Media’s music video for “Long Day,” the 2017 single released by Chattanooga, Tennessee rap collective TheHouse, reimagines a famous scene from the 2002 hip-hop cult classic Paid In Full with dollar bills raining from the cloudless sky. YGTUT, a.k.a. TUT—a founding member of TheHouse with TDE’s own and fellow Chattanooga son Isaiah Rashad—contributed ideas to the video’s treatment and was mesmerized by the film from an early age. He saw in the ambitious main character Ace (played by Wood Harris) an adult who was calculated, thoughtful, and able to overcome his circumstances rather than be consumed by them. He was the hustler who wasn’t ruled by the hustle.
Paid In Full brings to life what Method Man meant when he rapped, “Cash rules everything around me” on “C.R.E.A.M.,” the classic Wu-Tang single. Understanding how cash is an inescapable necessity in this lifetime, but also a broad, layered subject inspired TUT to have money as the theme for his forthcoming EP, I.O.U. and long-awaited sophomore album, I Need $. “It’s a lot of niggas with aspirations to buy flashy cars, and nice-ass chains because that’s what they see,” he explains from the cozy main room of Atlanta’s Doppler Studios.
“What they don’t see is how the nigga they idolize for material items don’t have money in the bank. They don’t know what it’s like to get it. There’s a lot of not spending to spend like that. No one told me that growing up, I had to learn the hard way.”
TUT, born Kevin Adams Jr., was eight years old when his father introduced him to The Notorious B.I.G. It was love at first listen. As the son of a Baptist preacher, he grew up with an understanding of how rap and preaching were similar. Rappers speak to a congregation that listens for the unfiltered gospel of life at its most raw and unedited.TUT realized, he lived a life worth sharing, but from the studio and not the pulpit.
Just before Christmas, TUT and I meet to discuss the music he had to come, and all he had planned for 2019. For the first hour, before we got into the actual interview, TUT previews enough music to flood streaming services for months. He sips from his cup of Jameson, the lean, green bottle standing Eiffel Tower tall alongside a brown box filled with bright orange Champion t-shirts that bare ‘YG.TUT’ on the front and a bulldog graphic with the phrase ‘Big Dawg” on the back. It’s merchandise fitting of his personality, vibrant without being obtrusive.
“Money is so relatable, bro. You really can’t go without it,” he continues calmly. No matter the subject his voice never loses its relaxed composure. There’s a certain effortless cool he’s able to maintain, the natural charisma found in southern rappers from Peewee Longway to the late Pimp C. “Money is a piece of paper that rules everyone’s life to some extent, I knew it would be a good starting ground so my stories could relate to others.” He expands further to show how money in general, not the specific amount of, is universal:
“No matter where you are in life we all have money. Everyone isn’t up, but not everyone is down, either. The nigga having broke days, no money in their pocket, will have up days with more than enough. Enough money to splurge. We all go through it. Both sides are experienced by the same nigga.”
In 2015, a year after dropping out of college, TUT released Preacher’s Son, his first-ever mixtape. On Soundcloud, the project is described as, “an album that depicts a young man growing up in both the church, and the streets,” capturing TUT’s unique Chattanooga upbringing in a raw confessional. Critic Luke James, in his January review, predicted the project was already a contender for, “mixtape of the year.” Pitchfork, Lyrical Lemonade, and Elevator all praised the sleek, thoughtful lyricism, seamless cinematic sequencing, and the blend of nostalgic southern bounce and rich live instrumentation primarily produced, mixed, and mastered by TUT’s high school friend KToven.
Listeners reacted to the music with spirited approval. The reception led to a tour which allowed TUT to start building a fanbase. “We were just trying shit,” TUT said of the project. “I knew it would be something, but I didn’t expect it to do half of what it did, for it to play out the way it did. Fuck we do now?”
The acclaimed Atlanta-born poet laureate Andre Benjamin once said, “You can plan for a pretty picnic, but you can’t predict the weather.” That encompasses the unpredictability that followed after the release of Preacher’s Son. “When you have a lot of people around, people tend to have their own agendas. Realizing that, I knew I had to get the team together. I had to regroup,” TUT admits. He spent the better part of four years constructing the team necessary for his operation to run smooth as possible.
In June of 2018 Jonathan Master announced that TUT would be one of many hip-hop artists signed to his exciting new label Same Plate Entertainment. This was a pivotal moment for the young southern rapper. “I watched Zay’s whole deal unfold when he signed to TDE. That shit motivated me like a muthafucker to try and get some shit on my own. We all started out together, built TheHouse together. I dropped Preacher’s Son a year after he dropped Cilvia Demo,” he reminisced on making an album with his friends and the creative Chattanooga community in 2015. Back then, this life he has now was just a dream.
In spite of the four year gap following Preacher’s Son, fans still clamored for a followup to his rookie release. Not even sporadic loosies sated their appetites for a complete project. They continued to flood his social media accounts with questions. He said it was attention unlike any he’s known. Searching ‘YGTUT Preacher’s Son’ on Twitter will show four years worth of messages. The support didn’t stop with just comments, fans showed their support in the forms of streaming his music, buying merch and going to live performances. “As an independent artist, I was still seeing a lot of money,” he tells me.
TUT feels like he’s finally giving his fans a return on their investment with his new project:
“I knew I wanted to do something called I Need $. It wasn’t all the way solidified, but we were kind of working on it. When I got with Same Plate, they wanted to do some shit that would promote I Need $ coming out. Having fans always asking about new music, it made sense, so we decided on an EP called I.O.U. The concept for I.O.U recognize I been gone for a minute and that I owe the fans music. An appetizer before the main course, but also keeping everything money based.”
TUT recently moved from Chattanooga to Atlanta. The new environment has inspired growth, broadening his perspective, and expanding his network of creatives. Gage McRae and Justin Dunnigan, better known as THEM, are the Atlanta-based production duo behind the cover of I.O.U., and the music videos for popular loosie, “KEEP IT COOL” and I.O.U. anthemic single, “Get It.”
McRae, over text, describes I.O.U’s cover of hands as an example of being “held back” and how “People glorify material things while stripping them from you.” To have and display wealth of any kind come with the risk of attracting those who only wish to take. The image captures just one phase of life that TUT experienced while transitioning from the success of Preacher’s Son to where he is today.
“Every time I’m behind that microphone I’m telling the truth,” he promises with an added weight to place emphasis on how important honesty is to his music. Similar to contemporary rappers like Future and Lil Baby, none of TUT’s rhymes are written. Even though he cites great writers like Nas, UGK, and Outkast as artists who added flavor to his growing style, at the heart of his lyricism are genuine observations of life. Every line comes from a memory, a moment, or a feeling untainted by overthinking. Freestyling allows his truth to naturally surface each time he steps into the recording booth.
I.O.U. is a seven-song, 23-minute life update. On “CAN’T TELL ME SHIT,” the EP’s celebratory intro produced by longtime collaborator KToven is an energetic recap for anyone who wasn’t aware of who TUT is, where he’s from, and the journey thus far. “Up in Sony sending her pictures,” he raps about being in the office of Same Plate’s major label partner and how it feels to share such a moment with his mother. TUT hopes that by filling the album with vignettes of life, he will create a complete portrait of the man he was—and the artist he’s becoming.
“I’m letting you know what the fuck is going on, what we were up to. When you listen to songs like “GOODNIGHT,” when I’m actually telling you how I’m changing. I start it off, “You niggas running from change, I be sprinting to it, proud to say I’m not the nigga you’re used to.” I’m just letting you know how we evolved, that’s the second song on I.O.U. From the intro to “CAN’T WASTE TIME,” the EP’s outro, are all personal testimonies. The gospel as told by TUT.”
Yoh Phillips is a writer for DJBooth. Follow him on Twitter.