The 29-year-old Memphis rapper talks his upcoming album, wanting to start a band, and getting used to success.
Snootie Wild is an uneasy rock star. He looks cool—when I meet him at a Midtown Manhattan hotel he's wearing a studded leather jacket and painted sneakers—but it's a sort of DIY cool. He has neither the jaded poise of an established star nor the cocky swagger of the 21-year-old overnight success. Not much more than a year ago, the Memphis rapper was just another struggling musician with little on his resume other than a bunch of open mics. Now, thanks to a couple major breakout hits, he's one of the hottest rappers in the country. And, at 29, he's clearly aware of how fortunate he is to finally be in that position.
His break came in the form of an addictive sing-song anthem called “Yayo,” a local hit that turned into a hip-hop radio smash after Memphis's reigning powerhouse rapper Yo Gotti added a verse. But “Yayo,” despite an insanely catchy hook and instantly iconic lines about things like wrapping bricks of coke tighter than burritos, could have easily been nothing more than a promising one-off regional phenomenon. Fortunately, Snootie Wild followed it up almost immediately with the K. Camp collaboration “Made Me,” which had an even smoother melody and an even grittier frame of reference. Together, the songs made Snootie Wild's appeal abundantly clear: He has a rare instinct for melody, and it's obvious he's seen some shit. He has the perspective of someone who has endured American society's deepest indignities, including four years in jail. Appropriately, the “Made Me” remix highlights his two poles, with features from Jeremih, the reigning kind of smooth R&B melodies, and Boosie Badazz, the patron saint of came-from-the-gutter Southern rap.
Now Snootie Wild is signed to Yo Gotti's CMG label imprint under Epic, and we're premiering his menacing new song "12" with Yo Gotti produced by Reazy Renegade from his mixtape Ain't No Stoppin' Me (out May 14 on datpiff), which you can stream below. He's also working on an album for later this year. He's getting used to the idea of success that goes beyond a single hit song and beginning to focus on something resembling more of a sustainable, long-lasting career. He may still be feeling it out, but the rock star thing is getting easier.
Noisey: Your kids are 12, 10, nine, and eight. What’s it been like watching them grow up?
Snootie Wild: It’s crazy. I got taken away from them for four years, so that was pretty hard. After that, it’s beautiful. They act like me, talk like me. They have unique characters about themselves. They never bullshit. They’ve got energy like me. They’re talented in all type of ways, so it’s just fun being around them and just watching them grow. They surprise me every moment.
What kind of stuff do you guys do together?
It’s whatever, really. Due to the point I wasn’t able to do that because I wasn’t financially stable, really, during these times when they’re around it’s whatever they want to do.
Do they like your music?
They know my music by heart. They’ll be in the back seat—since they were this tall they’ve been in the back seat rocking.
Are their friends at school super impressed?
My little boy, I don’t know what I’m going to do with him. He's got three girlfriends already. He runs the school basically. The teachers, they let him get away with murder, and I don’t feel those teachers, oh man. It’s like they just want to visit me, just come through and visit me ‘oh he’s doing’ fine’ knowing he's doing bad as hell (laughs). He’s in sports, he plays basketball for his school. He’s also in the music department in school.
You played sports in high school. Did you do music in school at all?
I was in the band. I played snare and tuba. Two different worlds right there, you know what I’m saying? You got the drum here and then the brass over there.
So you were like in marching band, out there at halftime of the football game?
Nah, I never went that far. I did it until like elementary and junior high, and then it was sports from there. Because I was really was doing mainly sports, and then when that fell apart I kinda got into the street.
Your sports career: I was just reading your bio, and it said somebody stabbed your knee?
Yeah, I almost lost this leg. I was three months in the hospital. They had to stick a tube right there for the fluids so I wouldn’t lose my leg. When I finally did get out of the hospital, I never went to the chiropractor to get my leg right. I just couldn’t do what I used to do. It’s like your mind knows what you’re capable of doing, but your body won’t let it because of the situation.
That seems like it would be really hard.
It kind of tore me away, scared me a little bit. It made me kind of like down into the streets.
I feel like I would get really depressed—
Especially when you feel like that was your only was out.
And it was just taken away from you. That’s hard. What happened?
I was just hanging around the wrong people, and it led to making the wrong decisions. Most of it was my fault. The only reason I say that is because you make the decision everyday to bring yourself around people. If you put yourself around the wrong people, the wrong results will come about. It's the choice I made, and I've just got to live with that for the rest of my life.
So what happened next? What did you do?
I was lost for a minute. Ended up failing the 12th grade after that. Ended up warring in the streets, ended up getting in trouble, watched my best friend die in my face.
He got shot twice in the back. Two months after his death I had to go do four years for aggravated robbery. That’s where I educated myself, got my GED, found myself, learned who I was, and just went deep into the music. The music always was a hobby, like basketball, but I kind of took and made it an outlet in jail because it was a way to free my mind. It became talent shows in jail. It became a way for me to just be comfortable, be free. So for four years straight I just really dedicated my whole life to music, and when I got out I became a walking instrument.
Were you able to make music, or were you just in there rapping and stuff?
Just rapping and writing away, man. The guards would let us battle rap and record off regular cassette tapes and through microphones. You know, bootlegging ways.
So you could like record little cassettes in there?
Yeah, they had like a little recording tape on the boombox, the old way. The guards, they want to see brothers like us better ourselves, and if they seen a talent they would try to polish it up and make sure we knew to take it outside of jail and keep doing it.
That’s pretty open minded of the guards to do that and not just be huge dicks about it.
Some of them were from the streets, too, so they understood. It was just a blessing you could have them type of people inside the system. Some people don’t understand and never been where you at and just treat you any type of way because they don’t know.
What did you learn from doing music in that environment?
First of all, I’ll tell you I think the best rappers are in jail. In the whole world. I’ll tell you that nobody in the free world can top the rappers that's in jail because they have nothing but time. Nothing but time to create new styles and better themselves and educate themselves with words and uplift their vocabulary. They’re studying words, so its very tense. It’s like there’s 10,000 Lil Waynes now, but Lil Wayne would get eaten up with their eyes closed. I tell anybody: You don’t know what kind of rapper you is until you've battle rapped someone who’s dedicated four years of their life, their time—every minute, every hour—and just know what their talking about and know the words, how to break it down to syllables, to vocabulary, to whatever you want them to do with it. It’s a challenge. So once you get towards that and try to challenge yourself to see where you're at, that's when you have to be comfortable with yourself in the music. That’s why I don’t write anything.
People know like Three 6 Mafia, but what's your version of Memphis?
I’m giving them the 80s of Memphis, Tennessee. I’m giving the 80s babies that grew up off Three 6 Mafia but lived a whole different lifestyle. It wasn’t busting niggas heads, locking them in the trunk. It was the cocaine era, it was struggle. It was the era of recession. Our era was more like a struggle where people were forced to come together. Not just ‘I can do whatever on my own, there's plenty of money.' Back then it was violent, but it was easy to make money, easy to get money.
But your era was different.
It was more violent. We came up with—the environment was more... poor? The jobs wasn’t there the way it was back in the 90s. The money wasn’t flowing into the streets the way it was back in the 90s. The situation was just a little poorer. It was the recession. It was harder for us as far as the hustle.
What did it feel like when you got out of jail?
Nervous. I didn’t know where I was going to go. Excited and nervous. Excited to be free, but nervous because I didn’t really know where I was going to lay my head at.
Did you have family to come home to?
Yeah. When you go away that don’t mean nothing change, so when I got out things was really the same for me—not the same. It probably got worse for me like financially wise. So it was hard to me to get the help that I needed or as far as just being in the right situations to start over and get my mind right. I had to really had to get out and start moving fast to make sure I had a roof over my head, I had clothes on my back, I had something to eat. It was kind of difficult for me, so that’s what probably made me drop everything and dedicate my life to music, you know? Eventually you get tired of living that way.
Did you have a plan right as you were coming out of jail to do music?
I had a plan. I tried to first go the other route, get a job. You know, to do what I needed to do to get myself together to have the finances to do it. That was kind of depressing because I was crashing with my family getting out, and a lot of jobs wouldn’t accept me. The ones that did, once my background came up they’d let me go. So after a while it was just make it here or I probably wasn't going to be living. I was cool with both.
It still took you a long time to find success.
It’s been about a year with Gotti. Six months before that year of me popping off with Gotti, I started getting independent money. I never had nothing. I think it was at that time where I didn’t really care about much. Like when I first got my $10,000 I didn’t know what to do with it. I was already numb and accepting the other path. I found myself helping others, people that I felt like I used or that needed me, I’m gonna help them. My momma didn’t have a house. I got her one. I just did other things with it because I didn’t know what to do with it. I just caught myself sitting there waiting for people to call me needing my help. Even if I had lunch out, I didn’t spend on myself because I still had the mindset of a broke person.
So then Gotti got involved and what changed, what was that like?
I knew then that I had to humble myself first of all because I didn’t want to lose the reason that I got so famous. I think I was, yeah, feeling myself and almost got out of control with it. Kind of got sidetracked and bring myself back and as a matter a fact I started realizing that it was really a job. So then I had to think, what strategy can I come with to make the story be put together and make sense and it’s real?
I’m sure for a long time your strategy was just like ‘anything I can do to be successful, like literally anything is cool.’
Right, right. Then you branch off with it, grow it.
Tell me about “Made Me.”
I was heading from Florida, passing across Atlanta, and I get a phone call from a producer named Fruit that’s also K. Camp’s producer. He wanted to work with me. I heard the track, me and K-Camp vibed, came up with the hook. I killed the first verse, and then I was like I might as well kill the whole thing, and everything else is history.
So you were just passing through Atlanta and just went into a studio for a night or whatever?
Right, right. Got blessed with the track. Right place, right time, right me, right track. It all came together.
What was it like to have Boosie be on the remix?
That was just a blessing. It was something he chose to do, and I didn’t have to twist his arm to come through. It was to a street nigga from another street nigga—same struggle, same situation. He did four years, and I did four years.
Stylistically do you feel like there’s other stuff you want to do? What are you interested in accomplishing next?
My biggest accomplishment would be to have my own rock band, to have my own band.
Get back to you snare drum and tuba days?
Right. My voice would cut through perfectly with a live band. I have a strong voice, I have lots of energy onstage, always crowdsurfing, and I think it would just make sense as a look and be well put together if I have a band behind me. I think it would be Snootie Wild’s full potential.
Are you kind of a rock guy in general?
Well, I listen to Nickelback, I listen to Kid Rock. Kid Rock himself is kind of to me a gangsta rapper. I think it would just make sense me being in front of a band. People could see the band with my energy and get it rocking.
You have this catchphrase, Go Mode. What’s that?
Don’t stop going. No matter if you're rich, poor, sick, healthy, don’t stop going, you've got to keep going. Don’t ever let nobody stop you. Just keep doing you.
Kyle Kramer will never stop going. Follow him on Twitter.