The Atlanta artist also discusses his origins as a rapper, squashing his beef with Young Thug, and how his conversion to Islam informs his worldview.
Photo courtesy of Ralo
The main thing you learn about Ralo after talking to him is how focused and self-aware he is. The Atlanta rapper knows what he's capable of achieving as an artist and the changes he needed to make in his life to keep moving in that direction. After serving a stint in prison, he released two solid mixtapes last year, and he's been featured on songs with all your favorites out of the city, including an appearance on Young Thug's I'm Up. Future shouted him out on the DS2 track "Blood on the Money," which Ralo says actually got him in some hot water in his neighborhood, and the two have collaborated on a number of songs.
Still, despite the attention and the high-profile performances, he remains one of the more underappreciated artists hailing from the city at the moment. With his upcoming Diary of the Streets II, he’s looking to break out of that. I talked to him over the phone before the release of the latest song “My Brothers” featuring Future, which Noisey is premiering below. This Southside-produced track is a pledge of loyalty to those that hold you down the most, and is a good soundtrack for standing on furniture. The track follows Ralo linking with 21 Savage, Young Thug, and Lil Uzi Vert for “Flexing on Purpose” and the Shy Glizzy-assisted “Dear Your Honor."
With “My Brothers,” Ralo shows the full range of his improvements since his last project, displaying a new mastery of his own flow that should be enough evidence of his potential star power. Future shows up at his most forceful and savage as well, with the whole track being evidence of the bond Ralo says the two rappers share. "My brother (Future) and I were in the studio and he was saying 'I got you Ralo, you my brother for life, blood can't separate our bond.' And I feel the same. 'I'll kill for you if I have to,' I said. The difference between 'My Brothers' and others records I’ve done with Future is that on the other songs, we talked mainly talked about getting money and females. For this record, we connected about our bond and friendship.”
Noisey: For those that don’t know about you, how did Ralo become Ralo?
Ralo: I’m from a neighborhood in Atlanta called The Bluff—it’s one of the highest crime rate areas of Atlanta—and there was a dude named Ralo. He was dating my mom. He told me the truth about my mom doing drugs. She hid it from me for years, so he was like a real person to me. One of the realest dudes I was first introduced to. He had borrowed a couple dollars from me when I was 13 or 14. I used to sell bootleg CDs, so I kept a couple hundred dollars in my pocket. One day I gave him a couple hundred dollars 'cause he wanted to go buy some drugs. We had just moved into some new apartments, and he wanted to hustle up some money for us so we could afford rent, for me and my mom so we could have a little bit of space. He got killed that night. I didn’t get to see him no more. So when he had left and I started rapping, I just wanted to call myself Ralo. He played a big part in my life.
When did you start rapping?
I always liked rapping. I would play around in the studio as a youngin, 13 or 14 years of age. So when I got out of prison last year—I was in prison for a couple years—I started rapping. 'Cause I was listening to a lot of artists while I was incarcerated, and they were rapping about a lot of stuff that I was doing in the streets that I knew they wasn’t doing, and I felt bad about that 'cause I knew dudes like myself and others that were in prison for an extended amount of time—like life sentences—and these dudes are rapping about it leading people in the wrong direction. I really wanted to show the world and tell the world the truth. Music has a big effect on your life. Whatever mood you’re in that’s the journey the music takes you on, you dig? I like listening to myself, listening to my story, genuine music, so I started rapping.
A bunch of Atlanta rappers knew each other before fame. With your relationship with Young Thug, what’s it like being friends with somebody who you really just didn’t like at all at one point?
Man, shit, that’s something that I have to answer to myself for. I’m not a person that forgets or forgives on a lot of things. Like, I go real hard, that’s my biggest problem I have dealing with—with my females, with my homies. If you cross me, I’m the type of nigga that will hold that against you forever.
I got a dude name Elliot that we all buy our jewelry from. Me, Birdman, Scooter, Future, Jeff (Young Thug). Everybody. My jeweler really brought me, like he’s really responsible for my career at this moment. He got me where I’m at, 'cause that jewelry just did something to the whole gang. Anyway, to make a long story short, I was still beefing with Thug when I got out of prison, saying, “I’ll shoot that nigga, that nigga not talking about nothing, man he better not come over here, he better not do that.” Until one day Thug told Elliot, “Man, even if Ralo don’t fuck with me man, I still fuck with him. He deserve everything he got. He a real gangster.” And when he said that about me and Elliot came back and told me, it just broke me down. But I fuck with Thug, and ever since then I done told everybody that they can put their guns down, they don’t have to shoot at him anymore. And shit, we been cooling.
You’re Muslim, right?
Yeah that’s correct.
You been practicing your whole life?
Since I was incarcerated. When I was in prison I found myself and became a Muslim.
As a practicing Muslim, what is that like for you nowadays with where America is politically?
If you don’t know a person, or just don’t know something and something, then you don’t know. Like if I don’t know Trey, I can’t say Trey goddamn got three, four wives and a blue car outside, because I don’t know shit about Trey. But when I get to know Trey, I can then get to speak on correct facts. But they’re gonna say what they’re gonna say, they’re just hating. Before Islam I didn’t have any type of guidance, I wasn’t striving for nothing, I was just a young street nigga out here doing my thing. And Islam, all it talks about is being humble and a better person. It’s amidst the will of God. I ain’t see in the Quran or read anything about blowing up buildings or doing any terrorism type things. I’m from America and I ain’t blown up shit.
On the topic of becoming better, what the biggest improvement we’re gonna see from you since the last Diary of the Streets?
The biggest improvement I see in myself with my music is my vocals. Just being and artist, learning how to paint my picture in a different way. It’s not always what you say but how you say it. I have a high pitched voice so it was hard, cause I was just rapping for me—I wasn’t rapping for other peoples pleasure, but once I started getting paid off it and I saw the opportunity where I could advance for the people and my family and friends around me and I started seeing the mistakes I was making. You gotta make the mistakes in order to learn from the mistakes. Sometimes you can’t do what you like, you gotta give the people what they like.
Trey Smith loves to stand on furntiure. Follow him on Twitter.