Talking to the guarded Atlanta street rapper about "count music" and his preferred trifecta of substances.
Written by David Drake (@somanyshrimp)
Almost exactly one year ago, on January 23, 2012, Young Scooter’s “77 Birds” video was released. The song has a bleary reggae lilt courtesy of producer MO-X-Clusive, and Gucci Mane, ear to the streets as always, had a guest verse. It’s a song about how much cocaine Scooter presumably has in trash cans across “Little Mexico,” the Kirkwood neighborhood he has called home since moving to Atlanta from Walterboro, South Carolina as a teen.
There’s a largess to the drug game in Scooter’s world: He deals in kilos and truckloads and makes his connect millions. The obvious point of comparison is Young Jeezy, who similarly rode a wave of populist kingpin rap to mainstream success in the mid-2000s. Musically, Scooter’s approach doesn’t have quite the all-encompassing grandiosity of Jeezy, and is unlikely to replicate his level of success; it’s more of a musical sidestep, less straightforward forcefulness. But similar to Atlanta’s mid-decade trap star, Scooter’s a part of a fairly radical aesthetic shift going on within hip-hop as a new generation of stars stake their claim on the genre.
He floats at the beat, rather than locking into the pocket, as if he were only somewhat concerned with the rhythm. His verses are more compelling for this style, and it makes conventional rappers seem a bit stiff and square in comparison.
Scooter’s first tape, Plug Talkin, didn’t receive much of a push; it was his second release, Finessin and Flexin’, on which he first made his name, already collaborating with Future and high-profile producers (all of whom he obliquely mentions meeting “in the streets”). The tape has some compelling moments, particularly the Drumma Boy-produced “Boosie.” He floats at the beat, rather than locking into the pocket, as if he were only somewhat concerned with the rhythm. His verses are more compelling for this style, and it makes conventional rappers seem a bit stiff and square in comparison.
The generation gap is stark on “Street Lottery,” a collaboration with Bun B and the title track to his latest tape, although Bun acquits himself well. “I got Bun B on the “Street Lottery” song because I just explained how I grew up around a lot of OGs. That’s why I chose to put Bun B on it, because he an OG in the rap game,” says Scooter. Compared with Bun’s pre-written, carefully constructed verses, Scooter’s style could seem sloppy to some used to "lyricism," but for Scooter, that kind of preparation would stultify the creative process.
“It’s just called count music,” says Scooter. “I don’t really care what I say on a beat as long as it’s about some money. When you try to think hard and write it out, that’s when it’s gonna be fucked up.” This isn’t a new tradition in hip-hop, although for lyrically-oriented rap fans it’s still hard to accept. Baby and Mannie Fresh from the Big Tymers called themselves “game spitters” instead of rappers to eliminate the distinction; Gucci Mane famously found that because the demand for his verses was so high, he stopped writing altogether, and ended up evolving as a rapper with a much more improvisational style.
'It’s just called count music,' says Scooter. 'I don’t really care what I say on a beat as long as it’s about some money. When you try to think hard and write it out, that’s when it’s gonna be fucked up.'
Scooter’s most effective records have a disconnected, dreamily intoxicated feel that seems like it would be undercut by precision, rehearsal, or complexity. Instead, he vibes with the track, something no doubt assisted by his recording process: “I’m always in the studio, pretty drunk. Me and my buddy Dave, he always in the studio with me and we always on three drugs at all times. These three drugs make me go in. Smoking and drinking lean. Pop a Molly.”
Whatever his creative inspiration, his tracks also break from Jeezy’s in that his remorse has a more chilling, damaged feel. Scooter’s “The Appeal,” from Future’s recent F.B.G. compilation, is a mournful look at the ramifications of imprisonment. “Made it Threw the Struggle,” which Scooter ID’s alongside "Work" as his favorite track from Street Lottery, addresses how much he's overcome. This isn't new terrain for hip-hop, but there's a sincerity to the stoned melodicism in both his performance and the production.
One of the biggest stars of Scooter's recent work is producer Zaytoven, who made his name as Gucci Mane's primary producer in the late '00s, but whose profile has since diminished. Alongside Scooter, he's returned with a more detailed, layered production sound, full of keyboards and synthesizers that create a disjointed atmosphere. Tracks like last year's "Fake Rappers" and this year's "Nothing Important Than Money" have reasserted Zay's singular production style.
This sound adds an intoxicated lushness to the Southern template first mined by Shawty Redd and Drumma Boy. And although Future is the obvious reference point, rappers throughout Atlanta, from up-and-comers Rich Homie Quan and Young Thug to older stars like Roscoe Dash and Kwony Cash have inundated rap with a slurred sing-song style that would be anathema to more traditional hip-hop fans.
Young Scooter is one of the most promising new stars to emerge from the city's melodic melting pot, and while his career is in its nascent stages, there's a sense that he won't be going anywhere as long as there's money to count.