August Alsina’s buildup from mixtape sensation to one of the faces of R&B’s new class is a story only he can tell. In 2014, Alsina made a splash with his Def Jam debut, Testimony, an album that wasn’t just a hodgepodge of romantic songs and slowed-down sex jams. Rather, Alsina opened up about his life. He touched on the loss of his older brother, his father battling drug addiction, his troubled relationship with his mother when he was homeless, and how growing up in New Orleans wasn’t so picture-perfect. He talked about his realities as if he were still living them, and in many cases he was.

Since Testimony dropped, the 23-year-old singer has focused on being real in his music. His perspective on heartbreak and the struggles in the ghetto has attracted loyal listeners who look to him for inspiration. If you’re pressing play on an August Alsina record, you’re getting something that’s very honest. “Song Cry,” his latest single from This Thing Called Life, due out in December, is an embodiment of that. Like his last album, his sophomore LP will be filled with reflections that’ll speak to those who might be going through similar situations.

Music may be his therapy, but Alsina has dealt with hardships very publicly. He’s recently shared everything from getting eye surgery to save his vision to calling out his family members on social media. That same platform was also used to address the heat he got for groping a woman during a show in Baton Rouge. People accused him of crossing the line and sexually assaulting her, which prompted him to call out “ignorant motherfuckers” and “weak ass blogs” on Twitter.

August Alsina intends to always keep it real no matter what. Here, we spoke to him about his relationship with DJ Khaled, the lyrics on “Song Cry” and why Drake and J. Cole didn’t make the song, and the outraged response to him fondling a female fan.

You were recently in the video for “Gold Slugs.” How was hanging out with Khaled?
Man, Khaled is a character as we all know. He’s one of a kind. He’s one with himself. I’ve never met anybody like Khaled actually. His energy is always on a gazillion, million. That’s him. But I think he’s very smart when it comes to music. He puts a lot of things together that a lot of people probably wouldn’t normally think to put together. He hit me for the record, “Gold Slugs,” me and Chris [Brown]. Fetty.

It’s the three hottest R&B acts on one song.
You know what’s crazy? I don’t even know. Is Fetty R&B? Or a rapper?

[Khaled] actually asked me about the record a long ass time ago. He brought it back to my attention. There was a verse on there that he wanted me [to do], so I went back and did my own verse. Chris went back and did his verse too after he heard my verse. Then we came to Miami to shoot the video, and I think that was around my birthday time too. I just had turned 23. It was a fun time, good experience. It’s always good to be working, doing something on your birthday, something to move forward in a positive direction. It was cool. It was a good time.

He’s been repping Miami Finga Licking lately. Have you been there?
And that shit is good, I ain’t gonna lie. And I played him the album in full. The reaction and the response was ridiculous. He really enjoyed it. It was crazy that he compared my shit to like rap shit. Like, Nas. Illmatic. And Hov. That’s the craziest thing to me that he compared it to legendary rap shit. I’m a singer, so it’s cool. If that’s what you get from it. If you like it, I love it.

The focus now is This Thing Called Life. You have a song out called “Song Cry” where you sing about being more capable than a “bastard child of an addict.” Why did you want to address your father like that?
I remember being told that my pops was a drug addict and an alcoholic. There’s a big chance of me being the same exact way. I know how people see me. People see me as a rebel. People see me as maybe even ignorant. People see me as a threat or rude or whatever. It’s a lot of people who just don’t know me. I don’t move off of society’s opinions and I’m so glad that society’s opinions don’t make me or break me. But I’m aware of how people view me and see me, so I’ma let you know that I know this is what you think of me, but I’m so much more than that.

I know how people see me. People see me as a rebel. People see me as maybe even ignorant. People see me as a threat or rude or whatever. It’s a lot of people who just don’t know me.

You have a lyric where you say, “’Cause my bloods and my cousins hate me/I try to buy my mama’s love, no she don’t appreciate it.” And then you posted on Instagram the text messages from your cousin and wrote “message from my ‘family’. This thing called life.”
I had to share that. I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t. I wouldn’t be real. I wouldn’t be honest and I wouldn’t be me. That’s my truth. Some people might say, Oh, that’s your family. You can’t expose your family or whatever. That’s not family. If you can speak to me that way, you’re not family. I mean, rap niggas do it all the time. This is just evidence that what I’m talking to you about is true, what I’m singing in my songs is true. Like I said, rap niggas do it. They talk about money, weed, bitches, and lean in their songs, and they post it on Instagram. Hey, here’s my truth. Here’s my reality. This is what it is, and I can only give you honesty.

Was your cousin wilding out when he said your album was a lie and that you weren’t taking care of your grandma?
I don’t really give a fuck about that. That don’t hurt my feelings. It just is what it is at this point. Nothing scares me. Nothing actually shocks me anymore. I’m used to all of it. The thing is when the hate don’t work, they start to tell lies. 

The biggest shocker to me was when he was talking about your brother.
My brother is not here to defend himself. That part bothers me. I know what bothers them is there is nothing you can do to make me lose. It’s like I can’t be around these people because you hate me so much that you’ll kill me. You’ll try to kill me just so you don’t have to see me live my life. You don’t even mind spending time in jail because you killed me. I know there’s motherfuckers out here that want to kill me. I mean, it is what it is. I just live my life every day like fuck it. 

That’s another reason why I give you my truth. If I die, hey shit, here’s why. If a nigga kill me, this is it. It’s in your face. You know why. You see them saying what they are saying. My album is called This Thing Called Life because it is my life, and my life has taken me to crazy places. It’s given me very, very different experiences that a lot of people wouldn’t even imagine but a lot of people wouldn’t be able to handle, so I figured I share that. I feel like people need that. I feel like God gave me my life for that reason to share with other people that may be like me or not like me. In any way, form, or fashion, a person could take some of what I’m giving them and ride with it.

Cole and Drake are also pretty open in their music, and you mentioned them in “Song Cry” (“I figured maybe J. Cole or Drizzy Drake/Would drop a verse and tell the people how we hurtin’/Guess I was mistaken”). What is the story behind those lines? 
In this case it was literally my experience. I literally talked to Cole about hopping on that song. I literally talked to Drake about hopping on that song. Cole actually called me and was like, Man, I love the song, but I just feel like I don’t have anything to offer, anything to add to it. I feel like the song is already a great song. He also said that he was trying to move in a different direction. Whatever direction that is, I don’t know. I honestly don’t even care. And Drake, he told me that he would do the record too. Several times. But you know everybody out here living their own life. It wasn’t a slight or to disrespect anybody. I got love for those guys. Like I said, that was really my truth. I’d figured that maybe Drake or Cole would drop a verse, but shit, they didn’t. But it’s all love. I say that in the song.

You were talking before about the positives and negatives in your life. Recently, you were criticized for bringing a girl on stage and groping her.  
In that video, to be honest, I had no idea that I was even [doing that]. She had on this sequin dress where you couldn’t feel anything. So I had no idea I was even grabbing her titty. And when I saw the video, it irked me. It’s not me. When all of the madness happened, I even talked to her. I called her. I give her my respect and let her know that was far from my intentions. And she was more mad than I was. She was like, Do they even know what you represent? Do they even know what the fuck you stand for, for them to be even coming at you like this? I’m like, I’m happy that you understand and that is all that matters. As long as you and I have an understanding, the rest of the world don’t matter because that’s what they do. They want to see you fail. They want to see you lose. They create stories in order to fail or tear me down.

Just as long as her and I had an understanding I was cool. She had no idea it happened either until you saw it back in the video. But, all of these things that happened in my life are life lessons to me. It was made very clear to me that I need to pay attention more to what’s going on because I just be in the moment. I’m doing my show. That’s all that was. It was just another case of a motherfucker hating and some negativity that they try to throw my way.

When she said, “Do they even know what you represent?,” did she mean you as a sex symbol?
What’s even crazier is that nothing in my music is sex. Nothing.

Well, there’s that song “Porn Star.”
Besides “Porn Star.” That’s literally the only song you could go to make me a sexual guy. I didn’t come in and make myself a sexual guy. I didn’t call myself  “Mr. Steal Your Girl.” I didn’t call myself a sex symbol. I didn’t call myself none of that. I didn’t call myself “Mr. I’ma Take Your Bitch.” None of it. This is your perception of me because God has blessed me to look good and be appealing to the eye; you automatically made me this guy. It’s absolutely bonkers to me that you could even try to put that on me when you have nothing to hold up in court with this. If we were in court, nothing holds up in court with this video at all. Nothing. You can’t go to nothing at all.

I’m not even an overly sexual guy. I live a real life. I actually go through too much shit. At the end of the day when it is time to f***, I’m just like, “Man, I don’t even feel like it.”

I’m not even an overly sexual guy. I live a real life. I actually go through too much shit. At the end of the day when it is time to fuck, I’m just like, Man, I don’t even feel like it. I think when she said, Do they even know what you stand for?, it’s like where I come from. What I represent. What I’m doing. What I’m speaking about. I don’t speak about fucking a million bitches. That’s what these other niggas do. I can do that in my sleep, but let’s really talk about what’s really real, what’s really happening in the world.

What would you do if a fan groped you? Like, if a girl came up and grabbed your dick or something.
And they do that. But it’s not a problem if somebody does it to me. But when you see it the other way around, I mean, it’s just a double standard. It’s just the world we live in.

Kevin Gates, for example, some girl grabbed his dick, and he kicked her. You would be OK with it?
I mean, it is what it is. I’m slowly understanding [that] I’m not just August Alsina. I’m August Alsina to people. People get excited. People get overly excited, and they do things. I try to have some understanding for it, but like I said, there’s a double standard for men and women. I wouldn’t go as far as putting my hands on somebody or my feet on somebody. But slowly, I’m getting an understanding. But I do think that every person deserves their personal space.

You tweeted about the situation and called out “ignorant mufukkas & weak ass blogs.” Who are the people and blogs you’re talking about specifically?
There was no one specific. There’s people that wait on August Alsina to do something. I’m not saying as if I’m the biggest person in the world. But I do know that everybody—more and more people every day, people roll over and wait. You’re so thirsty for me to do something. It actually makes me realize like, Damn, I might be more famous than I actually think. Every day I realize that I am because it doesn’t matter what it is. No matter what it is. People want to talk about August Alsina. From Halloween costumes to fondling a woman, you want to talk about it. To [even] what I wear. It don’t matter what it is. You want to have a conversation about August Alsina, so each and every day I’m realizing it. So that’s who that message is towards—it’s for all these people who have all these things about August Alsina to say. What I’m telling you is none of that matters. Nobody can say anything to take what’s for me away from me. And I live by that.

This thing called life.
And this is what This Thing Called Life is. It’s the journey.