"Can you feel the pain in his voice?!"
That's the caption on a viral clip of 2KBABY singing atop the hood of his car in Atlanta, and it's the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the 19-year old rapper open his mouth for the first time.
The pain comes from a very real place. Growing up in Louisville, 2KBABY and his little brother didn't have anyone else to depend on, so they had to fight for their survival from a young age. "We didn't have shit," he says now. "We were really starving. That shit's fucked up."
Looking to escape from his difficult past, 2KBABY got in his car last year and drove to Atlanta. During a six-hour drive in a vehicle with no speakers, Calboy's "Envy Me" kept running through his head, and he tried to sing for the first time. As he made his way down the road, he came up with a song that he would later release, called "Dirty 30's." Looking back on the breakthrough, he laughs, "As soon as I got to the A, I was like, 'Damn, I think I can sing or some shit.'" Soon after, he tried out his new skill again and recorded his most well-known track to date, "Old Streets," which is the first song his brother Busta Keys ever produced.
"The first beat he played was 'Old Streets,'" 2KBABY remembers. "I freestyled on it and we ran outside, pulled the phone out, and started the video."
"The 'Old Streets' a capella video came across my radar early," Gengo tells Complex. "Ten seconds into the video, it was immediately clear that he was not only an incredibly talented singer but also had a natural knack for melody. The vibrato in his voice hooked me. When I dug deeper into his music, my intuition was confirmed. I flew to Atlanta to meet him and he played at least 25 unreleased songs, one of those being 'Dreaming.' We hit it off right away. We spent the entire night with him and flew him to L.A. the next morning to sign the deal."
Now, 2KBABY says he's just trying to get heard by more people, as he collects a large stash of unreleased music that includes collaborations with artists like Sonny Digital and DaBaby. When you hear 2KBABY's heart-on-his-sleeve songs, it's clear he isn't the type of artist whose only goal is to get as popular as he can. 2KBABY has something to say. After just a few minutes speaking with him, you get a sense he has a need to be heard.
Complex caught up with 2KBABY for a conversation about family, record deals, new music, collaborations, and more. The interview, lightly edited for clarity, is below.
When and how did you start making music?
I was like 15, and my homie got caught up with some guns. We were some young n****s and he had to do a little time. He was in juvenile jail for five months, then December hit and his sister told me they sent him away for like two and a half years. So at Christmas break, I scraped money together and really started hitting the studio, recording remixes on whatever was hot back in like 2015. I was just doing it to say, "Free my n***a," at the beginning of every song. But by the time he got out, I already started gaining a buzz in the city, so we just kept running with it. It was really random, for real. People won't tell you I grew up rapping or singing, just walking around the house. I never thought about doing music.
At what point did you start taking music more seriously?
I've been chasing it, but it was always a long shot. I'm from Louisville, Kentucky, so at the same time, I was trying to survive and shit. I started rapping at 15 and I was just working back home. My style was a real MC—just really rapping, because I used to listen to G Herbo and all of that. Then I moved to Atlanta a year ago, and that's when I started tapping into melodies and trying to sing more.
I'm more than a street n***a. I'm trying to be bigger than that.
Do you remember the first time you had the confidence to sing?
I got jammed up back home, and that was really the reason why I moved here. I had an Infiniti G35 at the time. All white with black tints. I already had all my stuff in my car, because I got kicked out of my granny's place a week before. I was staying at hotels and all types of shit. So as soon as I got out after getting jammed up, I hopped on the road and went to the A. I ain't even tell nobody.
My Infinity didn't have a radio, so for the whole six hour drive, I'm in silence. This was a year ago, and Calboy's "Envy Me" was one of my favorite songs at the time. I'm driving six hours in the silence, just feeling like, "Man, that n***a Calboy really changed the game." A lot of rappers have been doing the melodics, but Calboy's music is raw and he doesn't use Auto-Tune. So I'm in the car, messing with my voice, and I started singing this song I've got now called "Dirty 30's." It's just some old bullshit—probably my first song where I've ever really tried to do a melody. I'm in the car in silence, just perfecting it, the whole drive. [Sings hook from "Dirty 30's"]. As soon as I got to the A, I was like, "Damn, I think I can sing or some shit." [Laughs]. Plus it's more fun than just rapping.
Will you try to keep balancing singing with rapping in your songs?
Oh, yeah. To be one hundred, "Old Streets" blew up so randomly. The freestyle video just blew up on some random shit. When me and my brother returned to the A, we didn't know nobody. We don't got no friends except for our music team and our guys at the studio. So this whole year, I've been here just recording music. I'm sitting on so many songs. When "Old Streets" blew up back in June, I was already sitting on over a hundred songs. I've got songs on some rock shit, on some jazz shitt, on some pop shit, all types of shit. I be in the studio high, just doing shit.
For someone who has never heard your music before, how would you describe it?
It's genuine and it's authentic. You can feel that shit. I be trying to make my music so that anybody from any walk of life can feel that shit. Not just street n****s. I'm a street n***a, I don't have to prove that shit to nobody. That shit don't got to be proven, it's already there. I've got that. What else can I do? I'm trying to expand. I'm more than a street n***a. I'm trying to be bigger than that. I don't even like calling myself a street n***a. That's labeling yourself. I'm a grown ass man at the end of the day.
In the first line of "Old Streets," you mentioned your brother. How important he is to your career?
My little brother is who I live for, for real. I wouldn't even be trying to do all this shit if it weren't for him, because he's all I got, and I'm all he's got. Nobody take care of us. I can't even explain it to you. You'd have to come here and see it for yourself. I mean, we're straight now, but we've really been through that shit. We didn't have shit. We were really starving. That shit's fucked up, so this n***a is who I live for. I just want to grind so he don't got to need anything. I just want him to live and be young, because when I was a young one, I didn't even really focus that much on being young and having fun. I was focused on trying to be grown and get money and all types of other shit. I just want this n***a to be smart. I want him to be better than me. I love that n***a.
I've been listening to Lil Wayne, Michael Jackson, G Herbo, Lil Durk, and Chief Keef. I still listen to the same songs from years ago.
He produced "Old Streets," right?
Yeah, he produced "Old Streets." It's so fucking crazy, bro. This n***a just started making beats this year. Back home in Louisville, we've got the Kentucky Derby. So the whole week of the Kentucky Derby, I was booked up in clubs and shit back home. I left my little brother here in Atlanta with the guys at the studio. I come back a week later, and they've taught this n***a how to make beats. He's like, "Hey bro, listen to some of my beats." The first beat he played was "Old Streets." I freestyled on it and we ran outside, pulled the phone out, and started the video. It just went viral.
How old is he?
I'm 19 and he's 18.
What's his producer name?
How important is family to you?
Family is everything. Like I said, Busta is who I do it for. I got another little brother named Bam Bam. I've got another little sister named Jordan, Journey, Taylor, Ava, Shay. My big sister just had my nephew, Bryson, a few weeks ago. And besides all that, I've got my n****s. My n****s is really my family. I got so many people riding on me, and so many people depending on me. It's crazy being from Louisville. Motherfuckers don't know about Louisville, because it's like a town in its own time zone. Motherfuckers don't know about that shit. You live or die there.
How did you com up with your name, 2KBABY?
I'm a 2000s baby. I was born in the year 2000. 2K. 2000. Baby. You feel me?
You're the latest in a line of rappers who have blown up with "Baby" in their names. Besides yourself, who is your favorite Baby?
Lil Baby, for sure. I fuck with DaBaby too. I've got a song with DaBaby.
I've seen several viral videos of you that say, "Can you feel the pain in his voice?" Have you always been able to get emotion out like that?
That's how I am in-person, when you talk to me. I ain't going say shit to you that I don't mean. When you talk to me in person, you're going to be like, "Oh, that n***a give a fuck." I'm just a real expression. I don't even know if that's a fucking word. To be honest, I don't hide shit. I'm real straight up. I'm blunt. I'm 100. Matter of fact, I'm 200. I'm 400. You feel me? Straight like that. That's how I am in-person, when you talk to me. Everything I say in my songs, I mean everything. All that shit's real. There have been songs where I've been damn near getting emotional while I'm recording, you feel me? I'm really like that. This music is my life. I need this shit to live. I need to do it every day.
Where do you think that pain comes from?
It comes from my life. Everything I've been through with friends and family. A whole lot. It comes from my life.
Does making music help with that pain?
Yeah, it definitely helps. It's probably the only thing that helps more than weed.
I see you use Triller a lot. Has that helped your success at all?
Yeah. People have been fucking with me on Triller, for real. I've been seeing some dope videos on there. I like Triller. I was on Triller even before I started music. Triller's just a fun app. You can go on there and vibe out to your favorite songs.
I've seen you make dance videos on there, and you dance a little in your music videos, too. Is that something you want to do more?
Hell, no. [Laughs]. I ain't no dancer, bro. I bop. I ain't scared to bop. I'm gangster, so I'll do that if I'm feeling something. But I ain't no dancer.
You mentioned earlier you were listening to Calboy. What other artists inspire you?
G Herbo, Lil Durk, YoungBoy, my big bro Soon Tonio from back home, Lil Wayne. I don't really change up who I be listening to. I've been listening to Lil Wayne, Michael Jackson, G Herbo, Lil Durk, and Chief Keef. I still listen to the same songs from years ago. I don't be switching up. I'm weird, bro. I listen to 21 Savage, too. I fuck with 21 Savage and I like NoCap.
How do you think your move from Louisville to Atlanta changed you as a person and your music?
It's really changed everything. When I left, I already knew I was basically leaving my whole life back there. Everything I know is Louisville. I came here with just my little brother, and we ain't know nobody. We still don't know nobody. It's still me and him. We're ready to go to the mall today, just me and him. We might find a party on social media that we're not invited to and just pull up. Don't nobody know us. We just be in studio every day, just getting high. That's it.
Being here, though, it's been good. I got out of the city. I got out of the Louisville shit. I'm growing my mind and shit, getting smart. I can really focus on music, a hundred percent. Since I came here, I ain't done none of the bullshit I was on back home. I ain't pulled none of that down here. I came here, and I've been focused since I got here. Just strictly music. I've been focused. I just know if I don't execute, I've got to go back home. Do I want to go home? No. I've got to execute.
I don't hide shit. I'm real straight up. I'm blunt. I'm 100. Matter of fact, I'm 200. I'm 400.
Every day, there are hundreds of new rappers who pop up. What separates you from everyone else?
I don't pay attention to them. I don't see them n****s. I've got tunnel vision. It's me, my n****s, my gang. That's it. I ain't no type of n***a hating on no other n***a, either. I respect a n****'s grind and all that shit. Right now, there ain't nobody I'm doing this shit for, except for me. I ain't worried about nobody else. I don't care if they're doing better than me, triple times better than me, or worse than me. I don't care. I'm in my own lane. I'm not racing nobody. I'm just trying to be the best artist and the best man I can be. I want to go as far as I can.
What's your biggest goal with music?
I want my fans to love me to death. You know how you be seeing them artists with big ass cult fan bases? I want something like that. It just looks like a good family to have.
What's your main goal right now at this stage in your career?
I definitely want to get heard. At the end of the day, to accomplish everything I want to do, it all falls back to: People can't deny good music. As long as I'm making good music, I'm good. The way my life has changed in the past few months, that would've never happened if it wasn't for this song "Old Streets," which is just good music. If I just focus on my music, and make good music, my fans will love me. As long as I make good music, everything should go right. You could do everything else right and make some bogus ass music, and your shit ain't going to work. As long as you're making good music, that's all that matters. People can't deny that.
You recently wrote about new music on Instagram and you tagged Sonny Digital. Have you made music with him?
Sonny Digital, that's big bro. This n***a looked out. I was over at this n***a's studio smoking, and he tells me he got a beat he made for me that he thinks I'mma slap. As soon as he turned the beat on, it was like some gospel shit. I'm like, "Oh my God." I'm trying to tell you, I ripped that beat apart. I ain't going to lie to you, bro. I really went dumb. The song's called "New Shoes" aka "Thank God." But we ain't going to go into that too much, man. Me and Sonny Digital went crazy on that. I'm sitting on so much music, bro. It's ridiculous. I be recording every day just on the fly so I can stay sane. It's good, though, because I've got songs on songs on songs.
Have any other artists or producers reached out to you?
Shout out ChaseTheMoney. I fuck with ChaseTheMoney, man. Growing up, I used to hear his beats and shit. So, when I had linked up with that n***a, that shit was crazy. You feel me, bro? One thing about me is I ain't no too-cool-ass-n***a. None of that, bro. I'm still [birth name] Christian, bro. I was just a regular n***a, not too long ago. If I see artists or producers or whoever that I fuck with and they inspire me, I don't ever hesitate to let them know like, "My n***a, I fuck with you. You inspire me. Keep doing what you do." I ain't even the type of n***a that asks for no picture. I don't even tell them my name, because I know they're going to see me down the road. When ChaseTheMoney reached out, that shit was crazy. I'm like damn, bro, I really fuck with your shit. [Sings "ChaseTheMoney, ChaseTheMoney"] I fuck with that n***a.
What rapper do you want to collaborate with the most?
You wear a chain with an H on it in your videos. What does the H stand for?
The H stands for heavy hitters. Heavy hitters, because all my songs is heavy hits. You feel me?
I always used to feel like I didn't exist or like I was invisible. But now, I know motherf***ers hear me.
In "Dreaming," you say you usually don't write your music down. Is that true?
I mean, every now and then, if I'm just out and about at the mall or something, and something comes to my mind, I'll jot it down in my notes or something. If I have a little melody, I jot it down. When I lived back home, I had a whole lot of other shit going on. I got to scrape up money to hit the studio, punch the clock, and all type of bullshit. So I was writing at my granny's crib or on the block with my n****s, and I went to the studio and ran in real quick for an hour or two. But since I came down here in the A, I've got my music team down here, and we've got a studio at the crib. I really ain't write nothing since I moved here. I just be in the studio on some high shit and get to cooking up the beats from scratch. I just get to punching in. Just get to flowing, however it go. Now, my shit be off the muzzle.
It was just announced that you signed a deal with Masked Records and Warner. Why did you decided to go with them?
When I started getting attention, for me, it wasn't about the money. That ain't nothing new to a n***a. You know what I'm trying to say? I had it set in my head, "Bro, every label's damn near capable of the same shit as far as money." So I ain't really looking at that. I'm trying to see what else they're bringing to the table. And I'm just trying to see who is good people. Who seems like the best person? I'm paying attention to everything: tendencies, body language, and all types of shit. But the guys over there... Shout out Roger [Gengo], man. Shout out, Ray [Daniels]. Shout out, Norva [Denton]. Shout out, Aaron [Bay-Schuck]. Man, them is real n****s. Straight up.
I saw you wrote on Instagram, "This was all a dream. So I'm going to continue to find ways to give back." Why is it important for you to give back?
Where I'm at in life, this was a long shot. It was far-fetched. I really didn't think it was going to happen. Now that it's here, I just want to make sure I do this right. I want people to be like, "They gave the right little n***a some money." Personally, sometimes I have downs and I have my guilt about things I've done in my life. So, anytime I have a chance to do something good, I'm trying to balance that shit out.
Why do you make music?
Shit, I make music to stay sane, man. On top of that, I'm about my bag. I got to take care of my people and everything. But this music, it came unexpectedly. I never knew I was going to do music. But when I did find it, I just really fell in love with that shit. I always used to feel like I didn't exist or like I was invisible. But now, I know motherfuckers hear me.
What's the most important thing you want people to know about you right now?
I just want them to know I'm a real n***a. So if you see me, say, "What's up?" Come and have a conversation with me. And "Battles" is on the way, man. "Battles" is coming soon. My next single I'm dropping is called "Battles." So be on the lookout.