At just 21 years old, Rod Wave is checking off boxes on his career goals list at an accelerating rate.
After releasing his successful Hunger Games mixtape series in 2017 and 2018, the St. Petersburg, Florida rapper broke into mainstream consciousness with his debut album, Ghetto Gospel. The 2019 project became his first entry on the Billboard 200 albums chart, peaking at No. 10. He’s since racked up tens of millions of streams, and he’s currently taking TikTok by storm thanks to his viral hit “Heart On Ice,” which has received co-signs from rappers like Meek Mill and 21 Savage. Now, he’s released his sophomore album, Pray 4 Love, which arrived Friday.
Rod tells Complex the 14-track project came together in about one month, and he’s already working on the next one. And while he is appreciative of the success he’s seen prior to the album’s release, he says creating this music goes much deeper than stats or endorsements.
“It really be personal for me,” he explains. “Music is a way of opening up. I don’t really talk about it. I never thought I would be on the phone with you right now. I never thought I would be on the tour or that people would want to talk about my album. It was never about that. I just wanted to make music, because it's how I get stuff off my chest. I want it to always feel like my escape.”
The music is so personal that he decided not to rely on outside guest features. Instead, he prefers to work alone. “Making music for me is personal,” Rod notes. “When I do my music, I don’t even go to the studio. It’s just me and my engineer in a dark room somewhere, recording.”
He’s getting a lot of things off his chest on Pray 4 Love. Rod says he can’t “pinpoint just one” message, but he hopes listeners finish the project feeling like they’re just like him.
“What I want people to get from it is to understand how real life is and how you don't got to be fake and phony,” he says. “With my music, I ain't cutting no corners. I ain’t biting my tongue about nothing. This is how I really feel. This is real life. These are real situations that real people go through.
We checked in with Rod Wave at home to discuss the making of Pray 4 Love and what’s next. The interview, lightly edited for clarity, is below.
How are you adjusting to the coronavirus pandemic?
The only thing it really affected was my shows. That's what I'm really passionate about, creating music, doing shows, and touching the people. There's a lot of people upset that we couldn't come to their city. They paid their money to see us and got all excited. Other than that, nothing’s really changed. I've been staying in the house, staying out of the way. I just wish I could have finished my tour.
Some artists have chosen to delay their albums. Why did you decide to move forward?
I don’t really understand why people felt like it should be delayed. Everybody is at home chilling, or got their phone on and don’t have enough to do. So I’m pretty sure that delaying the album would be crazy. You should drop it right now while everybody is tuned in. I know the people need that music.
Since you released Ghetto Gospel, you’ve become more popular, and expectations are higher. Did you feel any pressure when you were making Pray 4 Love?
Oh no, there’s no pressure. I understand why people think that might be, but there’s no pressure. I’m still the same dude. I’ve still got the same message.
Can you talk about the message you share on Pray 4 Love?
There are a lot of different messages. The single “Pray 4 Love” was a summary for the album, but there are a lot of different messages about the way to deal with relationships from dealing with your homeboys to dealing with your pain. This is life that we all go through. So you could get a bunch of different messages—not just one—from the whole album.
I don’t really understand why people felt like it should be delayed. Everybody is at home chilling, or got their phone on and don’t have enough to do.
The album doesn’t have any features. Was there a reason you went that route?
Not really. Making music for me is personal. When I do my music, I don’t even go to the studio. It's just me and my engineer in a dark room somewhere, recording. [Linking] with others or doing other stuff, I ain't really trying to send the wrong message. I’ll root for anybody doing their thing with the music. I just like doing my own thing. I’ve been like that.
Would you work with any artists on future projects, or do you see yourself continuing to work alone?
Yeah, I do feel like that sometimes, but there’s some people who give me that feeling. Like they understand what I see or the messages I'm trying to send. So it might make sense with this person or that person, but far as I know, it’s just personal for me. I don’t really look at nobody else. I just focus on me. The lifestyle I’m living, I just try to focus on me and the path that I'm on. I’m in my own lane. That’s how I want to keep it.
What was the creative atmosphere like when you made Pray 4 Love?
I just listen to beats with my headphones in, and that's how I come up with songs. Then a couple of days later, me and the engineer, we set up a studio in the hotel room, set up the mic, and just record all of them. I don’t go in no studio. I don’t do no sessions with producers and stuff. I don’t do none of that. It’s just me and the engineer.
Why have you chosen to go that route instead of record in a typical studio setting?
It really be personal for me. If I feel like it was too personal, I ain’t going to drop it. Music is a way of opening up. I don’t really talk about it. When I first started making music, that’s all it was. I never thought I would be on the phone with you right now. I never thought I would be on tour, or that people would want to talk about my album. It was never about that. I just wanted to make music because it’s how I get stuff off my chest. I want it to always feel like my escape. I don't want it to be nothing else, because once you turn it into something else then everything starts changing. I still want music to be my escape.
Does it come naturally to write down emotions and real-life experiences, or do you find it to be challenging?
I don't really discuss what I go through or how I feel. So by the time I sit down, it all comes up. Everything on my brain, everything I've been thinking about and feeling, it all just comes out. So it's really easy to make. The music is the easiest part about my job. Every time I hear a beat, however it make me feel, I’m going to talk about that. If it makes me think about my lady, I'm going to talk about that. If I thought about one of my homeboys, I'm talking about that. Whatever the beat makes me feel, I’ve got a story for it.
How would you say this project is different from Ghetto Gospel?
Every album, I get more comfortable and it gets more personal because I feel like there are people out there accepting me, who love my music and feel my pain. They’re always telling me to keep talking that pain. So when I come back to the mic, I’m okay to talk about it. It’s okay to open up and say how I really feel about this. There’s a lot of people who don’t like it, but there’s a million other people who love it and want me to keep going. That made me get even more creative and open up more.
What is your favorite song on the album?
I’ve got a song called “Roaming” and another song called “Fuck the World.” On “Roaming,” I talk about when you’re just sitting and thinking about life, and about how crazy it is. And then on “Fuck the World,” I say, “You could take me to the Moon and drop me off.” Like, fuck everybody. That's how I feel sometimes. I don't want to be around nobody, I just want to be alone. But there are a lot of songs on there. If I don’t like the song, I ain’t going to put it out.
How many songs did you record for Pray 4 Love? Were there any songs that didn’t make the cut?
Every song on the project is what I’ve been recording. It’s just about picking the right number. Every song I record and put out, I love every last one of them. We made Pray 4 Love in about a month. I’m on a whole other album right now. It’s so much I got to talk about.
What do you want fans to take away from Pray 4 Love?
Man, there are just so many messages. It’s hard to pinpoint just one. What I want people to get from it is to understand how real life is and how you don't got to be fake and phony. With my music, I ain't cutting no corners. I ain't biting my tongue about nothing. This is how I really feel. This is real life. These are real situations that real people go through. I understand I'm a rapper, but I am a human. Just like you, I’ve got ups and down. I got a mama, I got a sister, I got crazy crackhead cousins just like you. That’s what I want people to get from it. Don’t try to put me in the loop with the rappers. When you look at me and listen to my music, it's just like one of us making music. Don’t look at me like a rapper, because I don't want to be treated like that.
In an interview with XXL, you said that you stay away from making music about popping pills and other things some rappers talk about. Why?
I can’t listen to that shit. So I can’t make that kind of music, because I don’t listen to it. When I was just a fan of rap music, I liked to listen to niggas who talk real shit. I listened to Pac cause he was talking about real shit. When you listen to Lil Boosie, you feel that shit. That’s the type of music I like. I ain’t always have no Bentley. I ain’t always have $6 million. I don’t want to talk about that because that shit is meaningless. It could be gone tomorrow. We need to talk about real shit: the way we feel, all that.
You’re currently ranked in the top 5 artists on YouTube, with nearly 30 million views in one week. Would you say YouTube is an important part of your strategy?
Yeah. I cherish my YouTube account. This is how I get through to my fans. But I don’t really look at it. YouTube plays a big role because they’re like the fans’ eyes and ears. I used to post more on my YouTube than I did any sort of platform.
Why do you think you've been so successful on YouTube?
I don't know. I really don’t really know what's going on, but I just drop it on there. YouTube, it’s a visual. Maybe that’s why. With other platforms, you hear the music and you hear the story, but people come to YouTube to see what's going on. They believe what they see.
Besides YouTube, you’ve also found success on TikTok. “Heart On Ice” is blowing up right now. Are you aware of that?
People keep telling me, “Man, you got to get on Tiktok. There’s people on there singing your songs.” I didn’t even know what that was. Before music, I didn’t have an Instagram or Twitter, none of that. But I definitely need to get on TikTok, because you’re like the third or fourth person to tell me that.
You have received cosigns from a number of rappers including 21 Savage and Meek Mill. Have any of those people reached out to you?
Yeah, I feel like it ain’t one rapper in the game who ain’t reached out. Even Shaq. All kinds of people reached out. We are all human, there ain’t nothing you can do about it. If you feel it, you feel it. If you keep it on an all-genre, it’s for everybody. It’s like Madden, everybody can play. But Grand Theft Auto, it ain’t for [everybody]. That’s why I try to keep my music neutral, so everybody can feel it, no matter the age.
Have any artists given advice that you took to heart?
You don’t want nobody to feel like, “Oh, he got the big head, he can’t listen to nobody.” But then again, everybody got they own walk of life. What works for you, might not work for me. I be taking real estate advice and shit like that, but when it comes down to the music, I just do my own thing. If it works, it works. If it don’t, it don’t.
What are your goals for the future?
I just want to keep going. I just want people to understand where I’m coming from. That’s really it—probably to go platinum or something. I’m just glad I’m being heard and I’m appreciative for everything that's going on now. That shit could stop today. I’m still happy with what God gave me, because I was on a whole other path going a whole other way. So I’m appreciative.