When Polo G released the title and cover artwork for his second studio album, The GOAT, he knew it was going to turn heads.
“I knew it would get a lot of controversy,” he admits. “I knew it would get a lot of people saying, ‘Now, who he think he is?’ Or, ‘That’s not true.’
“GOAT,” of course, stands for “greatest of all time,” but Polo G says he wasn't claiming the title just yet. To him, the album title was a nod to his Capricorn zodiac sign.
Polo G feels like The GOAT should be in the conversation among the best albums of 2020 so far—and with good reason. On the 16-track project, the Chicago rapper proves himself as a riveting storyteller, making songs that reflect his painful upbringing, while also looking toward his bright future in music. Following his critically acclaimed 2019 debut album, Die a Legend, he has asserted himself as one of the best new artists in rap.
While he’s confident with his own work, Polo G isn’t afraid to credit artists like Lil Baby, G Herbo, and Rod Wave for releasing great projects this year, too. At the moment, he’s still celebrating a No. 2 album on the Billboard 200 chart under Future’s High Off Life, but he’s also focusing on what’s next, which he hopes will include a Grammy nomination and a feature with Drake.
Complex spoke to Polo G about working on The GOAT, Chicago’s music scene, and his biggest career goals. The interview, lightly edited for clarity, is below.
How are you feeling now that the album is out and people seem to like it?
I appreciate all the buzz that I’m getting from it. That's something that I’m happy to see, because that was my main objective. I wanted to get people to feel where I'm coming from and connect with people who are feeling the same way that I am.
What was your main goal for The GOAT?
To really show my versatility, and show I’ve got a lot more to offer as an artist. And to make quality music, being versatile. Also, I just wanted to show that I’m here to stay as an artist, and that I got longevity.
Do you think you accomplished that goal?
Yeah, definitely. I feel like I’ve got everything that I wanted out of this project, and then some. My main goal wasn't just the numbers or securing this or securing that. It was really to get positive feedback and for people to appreciate the body of work that I put out.
“I feel like ‘The GOAT’ is up there with some of the top dogs who just released projects. I feel like I expressed myself in a unique way, just like a couple of other artists who did their thing with their own projects.”
Did you feel any pressure making this album, following the success of Die a Legend?
I put so much pressure on myself. I’m my toughest critic. I always push myself to go harder than I did last time. And I’m always trying to outdo my last achievements. I knew my first project came out strong. It was the number one rap album. A lot of people were raving about the project, so I knew I had to come 10 times harder.
What did you learn about yourself during this process?
I learned patience. There’s been a lot of times throughout my process of making this album where I had writer's block, or I felt like I wasn’t making songs at a fast enough pace, because I don’t make a lot of music. I have only so many songs to choose from when I’m deciding on the album. So I learned that I’m a little slow as far as dishing out music, but I learned to be patient with myself and not rush anything.
On a good night, I probably make three songs, and none of them are full songs. I just did the hook and the first verse. That's on a good night. Most of the nights I’m doing, on average, a song a night.
Where did you create most of the album?
I created most of the album up at Paramount with my engineer Todd. To me, he’s the best engineer in California. Whenever I’m out here, I touch bases with him. We link up at Paramount or we link up at American Studios.
How long did the creative process take?
I started on The GOAT two months prior to Die a Legend dropping. I started in May of last year and I dropped it in May this year. So it was a full year.
Did you always intend to title the album The GOAT?
Straight out of the gate of me dropping Die a Legend, I already had the title together. I already knew what type of impact and what type of tone I was trying to set for myself coming into the next year and the rest of my career. And I got my title for my next album right now.
Some people would say it’s too early to have conversations about being the GOAT. Did you anticipate that feedback?
Yeah, I knew it would get a lot of controversy. I knew it would get a lot of people saying, “Now, who does he think he is?” Or, “That’s definitely not true.” And I know my intentions behind it were pure. I wasn’t calling myself the greatest of all time. It was really a play on my zodiac sign, but I was open to the controversy.
So, the title has a double meaning?
Yeah. The goat represents the Capricorn zodiac sign, but I know a lot of Capricorns were considered some of the greatest at whatever profession it was that they were doing. LeBron James is a Capricorn. Martin Luther King is a Capricorn. Denzel Washington is a Capricorn. Tiger Woods is a Capricorn. These are all some of the greatest people to ever do what they did.
On the album’s opener you say, “Niggas sayin’ they the GOAT, but I can't buy into the hype.” Who were you thinking of when you wrote that line?
I wasn’t thinking about nobody in particular. I just know “the GOAT” is used so loosely in this day and age. There’s so many people who would consider themselves the GOAT, or people consider some other people the GOAT. But I feel like a lot of times, it’s to their own liking. Like, there ain’t nothing that can really justify them calling themselves that all the time.
“Heartless” has radio and commercial appeal. Do you and Mustard have more music in the vault?
I’m definitely trying to make some new music with him, because the “Heartless” beat was something I’d never heard before. That was the first or second beat that they played in the studio, and I jumped straight on it. I definitely want to make new music with Mustard in the future. I think I made an extra song with him, but I ain't got a lot of music with him yet.
What’s the most memorable part about working on “Flex” with Juice WRLD?
I didn’t work on that with him in the studio. I went to Hit-Boy’s studio and recorded like I usually do. Hit-Boy had said he thinks Juice would sound good on it. And me and Juice already had that relationship. So, Hit-Boy just sent me the verse with Juice on there. Then I called Juice like, “I appreciate you doing that.” Because he was the biggest artist in the world in my eyes.
You have other lyrics about Juice on “21.” How has his death impacted you?
I look at life differently. He came from nothing and got to that height of success in his life, and his life can still vanish because of being vulnerable to something. I cut out a lot of addictions that I have personally. I’ve really just been more mindful of the people who I’ve got looking up to me, and the people that I’ve got around me that I mean something to. He meant something to a lot of people, including me. And him passing, that hurt me a lot.
You mention on “Go “Stupid” and “Be Something” that you’re out in California, but your mind and roots are in Chicago. How do you balance those two different lifestyles?
I’m still fresh out here. I’ve been living here for a year and a few months. Sometimes the reality is still setting in for me. It still seems surreal at some points in time, but it’s something that I appreciate. I appreciate both cultures. I appreciate going to the city and seeing something as beautiful as the skyline. And I appreciate coming out here and having palm trees in my backyard. It’s the best of both worlds.
What do you think fans or the news misunderstands about Chicago?
The dangers of it. The city got its reputation for being bad, but I feel like people got this perception that it’s kids walking around with guns and they’re just shooting up everybody. For the most part in the city, people mind their business, but it’s real wars and beefs going on that really can’t be squashed.
What are your thoughts on Chicago’s music scene right now?
I feel like we are in a great position right now. Durk just did great numbers for his first week. He just got top five on Billboard. G Herbo just did great numbers in his first week. I think that was the highest numbers he's ever done. And I just had my strongest numbers ever. Then we got Calboy, who is still doing his thing. And King Von, who is really one of the hottest rappers in the game right now. I feel like we are in a strong position with music.
Your honesty and pain on songs like “I Know” may be surprising to some listeners. What was it like putting those thoughts on wax?
Rapping is my only way to express those types of things. I might not casually have a conversation and tell you all the things I’ve been through, but that's my way of coping with it. So it’s always easier to do. But sometimes, when I’m listening back to it or trying to get those emotions out, I can struggle with that, because I’m speaking on real experiences or something that was really traumatic for me. But I push through it just for the sake of the art.
In your music, you seem to go back and forth on being open to relationships. What were you trying to convey?
No, I’m definitely open to relationships. I’m currently in a relationship. But I say I stray away from relationships with the wrong people. If I say that in the song, I’m mainly talking about the wrong type of person to be in the relationship with. But I’m definitely not standoffish against relationships.
On “33,” you reference Scottie Pippen. What’s your favorite Chicago Bulls memory?
We were playing the Cleveland Cavaliers. I don’t remember if it was in the conference finals or the semifinals. But we were playing the Cleveland Cavaliers, and Derrick Rose hit a game-winning shot from the three-point line. I just remember I was chilling with my homies at one of my friends’ cribs, and we all went crazy. We ran outside and everything. It was a big moment for us because Derrick Rose means a lot to the city.
Where would you rank The GOAT in the conversation of best albums of 2020?
I feel like it’s up there with some of the top dogs who just released projects. I feel like I expressed myself in a unique way, just like a couple of other artists who did their thing with their own projects. I definitely feel like it’s got to be considered one of the top projects to come out so far.
Out of all other rappers your age, who do you think is your biggest competition to become the biggest rapper in the world someday?
I don’t really see anybody as competition. I can note that there’s a lot of rappers that's doing their thing too, so I got to bring my A game. It’s a lot of rappers out there that really is holding their own, as far as lyrically or as far as whatever lane they’re in. You could say Rod Wave with pain music and singing. You could say Lil Baby is bringing out hit songs. There’s a lot of artists that are really doing their thing, and you’ve got to tip your hat to them. But you’ve got to come hard just like them.
What’s next for you? Are you focusing on the next project or enjoying the success of this album?
I’m ready. I’m working on my next project. So far, I’m three or four songs in. I started from scratch. I didn’t want to put none of the older songs on the album. I’m just trying to start early. I probably won’t release it so soon this time, but I know the next time around, I want to really outdo the last project.
What’s the next big goal you have for yourself?
Probably a Grammy nod the next time around. But as far as everything else, I just want to elevate as an artist and get bigger, more mainstream, almost a pop level.
Will you keep your sound or switch it up to go more pop?
I’ll keep the same sound. I won't compromise my sound, I want to be able to have those crossover records with the bigger pop artists or be able to step into that lane and further show my versatility.
Who is one artist you’d like to work with?
Drake. That’s one of the top artists on my list as far as collaborations.
What’s the most important thing you want people to know about you right now?
I want people to know that I’m going to stay, and I’m one of the rappers that you should be looking out for.