NLE Choppa’s newest dance is the Shotta Shoulder. It’s actually pretty simple to do: You hold your arm in the air at nearly a 90 degree angle and then push it back and forth in the air. It’s straightforward, but extremely painful looking. Set to “Top Shotta Flow” from his recently-released debut studio album, Top Shotta, it’s already taking over TikTok and Triller. Don't worry about the safety of the dance, though. NLE Choppa isn’t.
“I haven’t hurt myself yet, even if my body is on some shit sometimes,” he says, laughing over the phone.
The 17-year-old rapper NLE Choppa is the latest Memphisian to make it to rap’s mainstage. After going viral with last January’s “Shotta Flow” and its later subsequent remix with Blueface, he released his debut EP, Cottonwood, in December, which created a narrative out of his explosively violent storytelling and dancing. Now, less than a year later, he’s back with his major label debut. It’s been a stressful road, but NLE Choppa pushed himself through personal turmoil and completed the project.
“I just didn’t really know who I was,” he says about his mental state while recording the project. “I couldn’t sleep, I had a bad attitude, and my whole mood was just thrown off balance. The stress just had me in a space where I didn’t want to be bothered because I was working so hard.”
Choppa says he fought depression throughout the recording process, but it lifted as he finished the project. He’s found peace through his music and meditation. “I was able to find myself spiritually by realizing that my happiness started with me,” he says.
NLE Choppa spoke to Complex about Top Shotta, creating new dances for his songs, getting into acting, and more. The conversation, lightly edited for clarity, is below.
You released Cottonwood last December and eight months later, Top Shotta is out. Was there an overlap in the creation of the two projects?
I had already recorded some of the songs by the time the EP came out. I started recording more and I was looking to find my flow and protect it for the album. This is the result. Top Shotta is a bunch of new flows for me.
In your No Jumper interview, you said that you lost yourself while making this album. How so?
I just didn’t really know who I was. I couldn’t sleep, I had a bad attitude, and my whole mood was just thrown off balance. The stress just had me in a space where I didn’t want to be bothered because I was working so hard.
What’s your favorite song on the album?
It’s “Depression,” because that was something that I was battling while recording the LP. Once I got towards the end, when I was about to drop it, the depression stopped. I was able to find myself spiritually by realizing that my happiness started with me. I started making the conscious effort to move right and breathe right.
How would you say that you’re bringing awareness to the mental health issues that young people face on songs like “Depression” and “Paranoid?”
It makes you listen and realize, “Hey I got that to.” They can relate to it because a lot of rappers probably don't speak on it. But with songs like those, I want to make something that people can relate to. A lot of people can relate to having depression and anxiety, especially with the way that the world is right now.
You’ve been tweeting about frequencies and meditation. How did you get into that realm?
I feel like that shit is really important. I’ll wake up and meditate, then do it again before I go to sleep. Sometimes, I do it right after I eat. I think it’s something that you have to do because it brings you a peaceful feeling. Do it for thirty minutes to an hour. Just be with yourself and nothing else. It’s crucial. Manifestation, law of attraction, and all of that other related stuff, I‘m here for it.
What’s it like being a dad while working on such an important album in your career?
It really opens up your mind. You think of your child while you record and they’re always in the back of your mind.
Why did you want to work with Chief Keef on the album?
I just reached out to him and asked him if he wanted to be on a “Shotta Flow” song. He’s a huge inspiration for me and the world with his contributions to drill music. I feel like after he dropped “I Don’t Like,'' the world bore witness to drill, and it grew from being big in Chicago to the world at large.
You’ve been working with lots of artists who have seen massive success lately. What artist has given you the best advice?
Yo Gotti told me to stay patient. Patience is key in this rap game. He said if you don’t have that, you’ll start to lose.
How did “Make Em Say” with Mulatto come about?
My label suggested a song like this because I make too much killing music. [Laughs]. Me and Mulatto came together and got to it.
There are a lot of melodies on here. Is that a clue as to where you’re moving creatively in the future?
It’s like a better vibe to the melodic stuff. I don’t have any problems rapping about killing, but I also want to rap the melodic shit that people can relate to.
How do you come up with dances for songs?
I’ll just wonder about what kind of dance I want to do to the song. I be turnt when I’m making music videos, and then I’ll just do a different dance in each one that I haven’t done before, just because I’m lit.
The Shotta Shoulder looks like it hurts. Have you ever hurt yourself making a dance?
I haven’t hurt myself yet, even if my body is on some shit sometimes.
Dealing with the pandemic, how has your year been?
I think that everyone’s 2020 has been a bit… It is what it is. It’s been a bad year for the whole world. I can’t lie. This is probably one of the worst times to drop an album.
How has the pandemic changed your relationship with fans?
It made me get a lot more on Twitter I guess. Just social media in general because I have to interact with my fans. You have to do a lot since there aren’t any shows.
You’ve talked about being a huge fan of Lil Wayne in the past. Where does he rank in your all-time list?
At the top, for sure. I appreciate his creativity and everything else about him. His style shows you that he doesn’t care what people say about him. There’s a lot to love about him.
Who else makes up your top five?
I don’t have one because I don’t really fuck with rappers like that. But I fuck with Wayne.
How long do you plan on making music?
I don’t know. I just take it day by day. I do know that music will forever be a part of my heart because it’s my passion.
What's the biggest misconception people have about you?
That I’m always hype. I’m not always excited, man. I be in my feelings and shit, too.
You tweeted about wanting to make a movie with Mike Epps. Is acting in your future?
That is something that I want to do down the line, for sure. I’m high-striving.
What kind of film would you want to star in?
I want to do a horror/comedy movie! That would be hard.