42 Dugg is ready to drop some cash. Walking through Stadium Goods in Soho, his eyes lock on a wall of Nike sneakers. As he darts that way, a set of diamond chains clink against his chest, and a pair of sales associates gravitate to his corner.
The Detroit rapper examines the wall until he spots a pair of Nike Supreme Air Force 1s. Signaling to the associates who haven’t left his right side, he asks for four pairs. As the Stadium Goods employee makes a note of the order on his tablet, Dugg has already moved on to a pair of Nike Air Force 1 Black Skeletons and orders a couple pairs, nodding to his friends, who enthusiastically co-sign the selection.
I’m still in the process of calculating what at least eight pairs of sneakers will cost when Dugg’s eyes land on the Off-White University Blues sitting on a high shelf. They’re currently going for upwards of $2,000 on StockX, but Dugg is unfazed as he hoists himself up on a bench and takes a closer look. An associate whispers for him to get down, and he complies, but not before asking for the University Blues and several different pairs of Travis Scott’s Nike collaborations. On his way to the register, he grabs an armful of hoodies and orders an extra pair of Dunks.
“Your total comes to $8,860.67,” a woman behind the register says after ringing up over a dozen pairs of sneakers and clothing.
“Damn,” one of Dugg’s friends exhales.
Dugg withdraws a stack of bills from his pocket and begins counting out thousand-dollar piles. While the associate recounts each pile, Dugg fishes in his pocket for loose coins. He slides exactly 67 cents across the glass countertop, then pivots and beelines to the exit.
“Wait, you have some change,” the associate calls out, holding up a few bills.
“Keep it,” Dugg responds without stopping.
These days, 42 Dugg is moving like a superstar. In addition to his sneaker obsession, he has a rapidly growing collection of luxury vehicles at home, including a Lamborghini truck, Bentley, G-Wagon, Maybach truck, Caddy truck, and Dodge Challenger SRT Demon. And as we leave the store, he’s already running an hour late to his photo shoot at Complex’s Midtown Manhattan office. Rapper time. Yet he assures me that he doesn’t actually feel all that famous.
“A lot of people be telling me, ‘You don’t know how big you is.’ No, I’m so regular,” he insists. “I’m so me that I don’t know how to change. Even [Lil Baby], we don’t know how to be famous. We just do the regular shit we always do.” Dugg says he still goes to the mall, hoops with friends, and drives his own car, explaining, “I don’t know how to change no shit like that. I feel like if I change, then I won’t be me.”
The truth is, 42 Dugg, whose name is pronounced “four-two Dugg,” has been steadily climbing the ladder of fame for the past two years. He first gained notoriety with 2019’s mixtape Young and Turnt, which included breakout singles like “The Streets” and “STFU.” Then, in February 2020, he appeared on Lil Baby’s single “Grace,” three months before the two dropped “We Paid,” which earned 42 Dugg his first top 10 single on the Billboard Hot 100. The breakout hit brought national attention to Dugg and boosted sales for the sequel of Young and Turnt, which peaked at No. 58 on the Billboard 200. Now, the 26-year-old is prepping the release of his next album, which has the potential to catapult his career even higher.
“I want to get paid like the GOAT. I ain’t got to be the GOAT.”
Born Dion Marquise Hayes in Detroit, Dugg attributes his rejection of fame to his city’s down-home atmosphere. “Detroit keeps you grounded,” he says. “Detroit, they don’t bombard you. They don’t think you’re too holy. It is what it is. If they’re fucking with the music, they’ll let you know, ‘Keep it up.’ Or they’re going to tell you, ‘All right, we ain’t fucking with that.’” Lucky for Dugg, he says Detroit “ain’t told me they ain’t fucking with anything yet. So I’m like, I got to be doing something good.”
Dugg wasn’t always satisfied with his work, though. He began rapping while he was serving time behind bars in 2015 for a federal gun charge. “I was in solitary confinement, and I really was stressed out, ain’t had shit to do,” he recalls. “I had a couple notepads, and I just started writing songs. But when I got out the hole, I threw it away.”
After he had been sent back to solitary for a second time, however, he ended up writing songs that resonated more strongly with him. “I feel like I found something,” he remembers. Still, he says he had a lot to learn. “I wasn’t making hooks or none of that,” he points out now. “Back then, I just was rapping. I was trying to talk a lot, talk shit. I only had one [speed]: fast rap.” Thanks to one of his friends who advised him to focus on his unique strengths, Dugg found a pace that suited him. “My homeboy, when I first got out, we did a song and he used to tell me, ‘You got to slow down. You got to ride the beat.’ And then I figured that out.”
Dugg suggests the core of his sound was developed through trial and error, but he credits Yo Gotti and Lil Baby for helping to polish his music. In March 2019, he officially inked a deal with Yo Gotti’s label Collective Music Group and Lil Baby’s 4PF during the Detroit stop on Meek Mill’s Motivation Tour. Asked why he opted for a joint deal, Dugg’s answer is simple. “Gotti was Gotti, but Baby was my mans,” he explains. “I’m like, if I do anything, I want to include my mans. So that’s how it went. I fucked with Gotti’s movement and I fucked with Baby’s whole wave.”
Both Yo Gotti and Lil Baby had been watching Dugg from the beginning of his ascent. Dugg first flew out to Atlanta to meet Lil Baby back in 2017, where they bonded over their shared love for gambling. Aside from having common interests, Dugg says both artists have served as mentors. “They support, but they let me be who I am,” he says. Gotti and Baby were also the ones who encouraged him to incorporate hooks on his songs. “That’s what gets the radio… Hits got hooks,” they’d advise.
That mentality paid off with Lil Baby and 42 Dugg’s single “We Paid,” which has already been certified double platinum. “We just was freestyling, and the whole 4PF was in the studio,” Dugg says, remembering the recording session. “A lot of times, me and Baby will throw in some beats, and we’ll just start talking shit to each other. That’s how we made ‘We Paid.’”
“All my songs are about freeing somebody. I really made it about my people in jail and my loved ones that ain’t here with me.”
At first, Dugg didn’t realize how special it was. “I didn’t even like the song,” he reveals. “I didn’t like it because it was a different beat. So when I started rapping, I wasn’t that comfortable until he played it again. [Lil Baby] played it when we were shooting ‘Grace,’ and it went viral. Everybody in Detroit was like, ‘What the fuck is this song?’ It ain’t even have no name. Then he named it ‘We Paid’ and said he’s going to put it on the deluxe. We thought ‘Grace’ was going to be the big song. QC, P, and everybody [thought ‘Grace’ was the hit]. I’m like, ‘That motherfucking ‘Grace’ was hard as hell.’”
Today, 42 Dugg says he’s comfortable with where his music is at. “I really found my sound,” he says with conviction. “I feel like I’m a complete rapper.” The unrefined nature of the songs on Young and Turnt was what attracted fans to his music, but he says on that tape, he was “just talking a lot of shit.” He explains, “I’m kind of rapping on them, singing, too. But I’m more of an artist now.”
His current sound is rooted in melodic trap, with a unique twist. “I don’t got the same voice as everybody else. When I do songs, it’s a coast,” he says. “It’s more than just rapping or trying to talk crazy. I really know how to make somebody fuck with the song. Even on the hooks, I feel like I know how to bring the beat out. I really try to catch different drops in the beat. My sound is melodic, but also really hard.”
There’s another element that separates Dugg from his peers: his signature whistle. The sound effect, a three-second whistle at the beginning of his songs, originated when he was trying to catch the rhythm of a beat. “When the beats to songs come on, they be having a drop. So one time, it was a song and it came right on,” he recalls, comparing the drop to the one in his 2020 single “Free Woo.” “The [producer] pushed the beat back, and I whistled to catch the tempo of the song. When I whistle, it gives me what I need to start rapping.”
It stuck. Dugg knows that “a lot of people be looking for that” now, and he’s pleased with fans connecting the sound to his music, but he suggests it’s not permanent. “I don’t know if it’s forever. I do it when I feel like it, and sometimes I don’t do it.”
On the car ride over to Stadium Goods, he excitedly plays four new records. “Here’s me and Roddy [Ricch],” he says, tapping the audio file on his iPhone. “We got something with this one.” The song, titled “4 da Gang,” begins with a sample of the Scorpions’ 1982 single “No One Like You” before hard-hitting bass comes in and rattles the car speakers. 42 Dugg is forceful, punching the beat with an electric hook that sounds like the kind of thing that will be chanted in the streets.
“I didn’t even like ‘We Paid.’ We thought ‘Grace’ was going to be the big song.”
A little over a week after Dugg’s visit to New York, he meets Roddy in Atlanta to shoot the music video for “4 da Gang,” which serves as the album’s first single. The afternoon ends in gunfire, injuring three people and sending two to the hospital. Despite reports that claimed both rappers were on the set at the time of the shooting, 42 Dugg goes on Instagram Live with Lil Baby to say he was nowhere near the incident. “Stop with all that fake shit,” he tells his fans. “We all good.”
That’s the only time 42 Dugg mentions the shooting. Instead of dwelling on moments like these, he would rather focus on the positives concerning his album. “I put a lot of thought into recording this new shit,” he says. In addition to the songs he previewed in the car, Dugg mentions a collaboration he has with Tyler, the Creator. The two connected after Tyler declared “We Paid” the “core of rap music,” and when we get on the subject of the record, Dugg immediately dives into the vault on his phone, scrolling through audio files to find the collaboration. Unfortunately, he can’t find the file before we arrive at our destination, but he nods confidently, “We got a song.”
It’s unclear if his collaboration with Tyler will make it on the album, but Dugg says the project will include a healthy balance of uptempo club records and slower introspective tracks. And the central theme will be about his friends who are currently serving time. “If you been following me, you been seeing all my songs are about freeing somebody. I really made it about my people in jail and my loved ones that ain’t here with me,” he explains. “That’s what it’s really about. Even on the uptempo songs, I really shouted them out.”
“I try to put meaning behind the majority of the songs,” Dugg says, and as a result, he admits his recording process was challenging at times. “It can be hard because I try to attach the song to somebody’s story,” he explains. “Like ‘Free Merey,’ making the whole song about Merey, it was hard.”
Dugg also pushed himself to try new recording techniques. He doesn’t write his lyrics down (“It takes too much time to write”), so he has a habit of freestyling each song. “When I’m in that mood, when I’m in that bag, freestyling comes out easier,” he says, but he found himself writing a little on this album. “I was telling everybody, ‘Damn, I ain’t wrote in a minute. I want to see if I can write. So I wrote the first verse of this song called ‘Lately,’ and it was hard as hell.” Dugg says he couldn’t write the second verse, but he’s pleased with the final product and his intent to step out of his comfort zone.
When fans get a chance to hear the album, Dugg wants them to find their own meaning in his music. “I just hope it makes them think about somebody, like somebody in jail, somebody that done died,” he says. “I want them to be like, ‘He put a lot of thought behind this.’ I want them to feel it because it’s really a heartfelt album.”
As the release of his new project nears, Dugg is aiming high. “Hopefully, I’ll get a No. 1 album,” he says. “I want to get a few of my own songs to go platinum, with just me.” Beyond the accolades, though, he stressed he doesn’t need to be considered the greatest. “I want to get paid like the GOAT. I ain’t got to be the GOAT,” he declares. Those sneakers don’t pay for themselves, after all.
“I’m taking this seriously,” he adds, laying out his plans for the rest of 2021. “I play a lot, but for the first time, I feel like I’m starting to take music seriously. I’m trying to put out my best music. This year, I’m going to focus more on letting [people] know who I am.”