“I’m a mudboy. I came from the mud, oozed out the concrete. I’m not a rose. I’m a mudboy, I came from nothing.”

That’s one of the first things Sheck Wes tells me. Born Khadimoul Rassoul Sheck Fall, he started making music at just 11 years old. Hailing from Harlem, New York, Sheck’s music was birthed in the projects. The 19-year-old’s music is gritty and raw, but Sheck Wes is a commanding, passionate, and unpredictable presence on the microphone. 

That combination has already turned heads, and it was recently revealed that Kanye West [G.O.O.D Music] and Travis Scott [Catcus Jack Records] had signed Sheck in a joint record deal under the Interscope imprint. That’s not where he lays his head, though, emphasizing that he waited a long time to announce the move because he wants to be respected for his artistry and not for who he knows.

Sheck refers to himself as a Renaissance man. “I can rap, play ball, design T-shirts, all that,” he says. It’s a testament to the versatility of an artist who prides himself on being DIY. Moving to Milwaukee, Wisconsin when he was young, Sheck spent his adolescent years during the ages of 5 to 14 split between each city. He was in Milwaukee for school and spent summers and spring breaks in New York—learning the ropes from the old heads. “I grew up listening to all types of music," he says. "My favorite artists are Seun Kuti [son of Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti], DMX, and ODB. I listened to a lot of old school shit when I was younger.”

Once Sheck was old enough to be independent, he moved back to New York at the start of high school and began to take basketball seriously. With a slender, 6’2” frame, Sheck caught the eye of a fashion talent scout and became conflicted between modeling and pursuing his hoop dreams. Yeezy Season 3 came around and he chose to skip his playoff basketball game to attend the show instead, citing it as one of his best decisions he's ever made: “I wanted to be a part of this thing people are gonna talk about forever and it was some shit nobody ever did before. So I was happy I did Yeezy Season 3 because it opened up a lot of doors for me.”

Over time, the streets of New York became a source of trouble for a young Sheck, so his mother sent him to Senegal, Africa. In hindsight, Sheck Wes says Africa is where he found his why. “I finally got my why, I always used to search for a why to explain why I’m doing what I’m doing. Then I went to Africa and I was like, ‘Man I gotta do this shit for these people.’ This is my why and that's a big enough why. It's meaningful. Everybody has to find their why.”

When he came back from Africa, Sheck Wes put all of his energy into music. It’s been an interesting rise. If you check his Soundcloud page, you’ll only find a few songs. But Sheck’s quality over quantity approach to music and a magnetic personality has already built a cult-like following of kids on Instagram. If you check his story on any random day, you’re likely to see him wandering the streets of Harlem, getting chop cheeses at one of his local bodega spots, and having fun with neighborhood friends—a realness that connects with his audience. 

It’s still early, but Sheck Wes has already shown a well-rounded skill set with the makings of a star. For more on his fascinating rise, watch Sheck Wes on the new episode of Trending Topics, then read our full interview with him below.

What do you want people to know about Sheck Wes off the bat?

I’m real. I’m 100% real. I’m an artist, I’m not a rapper. I feel like because I’m young and all that, I get categorized into what everyone else young is doing, just on their contemporary turnt up shit. I can do that too, but I just have so much shit in the vault and so many things people haven't heard. There are so many things people don’t know about me. I’ve really been through a lot shit and seen a whole lot of shit. A lot of shit has happened to me and I’ve done a lot of shit to motherfuckers. My music come-up is wild, but I started making music when I was 11 years old. This time last year I had just come back from Africa. I was grinding, making eight songs a day. I had to spend my 18th birthday in Africa, abroad, just stuck.

Let's start with your early years in Milwaukee. What was that like? 

I was only there for school. I lived in Milwaukee because my mom had this hair salon. That's the reason we moved out there [from New York], because she had business there. I would sneak over to the sneaker store two stores down and go window shop all the time—just look at shoes and shit. Then the dudes who worked in the sneaker store were just like, “Who are you? Why you always coming in the shop?” I just became that little dude who hung around the store. That’s also how I got extensive knowledge of shoes. 

At the same time, that’s how I learned how to listen to music. These old dudes used to play their music all day. So I was this young n***a listening to all this old music. While everybody else who was young was listening to “Crank Dat Soulja Boy,” I was listening to “The Message” by Nas. That made me grow a different type of mindset from a young age. 

I was getting money young. This one OG was like my godfather. He took me in because I had some shit going on with my family. So this OG used to buy me sneakers and clothes, and taught me mad shit. This n***a was touching like $400,000 whenever he wanted. He was like the second black dude in Milwaukee to have a Benz because he was moving weight like that. The other person was a dude that played for the Milwaukee Bucks. I learned a lot from him and he kept me out of a lot of street shit, because he was like a kingpin. He wasn't trying to let me fall into these gang traps. My first rap name was Kid Khadi, like Kid Cudi, and I was a part of this four-person rap group called the Milyorkers—because I was the only one from New York in the group and everyone else was from Milwaukee.

How do you feel about street culture? 

I mean, I love it. In my hood, that shit means something. We speak a language. It's not all bad like how some people portray it. I used to sell DVDs, mixtapes, movies, and all that because my OG used to burn them. While he was in the store doing sneaker shit, I would sell it for him. I used to sell fake license plates. We used to hustle. I never had an allowance. I had one pair of sneakers every year. That’s how it was for me and a whole lot of kids just like me. 

I want to be the voice for kids just like that. A lot of rappers come from poor backgrounds and they’re afraid to talk about that shit, but I’m not scared to talk about it. A song like “Live Sheck Wes, Die Sheck Wes” is a song about roaches in the crib. I’m in the projects right now and I got roaches in the kitchen, but I don't care about that shit. This is me, why should I hate it?

A lot of rappers come from poor backgrounds and they’re afraid to talk about that shit, but I’m not scared to talk about it. A song like “Live Sheck Wes, Die Sheck Wes” is a song about roaches in the crib.

When did the whole basketball pursuit come about?

When I came to New York I re-classed and did my freshmen year of high school again. I started playing ball when I was 13. I started taking it seriously and going hard because I wanted to play AAU. I wanted to travel and do all that and go to college for free. I never necessarily had hoop dreams like playing in the NBA, but I just wanted to travel all the time. 

It's crazy how it worked out because that's the life I get to live now, just in another lane. I still kind of got my dream. My mom didn’t want to pay for my AAU, so I saved 100 dollars and bought chips and shit. So I was in high school selling snacks for like a week. I hustled, hustled, hustled, and made more than I needed for AAU. That's when I really got into basketball from there.

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Photo by Ray’s Corrupted Mind

When did the interest in fashion come?

People always told me I should model because I’m tall and I’m really dark. I have skin with no blemishes. So I signed with this talent scout, and two days later I did the show with Birkenstock. Then I was modeling crazy on my fashion shit. My family didn't really agree with the modeling thing, though. My mom didn't understand the fashion culture shit. 

But for my dad, that's all he did his whole life—just fashion shit. I remember I was actually supposed to be in Yeezy Season 2. I got the email to go to the fitting and casting shit but I couldn't go because I couldn't miss any more days of school or else I wouldn't be able to play basketball for the season. So, whatever. The season came around and then it was Yeezy Season 3 at Madison Square Garden and I was supposed to be in the show. I had to make a decision because I had a playoff game and I ended up going and being in Yeezy Season 3. 

Fashion was always something I wanted to do because my father sewed and and I always wanted to learn how to do it. My cousin Belchez taught me how to make T-shirts. So when I moved back to New York, I was making all my own clothes, my own T-shirts, my own hoodies, all that. I met the Spaghetti Boys, Kerwin, and Will from Supreme after that, too. 

I’m the type of dude who doesn't like people doing stuff for them. I’d rather do it myself. Like, I remember breaking an iPhone screen, ordering the parts, and fixing it myself, because that's just what I’d rather do. I have to be fully involved in all my own creative shit. Like, with the “Live Sheck Wes Die Sheck Wes” video, I told Tyler what I wanted to do. WhiteTrashTyler shot and edited the videos, but any video I do is going to be own my concept. I’m not the type of rapper to make a treatment, send it, and let someone else do it. 

I was actually supposed to be in Yeezy Season 2. I got the email to go to the fitting and casting shit but I couldn't go because I couldn't miss any more days of school.

What are your parents like and how has that played into your own hustle?

My mom came here in ’93 to hustle and grind for her kids back in Africa. My mom didn’t know how to read or write. Now, my mom has started her own businesses. She’s a mudgirl. Came from nothing. Same with my father. He came here in ’95 and his whole come-up is the same way. It’s in my blood. We just know how to work for it. 

Tell me about your experience in Africa.

When I got to Africa, I met my big brother for the first time. He asked me for my passport, and I’m like, “Nah, I’m not giving nobody my passport.” This is the day I landed. And he was like, “People here steal these shits.” And I'm thinking, damn, I don't want nobody stealing my passport, and so I give it to him. That was the last time I saw it until the day I left. 

That’s how they kinda blackmailed me. They were like, “Oh, if you wanna go home, you gotta do this and you gotta do that.” And the list just kept getting longer and longer. My mom tried to force me to go to this religious institution thing and I said no. I went to the US Embassy and they said legally they couldn’t do anything until I was 18. So my mom won that battle and I had no choice but to stay there until I was 18. 

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Photo by Ray’s Corrupted Mind

How did Africa change you?

My mind and the way I think now is knowledge from thousands and thousands of years ago. I was sitting there reading these books and I ended up loving this shit. The way they move is crazy and even now, I want to go back to Africa. I be thanking my mom for making me stay in Africa, because if I didn't learn all these things, I wouldn't have this blessing I have now. I wouldn't move the way I move now, and I wouldn’t think the way I’m thinking. 

I went through so much over there. It truly changed me. I had to kill my own food. Like, I had to raise a sheep and since I was one of the men of the house, when the holiday came, I had to be the one to kill it. To put an animal down that I fed everyday and then kill it and eat it hours after—that shit is crazy. It changes you. Seeing little kids 9, 10, and 11 years old working hard just to give back to their mother—it adds a new perspective. Here in America, we work just for us. So, all in all, my curse was actually my biggest blessing. 

I had to raise a sheep and since I was one of the men of the house, when the holiday came, I had to be the one to kill it. that shit is crazy. It changes you.

Did that translate back to living in America for you?

When I came back from Africa, I was real broke and shit like that. But I didn’t go do all the bad shit that I was doing before with my friends. That’s how I want to empower my friends. Whenever I decide to do a tour, I’m going to teach all my friends how to do something. Like, you do the stage, you could be my tour manager—everybody do their part. You give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. You teach a man how to fish, and you feed him for life.

What would you say your genre of music is?

I don't know. I really just focus on the artistry. I was actually talking to my A&R, Sickamore. We was in Atlanta and I was like, “Sickamore, I found out what type of music I make. I make bipolar music.” He said, “What you mean?” I said, “I got some shit that's super, super turnt, and I got some shit that's super, super sad.”

That’s what it’s all about for me. The greatest artists make bipolar music depending on the time periods of their lives. James Brown had turnt shit, but then he would have some shit where he would slow it down. Marvin Gaye had the “Babyyy you’re hot just like an oven,” but then he had the, “What’s going on, what’s going on.” He’s talking about so many things, but it just depends on how he’s feeling.

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Photo by Ray's Corrupted Mind

What’s your creative process like?

Everything you do gotta come from your heart. I remember when I did “Live SheckWes, Die SheckWes,” and when I did “Mo Bamba,” I one-taked those because it came from my heart. I try to one-take all my songs now, even if I do my verse and I fuck up, I'm gonna do the whole verse over.

From what I’ve seen of you, you have Vince Staples-esque realness in your social media presence. You are unapologetically yourself. How would you describe your personality?

I’m just honest. I will say the honest truth with no filter. I won't ever wrong nobody. I love everybody. I’m not a Hollywood ass n***a, I love interacting with my fans who show love. I treat them with respect. One thing I want kids to know is that I’m a kid just like them. I understand them, living in this time period where people don’t listen to us as the youth who really steer the culture. 

We gotta control our own market and our own culture and not get exploited. That's what Diddy and Suge Knight did. Dudes like Biggie and Pac, they were the best. They kept hip-hop grounded in its own nature and took it to the top. People don’t care about the music anymore. People only chasing a check nowadays. I care about this music shit.

What do you want to get out of music?

I would like to win Grammys and awards some day, but all I really care about is making people better. So many kids be in my DMs. It's inspiring as fuck. 

I would like to win Grammys anD awards some day, but all I really care about is making people better.

What does it mean to be a mudboy?

To come from nothing. To come from the mud. You gotta turn nothing to something. I don’t talk about the word ambition, I show it.

What’s the bigger picture here for you? 

I’m doing it for those who can’t. Me being African bro, the way Akon did for my country—that’s the same shit I want to do. My goal is to help people. I want to leave a legacy where my great, great, grandkids are like, “Look, that's my great, great, grandfather’s name.” I want to build schools and hospitals, because that’s what true legacy is.