When talking to Moneybagg Yo over Zoom, he’s a man of very few words. Quick sentences and solidified statements make up all of his responses. But this isn’t a sign of disinterest, but one of an artist who knows exactly who he is, one on a path to keep working. When listening to his music, it’s clear that it speaks for itself.
This assurance is evident on his fourth and latest studio album A Gangsta’s Pain. Even after your first listen, you get the sense that this is a rapper entering his prime. This blockbuster collection of songs finds Moneybagg at his most versatile and vulnerable, using melodies, stories from his life, and collaborations with the likes of Pharrell, Jhene Aiko, Future, and more to represent the duality of his character, and his journey to becoming one of hip-hop’s biggest superstars today. He blends these new tastes with the signature flavours of his barraging bars and undeniable confidence, which pay homage to the likes of Three 6 Mafia and Tommy Wright III, the forefathers of his home city Memphis, all while showcasing his ever-evolving talent. It’s no wonder this album has been a mainstay atop the Billboard Hot 100 for weeks now.
Throughout our interview, Moneybagg talks through his quest to find balance, his experience working with Pharell, and his plans for future business endeavours.
Congrats on the new album. How have you felt about the reception so far?
It all feels good man, people are rocking with it. It feels good that they’re embracing it.
I did some research, and it looks like you’re the first Memphis rapper ever to earn the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100. How does it feel to add that to the legacy of an already legendary rap city?
That’s a blessing, man. I grew up listening to Three 6, Yo Gotti, a lot of rappers from Memphis. It feels good to be a part of that now.
You achieved this milestone with your most personal album to date. What made you feel like it’s time to put yourself out there like this?
I feel like this is an untold story. You get one side from the blogs and media, but I’ve got my side to tell. That’s what I feel like I did on A Gangsta’s Pain. I’ve got a lot of stories to tell, but one piece at a time. I can’t give it to them all at once.
The things you’re digging into on this project are very honest and vulnerable. Is it hard to be that open in the booth?
Nah, because I feel like it’s simply who I am. I’ve got nothing to hide or nothing to cover, so what you see is what you get.
You tweeted recently that “Pain is a weakness if you allow it, but it’s a strength if you use it correctly.” How do you use pain as a form of strength?
When you go through struggles and situations, you’ve gotta keep your head up high and know that it’s going to be better after the storm, because what follows is sunshine. So you have to use that pain correctly. Don’t let it tear you down, use it to build up.
You mention some of your frustrations with the media on this album, with clickbait headlines and false narratives becoming such a large part of the game. How did you find the ability to block that stuff out, and continue being your true self?
I just keep pushing, keep moving. I know my end goal, and I know what I’m trying to accomplish. If I let myself get distracted by that stuff, It’ll hinder what I’m trying to do for myself and my whole brand. I just stay focused.
The album shows you embracing your melodic side, and I’ve read that you like to go to Atlanta or Memphis and embrace the city when recording the harder stuff. Does that process change approaching this softer style?
I feel like I use the same process, but I just change up the style. It’s still the same words, still, the same dude rapping it, but I just mellow it out and deliver it differently.
The melodic music on this record helps balance out the story between the hard and more sentimental moments. How do you find that same sort of balance in everyday life?
I’m still working on that right now, I gotta be a thousand per cent right now. So I can’t give you a full answer on that yet, but I’m trying to find that balance, never giving up.
How’s that process of finding balance been? Has it been difficult?
I’m kind of just taking it as it comes right now because I’m still experiencing it. But first and foremost, I gotta thank god for the position I’m in. I’ve gotta thank him for the good times, bad times, and the lessons learned. I feel like that’s where I’m at right now.
I’ve talked to many artists about the pressure they feel from the number of people that rely on them. Do you relate to that at all?
Most definitely. A lot of people rely on you, so there is a lot of pressure, but I feel like I work better under pressure. Even with this album, people want to know what I’ve got planned next year, or if I have some time for them, or what my next stuff is going to sound like. But I’m working, and I give them no scoop. No scoop gang!
Someone who’s historically been good at pairing rap with melodic music is Pharrel, who you worked with on this album. What was it like collaborating with him?
It was a real learning experience. Because when I first flew out to Miami to work with him, and I got in the studio with him, I understood the artistry of the whole game and my position. He pulled up the beat when I came in, and it already had the hook on it. But honestly, I wasn’t really feeling it. He told me not to worry about it, because it was only a sketch of what he was going to do. He wanted me to go in and rap on the beat, and when I did, he went around my vocals and added colour. That’s how that track came to happen.
You reach the next level of your songwriting abilities on tracks like ‘Wockesha’, and the duality of ‘Hate it Here’ and ‘Love it Here’. Each track finds you exploring the good and bad of a relationship and the loss that can come with one. What was the thought process behind exploring those ideas on these songs?
I just kept it culture-related. ‘Hate it Here’ and ‘Love it Here’ are about real experiences, and it doesn’t matter whether you’re in Australia, or over here in the states, you’ve dealt with that sort of stuff before. Anyone around the world can relate to these topics, and embrace them. ‘Wockesha’ is also culture-related in the sense that it’s about what’s going on right now. It’s the vibe. It’s all about feeling like one minute I can deal with you, and the next minute I can’t.
Do you think recording these ideas helps you find that balance you’re searching for?
Music is therapeutic, and I use it to express myself and get away from things. Even if a song doesn’t come out, and stays on the hard drive, I’m always learning from it. It’s like experimenting, you’re in your lab and you’re the scientist. You’re coming up with different things, and different ways to shock the world.
Memphis historically has spawned artists who I think find strength in pain, from as early as Three 6 and Tommy Wright III, to you and other prospects like NLE Choppa. What is it about Memphis that makes it such a hotbed for authentic artistry?
It’s always been there, but I feel like Memphis has always been overlooked. But now you have artists like me, Choppa, Pooh Shiesty, Big30, and way more that are opening the gates. Now, Memphis is in the mainstream space.
If you had to recommend one classic Memphis rap record, what would it be?
I would tell y’all to get Yo Gotti’s From Da Dope Game 2 Da Rap Game.
I’ve seen you mention that you opened a car wash in Memphis and that you want to continue expanding with these business moves. What’s your tunnel vision goal with these ventures?
Right now I’m in the midst of transitioning into avenues like movies. I’m going to have a movie come out when I drop my deluxe of A Gangsta’s Pain, a short film type of thing. I want to chop it up into different episodes and create demand. Kind of like what 50 Cent did with Power. I’m also transitioning into clothing because you know, you gotta have that drip on.
And lastly, what else do you have planned for the rest of 2021?
I got the movie, I got the clothing, I got artists I finna take to the top of the world with me. I’ve got a compilation album I’m going to put together with them. I got a lot of stuff going on man, It’s going to be a good one.
Follow Moneybagg Yo here for more and stream A Gangsta’s Pain below.