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NLE Choppa: Becoming the Top Shotta

From XXL freestyles to feeling out his future, the Memphis rapper talks using mediation, honesty, and integrity to pave his path to his debut album Top Shotta, and beyond.

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There’s not much like another instalment of NLE Choppa’s ‘Shotta Flow’ song series. The Memphis rapper comes equipped with technical flows, passion in his cadence, and hunger in his lyrics. In these peculiar times of lockdowns amidst a worldwide pandemic, Choppa brings the moshpit energy to the comfort of your home. Although it’s not the kind of comfort to sit on the couch and immerse in, it’s flipping the goddamn lounge, and revelling in the determined emotion Choppa brings. His energy is the reason the first piece in the ‘Shotta Flow’ saga has over 145 Million views on Youtube and nearly 200 Million on the remix with Blueface. It’s the reason he’s planted on the front of this year’s XXL Freshman list alongside hitmakers like Fivio Foreign and Jack Harlow. But this isn’t a numbers game to the 17-year-old prospect; it’s a lot more nuanced than that. This fact is on full display in his new project Top Shotta.

Serving as a debut album, Top Shotta is a celebration of NLE’s fast rise in the rap game. He talks through his trials and tribulations, emphasises on his hard work and dedication, and flexes his developing melodic and rap skills that blossomed in singles like ‘Camelot’. The project boasts star-studded features from the likes of veterans such as Lil Baby and Chief Keef, but their styles don’t take away from Choppa’s shine, as he holds up bar for bar. It’s a testament to his growth and potential as a rap scene mainstay while foreshadowing the future of his evolving empire with the NLE brand, and his ambition to launch his own label. He has all of this planned, and he isn’t even 18 yet.

To gain some insight on the prodigy that is NLE Choppa, and celebrate the release of Top Shotta, I hopped on a zoom call with him to talk using rap to express his feelings, the importance of meditation, and his stand out XXL Freshman freestyle.

Congrats on Top Shotta man. How does it feel to have your debut out?
I’ve been feeling great. It’s my first album, so I’m pretty amped to have it out there. 

It’s a weird time to drop an album right now with the current landscape. Is it a different process rolling out an album during a pandemic?
There are certain precautions you’ve gotta take, just the way you can move with it, the way you promote it. You can’t have a big release party or anything like that. It’s for sure been controlling, but I’ve just been trying to move past it.

Artists can’t tour right now, but you see them trying different avenues to promote their music. Are there rollout ideas you’ve had that you want to try out with this album?
One creative idea I had was a movie. I know I want to do a deluxe album. People have been dropping a lot of deluxe albums, so I want to use my creative thinking to do that, but along with a movie as well. I feel like that would be hard.

One of my favourite things about the album is how you use the music to touch on some very serious and personal themes. Is it hard to be vulnerable in your music like that?
I don’t think so. It’s more like you letting your fans get to know you more, allowing you to build a relationship with them. Your impact can really influence their life. They can use you as motivation. A lot of rappers don’t face their problems, but when you let your fans know what’s really going on with you, you get them to love you more, because you’re not putting on a front. You’re right there with them, letting them know how you feel. I feel like that’s very important. I care about a lot of shit, I care about my fans, so I just want them to know more about me.

Do you think expressing those emotions and themes in your music helps you grow as a person?
For sure. With music, you get certain things off of your chest and bring certain things to life. You’re selling your thoughts and your work. I, for sure, get better over time. I record a lot, and it keeps me fresh. I go hard seven days a week. 

Another thing I love about the album is the variety of sounds you tackle throughout. Do you have a favourite on the project at all?
I find it hard to pinpoint one. I record a lot of music, so it’s really hard to choose a favourite. All my songs are my favourites because they all mean something different to me. If I picked one, it would feel wrong. 

I’ve always been a fan of the Memphis rap scene like Tommy Wright III and Three Six Mafia. Do they have any influence on your music?
I didn’t really listen to a lot of Three 6 Mafia growing up, but my parents did. They definitely had an impact on the scene here. I was more into people like Tupac, that’s who I was influenced by. I think my favourite Memphis rapper right now would be Blocboy JB.

I saw you tweet once that sometimes you” don’t value a moment until it’s a memory.” Now that you’re solidified in the game, can you look back and appreciate and learn from your journey?
I feel like all this journey is about learning, living to learn. There are trials and tribulations in everything you do. You look back on certain things you’ve accomplished and certain things you know you aren’t going to do anymore because of how you’ve developed. This is all about looking back and growing. Keep growing; don’t go back. 

The industry can be a weird place sometimes, how do you stay grounded through all the press and career obligations?
I meditate, man. When it comes to staying grounded, I try and literally touch the ground. I take my shoes off, and I walk on the earth, I get a feel of the universe. I meditate, and we get shit done. Everything I’m doing, I’ve already done in my mind. 

I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring up the XXL Freshman freestyle, where you absolutely went in. Why was it important for you to kill it like that?
I actually went in there with the mindset that I was going to do it better than what y’all saw. I kind of messed up in the middle and lost my thought with it. I ain’t gonna lie [Laughs]. But I finished strong. It ain’t about how you start, it’s how you finish it, and I finished it perfectly. I’m proud of it; I got a lot out of that experience.

What does being on the XXL Freshman cover mean to you?
I ain’t going to lie. It meant a lot for sure. I knew it would be crazy. When I was young, I used to see a lot of this shit. Like and all these different awards and covers. Then slowly, when I started blowing up, getting in the game, I started accomplishing all of that. I was just watching XXL freestyles and all that shit with other people. I was just seeing people at the BET awards. It’s all happening now. 

People like you and other acts like Polo G represent a new wave in rap music. I like how you both explore the new sounds, but you also bring in the lyricism. What is it about this new generation of rap that you think is better than the last?
I wouldn’t say better. I just feel like the world changed. Everything right now is different; it gives you more shit to talk about. I feel like if you attack it the right way and say the right things, your fans really just fuck with that. My fanbase is real strong, and I fuck with Polo G’s fanbase too, they are both strong as fuck. When you explore that shit and do something different, they just fuck with it more. They might be scared for you to do it, but once they hear you do it the right way, they fuck with you. 

Something else I love about you is your business ambitions, like how you want to launch your NLE label. What does that mean to you, and what do you want to do differently than other labels?
With my label, I’ve just got to find somebody to sign. I want it to be like a family. That’s all it is, a family building an empire. None of that bullshit, it’s a family, that’s how shit’s supposed to be. 

I think you paved the way for a lot of young artists when you worked with United Masters and then not long after inked your label deal. For young artists in the game, what advice would you give when it comes with dealing with labels and solidifying your business?
It’s all about assessing yourself, knowing what you want to do, and how you want to do things. Whatever’s inside of you telling you what to do, you’ve already done mentally. You just have to go after this shit. Whatever you channel, you can accomplish, and you have to keep that mindset every day. Every day you wake up, you pray. You speak this shit, you write this shit down. If you visualise, that shit is going to come to you.

Just lastly, what’s next for NLE Choppa? What do you want to do with the rest of the year now that the album is out?
Hey man, I really just want to enjoy life.

Follow NLE Choppa here for more and stream his debut album Top Shotta below.


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