Ink Tone Swep Images Peter Martinez Looks Olivia Jakubik Lines Ambreen Khwaja Location Urban Myth Studio, Williamsburg Brooklyn
At some point in your youth you held down a Pipe Mills job. What is that exactly?
(Laughs!) I hated that job (Laughs!). That’s like when you ship out pipes, packing them, stacking the boxes you packed them in, loading trucks, getting them ready for distribution. It was really hard work. I would come home dirty and tired every day. I knew I wasn’t going to be at that job or any job like that my whole life. But it humbles you, too, because it’s people working there and that’s all they know.
What would you consider to be a turning point in your life?
Never had any major big changes, really. Probably like getting big checks from rap and realizing this could be a business, like something I could build off of long-term. When I first started getting money I was just being crazy with it. Later on I started being smarter with my money. Saving it, investing it, taking care of family with it.
Alabama has a special place in American history, movies like Selma, college football’s the Crimson Tide, it’s considered a fast growing place for real estate, but there’s this stigma of racism hanging over it at the same time. Is that fair? Is that still your home state’s deserved rep? Is there a new ‘Bama? How does an artist emerge from there and join the mainstream?
It has definitely changed. It’s not like it used to be, but Alabama is still an old southern mentality place to live. You get looked at different just being from Alabama, like the labels or companies they will look at an artist from somewhere else first. The fans are going to rock with whoever, whatever, they don’t care. If they like you they like you. But in the industry you aren’t going to get the first look if you are from Alabama. It’s more easier to get people to rally behind you from a big city. But even with that I felt we was always missing what I was trying to bring to the game. And my first couple songs were real big records, I came in hitting hard and it just stamped me. Now it’s about staying relevant, being consistent, being booked for shows, and continuing to grow as an artist. I’m looking forward to dropping my first album.
As a rapper, your sound is heavily influenced by soul and R&B music. When did you begin to develop your signature sound?
I was just looking at ways to present myself differently, thinking of ways to use my voice. When I got about 17, 18, my voice got way deeper and I could use it differently when we recorded. And I wanted to bring something different to the game, like a edgy street R&B sound. Really talking about how things really happen, what dudes deal with, what some of these girls be doing, how these dudes react to it. All that. I feel like that’s my lane and what I bring to the game, and people have been responsive to it.
You rap, and sing, and write a lot about relationships. You give good advice, especially about the ups and downs. There is “Ice On My Baby” and “Kids To Bed” when things are going good, but then “Unappreciated” and “Be Like That” when things are rocky. Why are relationships so complex?
I just think that when you first get into a relationship, you are trying to dig into the other person’s thoughts and ways and how they live. It’s a battle and struggle to learn how to love, plus learn the person at the same time. Then you have to think you have your life, your own stuff going on, too. All of it takes you through a lot, and if you and that person aren’t ready it’s gone be hard. And that’s the case most times, especially when you are real young trying to do it.
I’m a bigger fan of your heavier hearted joints like “Dead To Me”. Where do you get the inspiration for that darker side of love to make songs like that about?
Shit man, a lot of times I take situations I go through and situations of people close to me, like a lot of my friends have been through real life situations. I try to take the realer and authentic parts of life, especially relationships, and make songs about it. Because I feel like people who listen to my music are real, everyday people who deal with real shit. The realer I keep it the more they can relate.
How did the deal with Boosie and Bad Azz Music Syndicate come together?
His brother had found me. He saw some moves I was making and heard some of my music. He put me with Boosie and he flew me out the next day. From there it was like a mutual thing. Boosie was always my favorite rapper of all-time growing up.
What’s the best advice Boosie has given you?
He always, like, pushed me to be a star way before I ever thought I was going to be a star. I would say to him, I will be here, at this point, in two or three years. And Boosie would say: “Two or three years!?! Man, Bleu you gone up there in two or three months” (Laughs!). He always believed from day one, and that just gave me more confidence.
You are also backed by legendary powerhouse Columbia Records. Explain the difference between being on a major and being indie, you’ve done both successfully.
It’s good either way. It really is. It depends on you as an artist, on what you need and what some of your goals are. One thing I will say about the major system, you have to blend with more people than just your own. It’s like playing one-on-one versus playing team ball. Everything you want to do may not happen, or might not happen in the timeframe you want it to. There are people with experience, certain relationships you could benefit from. All of you have to be strategic and agree, because the move or decision or song you are making is way bigger, involves more people.
Beyoncé is on Columbia Records, too, which makes you and she label mates. If you two collab on a hit, what type of song would you decide to make?
Man, I been trying to get them to pull the right strings and make it happen. I’m always coming with the huge radio songs. It’s like, even though I came up in the mixtape game, I still have those radio records for Beyoncé. I know how to make music for the people who follow mixtape and stream artists and at the same time make music for people who mostly listen to the radio.
I liked Doe B when he came out. T.I. had a star, hated to hear it when he got killed back in ’13. He was going to be big. But besides he and Rich Boy, who had a short run, you are likely going to be the biggest hip-hop artist ever from Alabama. Is that a lot to deal with?
Not really, at least I don’t think so. Right now we on an adventure. That’s what it feels like. And now we have a lot of new artists coming up in Alabama, and that’s a good thing. Coming off the success I have, it is opening doors for a bunch of other new people. Once you bring a few hits and show the consistency, the people are going to always check for you, and then check for these new artist from the same place I’m from.
The south has a deep, rich legacy in hip-hop. What are you contributing to this legacy?
I just want to add to that, add some more hits and standout songs to the resume. Just put on for the south, especially my city and state; hope I influence the next generation to make music and pursue they dreams, whatever it is they’re wanting out of life. I’m working on my album now, might be done and out in a few months, give the people a Bleu soundtrack for their summer.