One of the more rewarding results of how accessible music-making has become over the past decade is the emergence of vibrant online regional rap scenes across the globe. Having the ability to make music on cell phones and figure out how to edit video footage within seconds has empowered kids throughout the world to cultivate their own scenes instead of waiting on someone from the outside to come discover them. That approach is what made Chicago's drill pop in 2012.
If you spend a considerable amount of time on YouTube fishing for rap in any city, the algorithm will likely open you up to a plethora of locally famous artists all pushing six-figure views and, more importantly, breathing life into places that need musical representation. A Boosie Badazz video might lead you to rising Louisiana rapper JayDaYoungan; Listening Maxo Kream will probably end up with a OMB Bloodbath banger; there's a good chance that checking out Mozzy's latest will leave you familiar with BabyFace Gunna. The same is happening in the DMV rap scene as well. As Rico Nasty, GoldLink, and Q Da Fool are making strides in their respective sub-fields of rap, their home region continues to bubble with talent that is locally treasured while the majority of the country remains in the dark. An artist steadily creeping out of the shadows is Goonew, who fans of DMV rap may have been familiar with before he ever stepped into a booth.
On incarcerated (and one of the area's most impactful) Maryland rapper Big Flock's 2016 local hit "Bruvas," he mentioned Goonew as one of his loyal shooters: "When they let Lil Goonew off the box, he grabbed the chopper and he start clickin’ at the opps.” Just a year later in the fall of 2017, Goonew started to craft the off-beat, near-whisper flow that would help him rise to being one of his home region's hottest artists. In content, Goonew's music is often a gory take on life in his Forrest Creek neighborhood of Prince George's County, Maryland. But stylistically, his music can be refreshingly off-kilter. His raps—which seldom take pauses—are hushed flows that rarely line up with the beat and are clear derivatives of Atlanta rapper Hoodrich Pablo Quan (who he's had affiliations with). Most of his production is handled by popular local beatmaker Cheecho who's becoming a natural at providing DMV street artists with key-driven, sinister templates to operate from.
Goonew's name started to rise in late 2017 when he and fellow Maryland rapper Lil Dude released a joint tape called Homicide Boyz, which sounds just like the title suggests: chaotic raps and even wilder sounding ad libs about how they wipe out enemies. The tape got the two collaborations with Lil Yachty, opening them up to an international fanbase. Goonew's "Hey Auntie" ad lib became a local mainstay. Then in April, G Herbo posted himself bumping Goonew standout "Stain" on Instagram. In July, he dropped his most recent and most defined project with 11-track project Big 64. On it, the Maryland rapper polished his hushed, almost horrorcore flow, resulting in some of his best songs yet ("Takin' Ova," "Cloud," and "Came In.") Earlier this month when he was in Brooklyn, we caught up with Goonew to talk about his new music, why he started to rap after Big Flock's incarceration, and how police in his neighborhood don't want to see him succeed. We're also premiering his new video for "Takin Ova." Watch below.
NOISEY: I first heard about you before you were even a rapper. I was listening to “Bruvaz” by Big Flock and he said “When they let Lil Goonew off the box, he grabbed the chopper and he start clickin’ at the opps.” And now looking back, I realize you were in the video the whole time.
Goonew: That’s the hardest song. That’s still the hardest song out, bruh. I can’t wait til he touch down so the new generation can hear his sound. The new kids that’s growing up gonna be like, "We got Goon and his man back home."
He’s been locked up for what, two years now? You feel like the newer artists and listeners in Maryland and DC starting to forget who he is? It seems like people are still bumping him.
Everybody know bruh. You can’t take that away from Flock. He was the biggest thing in the DMV when he was home. He gonna be the biggest thing when he come back. I don’t think it’s gonna change. He’s gonna get his life together, but the music ain’t gonna change.
Is he the one that made you want to rap?
He didn’t make me want to rap but I ain’t gonna lie, if he didn’t get locked up, I probably wouldn’t even be rapping. Maybe I would. I don’t know.
Maybe not take it as serious?
Yeah I probably wouldn’t. I really started rapping because I didn’t have nothin’ to do. I didn’t have friends. It was just me and Borleone. I was just like fuck it, I’m still on my trap shit. Flock get locked up, I’m still trappin’. Started catching cases after cases. That shit got annoying. I kept getting locked up. Like every time I went outside. The police got me banned from one of the neighborhoods I’m from. So, we got Forrest Creek—that’s where I’m from. We got three entrances: the 65 side, the 64 side where I’m from, and another 64 side.
They stop me from coming around. I got banned from one side, so I went to the next side. Then they barred me from there. So every time they used to catch me in the neighborhood I got locked up. Then I had to move to the other side just to get some peace. So then I was just like, I gotta do something. I get all the love in my hood but some people don’t want to see you get love.
You mean the police?
Yeah, the police. The people want me there all day. When I’m out there, the hood turned up. Everybody be coming outside, it be cookouts, everybody playing basketball, shooting dice. We don’t bother nobody. But they see a nigga out the hood who did some shit—most the hate come from 12. That shit lame.
In a lot of cases, it seems like the police get mad when they see people slipping through the cracks.
Right. Like, they used to press me like “go do something with your life.” Then a nigga do something with his life and get paid just to rap to the kids, and they hate on me. I had a police press me out one time, no lie, he said “I don’t even feel right pressing you out. My daughter and my niece got you as they screensaver.” So I’m like, then why you doing this shit? His said it’s his job. I didn’t have weed on me. Just money. No guns. I can’t even be around guns no more.
You just started rapping a year ago.
Next month will be a year. September 15, 2017. That’s when I started rapping. I remember that shit. The only thing I did before that is lay like three bars down one time but I was like, "I ain’t feeling this shit." My homies Borleone and Chaz Bands was like, you gotta rap bruh ‘cause everybody know you in the streets. Borleone was rapping but he wasn’t taking it serious. It was just something to do. I just wasn’t feeling it at the time.
What weren’t you feeling? Having to do the work to get better or that rapping, in general, just wasn’t for you?
I didn’t think it was for me because I done did a lot of shit to motherfuckers. So, you gotta know when that shit is gon’ come back when you a rapper. If you a rapper, you can’t really hide in places forever because people gonna point you out. But when I dropped my first tape, Hey Auntie, me, Chaz Bands, and Borleone, we ain’t know what it was gonna do. Cheecho was like “Let’s see.” So we dropped it—we off the xans—and get on Twitter, we trending in the DMV. That shit was crazy.
Looking back, what do you think you’ve gotten most better at in that year?
If people go listen to Hey Auntie and Certified Goon mixtapes, I didn’t find my flow so you can tell I just started. I always had the whisper flow but at first, I wasn’t feeling it as much. Before I droppedBeware of Goon, I sat down and Cheecho started playing all these beats and I started going crazy in that motherfucker. Then after me and Lil Dude dropped Homicide Boyz. That’s when shit went crazy
What kind of relationship do you and Cheecho have? He’s like the hottest producer in the DMV right now and you two really mesh.
When you think about it, if you hear Cheecho with a different person, you can tell. But if you hear Cheecho with me, you can feel it.
Y’all really do have a distinctive style when you come together. It’s like an early Zaytoven and Gucci type of chemistry, seems like.
Yeah, that type shit. I definitely want Metro Boomin to come out of retirement for me, man. He need to come fuck with a young nigga. Me and Cheecho like Metro and 21. They make history together. All my songs with Cheecho approaching a million on Youtube.
One thing that sticks out to me about your music is that the songs are so short and you’re basically rapping nonstop. A lot of your songs have similar phrases and lyrics. It sounds like you're just in the booth freestyling and catching a rhythm in real time.
I rap off beat and I did that on purpose. When I was coming up, I didn’t pay attention to a lot of rappers. I really only paid attention to Chief Keef, Tracy T,—he need to drop some more music—21 Savage when he first came out. I used to listen to Yachty when he dropped that first Lil Boat.
I saw you tweet that you not gonna put out anymore music for a while. What’s up with that?
I think I need to slow down.
For what reason?
Me personally, I don’t want to—you know how people over do they self? Of course when you poppin’ you gotta drop because motherfuckers wanna hear that shit from you. But now, I was dropping tapes month after month. I gotta find the right time. Like with Big 64, I sat down and picked them songs on my phone. I put them in order and all that.
What do you want people to take from your music?
I don’t know because I talk about what I’ve lived and the shit I’ve been through. I’ve been fucked and down bad. But people that’s under me, I tell them to stay in school. A youngin’ could really make it rapping by doing songs with no cuss words. They could take off and get the youth. That’s all you need. Finish school ‘cause I ain’t finish school. That shit make people look at you different. But I’m trying to get my GED just in case anything else happen with the system, I can say I finished. I’m working on that right now.
Follow Lawrence Burney on Twitter.
Diamond Dixon is a DMV-based photographer. Follow her on Instagram.