In the noisy arena that is Atlanta rap, the song "Wonder Why," which appeared out of the blue about two years ago, was a soft, smooth reprieve. Plaintive, heartfelt, and heartbreaking, it felt like the arrival not so much of a new sound as of a new energy, not least because the lead artist credited, YFN Lucci, was more or less a complete unknown.
Although Lucci had, by his own account, been rapping for a long time, he'd never released any music, and he'd entered the scene only recently, through a pair of features with Johnny Cinco. But his buzz—mostly, he says, off a leak of "Wonder Why"—was immediate, and Wish Me Well, his debut tape on Think It's a Game Records (the same label as Rich Homie Quan), became a sleeper hit out of Atlanta, as well as one of my favorite projects in recent memory. Emotive and frank about the more mundane struggles of life, YFN Lucci's sing-song captured pain and triumph in a refreshing tone, whether he was devoting songs to his mom, girls he hadn't seen in too long, or old friends he missed.
This year's Wish Me Well 2 picked up without a break in quality, although it had a more star-studded guest list (including a great appearance from Plies) and a more club-ready sound. Unsurprisingly given that momentum, it scored Lucci a bona fide charting hit, "Key to the Streets," featuring Migos and Trouble.
"Soon as I come in the building they go to screaming," Lucci tells me in a thick Atlanta accent, when I reach him on the phone. "That's big for a new artist having two mixtapes."
Now, riding high on his success, Lucci is premiering his new video, "Woke Up a Boss," on Noisey. Lucci filmed it on a recent birthday trip to the Dominican Republic, shooting in both a rented villa and the hood, making friends as he went. "We all just walked up by ourselves, just talking to them like 'we're going to shoot a little video, we're from Atlanta,'" he explains. "And they were like 'come on' and walked me through the jungle. We were having fun."
Noisey: How did you develop this sing-song sound that you have?
YFN Lucci: Growing up I always had this high-pitched voice. I couldn't ever sing, you smell me, but I had a little high-pitched voice when I talked loud. I used to listen to Ja Rule. I knew how to rap, and I used to write my verses. And if it don't sound right when I rap it, I sing it. And it'd sound better. I used to let all my friends hear it, and they were like "I like that." I just ran with it. If I can't sing it, I rap it.
What's the story of "Woke Up a Boss"?
I moved to Buckhead. I'm from Summerhill. I lived with my mama 'til I was like 21, 22, smell me. I dropped Wish Me Well when I was 23, so probably like a year or two before that. I was staying with my baby mama. We was staying together, carving a home, but still in the hood. So I started living, had my mixtape out, staying in Buckhead. One day I just woke up and you know, you got the glass walls, I was listening to the beat, and I was like "I woke up feeling like a boss." I just started making the song right in my room. I recorded it myself. I've got the studio in my room.
You have a really good song on Wish Me Well addressed to your mom, "Mom's Favorite Song." What's your relationship with her?
When I was making music at the time, I ain't really know whether she was listening, you smell me. But I had just gotten this red Camaro, drop top, and I would write my verses in the car, sitting in the driveway, early in the daytime. One night, I be in the driveway listening to it. I'm by myself, I'm just in the car, playing the music outside, smoking. She's right there on the porch. This is before I dropped the mixtape. So the song was playing, and you know how it comes in, "the only time lights was off was in the thunderstorm,"? I looked back, and she's like "that's a blessing, ain't it?'" So I be like "oh, you be listening?" She said "yeah, I be listening!" I realized yeah, that one's hard, and I realized she messed with my music then: "That's a blessing!" [ Laughs]
You have kids too, right?
I have a son and a daughter, Liberty and Justice. They're three and two. Justice is the boy, Liberty is the girl. It's fun. I'm still kind of young. I'm a kid, too. I'm grown but I'm a kid, so I like to have fun. We be playing, and to see them smile, they be laughing. They've got a lot of personality to be so young.
What would be your tips to waking up feeling like a boss?
You just make sure everything's handled. Make sure your business is handled, take care of your family, make sure you're working, make sure you're setting good examples and you're making business moves. And you're making money in your sleep, so when you wake up you're a boss.
Photo courtesy of YFN Lucci
Kyle Kramer is an editor at Noisey. Follow him on Twitter.