Photos by Evan Rodgers
Music history is littered with novelty acts, good-intentioned label one-offs, and short-lived viral sensations. But rarely has any act seemed as guilty of putting all their eggs in one basket as when Atlanta rapper Ca$h Out landed a hit in 2012 with his song “Cashin’ Out.” With lyrics that explored various ways that Ca$h Out was cashing out, “Cashin’ Out” seemed like the perfect way for the then-unknown rapper to quickly live up to his name by, yes, cashing out in the music industry and never being heard from again. That he ended up in a record deal with Epic that cashed in on “Cashin’ Out” and otherwise went nowhere before letting him go seems kind of inevitable. Let’s reiterate: The guy’s name is Ca$h Out.
Less inevitable was Ca$h Out's failure to just disappear. Although he seemed to stall while on his Epic deal, and his 2013 mixtape, Ya Feel Me?, received little more than a cursory reaction, Ca$h Out didn’t stop making music, nor did he stop making good music, nor did he stop making popular music. Last year, his song “She Twerkin’” became a legitimate hit after breaking out locally, and it worked its way into the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at number 98. A high-profile feature on PartyNextDoor’s December release PNDCOLOURS put him back on tastemakers’ radar. His current single, “Let’s Get It,” featuring Wiz Khalifa and Ty Dolla $ign, has been gaining momentum, and, with its slinky, sticky hook, it deserves to be an outright smash. Off the buzz of these successful singles and last fall’s album Let’s Get It, released through independent label eOne, Ca$h Out recently found himself in New York, once again a subject of industry interest, but this time with a lot more leverage.
Ca$h Out’s renaissance as an emerging star working at the experimental edge of melodic Atlanta trap music makes perfect sense given his history, though. The 2012 mixtape that contained “Cashin’ Out,” It’s My Time, may have been a little clumsy (i.e. the “Red Light” lyric “I knock that pussy down / World Trade Center”), but it was also prescient. Its brand of sing-song, often Auto-Tuned vocals is exactly what Atlanta rap—and rap in general—evolved into over the next two years, propelled by the success of artists like Rich Homie Quan and Young Thug. On Let’s Get It, Ca$h Out is once again pushing things forward, his melodies often barely perceptible snatches of tunes over beats that have been stripped down to the most basic parts. The production on “I Want the Money” sounds like it was done on tin cans in an empty warehouse, and Ca$h Out’s eerily synthetic vocals match the tone. “Let’s Get It” sounds like a hustling anthem for ghosts. And “Mexico,” which has become my personal favorite song from the album, takes the rap trope about getting drugs for cheap south of the border and turns it into a polished, harmonic easy listening anthem that could almost work on a Jimmy Buffett album or a Mexico tourism campaign if it weren’t, you know, about buying drugs for cheap south of the border.
Sitting at the midpoint of two of rap’s most important stylistic trends—extreme minimalism and aggressive melodicism—Ca$h Out has gone from being a potential poster boy for the music world's worst tendencies to an embodiment of its exciting new possibilities. Best of all, he’s zen as hell about all of this tangled career stuff. When he stopped by the VICE office on his recent New York trip, he exuded patience, humility, and a complete lack of pretense, talking excitedly in a charming Southern drawl and flashing a huge smile pretty much the whole time we were together. Cashing out may be cynical; Ca$h Out is anything but.
I feel like the interesting thing about your career is that right out of the gate you had such a huge hit, and you instantly became defined by that hit.
Yes, sometimes I’m like man, I wish I could gradually grow like the rest of these artists, but God has certain things planned for you, and you know, that’s how he wanted to come out, and I believe he did that for a reason. Show you certain signs, and show you how to manage your money. ‘Cause it’s a lot of money I just fucked up, just mixed up being young.
How old are you now?
Twenty-four, and I was 21 when the song came out. I was just having the time of my life, never seen that much money at one time after everything I’ve been through during the streets, but a big check at one time. As a hustler you might hustle up on a million dollars, but that million never comes in one day like “here you go nigga.” I spent a lot of money just on jewelry, on clothes.
We took some downtime, and I had to bounce back. There’s just that fight in me that won’t let up. I know I can make singles all day. I just wanted to show the lyrical talents, so when I go to these labels or step in these buildings they look at me as an album artist now, a brand. Not for them to just say “hey we’re giving you a check for ‘Cashin’ Out’ or ‘She Twerkin’ and go from there.” Now when I step into the building after this song, I want them to say “Hey we’re ready to give you a full package, whatever you need. What’s the next single? We’re gonna do three or four singles and prepare for the album at the end of the year.” And I want it to be like that, not just “hey let’s push this single to the heights.” Which I’m not mad at because every label I’ve been to helped my career go to another level.
How did you help “Cashin’ Out” break out originally?
When “Cashin’ Out” came out, the strip clubs and the DJs spoke for that record. It was so strong radio couldn't deny it, so it slipped in. The Durtty Boys have this slot on Hot 107.9 called Make it or Break It. Two artists go against each other. You call in if you like the record, and they play it. Every week I won, and after five weeks you're the champ. I won five weeks.
How long before between you started being like "I'm a rapper" and “Cashin’ Out” blew up?
Too fast. ‘Cause you’ve got people I respect doing it for years, and I did “Cashin’ Out” in late November and got signed in March. “Cashin’ Out: was my fourth song I ever recorded. So it was “I Got It,” “Touch Your Toes,” another record and maybe a couple hood features with my friends, but then “Cashin’ Out” was like the fourth song fresh out the studio. I made music after that, but it was like “pause, this the single right there.” We went to the club, spent like $10,000 that night, and just made the movie around the song. People were like "what that song?" because the DJ played it like 30 times in a row. The song broke that night. The right people were in the building too, so they saw what we were doing.
You told me your last court case is what made you take rap seriously. What happened with that?
It was convicted felon in possession of two firearms. If I look back at my life and see how everything played out, I feel like it was a story because it went from going to court, doing that charge, sitting down—when I left court one of the jurors walked up to me, and he said "we were in the back room, and we decided to give you another chance at life." I didn't really get it. In my head I was like "why me? A lot of people done been through the system—a lot of felons, a lot of males and females—what made y’all look at me and say ‘he’s got something in life he need to accomplish’?” Every time I sit down and think about that case I’m like what made them do that?
It was a blessing because I was praying through trial, and mom dukes was crying ‘cause it wasn't looking too good for me. Just being all the way honest, they had everything they needed. They had the guns and officers with their story. I just had my story and my prayers. My life was in the jury's hands, ten years or nothing. When that day came I was sweating in the courtroom. That was one of the most nervous days of my life. Ten years? I'd still be locked up now. I'd still be doing like three more years.
It came out not guilty. It shocked me. I felt like there was a God that day. Like somebody was really on my side, like somebody whispered to that jury—an angel or whatever—just like "we’re going give him another chance." Even after trial: You're not supposed to talk to the jury. So it was weird for that person to find me walking out the door. That's why I say I don't know if it was an angel or what. He just found me and had that conversation with me.
I took heed. Well, I didn't take heed right when I got out because as soon as I got out I went right to the homeboys’ house, but after a while I took heed to it. And woke up one day and gave away all my drugs like “I ain’t selling drugs no more.”
Was that what the original felony had been for?
Yup, the drugs. I woke up one morning, hit the block and gave away everything. It was like a turkey giveaway. They was like "Is he tripping? Is he high or something?" I just gave away everything. Even before I met my business partner, when there wasn't much money involved, I was doing my own thing, paying for my own studio time. Me and my manager were out pushing “I Got It.” That was the hottest street record before “Cashin’ Out” in Atlanta at the time. That got me my first interview at V103 with Greg Street and my first radio spin up there. That's how big it was in the streets. That's what caught my business partner's eye. He was checking and going to open mics, and somebody kept telling him “this Ca$h Out dude, he’s kind of popping.” When we met, we kind of came from the same stories. He beat a trial, and I just beat a trial.
What's his name?
Dee. So we met, shared our stories, and we had the same vision. Once again, it was somebody I really needed to meet, and I was somebody he really needed to meet. He had just come out of a trial and was like "which way do I need to go? Back to that life or take music?" So he was looking for an artist, and we just bumped into each other. We met up at Spondivit’s in Atlanta, had some food, had a talk about life and situations we’d been through, and it just clicked. There wasn't even no paperwork involved yet. It clicked.
Even through arguments and fights it's real love. We've been through the struggles together, when we had to call Epic and say, “We don’t want to be with you no more.” We had to start from the ground up again, spending our money, building “She Twerkin’” up the way it was before we got with eOne. That's the things we’ve been through together: the ups and downs. But it's all for the better because I feel like with everything we’ve been through, God has shown us this is where we did good, this is where we made a mistake.
Like in the NBA, LeBron James, everyone knew he was a great player, but he didn’t make the championship the first year. He didn’t make the championship the second or third year. He didn't make the championship until like the fifth year. So that's how I look at my career: They knew I was a superstar, but it was gradually growing to that point like "give me the ring now." And that's where I feel like I'm at with this new single “Tomorrow” and the song with PartyNextDoor. Give me my ring this year. I want the championship. I worked hard. We’ve been to practice, we’ve shot a million jump shots, we went to the playoffs and lost the first round. We went back and lost the second round. We went back and lost in the conference championship. But now we're in the championship. Give me my ring.
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