Rich Homie Quan in Atlanta / Stills from Noisey Atlanta
Regardless of your school of hip-hop thought, you probably had some type of skepticism about Rich Homie Quan when he broke out in the summer of 2013 with the song “Type of Way.” Maybe you were a diehard Atlanta rap fan who felt like Quan was ripping off Future, offering a similar sound and voice without anything nearly as interesting to say. Maybe you were an experienced cynic who had seen enough rappers with a hit song come and go to know not to get excited over whatever this new thing was. Maybe you were an old-school purist who already didn't like Atlanta rap and sure as hell weren't about to get on board with a guy who delivered everything he said in a sing-song voice.
Reader, I admit: I was one such skeptic. I liked Quan but had doubts about his longevity. I was wrong, though. After landing an even bigger hit later that summer with the hook on YG's “My Nigga,” Quan went on to dominate 2014, first with a minor hit called “Walk Thru” and then with “Lifestyle,” the undeniable song of the year and the collaboration with Young Thug that introduced the world to rap's most exciting new duo. Rich Gang: Tha Tour Part 1, their mixtape with Birdman that came out last fall, was the year's best rap project, an electrifying jumble of melodies and punchlines and gleeful ad libs and all-out lyrical virtuosity that seemed to take all the rules of rap, rip them up, and reinterpret them through a funhouse mirror of hooks piled on hooks. On standout tracks like “Flava” and “Tell Em (Lies),” Quan and Thugger were throwing so many ideas and tunes at each other that it felt like almost like a baroque symphony—not that Vivaldi ever wrote something as poignant as “I'ma pull up eat on that pussy and dip.”
As the weirder and more unpredictable of the two, Young Thug is often seen as the engine of Rich Gang, and there's no questioning his role as a breakout star in hip-hop. But Quan is every bit as important to the collaboration and a star in his own right. In the duo, he's a much-needed emotional center, offering a lot of the grounding that makes the music more than just fluffy club material—the way Young Thug sings the word “lifestyle” is electric and emotive, but it's Quan croaking out “I do it for my daddy, I do it for my mama / Them long nights I swear to God I do it for the come up” that drives the point home.
That's why Quan is so good, whether on his own or adding heft to a song with Young Thug or YG: His voice oozes emotion. He's the rejoinder to that tired argument that the rap they play on the radio or in the club is shallow and materialistic because Quan, even when he is being shallow or materialistic, has a voice that suggests there's more lingering beneath what he's saying. His celebrations and his shit-talking are rooted in the fact that he's familiar with the other side of the equation, and they're more powerful as a result. He also has an ear for melodies and phrases that are catchy as shit.
As he's fleshed out his body of work and distinguished his sound from Future's Auto-Tuned melodic experiments, Quan has shown that that emotional quality, though, is what really ties him to his slightly more senior Atlanta peer and to the tradition of hip-hop more broadly. Hip-hop is music that finds an avenue for expression and celebration in the face of struggle, and Quan's cracked voice and knowing observations fit into that mold even as he makes club hits. He's disarmingly descriptive: Lines like “I'm every little kid's idol” are phrased in a way that comes across as perceptive rather than empty boasting. He's also funny—a couple lines later, he's describing pulling up on his enemies “like a diaper” (Pull Ups, get it?)—and outwardly friendly and charismatic (in a way that the press-averse Young Thug, for instance, is not). He announced recently that he's taking a break from collaborating with Young Thug, but that shouldn't be cause for concern.
Quan, ultimately, is a rapper with soul and with personality, as well as ambition and a clear vision of what makes his music work and what he wants to achieve. Both in the filming of Noisey Atlanta and when he stops by the VICE office for a chat with me a couple months later, he's laid-back but present in the conversation, listening closely, engaging thoughtfully, and taking pictures good-naturedly. Quan doesn't just make hits you want to hear on the radio; he's the kind of guy you want to take a road trip and listen to those hits with. How can you be skeptical about that?
Noisey: Tell me a little about the music you’ve been working on lately.
Rich Homie Quan: I’m still telling a story with the music I’m doing. I’m just trying to tell it in a different way. I’m hitting different notes, I’m trying new things for my voice.
Do you have a voice coach or something?
I’ve never taken vocal lessons, no vocal coach, no nothing. I listen to a lot of old music. I like those old tunes. That’s why I think a lot of my music is so soulful. And painful. Because I listen to a lot of Luther, a lot of that. But the new sound, as I said, I differentiated it. But it still sounds like southern music. It’s almost like I found myself. I’m not all the way there yet—like I said I’m still working on it—but this new project that I’m working on, you’ll have a new Quan.
I’ve been having a lot on my mind. The studio is where I go to release a lot of that, what I have on my mind. It’s almost like my diary. So it’s like, with everything that’s been going on, I’ve been keeping it bottled in. I really just like let the music play. I’m not afraid anymore. I like to try different things.
What’s been going on that you’ve been keeping in?
Everybody has problems. Just because you’re an artist or an entertainer, it doesn’t mean you don’t live a regular lifestyle. You still have deaths in the family. Family members maybe get sick. Everyone depends on you. It’s just life, though. So like I said, rapping in the studio is where I go to relieve my pain.
Have there been specific events?
My daddy just got shot.
How long ago was that?
My daddy’s been in the hospital two months ago. That was hard because my dad’s my manager as well. He’s my best friend. I talk to my dad everyday, so that was hard. My mother is in the hospital. She just had surgery. My grandmother just died a couple of weeks ago. So it’s just been a lot on my plate.
That’s a rough fall.
Yeah, at the same time, what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.
Channeling that pain in your music is something that has always sort of been in rap, but people don’t necessarily talk about it as much. There’s this idea of a rapper has to be this tough guy.
Yeah, like ‘I gotta talk about all the chains, I gotta talk about all the fancy cars, the high life.’ But your average person who listens to rap can’t relate to most of that. But if I can give you relatable facts, I know you’re going to be able to feel the music as opposed to hearing the music. I want you to feel my music; I don’t want you to hear my music.
And I like to read, so I think that’s why a lot of my verses be descriptive. I’m always trying to better myself in rap. Now that I know that it is a job, I take it more seriously. I don’t read the dictionary, but I do like to read books more now.
What have you been reading?
I have my favorite author, James Patterson. He’s got the Alex Cross series. I love James Patterson.
I don’t think I’ve ever read a James Patterson book.
Along Came A Spider? You’ve never seen the movie? You ever see the movie Alex Cross?
I’m, like, super uncultured here.
It’s just different. Reading is a habit I picked up in jail. He’s just my favorite author. I just can relate, for one. I like the way he writes. His words can be so small. Reminds me of a kid a little bit, but that man just showed me like, it added something to my rap ability. Reading authors—to me, authors are like rappers. They’re competing. It’s like whoever can paint the picture the better way. And that’s how I try to think about my music. Just paint a picture, and don’t try to do too much. Keep it simple. But give it to them real and give it to them raw.
I think that's a big shift. There used to be this idea that rap was about these really long and complex stories, and now it’s about how can you fit the most emotion into a single line, or a single thought.
That’s how you get yourself a hook! It don’t take much. It’s moreso about the message. It’s not about the beat anymore. Not to me. Sometimes it’s about the beat—I can’t lie—but my most important thing is the message. I feel like every song I do should have a message behind it. I want to be a positive rapper. I know I’m cussing. I know every song I’m making is not the best song I made. But at the same time, I feel like I’m looked at as a positive rapper, as a role model. I feel as if I do the right thing. I watch what I say. I know that can get me in a lot of trouble, too.
Do you feel like there was a point where things shifted? Where you became more aware of being a role model or channeling emotions in your music versus ideas?
I would say that moment came at the “Walk Thru” video shoot, when I fell and busted my face and went unconscious. That really made me realize. I really feel as if God came to me like, ‘you’ve got to slow down, Quan. If this is what you want to do, you’ve got to take it more seriously and stop playing.’
I fell from dehydration. Just being tired. I’ve been on the road doing shows now for like 27 months straight. I have yet to take a vacation. I didn’t know my body was tired. I’m saying yes to every show I get. Not drinking right, not eating right, smoking, drinking. Not taking care of my body. Not taking it serious. I feel as if when I hit that ground, it was a wakeup call. Everybody just reached out to me—from Young Jeezy to Wiz Khalifa—like “bro, health is more important than wealth. Take care of yourself. Money’s gonna be here. Take care of yourself.” That went to my head, and I feel as if my career might have elevated a little bit after that. “Lifestyle” dropped and stuff. I just take care of myself now.
You said you want your album to show people more of Rich Homie Quan’s life. What are some of the things people don’t realize about your life?
That I still live a normal life. I still put on my two shoes like a regular person. I still have problems.
What do you eat for breakfast?
I don’t even eat breakfast in the morning. Music has changed some of the stuff I’ve done. I don’t even watch TV anymore, bro. I used to love playing games, which I still do, but now with music being my job, it’s almost kind of taken over my life. But I don’t want to make me seem depressed, or in a bad way. At the same time, I love the money. It’s a big sacrifice you have to make, point blank period. If you want it, go get it. Don’t play with it when the opportunity to come. That’s how you become a one hit wonder.
You’ve got to stay consistent. That’s the whole key. That’s all I’m trying to do, is make this song better than the last song. I’ve worked with Drake, I’ve worked with Big Sean, I’ve worked with Lil Wayne. And I’m learning from each one of those people. It’s almost like a sponge, I’m trying to soak as much as I can from different artists and just make it to be one of the bests. I want to be one of the bests, bro, you feel me?
What do you feel like you learned from being in the studio with Drake?
I was really in awe. Mouth open. He’s in the room drinking like Coco Latte [coconut water]. It was just a different experience. I’m like, ‘I want to see how he records.’ But I know at the same time I’ve got to go hard because it’s Drake.
Like “I wanna impress him!”
Yeah, and then he invites me into his house. This is at the time I’m on the Wiz Khalifa tour, so I’m in his house, and it was like one of my memorable moments since I’ve been a rapper. One of my biggest moments in rap.
Just hanging out at Drake’s house.
Just chilling. Smoking hookah. All that. It was fun. It was just a different experience, like I said, outside of music. We did music, and then we just chilled, talked, got to know each other. With the artists I’ve met, the person who I listen to, that’s the person I expect you to be. And that’s just me and Drake. I relate to him. He’s real cool. Like Wiz Khalifa’s real cool. I’m a big fan of Drake.
How big of a hookah does Drake have?
Drake’s got a big hookah, man [holds hand about three feet off the floor]. It tastes so good. I’ve never tasted a hookah like that. It tastes like I don’t know what! [Laughs].
Tell me a little bit more about your life growing up. What’s the rest of your family like? Do you have brothers and sisters?
Three. My mother had three kids. My dad, he has two. It was all right growing up. It was kind of rough, coming from Atlanta. I didn’t have much, my mom had to do what it do. Pops made it do what it do.
My mother worked at a bank, my dad cut hair. He’s a barber. Coming up I played sports. I played baseball from four to 18. I really thought I was going be a baseball player, I wish I would have been. I’d make a whole lot more money than rapping! But in all seriousness, I don’t even have love for the sport anymore. I lost love for the game in high school. It was the coach.
Did you have other hobbies growing up?
I played every sport. Baseball, football, and basketball. So it was really like, as a kid, growing up, I was a kid. Society’s changed these days. There weren’t cell phones or none of that. I loved to go outside and ride my bike all day, kick it with my friends. I’m talking about even when I was, like, 13 or 14. My mom would say, ‘go outside, stay outside, be in the house by the time the street light comes on.’ And that was basically every day.
It’s crazy. Kids have cell phones these days when they’re like nine.
Man, iPads. There was none of that growing up. All we had was iMacs. None of that. It’s different now.
Do you remember the first time that you made music on a computer?
I don’t know when the first time I made it on a computer, I remember my first time attempting music, though. My mother bought me a karaoke machine for Christmas. I was thinking I wanted to be a rapper. I was in eighth grade. I was so shy. I recorded myself under the bed. I asked for that gift for Christmas.
You recorded yourself under your bed?
Under the bed.
You’d crawl under there?
I’m that shy. I would turn it real low. I always melodized, but I was afraid, like, I can’t be singing. I don’t want people to know I sing. I was like, I’m going to try to rap hard, to be a hardcore rapper.
I feel like it takes a lot of courage to just be like “yeah I’m going to sing, and not only am I going to sing, it’s going be about my feelings.” When did you get that courage? Or how do you get that courage to put that stuff out there?
After jail. I didn’t care anymore. I just wanted people to hear my story. You can have an impact on people’s lives in a positive way. So after jail, I didn’t care no more. I had a felony. I was like, ‘Let’s try rap, Quan.’
What was it like in jail?
Jail really made me a man. God makes no mistakes. I don’t take back being in jail—I take back what I did, but I don’t take back being in jail—because jail made me who I am today. If it weren’t for jail, I know for a fact I wouldn’t be rapping today. I wouldn’t have nothing to talk about. My mixtape that got me on is about my story. Jail made me a man.
Kyle Kramer will never stop going in. Follow him on Twitter.