On New Year's Day 2014, school won't be in session, but, if everything goes according to Young Scooter's plan, people all over the country will be whipping out their calculators in celebration of his new mixtape, Street Lottery 2. The Atlanta rapper makes what he calls “count music.” The thing he's interested in counting, specifically, is money, and the calculators, naturally, are for the counting, which generally involves large figures (Scooter's biggest hit so far, “Colombia,” is about importing cocaine “by the metric ton”). And the calculations could get more complex: After a 2013 marred by the fact that Scooter spent half of it in prison, the rapper's looking for the kind of solo success in 2014 that will have accountants putting those weird exponent keys to good use.
Scooter released the first Street Lottery mixtape last January. Since starting to make music in 2008, he'd previously released several mixtapes to moderate success, but, insofar as he was known, people tended to see him primarily as a minor affiliate and occasional guest of Gucci Mane or childhood friend Future. That began to change as “Colombia” became a regional hit over the course of fall 2012 and spring 2013 and Street Lottery received widespread acclaim. Characterized by Scooter's ability to own massive beats with his unhinged, scattershot delivery and deepened by his frank asides about everything from the shortcomings of the penal system to his relationship with his mother, the mixtape was a solid argument that Scooter was more than a run-of-the-mill street rapper. A joint tape with Gucci Mane soon followed, as did standout turns on Future's Freebandz Gang project F.B.G. The Movie.
In April, Scooter was sent to prison until October on a parole violation, setting things back. A collection of songs released in August, From The Cell Block To Your Block, kept Scooter's name in the news, but, other than a few songs, like the Future collaboration “Caught Up In These Streets,” it failed to match the intensity of Street Lottery. Street Lottery 2 is a chance for Scooter to recapture the hip-hop world's attention and build on the successes of last year. With an all-star roster of guests and collaborators behind it, its chances of doing so look good. We caught up with him in advance of the tape's release to talk about his time in prison, learn about his recording process and find out what he was like in high school.
You got out of prison this fall. What's it been like coming back? Have you seen many changes?
Not really. I'm really just worried about my movement and keeping it going. And still appreciating my fans for staying with me throughout the whole time I was locked up. Really, I've just been working hard.
Do you feel like you have a pretty close connection with your fans?
Yeah, I do because of the type of music I make. And sometimes, they probably think I feel like them when I'm talking to them. And that's good. I want to touch a person and, like, inspire them do something and get some money.
You wrote an open letter to them while you were in prison.
Yeah, I had to do that just to show them that they mean something to me. Without the fans, you ain't nothing. They're what drive you.
When were you first starting to record?
About 2009, 2008. But I wasn't really taking it seriously. I just saw Future take off, really. It was just seeing I could. We're in the neighborhood. I've been right there with him my whole – the last 17 years, around each other.
How do you think music has changed your relationship with Future? Is there some competition?
He deserves [his success] because he's a hard worker. I don’t do that. I want him to be where he's at. He inspired me to go hard. It's different [from] where he took himself to where I'm at because while I was just in the streets, he still always was rapping. My music's still up there, but it ain't to where he's at.
Are there certain ways that you guys influence each other musically?
No. He's just like, “just go in.” We support each other's music and make sure it sounds complete. When we do something, we just use each other's advice.
Are there other people who you feel like really inspire you or make you work harder creatively in Atlanta?
There are a lot of rappers in Atlanta, and everybody wants to make this trap sound. How do you feel you're able to differentiate yourself and stand out from that?
I ain't making that type of music lately, playing on the beat or nothing. I'm not doing it. I'm strictly getting on the beat, talking about some money and all of that. The trap sound, that repeated sound that you hear, you don’t hear that sound from me.
I really write music that revolves around my life. So it's different. If you ain't living my life, I ain't making your music. Ain't no way I could be making your music 'cause I'm rapping my life.
On your song “Made It Through The Struggle,” you talk about high school being hard. What were things like for you in high school?
I just ain't got no patience, so I hated sitting down in class. So I didn’t really like school. I still graduated. But at the same time, school's just boring. In high school, I was hustling hard. So really, it was just the streets. My high school, they were all really in the street, like real major. Like hustling hard, not going home, staying out, just streets all day. It was rough in school. School is another neighborhood, so there's going to be something all the time.
Another think you talked about a lot in that song is your mom. What was it like growing up with her? What's your relationship like?
My mama, she's a good woman. She's been hustling herself before. But she's been through a lot, so just coming from a hustling mom and her knowing the streets just made me go hard. She's one of my biggest supporters because she helped me out a lot. But as far as my dad, I really don’t talk to him ever. I ain't even really worried about him. I just pay attention to my music and keep going.
What did your mom think about your music, especially early on?
She wasn't really caught on to it. She wasn't really paying attention. She was just thinking I'm just going to the studio just to do it. She'd be at work. She [didn't] really know. Until it got serious, then she started [to see] it's really working. And she's really a part of it now.
What point do you think that was, where it got really serious?
When I made “Colombia.”
What's your musical approach? How do you make songs?
I punch in. I don’t write. I just go in and think of it in the booth. Freestyle, that punch in.
Have you always done it that way?
I didn’t start out rapping punching in. I started out writing. But just punching in, that's the best way.
What made you switch to that approach?
Just being in the studio, being around Future, Gucci, and a lot of other artists. They're just going in. There ain't no sitting around, and writing, wasting time. Time is money, especially in a studio. So you've got to go at it.
Do people ever critique your music for not being lyrical enough?
Oh, yeah. See, we don't do that. It's just about you, about money making. It ain't about rhyming and being lyrical. Different folk, they'll be like, "Man, you gotta be lyrical." I don’t do that. The last 15, 20, 10 people that came out of the scene, that came out of Atlanta, none of them are lyrical. And they're up right now. There's lyrical rap, but they ain't been selling.
Do you think that's more accepted in Atlanta than other places?
Yeah, but I think it's accepted around the world right now. I don’t see nobody making no lyrical music. I don’t hear it. They ain't in the neighborhood. There ain't no lyrical music being played where I live.
What did you do to promote yourself at first?
I always had some nights in the club. Handing out my CD's, or handing out all kinds of stuff. But I just promoted myself through the streets. Being a rapper, talking about the streets, you're going to have to have the streets behind you. And that's what I've got.
Did people know your music in prison?
Yeah, they do. They know it there, too. But you've just got to lay back and just be yourself and be humble. Just do your time and go home.
What are some things that you wish more people knew about the justice system or how prison works?
I think it's just crooked, really. The world should know that all prisons are crooked. The system's crooked. All the judges, lawyers. You can't even trust your lawyer. You're better off representing yourself. You're better off representing yourself 'cause at the end of the day, a public defender's going to send you to jail.
It's crazy, man. A lawyer knows you're locked up, so they'll tell you anything. Where he's thinking you're going to get out and do this, and it's going to be this way. Well, it's never that. The judges, they'll railroad you into something. So the whole system's just fucked up.
You call your music count music because it's about counting money. Is there something else to that name?
No, that's just like what I'm saying. I call it count music because all I talk about is money, and hustling and trapping and doing different street stuff. So I call it count music 'cause everything I rap about, it'll relate to money.
What's Black Migos Gang? What do you think about the fact there's a group called Migos?
Black Migos Gang is just our neighborhood. Who you're talking about, they're just some other folks that just came around. They've got their own shit going on. I'm not a part of that. I know they're real. It's just confused the fans because they don’t know. It's funny, really. People think I'm beefing with them or something like that. I'm not beefing with them kids.
What neighborhood are you from?
Kirkwood. Zone 6.
Zone 6, that's a pretty--
It ain't pretty.
No, I mean it has a pretty intense reputation. How would you describe it?
Usually, there's a lot of music atmosphere in the Zone 6. But it's like the music's just—like I said, there's a whole lot of jugging and hustling. That's all going on in Zone 6. There's only one Black Migos Gang, it ain't two.
Do you feel like people try to drag you into rivalries sometimes?
Oh, yeah. You know the rap game's got all kinds of twists and turns. Like this person's beefing with this person, and that person beefing with that. I don’t rap beef, so if we've got a problem, we can handle it without a rap beef. It ain't going to be no rap beef for me.
It'll be what the media's saying, like “I know he doesn't like him.” Like everybody was saying, "Hey, G. Dude, is you with the Migos and them, cous?" No, I'm not a part of this shit. I'm Black Migos Gang. It can't be no rivalry. It must be publicity, 'cause it can't be no rivalry.
You've got the Street Lottery 2 tape coming out on New Year's. What's that going to be like?
Street Lottery 2 is just a whole lot of energy different from the first one. I've got Cam'ron, Future, Waka [Flocka], Wiz Khalifa, a couple more people. I just took more of my time on this. That's why I say when I drop Street Lottery 2, just get your calculator. That's what I'm telling all my fans. It's going to be just a whole lot of money talking.
You've said before that you'd be happy to stay independent and not sign to a label. Do you still feel that way?
I'm not saying I won't sign in any situation. I know I say that. But at the same time it's got to be the right situation. I just don’t want to tie myself into nothing. Independent is good, but you're going to spend a hell of a lot of money. I've spent a lot of money into myself. But if the right situation comes about, I've got to do it.
Kyle Kramer has had a great year. He's on Twitter - @KyleKramer