When Q Da Fool smiles, you can tell that he means it, but right now, he is trying very hard not to. The Largo, Maryland-born rapper reclines in a leather chair in the basement of VICE’s Brooklyn office, weighing some of his recent successes – including, but not limited to, collaborations with multiple generations of local legends like Shy Glizzy, Fat Trel, and Wale. This is a big deal for an artist from the area, an achievement that few can claim. The 21-year-old decided to be relaxed about it though.
“Two years ago, I never thought I’d do no songs with these niggas,” he says, rubbing his hands together. “Not ‘cause they too big – I just didn’t even think it was possible because I was a regular street nigga. Who the fuck wanna do a song with a street nigga? But I had to learn that when you real, and you showing niggas how you really is, you can do anything. It just opened my mind. Now I can call these niggas up to do a song whenever.”
He moves onto another subject, seemingly unfazed. This is the image you must adopt on your first press tour when you’ve built your career around projecting a tough exterior. But if you want the truth about how he’s feeling about his sudden rise to one of the region’s most celebrated young talents, look back at a March video in which he flashes one of the famous Glizzy Gang chains gifted to him by Shy himself. As a nondescript instrumental plays in the background, he says, “Real niggas linking up. This my motherfucking brother.” And then, there’s that smile, pearly whites dancing in the dim neon of whatever studio he’s hanging in at the moment. It’s the sort of ear-to-ear grin you can’t contain, even if you desperately want to cling to a steelier image. He’s spilling over with joy, and he has every right to be.
Since 2018 started, Q Da Fool’s name has become much more recognisable to people outside of DC, Maryland, and Northern Virginia. He worked his way to the forefront of his home region’s promising young talent, releasing nine mixtapes since 2015. Now, his hustle is paying dividends. In January, he teased a collaboration with Zaytoven before announcing the two had a joint tape in the works. Then in March, he released “BodyGuard,” a thumping track featuring Gucci Mane in which Fool’s vocal pitch – presumably from a mixture of excitement and urgency – reached previously uncharted territory. “Move like the mob, so we wearing Gucci / Don’t tweet it. Just squeeze it, nigga. Come and shoot me / I turn the whole show to a movie,” he passionately bellows on the song’s hook before continuing into a full on scream (to render it in anything but all-caps would fail to capture his enthusiasm): “FRESH OUTTA JAIL NOW I’M TURNED UP WITH GUCCI.”
“Two years ago, I never thought I’d do no songs with these niggas. Not ‘cause they too big – I just didn’t even think it was possible because I was a regular street nigga. Who the fuck wanna do a song with a street nigga?"
As an early listener of Fool, that song was a celebratory moment. There are few feelings like witnessing an artist you've watched grow seize the opportunity of a lifetime; you can vicariously feel the joy of levelling up. Soon after that, Roc Nation announced that they’d signed the rapper to a record deal. Now, with fellow DMV artists like Rico Nasty and GoldLink making their push for mainstream, pop-leaning stardom, Q Da Fool has a real chance at being the go-to storyteller for what on-the-ground life can be just outside of The District.
That summer afternoon in New York, the rapper born George Hundall rocked a grey striped kufi – his signature – a fitted black tee, grey sweats, and black Balenciaga sneakers. Right under his bottom lip was a tattoo that read “FOOL.” With him was Dolla, a tall, quiet, and clean-cut dude covered in tats who runs their label, Rich Shootas, and regularly pops up on Fool's social media accounts. “I’m learning not to give them too much,” Fool said in a textbook Maryland slur as we walked through the office. Since his signing, he’s scaled back on his impulse to drop songs at any given time, only releasing a few loose ones including high energy single “Straight” and “The Plug” a career-defining track produced by Zaytoven. “I used to always be geeked, like ‘The fans want more!’ But even when you give them more, they still gon’ ask for more.” For the first time in his short career, he’s learning how to selectively pace himself without the fear of falling out of people’s consciousness.
To the national audience, the Roc Nation signing may have seemed like a shock, but Fool’s legend has been growing in back home for the greater part of this decade.“When I was little, my aunts used to make me freestyle battle my cousins,” he told me, unconsciously swaying his chair from side to side. “When I got a little older, around 11 or 12, I used to be in the car and freestyling. That’s when I first started smoking weed.” Soon he was making music in studios, but Q Da Fool’s songcraft has always retained the feeling of those humble roots. One of the most special things about his music is that he often sounds like he’s still having an intimate exchange with a small group of people, whether that be on the most pounding drill-indebted songs or on more simple productions.
As a teenager, he was a member of popular local group Pakk Boyz who, like many kids across the country at that time, were empowered by the DIY approach to song and video making that helped Chief Keef and his fellow Chicago drill artists become international superstars. In production and lyrical content, the music was raw – mostly comprised of songs about doing dirty work around the way and calling out local rivals who inauthentically pushed a street narrative that didn’t stack up with their real lives.
That locally minded approach has held true for the solo work he’s released over the past few years as well. On the intro of his 2015 debut mixtape, Trap Fever, an 18-year-old Q Da Fool talked about coming home from an attempted murder case, even going as far as calling out a former friend who cooperated with police in order for him to be arrested. In between listing off the street laws that were broken at his expense, the song is mostly a rundown of the morals he holds dear to him and a promise – like many young street artists make – that even though he is a rapper, he’s tougher than actual rappers and is prepared to prove it. Around the same time, Fool was building alliances with fellow local rappers who would eventually go on to make cases for national pop stardom.
In the video for her 2016 breakout single “iCarly” another Maryland rapper and potential mainstream draw, Rico Nasty, waves glocks and assault rifles around Prince George’s County. And throughout the video, brandishing weaponry right along with her is a lesser known Q Da Fool who admittedly let Rico hold his guns and shoot the video at his spot. “That’s sis. She lit,” he said proudly, letting out one of the rare ear-to-ear smiles of the day. In a behind-the-scenes video from “iCarly” on Youtube, teenage Fool can be seen playfully freestyling while Rico and others egg on him.
“I didn’t even really get confident until I was inspired by Q Da Fool,” Rico admitted to me last year. “I had seen him in school. Then he was in and out of jail. When I reconnected with him, we did a song and he just inspired me because he was just real. It made me feel like, damn 'I can really be myself and people gonna respect that.' He’ll rap in front of everybody, any camera. He really got that shit – his fearlessness.” Even before anyone outside of Maryland and DC knew about Q Da Fool, his ability to be felt and heard by his community was already empowering those around him without him knowing. But he kept getting better regardless.
After he broke away from the Pakk Boyz, Q Da Fool established his own group (and now management company) of childhood friends and fellow artists called Rich Shootas. On 2017’s “Fell In Love,” he detailed what an average day in his neighbourhood with the crew was like and how he found himself drawn to life in the street. “I don’t gotta talk ‘bout shit I did / Streets gonna tell you, vouch for how I live,” he rapped. From his 2017 mixtape I Empty Pistols, songs like “Stressin,” show him wailing about the sting of betrayal. On “Real,” he harmonises through his regret of hurting the women in his life in one bar, then in another, mentions how he’s staking out his next robbery victim. Though he’s far from achieving the same level of fluidity, it’s not far off from artists like Future, a master at packing a multitude of microscopic storylines into one song.
So much of Q Da Fool’s music – which regularly jumps from conversational (“Fell In Love”) to frantic (“Turnt Up”) to heartfelt (“Tell”) – resonates because of his ability to fit tidbits of his personal journey into songs that would otherwise require nothing more than unconscious head knocking. And in a pool of peers who are getting by with nondescript street life filler, that skill is making him the new face of his region now that artists like Shy Glizzy, Rico Nasty, and GoldLink are no longer viewed as local.
“I didn’t even really get confident until I was inspired by Q Da Fool. I had seen him in school. Then he was in and out of jail. When I reconnected with him, we did a song and he just inspired me because he was just real. It made me feel like, damn 'I can really be myself and people gonna respect that.' He’ll rap in front of everybody, any camera. He really got that shit – his fearlessness.” —Rico Nasty
Q Da Fool’s story is one that’s still largely about reversing former transgressions, especially now that he has a chance at actually breaking out of his hometown. On social media, he projects an easy-going vision of newfound stardom. He’s laid back, hilariously playful with friends, and extremely focused for a 21-year-old. He, as noted, smiles a lot. Just last month, a funny video of Fool having a playful argument with a New Yorker while advocating for Maryland (“the nation of crabs” he fervently added) being the leading area of the East Coast, provided laughs to the DMV corner of the internet. That side comes through in fits and starts during our afternoon together – when more of his friends showed up at the office, he instantly went from reserved artist to joke-cracking guy happy to be away from home for a few days – but he was also a little more subdued, a little more hesitant, the sign of someone who isn’t quite comfortable in inherently awkward press situations just yet. You have to imagine that he will be soon.
Fool’s rise may seem out-of-nowhere to many, but the record deal and respect from peers is a vision he started to realise back when he was first gearing up to drop Trap Fever in 2015, even if he didn’t see it exactly panning out the way it has.
The DMV rap scene looked a lot different then. Shy Glizzy was pulling away from his peers as the area’s first potential post-Wale star with “Awwsome” making its rounds, snagging A$AP Rocky and 2 Chainz for a remix and inspiring Beyonce to incorporate it in a live performance. GoldLink was playing festival stages across the country and rolling out his second mixtape, And After That, We Didn’t Talk. The prospect of Fat Trel becoming a national star was starting to wane, but he still had backing from MMG. Their success implied that he could obtain something similar. “After I caught my case – my attempted murder – that’s when I popped off,” Q remembered. “I just felt like, I’m out here about to do ten years. That’s why when I came home, I was just going so dick hard. Some people think when they get a case they should chill out. My shit was completely opposite.”
Most notable of the lot is 2017’s 100 Round Goon, which is considered by many to be his best work to date and what started to help him break out of the local scene. It dropped after another short prison stint, and the urgency in Fool’s delivery was palpable throughout. On the hook of standout featured track “Catch Up,” he nearly screamed: “Make these niggas feel the pressure / 100 rounds, I’m toting extra,” as a warning to competitors. Then, in the video for his First Day Out freestyle “Right There,” he manoeuvred through his Largo Road section of PG County while passionately rapping about being back in his hood and still not being over the shock of having a friend rat him out. The videos for both songs eclipsed the million-view mark (as did a handful of others), and it sent Q on a trajectory that ultimately ended with him signing to Roc Nation. In the coming months, Fool plans to release his Zaytoven-produced mixtape 100 Keys and 100 Round Goon 2, which he says should be out in December. “It’s not really about making singles or nothing like that,” he said he recently learned. “The only thing I be trying to do with the music now – it’s like football or basketball – I just go in that joint and it just elevate as time go on.”
When Q was getting ready to leave the office, he went outside to meet up with his Rich Shootas crew. His managers C Note and Dolla, who he grew up with in Largo, sat debating about what steakhouse they all wanted to hit for lunch, as Q and a few others passed joints around. Before parting ways, we talked about the challenges of transitioning from the streets to buying into a new, unfamiliar life as a professional artist surrounded by friends trying to make it out as well. ”My men, they don’t got my position,” he says leaning back against a parked car. “Those my brothers. I can’t just up and leave. I just gotta be smart and help my brothers the best I can. We trying to shoot videos every week. I’m trying to keep my men in the studio. Them niggas don’t wanna do this shit, but it is what it is, though.”
At moments, the pressures of being responsible for the success of so many others seemed to be weighing down on him. But he ended with sound reasoning for taking on such a daunting task: “I’m trying make sure all my niggas around me bosses just in case something happen to me.”
Lawrence Burney is a staff writer at Noisey. Follow him on Twitter.
Charlie Peacher is a Baltimore-based photographer. Follow him on Instagram.
This article originally appeared on Noisey US.