Kevin Gates Talks Ignoring Sales & Why He Doesn't Glorify Street Life
Exclusive: After dropping "By Any Means," Kevin Gates talks about his relationship with Young Money, earning his masters degree in prison and how he feels about self-improvement.
Growing up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana Kevin Gates didn’t have the easiest upbringing. Living in a poverty stricken environment, he resorted to selling drugs and gang life landing him in and out of jail since we was a child. Gates scored a 31 on his ACT at the age of 16, and he states he’s always been a smart individual. Being in jail didn’t stop him from receiving an education, earning his master’s degree in psychology while incarcerated.
“I’m an avid reader,” Gates explains. “I’m re-reading The Master Key System because I was excited when I first got the book, and I ran through it fast. I’m really re-reading it, so I’m really reprocessing it right now.”
Gates has never been one to hide his feelings; growing up in Louisiana he is an avid reader of vampire novels. Combine that with his love for the “idea of being in love” and you get his song “Twilight,” a track about two of his favorite topics to read about—love and vampires, which features the following:
“Every night, I kiss your picture on the nightstand / Love's a battlefield, it's not a one-night stand / But I would go to war with God for you, baby.” Kevin doesn’t allow his surroundings to influence his music or himself, and will tell you in a second, he would give it all up for love. In essence, Gates is a product of his environment, but his surroundings don’t define him. Allow Kevin himself to let you in on a scene from his movie, better known as his life.
Kevin Gates On His Reading Habits & Getting A Masters Degree In Jail
HipHopDX: You received your masters degree in jail. How do you value working on yourself as a person?
Kevin Gates: I don’t really value working on myself as a person. What steered me into getting my masters was I was interested in human behavior, so I guess I was self-improving myself without knowing I was improving myself.
DX: You scored a 31 on your ACT. What are you reading right now?
Kevin Gates: I’m an avid reader. I’m re-reading The Master Key System because I was excited when I first got the book, and I ran through it fast. I’m really re-reading it, so I’m really reprocessing it right now. But it’s by an author named Charles F. Haanel. My two favorite authors are Nicholas Sparks for the simplicity [and being] realistic. He wrote The Notebook and Dear John. Those books were in turn made into movies, and I like Anne Rice—the vampire novels that she writes. The book Queen of the Damned was in turn made into a movie, but my favorite book that she wrote is Memnoch the Devil.
DX: So you like vampire novels?
Kevin Gates: I like vampire novels, and I like romance novels…simplistic romance novels about being in love. I don’t just like vampire novels, but I like both of them interchangeably.
DX: Do you think reading factors into your music?
Kevin Gates: No ma’am, I don’t really think so. I just always had this great love for being in love. It doesn’t exist really in the realm of reality, so I read it in different novels. I look for depictions of love in different novels, because it gets lonely doing what I do or being what I am.
DX: The more fame that you get, you said you get lonelier because you feel people don’t know the real you. Is that correct?
Kevin Gates: No, I’m not going to say that, but I have depths…I have different depths to me. You know, I’m not one to mention them, so we can have a conversation about various subjects, and I can expound on all of them. Does that define who I am as an individual? I don’t believe it does. So as you grow and you’re in a position of power, you have a great responsibility that comes with that great position of power. And in doing so, you have to be very careful of what you say and the things that you may say around people, because they could be taken offensively. I’m never out to hurt anyone. I’m never out to be derogative towards anyone by any means. Some people don’t really have the openness that I have, and when I say openness I’m talking about being open-minded and not being close-minded towards certain subject matters. I’m one of the more open-minded individuals that I know. And when you deal with individuals that aren’t really ready to be receptive towards that type of understanding and that way of thinking, you kind of find yourself… well there’s not too many people that you can really converse with on a intellectual level, so you alienate yourself.
Why Kevin Gates Says His Life Is Like A Movie
DX: You’ve mentioned that you suffer from depression, and music is a form of therapy. What would you say triggers your depression and sends you into the studio?
Kevin Gates: Yes ma’am, it’s therapeutic. I vent. I use it as a release—that and tattoos. Well, it doesn’t trigger any depression I just have unresolved grief. It’s things in my life that I’ve had trouble with letting go—wondering, “How come it had to be like this? Why couldn’t it have been like this?” If it’s not like that, I understand that, go in the studio and speak about those things that may have been emotionally upsetting or emotionally troubling to me.
DX: You rap very openly about drugs, jail and the streets but you don’t talk about it in interviews. Is there a reason behind that?
Kevin Gates: Because it would take away from the suspense of the movie. My life is a movie. I don’t want to take away from… I would be cheating the listener—well I’m going to say the viewer—because when you listen to my music, you get a mental depiction in your brain. I don’t want to take away from the viewer the Kevin Gates By Any Means movement or whatever project I may have coming out soon. It may be a subject matter that I haven’t spoken on yet. I just want to keep the viewers in suspense. I don’t want to cheat the viewers. I don’t want to let them in on the movie before they get the plot, the climax, the rising action, the falling action or the resolution. I don’t call them fans. I call them extended family, so I want to allow my extended family to grow with me and to witness the evolution of Kevin Gates. And if I was to just disclose that information right now in the interview, then it’s really nothing to look forward to. I mean one person told me in an interview… I told her in an interview, “I don’t really like to speak on religion, because I just don’t want to be offensive to anyone.” And she was like, “Well Kevin, you are my religion.” It’s a lot of people that feel like that. And I just don’t want to ruin the movement for them. I don’t feel it will be fair.
DX: Where did this open-mindedness and persona stem? Were you always like this growing up?
Kevin Gates: Yes, I believe it stems from birth, the alignment of the planet and the universe. When the stork dropped me off at the front door, they put a chip in my brain that made me open-minded.
DX: How is your relationship with Young Money?
Kevin Gates: My relationship with Young Money is the same it is with anyone, it’s beautiful. You know, I stay in my own lane. I mind my own business, and I’m never going to say anything derogative about anybody, so it can only be love. Yeah, for the time being.
DX: How does Bread Winners Association interact with Young Money?
Kevin Gates: They manage the artist, and the artist Kevin Gates is signed to BWA. BWA has a partnership with Atlantic.
Kevin Gates Calls Rappers Who Glorify The Streets Sheltered
DX: What would you say is the difference between the streets in reality and glorifying the streets in music is?
Kevin Gates: Individuals that glorify the streets would lead me to believe that that was an individual that was wowed by it and impressed by it. And that would lead me to believe that if you were wowed by something, you only see the glory of it. You only see the glamour. That means you don’t see the struggle, you don’t see the consequences that comes behind being in the streets, and when I talk about the streets it’s a very sad experience. Although I’ve had some great times, I think about all the people that I lost. I have a lot of loved ones that are in prison. I have a lot of loved ones that I will never see again. A lot of my best friends are either dead or in jail. I know them for the rest of my life, but I’ll never see them again, because I’m a convicted felon. So I can’t go to a prison—a penal system—and visit someone that I love. Do I think it’s fair? No, but at the same time, it is what it is. It’s beyond my control. So an individual that glorifies this and that in the streets, hey I look at it like maybe you lived a sheltered lifestyle, and this lifestyle is amazing to you. But this lifestyle has brought me nothing but grief, emotional discomfort, psychological discomfort and mental strain. I say if I could go back in time and change everything, I wouldn’t change anything because it made me the person I am today. But I oftentimes wish I would’ve took a different route.
DX: So if you took a different route do you think you would still be in music?
Kevin Gates: Well, no. To be loved and to be in love, I would trade that any day for music. If anybody was to come to me and tell me, “Kevin, I don’t have a lot but I’m happy, and I’m in love. We’re in love with each other, we’re happy and we’re on fire.” I would gladly switch positions with them any day.
DX: You’ve had some independent commercial success with both By Any Means and Stranger Than Fiction. You’ve been cutting out the middleman for a while. How do you feel your Internet presence plays a part in that?
Kevin Gates: I don’t know, and if I were to answer that question I wouldn’t know, because that’s not my focus. My focus isn’t on selling albums. My focus is on making great music, because anything that I want in life—anything that I want or desire—is probably already desiring me. I don’t do this for any materialistic benefit or anything of that nature. Like I say, music is all I have. It’s my only release, and I’ll be doing that until it’s no longer my release. So for right now, that’s my release. It’s my only form of release, and it’s my only form of therapy. So I don’t pay attention to the Internet. I don’t pay attention to social media and anything like that unless I’m asking my extended family what do they think about music. [I’ll ask them] what they think about a particular song, and I get the constructive criticism about it. I love constructive criticism, ‘cause you’re showing me what areas I need to improve in. But as far as paying attention to what songs sell the most, I don’t do that, because at the end of the day, I like to think my own thoughts and feel my own feelings. I will not be influenced by the things around me. The things around me don’t dictate who I am as an individual.
DX: Do your kids listen to your music?
Kevin Gates: My little girl loves it, but I don’t really think that she like… She didn’t open her eyes until she heard me talk. She heard my voice the whole time she was in the womb, and that was what she identified with. So certain songs come on like “MYB,” and she just light up like a Christmas tree. But I don’t believe it’s what I’m saying. I believe it’s the sound of my voice. I have a very distinct voice, and most women tell me my voice is very comforting. I don’t feel that way, but hey if it works for them, so be it.
DX: Are you working on anything right now, like your upcoming debut album?
Kevin Gates: Yes ma’am, I’m working on music. No ma’am I’m just working on music because everything I drop is an album, did someone have to say hey this is an album for everybody to be like when are we going to get an album? Every body of work I dropped was an album to me. I have a few artists I’m going to umbrella under the BWA umbrella, but I just don’t want to ruin the movement, because I don’t feel it’s fair to the listeners.