INTERVIEW: Tate Kobang talks "Bank Rolls (Remix)", signing to 300 Ent., Baltimore music culture, and much, much more.
It just takes one.
Tate Kobang was completely unknown outside the city limits of Baltimore last April when he released his remix of "Bank Rolls", a local hit by Tim Trees from 2000, to promote his latest mixtape. The remix caught fire in the city. It was a hit! Within a matter of weeks, Kobang had signed a deal with 300 Ent.
With his down-to-earth yet swaggy lyrical style and dance-friendly flow, Kobang may well be the hottest thing out of Baltimore. We believe he is destined for bigger things. With an EP on the way, Tate Kobang sat down with HNHH for a spirited discussion about dance, music, sports, women, philosophy, and life. He revealed him to be a man of great ambition, intelligence, and humor.
WARNING: Do not read this interview while taking public transportation. Read it in the privacy of your own home. You will laugh.
Before you rapped you played the saxophone and sang in the choir. Which of those did you prefer?
It had to be sax.
It was just some new shit, you know? I was young, black, on the block, you know what I mean? In the trenches. I was playing the saxophone and bitches loved it.
Did they really?
Hell yeah! Look, do you know what it takes to play the saxophone? Lips. And women loved it. They were like, “Oh you must be a good kisser!”
Is that why you did it?
Yeah. Everything we do is for females if you think about it. You get up and wash your ass. Why? Cause you might see a female that you you like and you don’t wanna stank. You know what I’m saying? Everything we do is for females bro.
What about Charlie Parker? You weren’t doing it for Charlie Parker?
Who the hell is that?
The greatest saxophone player of all time.
No man. I was doing it for the women.
I’m going to look into Charlie though. He sounds pretty awesome.
You should check him out. He went down in flames. Like heroin addiction, but he changed the game. He pioneered jazz basically.
Oh! I might have to sample some Charlie. I know Tony Parker.
What part of Baltimore are you from?
Shit, I was everywhere over east. But the place I was at the longest I would say Cold Spring/Alameda. At my grandma’s house. It was cool. But the city, we had the alleys. That’s where all the kids played at. Basketball hoops with a couple crack needles on the corner. A couple hustlers down the block. Then you had the old people who tried to keep the block up. They came out every morning and sweep and shit like that. Yeah man, just a neighborhood full of kids, then we all grew up. A couple of us dead. A couple of us in jail And I’m here.
What were some of your hobbies? Like what would you do for fun growing up?
Oh man. Yu-Gi-Oh cards. They were fake. I had some Yugimon cards or some crazy shit.
Pokemon or Yu-Gi-Oh?
Nah, Yugimon. I had like some flea market shit. You know how that go. My grandma tried to get me to start collecting baseball cards, but that wasn’t fucking fun, you know? A bunch of guys with wooden sticks in their hands. Like, fuck type shit is that? I was about Yugimon, man.
Was that par for the course? Could you play Yu-Gi-Oh with Yugimon cards?
Nah man. That’s like coming into a spades game with Uno cards.
Did you play sports?
Yeah, I wrestled for Marigold. That didn’t last long. I played football for Northeast Chargers. That didn’t last long. I played basketball for Yorkewood and Hazelwood. That had a little longevity to it until report cards came out. Then I was back on the bench.
What position did you play in football?
I was cornerback. I did cornerback, kick returns, and strong safety.
What was the dopest thing you ever did in football?
I cracked this fat guy.
That’s what’s up.
It was actually my cousin. His name is Carlos.
I know your uncles got you into rap. What were they listening to?
UGK, Wu-Tang, all of the old fucks, man. Really all the old rappers. Mobb Deep, of course. Really just the gritty shit. They weren’t listening to A Tribe Called Quest and all that shit, which I like. I think that shit is fucking dope. The Lost Boyz, of course. Shit like that. As well as their own shit, making their own music.
Did they have a home studio?
Yeah. I got in there a couple times.
What was the first thing you did with them?
Me and my cousin Jerrell did a track. I have yet to actually do a track with my uncle. That would be crazy. I just want to see where he’s at with it now honestly because he was like my biggest influence music-wise.
You’ve said that Method Man’s “Tical”. What made him doper to you than all He’s dope, but what made him to you doper than all those other guys like Mobb Deep?
He was raw and creative. Mobb Deep was just raw. You weren’t really getting raw and creative until you got the Wu. Between Meth and Rae, it was neck-and-neck as far as the creativity. As to the other ones, they were more content. They were more like, “Yeah, we’re going to put a filter on our shit.” Red and Method were just uncut, bro. Uncut as fuck. That’s how I am. I just don’t give a fuck.
You’re a funny dude and they’re pretty funny also. They have a good sense of humor so I could see why you like them. What else were you listening to? I saw somewhere that you’re big into R&B.
Yeah, I’m an R&B guy man. For like two weeks straight one time I listened to Michael Jackson’s “Butterflies.” All day. Two weeks straight one time. It was just life-changing, man.
Why did you move to York, PA?
My mom moved me, my brother, and sister. I’ve been back and forth up there for 8 or 9 years now. Yeah, that’s my other home man.
Were you acting up?
Oh, bro. Oh my goodness. I was going crazy. Even when we I moved up there I was cutting up. That’s where I met my brother Dizz at and we just started doing this shit. I was a product of my environment in Baltimore. I was going to end up either in jail or in a box. So my mother was like, “Nah, fuck that. We’re going to move up here to this place where nobody goes and try to better our life,” which it definitely did and I thank her for it. I love York.
What’s it like? I had to look it up.
15% of York is from York. Everybody else is in the same situation as me. Everybody moves there. You got DC, New York, Philly, Baltimore – shit like that all in one place. And the Spanish women. Oh my God, bro.
I’mma come through and check it out.
Just bring a lot of condoms bro. Cause you’ll leave with kids, I’m telling you. I’m telling you.
How’d you get the name Tate Kobang?
Tate was a block name. I used to dance so they used to call me Dancing Tater. My mother used to call me Tater Head, which was a joke. My head is a peanut shape, not shaped like a fuckin’ potato. And then Kobang - it stands for “King Of Baltimore And Niggas’ Girls.”
I can’t wait when you’re ten times more popular and you gotta explain that to Oprah.
Yeah. Oprah is going to be like, “So you know we got Tate Kobang on my couch. So the name – I’ve been hearing a lot of stuff about it but I want to hear it from you.” Like, “Alright, you sure? We on TV – is this what you want?” (laughter) But yeah, I can’t wait to be on that fucking couch. Roll some weed and sit with my feet on her couch. Bring chicken on stage and shit.
What was the first project you made and how do you think you’ve grown as an artist since then?
Oh my God, bro, my first project was Higher Ups.5. It was an all freestyle tape. Me and Dizz, we did it. I was in 9th grade. We edited it on Virtual DJ. He did all that with the drops, bring-backs, and shit like that. And we recorded that shit on a Rock Band microphone with a sock on it as a pop filter. Did that shit from the inside of his closet and went crazy. Just went in bro. They were playing that shit in the club and shit. I was like, “Ooooh, what is this? Is this real?” So yeah, it was amazing bro.
So do you feel like that’s your best work?
Hell no, man! (laughter). I was going off though. And for my first project, all freestyles – it was pretty fucking dope. My grandmother to this day still rides around with that CD. Crazy.
What’s the difference between Tate Kobang now the rapper and Tate Kobang then?
I wasn’t even Tate Kobang then. I was Tate the Bait. Or I was Space Jam Tate. It was one of them fucked up ass names, bro. It was really no difference other than now I’m into songs. Like now, I do songs. I pretty much do every fucking thing now. I didn’t have hooks back then. I would just go. But now I’m more polished and more put together, more organized as far as the records go. I understand a lot more now, sonically and everything. It’s going to be a problem, we’re going to go crazy.
I know the original “Bank Roll” was like a local hit.
16 years ago.
Are there a lot of songs like that? I feel like Baltimore is a very contained.
Yeah! The same fucking guy! The same fucking guy that produced that record has like eight fucking crazy ass records with like four artists. Like the same four fucking artists on every track.
Is Baltimore like the Bay Area of the East Coast? In that it’s very provincial and a lot of music doesn’t make it out.
Yeah because they don’t want to leave. Alright, say there is a bitch, right? She has possibly the best head in the world and she’s a local ho. But she could be global ho. But she doesn’t want to be a global ho cause she’s good with being known in her block and she’s able to go the club and get shout outs and get free bottles and shit like that. And she’s good with that. She’s content. That’s every fucking artist in Baltimore that Baltimore’s ever had.
And why are you different?
Because I’m tired of that shit! I’m tired of going to funerals bro. I done been robbed, I done robbed, I done been shot at, I done shot at people, I done been stabbed over my eye in fights and shit like that. I’m tired of it and that’s not what I want my kids to grow up and be in. I refuse, bro.
How many kids do you have?
Too fucking many. All of them. I got five kids of my own and then I take care of my brothers and sisters.
You have five kids?
Yeah bro, four girls and one boy. I slang the dick, bro.
When you were making “Bank Rolls,” what inspired that flow? Did you immediately recognize the hotness? Or was it just another song?
Bro, we were sitting on that shit for like a year and a half. It was just all freestyle.
I was in the basement. A couple cats from back home had freestyled on it and that shit was corny. So I was like, “You know what? Let me kill this shit real quick and then finish making my real music.” I did the joint and just put it in the stash. I sent it to the team. They were like, “Damn, that shit hard. But where’s the other music at though?” We ain’t give a fuck about the record. It was just… got all these hollow tips, what I’mma shoot this blank for? Come to find out, it was a hollow tip (laughter).
Did you ever think it would have had the sort of legs that it did?
No, no. I still don’t believe it’s doing what the fuck it’s doing. Like 7 million on fucking Spotify, bro?
So what was the reaction when you dropped the original last April?
It was crazy. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, all that shit. We were just sitting back like, “What the fuck is going on?” Cause we dropped that to let people know we had just put out a project. It was like, “Okay, you’re watching the music video and then at the end it says ‘Available Now.’”
So when did labels start reaching out?
This was April when we dropped it. We were thinking probably January. Fuck no! A month later, if that. A month later we sat back like, “Are you sure? Like really? Like us? This shit? Alright, whatever.” That’s when I went back in, me and YG Beats. We chopped it up. Directed up. Put another verse on it and shipped it out bro.
Was that after you signed to 300?
No, it was before. The radio came to us first and then 300 caught everything that was going on. They were like, “Oh no, we need to pump some steroids into this shit.” And surprisingly, they really didn’t even do anything. They wanted to see how it was going to do naturally. They didn’t like shove down people’s throats or put a whole bunch of fucking money in it. It’s just growing organically and people loving that shit. We just sat back like, “Word?”
Why did you pick 300? I know Kevin Liles is from Baltimore.
Yeah, but Kevin didn’t – he wasn’t even the one who found us. It was Salim [Bouab], Lyor [Cohen], and Todd [Moscowitz]. They hit us and they called us out. At first we got the call and we were like, “300!?!? I ain’t signing to no fucking Chief Keef, bro.” And then when we had heard who it was – he already knew, he’s an older guy – but me, I was like, “Who the fuck are these guys? Lyor? The fuck is a Lyor? Todd? Who the fuck are you?” (laughter). And then I went on Wikipedia and I was like, “Oh shit! Nigga, us? They want us? We gotta go!” We was on the bus, hell yeah. That was crazy.
But why them and not someone else?
Because man, we definitely didn’t want to go to a label and definitely not a major. Cause you know, they juice niggas and you see how they be like. We see it everyday. We hear about, read about it everyday. So we were going to take our chances and start our own shit and just do it like that. But the fact that they’re independent with the muscle of a major and the way they move and the connections that they have – it was just like, “Alright, let’s try it out.”
Over time, we grew and built relationships and it wasn’t just all about business with them. Like Lyor text me, “Hey Tate, I’m on a boat” and shit like that. Then Salim – we had Salim in the strip club with us. Me and Todd exchanged information about leather jackets and shit like that. Like they’re just real humble and genuine. They actually care about their fucking artists and shit. So it’s amazing. You don’t get that everyday. You’re not going to get that.
Do you get recognized in Baltimore?
[Tate’s manager: Shit, I ain’t going to the mall with him.]
Tate: We causing riots, bro. And then people walk up to me like, “You ain’t Tate Kobang.” Shit is crazy. Church be ridiculous.
You can’t even pray.
Right!?! And it be family. Like I’m sitting there praying and motherfuckers be taking selfies like, “Me and cuz.” Golly!
Most of the country was just following the Freddie Gray riots online. What was it like for you?
Man, it was a fucking war zone, bro. A war zone. Niggas had the National Guard in Baltimore. National fucking Guard.
Were you out there?
Hell no!!! My ass was in the house. I was like, “Look at these crazy ass niggas. That’s my cousin right there. He is crazy. Tyrone better take his dumbass in the house.” Look man, it was just crazy is what I’m trying to tell you. In a song, I said “I got a bitch live on Appleton, she like them killers.” Appleton is on both avenues. That’s actually my baby mother’s crib. So my kids was out there in that motherfucker. It’s the trenches, you know?
We seen this shit, we seen the aftermath. It was real. You don’t prepare for shit like that cause you never think it’s going to hit home. But when it do, you just gotta know how to go. All you can do is pray, there’s nothing we could do. It was what it was. But it wasn’t the first time police killed somebody at home and it won’t be the last. It was just the first time it reached a national platform. Shit, we shoot at them, they shoot at us. It’s normal. It’s Baltimore bro. Everything you see on TV, on The Wire and all that shit – that shit is real.
You used to tap dance. Did you get into tap cause you like to dance?
Nah, my mother made me do that shit. I’m a thug. I ain’t wanna tap dance, I’m a fucking thug man. But it was cool, it helped me appreciate culture.
What are your favorite songs to dance to?
Oh man. Well being from Baltimore, one of our favorite records to 2 step to is Gucci Mane – “On Deck”. Anything Michael Jackson and I’ll fuck some shit up. One of my shows I’m just going to stop the whole show and just do a Michael Jackson tribute. It’s going to be funniest shit you’ve ever seen in your fucking life. Cause niggas are going to be like, “Wow! He can really fucking dance bro.”
What’s your go-to move? When you’re in a pinch on the dance floor, like “Oh, shit!”
The Harlem Shake bro. Either The Harlem Shake or the Milly Rock. Its like you can Milly Rock through anything, you know what I’m saying? You can fall down the steps, get up, and be like, “Damn, you killed that fall!” Nah, that shit wasn’t on purpose B.
So for “Oh My” you got C-Note. You just got some dance-y shit. What other producers like him are you trying to work with?
Shit man, I want to work with Bangladesh. See, people don’t understand. I tweeted this the other day, but the ultimate goal in music and life period is to push people. Like Kanye pushed the shit out of Metro Boomin, yo. That shit was not Metro Boomin. That shit was Metro The Fuck Boomin. It was like a whole 'nother nigga.
That was like Rick Rubin.
Yeah! Rick Boomin. Metro Rubin. Like C-Note, that’s not a conventional C-Note beat. So I want to push people. I want see how Metro on some me shit. Yeah man, that should be the ultimate goal in music – to bring people outside of their box. I can’t wait to see what my final form is.
I like “Oh My” even more than “Bank Rolls”. It just makes you want to dance.
Yeah! People don’t understand that music is supposed to make you feel. And if it’s not making you feel, then it’s not fucking music.
My thing is I’m doing struggle rap. And when you think struggle rap, you thinking niggas that struggle to make bars. No. I’m telling you real life shit. Everything I say is real shit. I’ve been through it. I don’t do the “I’ve seen it.” People be like, “What do you go through to make songs?” Nothing. You shouldn’t have to go through shit to make songs because if it’s real and it’s really you, shit will come organically.
So yeah, I’m doing struggle rap. I struggle. I’ve struggled my whole fucking life. I’ve seen my mother struggle. I’ve seen my grandmother struggle. I’ve been through eviction. I’ve been homeless and had to sleep out front of gas stations in the snow and all the shit like that, you know what I’m saying? Like when I had bury my mother – my mother passed the day before my 21st birthday and then my father passed two months later. I had to go through that shit. I’m fucked up, bro. I’m an emotional fucking time bomb. Like any given moment, I’ll just break out. And sometimes it’s needed as a man. It keeps you – especially with this shit I got going on – it keeps you grounded. It gives you a foundation.