Young Greatness on working with Jazze Pha, Juvenile's melodic influence, and the long road to his first hit.
Young Greatness has found a hit with "Moolah," but as the theme of the song suggests, this didn't all come together overnight. "All my life I hustled just to get that moolah," the New Orleans rapper sentimentally recalls on the record, which pairs heart-string-tugging piano chords with his weathered, but celebratory vocals. The history present in the song is not only biographical, but also musical. Legendary Atlanta producer, Jazze Pha provides the melancholic instrumental, re-emerging after many years of silence and exploring territory that directly contrasts his funky, danceable sounds of the early 00s. "The chemistry was something like none other," Greatness recalls. "We actually recorded it in Atlanta, Georgia at Quality Control studios. The song just came about in like 10-15 minutes. When you make records like that, you know that its something special."
The single is also notable for its nuanced use of melody, a vocal approach that's becoming more and more common in rap, but something Greatness says is embedded in New Orleans culture, down to the way people speak. "We say everything with like a melody," he suggests, crediting rap's recent melodic embrace to one of his city's most celebrated rappers, Juvenile. "There’s a plethora of artists and they all have Juvenile lingo, but that’s really a New Orleans lingo."
The culture of N.O. is a large part of his music, but also his work ethic, learning very traditional methods of promotion from those who came before him, teaching him to let his passion be the driving force of his creativity. This resulted in Greatness travelling back and forth between Atlanta and New Orleans on a weekly basis, eventually landing a deal with Coach K's Quality Control label. Between the constant commuting, networking, and recording he's been doing since 2003, the rapper also faced some obstacles, finding himself in Houston for a time after Hurricane Katrina, experiencing personal tragedy with the loss of his friend and mentor, Andrae "Duece" Noel, as well as being incarcerated for a short time -- all of which simply inspired him to work harder.
"Moolah" is the reward for all the time put in, but it's the beginning not the end, as Greatness is already carefully planning his next moves, including his impending mixtape, I Tried To Tell Em 2. We spoke to the rapper about working with Jazze Pha, Atlanta's connection to New Orleans, and the overwhelming support he's found in his city. Read our conversation below.
How did you first get into music?
Well you know, I started music at a young age. Being from New Orleans, we don’t have that many outlets, we’re not big on the internet, you know I’m saying? We’re more soul-driven, the old school habits – standing in front of corner stores and clothing stores, selling CDs for 5 dollars and stuff like that. I started rapping in 2003. My best friend Andrae "Duece" Noel, he was murdered like two years ago. That’s who actually taught me how to rap, taught me everything I needed to know, and actually gave me my name, Young Greatness. One of the reasons I started rapping was because he was a dope rapper and I would always visit the studio with him and I just wanted to show the world that I’m learning from somebody that I feel like could be a great, but he didn’t have the opportunity. He had been rapping for so long he didn’t really have the drive like myself. So I knew I had the drive, he had the passion, but I knew my drive was more serious than him just to making it anything, period.
I was always a goal-driven person, so with that being said, I pursued music hard – started grinding and I noticed that in the game that person with the most hustle and who want it more – that’s who’s gonna win. It ain’t even so much about the talent, its about who want it more. And most of that be the people who come out on top. The people who have a certain swagger, braggadocio, a certain finesse about themselves. So you know, those are the things I kind of like grew myself into being. Went away to prison for a little while, did a little time, but that kind of molded me into the person and the artist that I am – to be able to chase my dream today.
Tell me about "Moolah"
I’m excited about the things that’s going on with “Moolah” – it’s a very big record. It's been heating up. I look forward to having a big summer. It has a good melodic sound and to work with Jazze Pha on production, a legendary producer. The chemistry there was something like none other. We actually recorded it in Atlanta, Georgia at Quality Control studios. The song just came about in like 10-15 minutes. You know, when you make records like that, you now that its something special. Just to have a record like that, being from the city of New Orleans, have an opportunity to put my city on the next level, to me that’s a blessing. You don’t really get that opportunity. There’s really only two options in New Orleans, either you die or go to jail for the young black man. For me to have the success that I’m having, I Couldn’t ask for a better situation, you know what I’m saying? Perfect label with Coach K and Pee with Quality Control, with Akon and Rici with management, I feel like I have an all-star cast. So with me, I’m just happy to be here, happy to keep on working, and I look forward to putting out more great records. Last July I dropped I Tried To Tell Em and it got a lot of notoriety in the game from some big artists, so I’m looking forward to dropping another one called I Tried To Tell Em 2 of course and really, really owning it with this one. This is going to be the one the makes or breaks my career. So I’m excited.
How did you meet Jazze Pha?
Well you know once I first signed with Quality Control – he always was a fan of my music prior to me even signing – so once I secured a solid situation, he was one of the first producers ready. He was ready.
So you think you'll continue to work with him?
Of course. We’ll keep working for the duration of my career. He ain't going nowhere, believe that. We gonna keep making them hits.
Jazze's from Atlanta. What's your connection to the city? You used to drive out there pretty regularly, right?
Yeah, I drove since like 2011 to the time I signed with Quality Control, I traveled backwards and forth. I stayed in Atlanta 7 days, I stayed in New Orleans 7 days up until I got signed. And that was my plan – to find a market that could work for myself because I had exceeded New Orleans. I had did everything I could possibly do there. I knew Atlanta had the right people that’s connected in the industry for me to make it. So I knew I just had to be on the scene. I had to be there. And I had to mix and mingle and eventually somebody was going to see the talent in me and help take it to the next level. So that was my formula. So if I had to give an artist a little ‘Music 101’ this is my ‘Music 101’ – travel to Atlanta 7 days out of the week, go back home 7 days out of the week, record a lot in Atlanta, go to as many mixers and music functions that they have, support the DJs, make your presence known and felt in Atlanta, and you’ll be rewarded like myself.
Do you think spending that much time in Atlanta influenced your sound?
No, because I already had – my sound was already unique. I always had like a versatile sound. I always had a sound where I could either turn on the lyrical stuff, turn it off, you know what I’m saying? Turn on the melodic stuff, turn it off because that’s the culture of New Orleans. If you go back and look at just... study hip-hop. Juvenile was one of the first artists to have melodics, melody. So when you listen to the current rappers like the Rich Homie Quans, the Futures, there’s a plethora of artists and they all have Juvenile lingo, but that’s really a New Orleans lingo. We say everything with like a melody. “What’s happenin, baby.” “What’s up, you coolin, huh?” “Meet me at the cornerstore.” Everything has melody, you know what I’m saying? So when you listening to the new artists, its not new to me because we always had that kind of lingo. Its almost like how in South Carolina they say they speak Geechie. Well that’s how we are in New Orleans, you know what I’m saying? Like if you want to say, “Hey, how you doing?” we say, “say” and whatever your name is. I might say, “Say Danielle” or “Say Rici,” you know what I’m saying? Instead of saying, “Hey, how you doing?” So its just a lingo thing
On that song “Yeah” with Quavo, you kind of used a Juvenile flow, and you’ve worked with Juvenile as well. What’s your relationship with him?
Juve – he’s like an uncle to me at this point in my career cause he’s watched everything that I do and he waits for me to fuck up and do something that’s not going to help me in the music industry or is something that I did wrong that I wasn’t supposed to do – the smallest things. Like I may have mispronounced a word and he might hear it and say, “Go back and fix that word!” – shit like that. But shoutout to Juvenile, shout out to all the artists in New Orleans, Lil Wayne, Master P, Birdman, you know what I’m saying? Everybody who made a way for New Orleans, shout out to them for giving me the opportunity to be the next up in the game.
Do you find that Louisiana is very supportive of artists in sort of an old-school way? You see artists like Boosie and Kevin Gates getting so much support in Baton Rouge. Kevin gates sold so many albums just off a regional fan base. Is there a similar support system in New Orleans?
Let me tell you how New Orleans work. They want you to make it to the next level. They want to say, “I know Teddy,” not Young Greatness. “I remember when he had the gold Regal with the dreadlocks and he used to sell his CDs for $5.” They want to know that they know the artist personally. So they want to see you… so I feel like they supportive of you until like they day that they die. So definitely, they’re huge supporters.
I know you go to Baton Rouge and everybody knows every lyric to every Boosie song. What’s it like hearing “Moolah” in your hometown? Do people go crazy? Is it just coming out of cars everywhere?
Man, “Moolah” is the craziest record in New Orleans right now. Every DJ, every club, every speaker in each car – you know, people just love it. It’s a song about rejoicing after you done hustle. You done hustled for a long time and you got some money and you just happy, you know what I’m saying?
Yeah, but I mean that came out last May. At what point did you realize it was huge? Was it right away or was it more gradual?
I realized when I was on Twitter one day, I had found out how to search the record to see how the fans interacted. And they had thousands of people hashtagging #AllMyLifeIHustledJustToGetThatMoolah, and I didn’t know! So when that happened, I called Rici, Pee like, “You see what Moolah doing?” They was like, “I know. You sleepin’” That’s when I started waking up like everything I need to do need to be Moolah Season. So that’s where the term Moolah Season comes from. When I seen that I said, “Oh, we on now.” So now I just need to keep it going.
When you made that song, did it feel kind of special? Did you know it was going to be such a hit?
Do you think you'll continue to work within that style now that you've seen how much it resonates with people?
I'mma just say this – watch the next record [laughs].
So you have the next single planned and everything?
I got the next 5-6 ones.
“Moolah” is still getting bigger everyday it seems. Are you just waiting it out before you drop the follow-up?
It just determines when the label ready for the next one. I’m ready now. I want to have 5 songs on the radio. I want own radio. Like I want to own radio. iHeart – I wanna be an owner [laughs].
So besides Atlanta and New Orleans, you also lived in Houston for a time.
Well you know when Hurricane Katrina hit a lot of people from New Orleans lived in Houston. So that’s when I really got on my grind with music. You know, living in Houston – this place kind of helped pave the way for me.
You’ve been a part of three 3 different scenes. There’s the Houston scene, the Atlanta scene, the New Orleans scene –do you see a difference in the way things work for those cities?
Yeah. Basically in Atlanta, that’s where all the power players at. That’s where all the people at to help you get to the next level. That’s where Quality Control at, you know what I’m saying? If you want to win, you have to be where the winners at. If you want to be a doctor, you have to be where doctors at. If you want to be a rapper, you have to be where rappers at, you know what I’m saying? Atlanta is like the mecca for music. But New Orleans and Atlanta are like cousins. Even with football, Saint and Atlanta – big rivalry. So its like, you know, cousins.
Was Coach K someone you wanted to work with? How exactly did you meet him?
Well you know Rici – I was at V103 doing an interview and I knew Rici from seeing her on Instagram with Wale, Gucci Mane, Meek Mill, a host of other artists. So once I seen her, I instantly approached her in like an aggressive way because she’s a female. So I knew she deal with artists trying to get with her like all day so what I did was I just took her phone and put my number in it and I think I text myself or called myself. And I told her that, I said “I’m Young Greatness, I’m an artist from New Orleans. I want an opportunity to play you some music.” So she brushed me off and I used to call her everyday until one day she answered. When she answered, I had a chance to go to QC to play her some music. So at that time I had a song with Juvenile called “Buku.” When I played her the music, I ain’t really think she liked it or not, so a couple days later she was like, “Send me some more music,” so I sent it to her. So then we talked a little bit more and that’s when she called me one day. She was like, “Hold on, I have Coach K on the phone” and they were on 3-way. He was like, “Man, where you at? We’re ready to sign you right now! Get to Atlanta!” So that’s how it happened. She took the music to Coach K and Pee and they went crazy.
Has he taught you a lot about the industry?
I learned a lot from – I pick up stuff from everybody. I learned stuff from Coach. I learned stuff from Pee, Rici, Akon, you know what I’m saying? I might even learn some stuff from you. I’m a very observant person and I take things from everybody. Even with music, some of the people I love the most, artists that I love the most, I take certain things from them. Hip-Hop reinvents itself, so if you want to be relevant in hip-hop, you have to learn from the artists that you love. So you know, that’s what I did.
Is there anyone in New Orleans that you want to work with?
In New Orleans or from New Orleans?
From New Orleans.
Eventually, I would love to work with Wayne. I haven’t worked with Curren$y yet, I’d love to work with Curren$y. The artists in my city that paved the way – I’d like to work with all of em. Just to show my support and my respect to every last one of them who gave me an opportunity, you know what I’m saying?
Did you grow up listening to Cash Money and No Limit?
Yeah, I was huge into BG and Juvenile, Lil Wayne, Big Tymers, Master P, No Limit – huge fan.
That was such a huge independent movement.
That was a big era. You probably listened to it.
Yeah, it was huge. And the fact that it started out independent and still got to that level, I feel like that’s indicative of how New Orleans and the rest of Louisiana supports its own.
So when can we expect your debut album?
Well the album is going to be called Can’t Rush Greatness, and I don’t know, but I’m ready [laughs].
So are you just sitting on a lot of music right now?
Yes, I have like 3,000 songs that’s ready to go. I’m ready.