Casanova on His New EP 'Commissary,' How Prison Molded Him & Squashing His Beef With 6ix9ine

Earl Gibson III/WireImage
Casanova attends the 2018 BET Awards at Microsoft Theater on June 24, 2018 in Los Angeles.

After serving nearly eight years in prison for a robbery conviction, Casanova made a vow to never find himself inside a prison cell again. Following his release, dreams of becoming a rapper were far from his mind, but after trying his luck, Casanova would soon find success.

Casanova first made noise in 2016 with the hard-hitting single “Don’t Run,” which garnered a significant amount of buzz for the Brooklyn MC. Thanks to Casanova’s strapping voice, charismatic personality, and unyielding confidence, “Don’t Run” set New York’s music scene ablaze. The song’s runaway popularity led Casanova’s longtime friend, Taxstone, to introduce him to fellow Brooklyn rapper Memphis Bleek, who signed him to his Warehouse Music Group imprint through Roc Nation.

Casanova kept the momentum going in 2017 as he released his debut mixtape Be Safe Tho and embarked on The Party Tour with Chris Brown, 50 Cent and more. In 2018, Casanova released the street single “Set Trippin,” which became a breakout hit earning over 14 million views on YouTube. The immediate success of the single led to Casanova signing a major-label deal with Roc Nation and solidify his status as one of the hottest acts out of New York City.

With an already convincing résumé, Casanova isn’t slowing down anytime soon. On Friday, Casanova will perform at Gramercy Theatre for his first headlining show in New York. In addition to the concert, Casanova is releasing his new EP, Commissary, which is being made available to more than 200,000 inmates thanks to a partnership with JPAY, a corrections-related service provider.

Billboard sat with Casanova at the Roc Nation office to talk about the EP, the lessons he took away from prison, fears of not making it in the industry and more. Check it out below!

New York hasn’t seen an energy like yours in a very long time. How did you develop that and who inspired this energy?

I don't know, man. I feel like I got something to prove to those that are praying for my downfall. I just give it everything that I got. Every time I perform, every time I rap, every time I'm in the presence of greatness, I feel like I have to show off. I know some rappers are lazy and get comfortable in their own skin; I'm not comfortable.

It doesn't matter if I'm performing in front of 20 people or more, I still got the same energy. I love DMX, man. He inspired it. When DMX performed, you felt it. People would want to go to a DMX concert because they knew they were going to get a show. That's how I would want to be.

What's the biggest misconception people have of you?

I'm not approachable. People are hesitant to come over to me but I'm always the one to initiate it asking how they're doing. They see I'm actually a cool person and I think that's the biggest thing everyone fuck up about me. I won't talk to everybody but I'll just pop up, say what’s up, and ask how they’re doing. They’ll always tell me 'I thought you were a dickhead or mean person' and I'm like, 'nah I'm cool, wassup?' [laughs].

How has music turned your life around following your stint in prison?

It was another way to get legit money. I never been legit in my life other than music. I was always committing crimes or doing something that might have ended me up in jail. So I think music saved me as well because I don't have to rob, steal, scam or sell drugs for it.

What lessons did you take from prison and applied to your journey throughout the music industry?

It taught me everything I know. I turned 21 in jail; I became a grown man in there. I just learned to be respectful, play chess not checkers. It just teaches you how to move. If you could survive in the yard in jail with some of the worst people in the world, you could survive in the industry. You just have to know how to move and keep your secrets to yourself because people talk to much. I'm still learning in the industry, too. I learned to calm down and not take anything personally.

You recently got off parole and you’ve been celebrating all over social media. Besides partying it up, what’s the best thing about being a free man?

Being able to go home and play with my kids. That's a big thing with me. I think I lack being a parent even now. It takes years to get it right and I think I missed half of my daughter's life. Now I have a son and I’m not with his mother so it's kind of frustrating to rap, chase your dreams, and then get home. So when I do go home it just does something for me. It's truly a blessing now especially coming from where I come from. I always tell people I feel like I stole somebody's dream. I'm not giving this back. I took it and I want it forever.

How do you navigate through the music industry and the empty promises that come with it?

I think the rap industry is fake. You'll be a fool to think all of this is real. Once it does get real the industry will eliminate you. Everybody wants to hear, "Everybody getting shot!" but as soon as I really shoot somebody it's over. The label isn't picking up the phone, your manager and everybody else is running. You have to understand it's all fake. The industry is the industry. Nothing but lies, fraudulent people living a life that they know nothing about. I can say a million fake people names but we don't care because we like their music.

Earlier this month, you managed to get on the Hot 97 Summer Jam stage not once, but twice. Coming from New York, what was it like to hit that legendary stage?

It was dope. I did it twice last year too. I'm just one of those dudes that’s trying to outwork everybody. If they don't want to do it then let me do it. Let me get the crumbs, I'm ok with the crumbs, just give me something. That's what a lot of people are not ok with. They don't want to perform on the festival stage. Why not? I'll do it. I'm not going out for one or two minutes either. That's how I know I'm going to beat the competition they won't be able to outwork me.

Do you think Ebro was wrong for not adding you to the list of performers?

I don't feel like he was wrong. I feel like everybody has a job to do. Again, I'm taking it back to jail, them officers talk to you so dirty and you just gotta learn how to deal with it. Me, personally, I learned it from jail; discipline yourself so nobody has to discipline you. Did I want my own set? Yeah. Am I complaining? No, because Ebro is going to put me on to headline Hot 97 when I'm hot enough. You can't deny fire. All it makes me do is think that I have to work harder. Once you can't deny it, nobody can stop you from shining you know what I'm saying? Shoutout to Ebro man, he got me three passes to get in there.

Speaking of stages, your first headlining show in New York is coming up. How do you feel? Is there any doubt in your mind that the tough New York crowd won’t connect with you?

Oh man. I'm just hoping it's lit. A lot of things were going on as far as the police not letting me come out and perform, but everything is cleared up now. I'm just hoping everybody come out for me, man. I'm nuts. I'll get up there and talk my whole show. I don't care. I remember when I first started rapping and nobody knew my song. I still found a way to get people to rock with me. I'm not scared of that. I always make the people rock with me. I don't care if I have to jump in the crowd and start the milly rock, it's going down.  

Let’s talk about the Commissary EP. What’s the concept behind it?

I get all my motivation from jail. Commissary meant so much to me when I was in jail that I felt like naming my project that would do something for dudes that are still in prison. My music is commissary because you need commissary in jail.  People will do anything for commissary. My music is for the streets, the jails. I could have been bougie and gave it another name but I'm going to stick to my roots and let everybody know I didn't forget about anyone behind the wall.

How important is it for you to give inmates across the country the EP first?

I feel like that's where all my support comes from. People in jail support you with a different type of love. It's like they don't want you to come back; they're are happy and proud of you. When they told me we were hooking up with JPAY to make this happen that shit made my day. It's dope. I felt like I did justice to them because they're going to love my music because they're going to love me. I've been all over these facilities. Jail was like my second home, I was there more than I was in the streets.

What's the sound on the EP?

I'm all over the place. I just tried a few things to know what the people like since it's my first real project. I'm just kind of preparing myself for the album. I went rap, I went with A Boogie on my calm shit, I even tried putting a little auto-tune on my voice and did a little something. It's just my first project. It's the jab before the knockout. I feel like if you still doubt me after this EP, I got something for you when this album drops. Major features, everything. It's just premeditated murder.

What can you tell us about the debut album?

It's going to be crazy, man. I got some songs from a lot of good people. I'm calling in all my favorites. I can tell you now that A$AP Rocky will be one of the features on there. He mentioned me on his track “OG Beeper” so shoutouts to Rocky.

How do you find the balance between the street records and radio-friendly records?

I think it's a gift and a curse that I just started rapping. I didn't find myself yet. I'm just all over the place. I'll do a pop record. You know some people who only want to rap? Man, listen I want the money. I don't want to rap forever and I don't want to be the best rapper in the world. I want to be rich. If I gotta go country, pop, rock and roll, however it is, I want to make those songs. However it comes to me is how I'm going to push it out.  

How did you end your beef with 6ix9ine? It took a lot of people by surprise.

It was spontaneous. We pulled up to a club at the same time and it was one of those moments where we just had to do it for the city. I feel like people wanted me to do something to him though. Someone wanted me to do their dirty work and fortunately I didn't fall for the trap. I'm happy I didn't. Even after the beef was dead, I still feel like I don't get the proper placements I'm supposed to be getting and they still use that beef as ammo. People really don't want to believe that we're good now.

A lot of rappers have claimed they’re the king of New York, including 6ix9ine. So I want to ask you who you think the King of NY is right now.

The king of New York will forever be Biggie to me. Biggie is like God to us. Then, it's JAY-Z but Biggie paved the way. He gets the title even if he's dead, he’s the king. I'll give him that title forever and a day.