Ali Gatie Talks 'It's You' and Why He Wants to Be 'the Perfect Mixture of Ed Sheeran and J. Cole'

Aidan Cullen
Ali Gatie

Even if you've never experienced heartbreak, Ali Gatie's music might have you wishing you had. The 22-year-old burst onto the mainstream scene last month with his brooding Hot 100 hit "It's You," which currently sits at No. 73. Gatie's ballads blend elements of hip-hop, R&B, and pop, but his rise has been anything but conventional.

Born in Yemen to Iraqi parents, Gatie's family spent time in Abu Dhabi before flying settling down in the Toronto suburb of Mississauga when he was in the third grade. Gatie had a tough time convincing his parents that music was a sensible career path -- most of his family worked as doctors or engineers. Following an uninspiring semester at university, Gatie decided to go all-in on his music dreams.

In 2017 Gatie caught his first bigbreak, winning an online RhymeStars competition judged by Joe Budden. The rapper-turned-talking head selected Gatie's track as the top video, netting him a $3,000 check.

 

With a pair of relatable singles, "Can't Lie" and the string-laden "Moonlight," Gatie made even more gains in 2018. The success of those songs led to a major label deal with Warner that he describes as a "partnership."

Perhaps what's most striking about Gatie's journey so far is his ability to establish an intimate bond with his fanbase. Ali made it a point to answer every DM and Snapchat message throughout his come up to create a personal relationship with each fan. 

Get to know the man behind the luscious locks and heavy eyebrows with our interview below. 

Billboard: How was your childhood transition from Dubai to suburban Toronto?

Ali Gatie: I grew up in Abu Dhabi and moved to Canada when I was in third grade, so I was about 10 years old. I really say I grew up in Canada. At home it was Middle Eastern culture, but outside it was more Western and multi-cultural. It's cool to see that I have different perspectives and it made me more open to meeting people. 

Who were your musical influences back then?

When I was really young and lived in Abu Dhabi, 50 Cent was the biggest thing in the world to me. When I moved to Canada, I got really into Ed Sheeran. He and J. Cole are my favorite artists. I want to be like the perfect mixture of Ed Sheeran and J. Cole. Somewhere right in the middle, where I'm not a pop star, but I'm not exactly a hip-hop artist. That's the best way to describe where my brain wants to be.

Did you have any sort of musical background?

Surprisingly, no. Nobody in my family ever did music. I went to university for business to make my family happy. Education is a very important part of becoming an adult in Middle Eastern culture. After one semester, I realized university was just an obstacle between me and my dream. I was already pursuing music, but I wasn't doing well. I thought if I really wanted it, I had to do it 100 percent. I left school and that was a whole big thing with my family, but I believed in myself and it paid off.

What did Drake mean to you as a kid growing up around Toronto?

I don't know if I would say I'm influenced by his music, but he's the biggest artist in the world. I think everyone is influenced by him with his music being everywhere. What Drake did that was so beautiful was paving the path for every other Toronto artist to at least be heard. Nobody took Toronto seriously before he made it a music city. Once he broke out, people like The Weeknd and Shawn Mendes started coming out of Canada. More producers also started making music. It sort of opened this creative lane for everyone to try.

How did you build your fan base so quickly? You seem to have established a connection early.

I had this mentality when I started making music that I would release a song and it would just blow up one day. I was young and na├»ve in 2016. I didn't understand the idea of rollouts and marketing plans. I started writing from my heart instead of making music people would like. I sang songs in my car and people would share it on social media if they liked it. They thought I was singing covers, but they were really my songs. That's kind of how I built a fan base. Once people found me, I would reply to all of the DMs and comments to make sure I was engaging with them. I built a personal relationship with each of my fans to where I'm kind of like their friend. 

"It's You" is making moves on the Hot 100. What's it like to have your first Hot 100 entry?

It's crazy. I've had these goals for myself and one was to make the Hot 100. I worked so hard for it, but when you see your name among the other names, I'm kind of a part of history in a way. I remember having 200 followers and telling my friends I would do this. It happened and it's so casual now. I hope this inspires people. 

How did that record come together and did you think it would have this kind of impact so early on?

I made the song in February of this year. I originally wrote the song to send it to someone else. I wanted to tell this certain person how I felt. She was asleep, so I thought to write the song, send it to her, and then go to sleep. I was hoping she'd wake up and see it, rather than me singing it.

At first, I wrote it just to get my feelings out. So the night I wrote it, I played it on my Instagram Live and people recorded it. They posted the snippets on YouTube, which went crazy. It had millions of views. It took on a life of its own. So when it came out, it had such a big impact with everyone waiting. The song came very naturally to me. It only took 15 minutes to write the entire record. I was just feeling the words in that moment and speaking from the heart.

What can we expect from the video?

Without giving too much away, the video showcases love in all of its forms, shapes and sizes. The video tries to represent every person or situation that "It's You" could be for each listener. It's very diverse and showcases love in different ways.

Explain the concept behind your brand LISN?

LISN is really the idea of how I wanted to be an artist that was all about music, and all I would ever ask from anyone was to listen. Give me that one listen and hear me out. I don't want your money, just give me a chance. I call my fans the Lisners because they fell in love after that first time. It's a cool play on words and they like it as well.

Is this leading into an EP or album?

I'm constantly writing and working on new music. "It's You" will land on some body of work. If that's an EP or album, I won't be stressing about it. I'm focused on putting out even better music and compiling the work into something. "Moonlight" will also be included in that, which will be filled with other stories.

What appealed to you about signing with a major label like Warner early in your career?

Every label was reaching out, but I wanted to be patient with it. Then I met the CEO of Warner and we clicked on a personal level. I wasn't even looking for a deal at the time. I liked the idea of Warner's rebuild and I could be a priority there and help restore the label. I've got a good partnership going with them. 

Who are some artists you'd want to work with in the future?

Bazzi's a really cool writer. Billie Eilish is killing it, she's amazing. Khalid is also dope. Ed Sheeran or J. Cole would be a dream come true. I love Adele as well.

What are some major changes that have happened in your life since your career started to take off?

When I first started getting good money, I moved my family. They used to live in a real small apartment, where I'd share a bedroom with my mom. So I moved them into a house about six months ago. My schedule is a lot busier. I get to focus on music now, which is amazing. I don't have to worry about money as much as I did when I was on the come up. I was working two or three jobs and living paycheck to paycheck.

What goals do you have for the rest of the year?

I'm going to keep working and make some Billboard-worthy, relatable music. I've never done a show, so I eventually want to figure that out. I want to build my live performance. I don't know if that's going to be a tour, though. I will definitely be doing some shows in key markets and around the globe. I hope there's more songs on the Hot 100 from me.