Hip-Hop

Rising Michigan Rapper DDG Talks New Album 'Die 4 Respect': 'After This, I’ma Get the Respect I Deserve'

DDG
John Canon

DDG

DDG can’t even remember the last time he took a loss. “Man, I couldn’t even tell you,” he says, comfortably sitting mid-studio session while trying to reflect on the last time he felt down bad. For those who know the Pontiac, Michigan star, this relaxed confidence is far from just a front.

Considering a majority of DDG’s life over the last few years has been vividly documented through thousands of YouTube vlogs, posted for over two million of his loyal subscribers, it would be easy for anyone to pull up any clip of a perceived mishap with a simple search. Regardless, his stance remains completely firm: “I only say that because the L’s I take, I don’t really see them as L’s.”

DDG carries this “glass half full” perspective through every facet of his life, and it stems from his innately unshakable confidence he has had ever since he could remember. Equipped with this signature conviction and an enormous fan base he built himself from the ground up, DDG was able to ink a deal with Epic Records without compromising any of his conditions -- including the ability to own his masters, a valuable move not every budding artist can lock in. Again, he has his confidence to thank. “I just knew for sure what I brought to the table already,” he says. “I came with everything already, so to not get what I wanted from a label would just be shooting myself in the foot.” 

Now, his next mission is to achieve serious success as a recording artist. He’s currently gearing up for the release of his next project -- Die 4 Respect, a joint project with producer and real life friend OG Parker, out this Friday (Mar. 18). DDG has steadily built anticipation for the project through his hit “Moonwalking In Calabasas" -- which has garnered over 100 million Spotify streams since its release last year, as well as a spot on the Billboard Hot 100 for 11 weeks -- after finding himself dissatisfied with his debut album, 2019’s Valedictorian

The title of his debut sparked a playful running joke between DDG and his fans for a while, about how he must somehow always bring up the fact that he was valedictorian of his graduating class in high school -- actually true -- in nearly every interview. While speaking about his teen years during his newest D4R-related interviews would be the perfect time to bring it up once again, this time he’s more consumed with speaking about his growth, and how hopeful he feels about this chapter of this life. “The music is respected to an extent now, but they’re not all the way there yet,” he says of how the public's reaction to him inspired his new set's title. “But after this, I’ma get the respect that I really deserve.”

Check out the rest of DDG’s interview with Billboard as he speaks about his new Die 4 Respect project, being a part of the Michigan rap scene, memories from working his retail job and the importance of simply knowing what you bring to the table.

I’m sure plenty of producers want to lock in with you after seeing the crazy numbers you’re able to put up. What made OG Parker your right-hand man choice?

I feel like OG Parker is super-duper underrated. He’s a legendary producer, and he’s touched thousands of beats that you hear every single day. We just locked in in Miami, became close friends -- and when you build an actual relationship with a producer, the music just gets better and better.

You recently said that this next Die 4 Respect project isn’t going to be “no Valedictorian bulls--t.” You didn’t like your own debut album? So, what’s different this time around?

It was honestly rushed, and I didn’t really think about it like a body of work. It was 18 songs, and who is releasing that many songs on a single project? With this new project, there are even songs that I’ve paid a lot of money for and I still didn’t use them because they just didn’t fit this project. That’s how cohesive I needed it to be.

There are stories in this that you can actually go and look up -- and I think that’s what’s going to make my fans really appreciate it. It’s like, “Damn, he’s speaking deeper than what we seen on the Internet.” There’s a whole lot of stuff that I haven’t talked about. A lot of personal stuff that happened before all the glam and fame. I talk about childhood things, I talk about relationship problems. I’m opening up way more than what I’ve ever said online.

My favorite song is “Treat Me Right.” It’s just me on it, and this ‘tape is a majority [of songs with] features. But on that one it’s just me -- and I’m talking about my relationship, and I’m breaking it down and talking about cheating rumors and all types of s--t. When it’s just me alone, and especially with an engineer that I know, I’m able to freestyle and be myself. It was one of those songs that I just floated through. I didn’t write nothing and I freestyled the whole song. Those be the best ones. 

Whenever people ask you how you’re so confident, you usually say you’ve just always been like that. But I’m interested to know where it comes from, because I’m sure it’s rooted in something. What were you like as a kid?

I was definitely a music lover as a kid. We had a home studio in the crib, so me and my brothers would always go downstairs and play in the studio. I was the class clown, but at the same time I always did my work -- so that’s where the good grades came from. I think the good grades came from me being competitive. If I feel like somebody’s trying to compete with me, I go even harder. 

I’m just a really big fan of myself. It might sound conceited. If I see myself from a third person point of view, I’m like, “I see why these kids love me so much.” [Laughs.] I like to reassure myself like, “Man, you got this. You’re doing that, you work hard, you came all the way from this.” I remind myself every day that I’m doing great. Also, spiritually I’m confident. I feel like God invested in me. I haven’t lost in a long time. Even if I lose, I get it right back -- and it’s been like that since I’ve been young. 

When was your last L?

Man, I couldn’t even tell you. The L’s that I take, they don’t even be L’s. I can’t sit here and pinpoint an L. I’m extremely humble -- like, I got a lot of stuff going on in my life -- but I just like to keep going, give and help people a lot. I don’t look at myself as like more than somebody else. That transpires in my personality. 

Speaking of being competitive, Michigan currently has one of the most exciting scenes in hip-hop right now. Is there a sense of competitiveness driving it, or is it all teamwork?

No, I like seeing everybody win -- and it’s hard making it out of Michigan, so it’s dope to see. I also feel like I don’t sound like I’m from Michigan. The music I make, I don’t feel like I make it to sound like I’m from a particular place. The music scene in Michigan is beautiful, and we found a different sound. 

Now you got people like Lil Yachty, for instance, co-signing all the Michigan artists, and people are tapping in doing features. People are starting to realize that Michigan got a wave, and they’re latching on to it. We’re starting to get a lot of love... and it’s opening up to the rest of the nation, for real. I feel like it’s a lot of us now. I feel like people are starting to discover more and more about us. 

Recently you seem to be talking a lot about how people switch up. What has been your experience with that as you continue to get bigger?

I feel like other artists sometimes may judge me based on what they see on the Internet, then they make a decision on whether or not they should f--k with me based on that. I don’t give a f--k personally, but it’s just weird to see. I’ve seen people go from showing a lot of love to no love at all. I feel like that’s just early signs of success, and it just comes with the territory. But it’s also kind of cool to see, because you freaking out just means I’m actually making some kind of noise. 

It’s impressive that you own your own masters, something not everyone is able to say. How did you approach your label situation to ensure you got the deal you fully deserved?

I met with every single label you can think of, and I knew what I brought to the table. I came with a good fanbase already, I came with good music and a hit already. I came with everything already. So to not get what I wanted from a label would just be shooting myself in the foot. It was never about the money. Before I signed, I already had the money. It’s just good to have a machine behind you and the whole building trying to take you to the next level. I just knew what I brought to the table. I knew what type of deal I wanted and that it should work in my favor. 

But before those big money days, were your infamous glory days at TJ Maxx. You knew there was something bigger in store.

I remember hiding in the bathroom. I would literally go in the bathroom and sit on the floor on my phone for like an hour. I’d be getting called on the intercom and all types of s--t. I just really hated being told what to do. That was my main thing. I’d be getting called to the back, and they’d be like, "You’re not selling enough TJX Reward Cards." I’d see people on the line with so much clothes and I’m like, "I gotta take all those sensors off, take them off the hangers, fold them up, and bag them? I hate this job."

I think I was making about $200 a week. After I got my first YouTube check for $200, I was like, “Oh, I’m out.” The rest was history.

Where were you at this time last year and how does it feel to look back from where you’re standing now?

A lot has changed in a year. These 365 days can even really even set you up to be the person you want to be for the rest of your life. Around this time last year, I was dropping music -- I wasn’t getting the type of numbers that I wanted, but I knew I had to keep pushing and keep dropping and dropping. Eventually it led to “Moonwalking in Calabasas.” It was all about consistency. I was super focused at this time last year. I’m definitely not satisfied with anything right now, but I’m grateful and knowledgeable for the blessings I got right now. I like motivating people and inspiring people.