In the last year or so, Dugg has had quite a few wins. He reached No. 5 on the Billboard emerging artists chart, and scored three Hot 100 hits -- including "We Paid" and "Grace" alongside Lil Baby, and his latest single, "4 Da Gang" with Roddy Ricch, which has spent five weeks on the chart and counting. "We Paid" peaked at no. 10 on the Hot 100, and its video has garnered over 250 million views to date.
"I’m feeling good," says Dugg. "It’s been a long time coming."
While Dugg is basking in the simple joys of stardom, he reminisces on his tumultuous road to success. The midwest MC spent six years incarcerated, entering the system at the age of 15 for carjacking and gun charges. It was during his time in solitary confinement, alongside his older brother who is serving a life sentence, that he picked up a pen to write raps. "My brother was the one who told me when you get out, [pursue music]," he says. "He gave me my motivation."
Below, Dugg talks to Billboard about his relationship with Yo Gotti, getting inspired behind bars and his admiration for Taylor Swift.
You started writing music during a 6-year prison sentence. What made you gravitate towards it?
Seeing how it made my brother feel. He’s doing life. Not only were we locked up together but we were in [solitary confinement] together. When he came, he got me through, talking to me every night. My brother was the one who told me, "When you get out, do that s--t. Take it seriously. You have a story to tell." He gave me my motivation. I miss him. That’s all [my brothers] would talk about, getting out here with me, being beside me.
It’s so crazy because two of my brothers already came home from doing life sentences. One of my big brothers came home after 17 years. I feel like I’m gonna be a better artist, a better overall person [having] them with me. [My career] has given everyone in my family something to smile about. We had been through a lot of adversity. We lost my uncle, my other uncle went to jail for life. This has given everyone a breath of fresh air.
What’s the story behind signing to Yo Gotti?
Gotti offered me a deal before he heard all my music, that was the crazy thing. He saw me perform at The Big Show in Detroit and offered me a deal the next day. I really didn’t have no big songs. I just had good music. He said, “I look at you as the next star, what do I need to do to make [the deal] happen?” When someone recognized all my hard work, I really appreciated that. I wasn’t freestyling since 10, none of that shit. I had just started rapping. When I played him my whole catalog, he was like “Damn, I really f--k with you.”
After he said he wanted to sign me, I sent him “Dog Food” and told him I just made it yesterday, and he was like “man, that motherf—ker so hard. We had shot a video for “Dog Food,” but it was some industry s--t. I’m like “Nah, that ain’t how we need to do it.” We ended up doing it in Detroit and bringing the whole city out. I appreciated how much Yo Gotti was behind me.
What's one of the most valuable gems of wisdom you've gotten from Gotti?
He told me to take everything seriously. Treat this shit like your hustle. He always let me know, if you give this your all, I promise you it’s gonna change your life. I started taking it more seriously and being in the studio a lot ever since then. I’ll probably be making 100k a show in a month. Imagine that.
Lil Baby is both your label's CEO, collaborator and friend. What's that dynamic like?
Baby is my brother -- we were gambling when we first met and just developed a friendship over time. We were friends before all the music shit, but he’s definitely someone that saw my potential, believes in me and supports me. When we’re in the studio together, we got incredible energy and chemistry.
You talk a lot about Detroit whenever you have the chance. What’s the role of the city in your artistry?
Detroit is my biggest market. They f--k with me. Before [signing with] Gotti, I did an interview with Hot 107.5 and Stewe asked what was something I wanted Detroit to know and I said “If I make it, we make it.” I really stayed true to that and they just supported me the whole way. They made me the artist I am. I make music for Detroit, I don’t really make it for the world. It just so happened that the world fucks with it. I try to relate everything to Detroit, even when I’m on a feature with someone, I try to bring it back home.
Detroit got a lot of rappers that talk s--t. I got that from Detroit, growing up in the streets. Artists like Babyface Ray, Peezy, the whole team eastside, I admire all of them. They keep me going.
There's one thing that signifies we're about to hear a 42 Dugg track. What’s the story behind your signature whistle?
One time I was just trying to catch a beat. When I first started rapping I used to beat on surfaces to show how I wanted my songs to start. When they put the drops in the song, to catch the beat I used to whistle to myself. People just started fucking with it. I been thinking, when am I gonna be done with it? When will it be enough of the whistle? Just imagine me doing a full out album and whistling on every track. Motherf--kers are gonna be like, "Enough of the whistle."
What do you listen to outside of rap?
I listen to pop. I f--k with Taylor Swift. A lot of people wouldn’t know that. I bang her music. I like "Blank Space," I f--k with "Shake It Off."
What would you say if T-Swift wanted a 42 Dugg feature?
I’d say, "Hell yeah! When?"
You're releasing an album on May 21. What can you tell us about it?
The project is called Free Dem Boyz. I wanted to shine a light on all my people incarcerated. I feel like it was time for me to dedicate a project to them. Give them their own music, a soundtrack to their lives. My whole point of rapping was so that they feel it in jail. To give them something to look forward to. I was like, imagine if I can get them to hear my s--t on an mp3 player. That’ll be the best thing in the world. I want my album to go No. 1 in the world, even if it’s Apple Music. I think I got a strong chance.