Were you ready for the success of "Broccoli"?
To be honest, I thought I was going to be well received but strictly on the SoundCloud platform. I had no idea that it was going to be a Billboard top 40 record. So yeah, I thought it was gonna be just lit for the culture, lit for SoundCloud, for the Internet. But it just really grew, to our surprise. So nobody's mad over here.
Were you more or less surprised than you were by the success of “Cha Cha”?
I did that record on the edge of my bed on a $100 mic, using a computer that had this fucking crazy ass fan noise because it had so much malware in the system and dust on the back of the fan. That's why the record sounded so dirty. To this day, it's my a cappella [on the song]. So the fact that it really shifted the culture and shit, that was what surprised me more.
It can be traced back to E-40.
You know what? 40 Water called me and he was like, "Yeah, you know I had a joint back in the day called ‘Broccoli'." Shout out to 40 Water because that man, he straight called me and was like, "Congratulations." That guy, he's really, really dope. A living legend.
Yeah. It's so cool to see him having this moment right now. He's been rapping for near 30 years and is arguably as popular as he's ever been.
Hell yeah. He knows how to be current because he IS culture. When you ARE culture, you're forever young, like Snoop. When you're on that level, it's just contributing to the gangsta. It's dope as hell.
Rick Rubin was another early supporter of yours. I'm curious if there's anything specific musically that you learned from him.
Yeah, it's a guidance that he provides. It's not like the guy from The Runaways [Kim Fowley] -- he's exactly the opposite. He provides just as much but he cools back, he listens. He brings out what he likes in things, and rarely points out what he doesn't like. He's just the best, man. He makes you feel like you've known him for a long time. He's got that vibe.
You said he tries to amplify what he likes about something. What do you think it is about your music that he gravitates towards?
I believe it's more so the creativity, and the scope of my overall sound. We both know this isn’t the end-all, be-all. I feel as though my shit is still evolving, as it has over all these years I've been making music -- even before shit popped off. Like, I feel as though I'm poised on stage because I was doing struggle shows for five years before shit even popped off, man. Just in Virginia 50, 60 people…even like, 12. At the end of the day, it's a mic, it's a speaker, I'm about to just do my thing. There's a girl in here, she might like my shit. Fuck it.
People ask me all the time if I get scared and shit. I like performing in front of big crowds. I remember I stepped out during the Taste of Chicago Festival during Donnie Trumpet's set. There was like 10,000 people out that bitch, for real. That shit was so sweet. To just see that many people, and they're looking at you -- you just got one mic, and you're just doing your thing.
On “Broccoli," you say, "I was five or six years old when I told myself, OK, you're special." Was that actually a moment in your life that you remember?
Yeah. Family reunion, Apollo night. Everybody contributes, sings a song. Ever since I was singing, I remember always getting mad claps. It was fun. It's fun to move people musically. And I knew, like, damn, I can do this.
Do you remember the first song you recorded?
Me and my boy CJ, we came up with this song. It was this drummer in this community youth choir, his name was Mr. Chelsea. He was like a big brother type to us, and he had all of this recording equipment. We was like, "We wanna rap." He was like, "Alright, bet, come through,” and we started rapping. It was called "The Introduction." Like, "We get the chickens cluckin' / something-something-something / This is the introduction." Something like that. And we was cussing and rapping and cussing… then, we listened to it in the car while Mr. Chelsea was driving, and he took out the CD and he fuckin' used an ink pen to destroy it.
Wow. How old were you?
I was like 15, 16.
To someone who's never heard your music before, how would you describe what you bring musically, what your sound and style is?
Damn -- I would say it's like a Mewtwo, if you're talking Pokemon. Just rare. So many things inspire me, from jingles to The Sound Of Music to big-band shit -- then as a teenager, being engulfed in the whole P-Funk wave, the Hot Buttered Soul wave. So I would say that the two most popular records -- "Cha Cha" and "Broccoli” -- are just a taste of the whole spectrum of things.
With "Cha Cha," do you think there were people who counted you out after "Hotline Bling” came out?
Did you ever doubt yourself?
Hell no. My thing is getting through to the people. One time kicking it with this girl, she said: "So what songs do you have other than 'Broccoli'?" And I'm like, damn. She never even heard "Cha Cha." So it's like a reason [to keep going] -- we're just gonna continue to build like that.
This feels like the start of something -- that there's a lot more to come. Even with the “Cute” record recently…
Yeah, thank you. I made that whole record on the spot. Charlie, he already had the beat. And I was just like, this shit is cute. I go, "I think you're cute" and we just went on like that. We laughed about it, and then made it a real song.
You're on Chance's album with a dope interlude [“D.R.A.M. Sings Special”]. How did you come up with that?
Yeah. It was done at Shangri La, Rick Rubin's studio. Donnie Trumpet and Nate Fox came into the studio and Donnie was talking about he's into making children's music. I was like, "Bruh, I always wanted to make children's music." I was literally trying to make something that you could put on Barney, that you could put on Sesame Street -- it was strictly for the children. That was the first intention. And Chance heard it through Nate and Donnie -- you know how producers are, playing shit. He called me mad times to use the record on the project as an interlude. After thinking about it, I was like, man, fuck it, whatever. It's just like, the first half of the record. Eventually, we'll release it in full.
Gotcha. And to go back to one more lyric from "Broccoli": You say "Acquired taste for salmon on a bagel." Have you found yourself eating better?
Hell yeah. The only fast food I'ma fuck with is Chick-Fil-A, and that's rare. But Chick-Fil-A is good as fuck. It's real good, quality chicken. Look at the way the chicken shreds on the inside.
Have you been eating more broccoli?
I've always liked broccoli an' shit. So it's good. I remember my mama used to use that for the vegetable side for a lot of meals, with some butter and some salt and pepper. It's real good. Mix it with the rice, whatever the meat is. So I've always been a fan of broccoli -- intake has been the same, the record’s just a coincidence.
A version of this article originally appeared in the Sept. 3 issue of Billboard.