“If you’re not really about getting to the money, then you could go back to doing covers with a guitar. If you’re trying to get to the bag, come fuck with me,” music executive and District 18 CEO Brooklyn Johnny bluntly told me last year during a no-holds-barred interview.
Johnny’s confidence is a result of his recent success. Last year, Johnny was a burgeoning exec who helped elevate Cardi B from reality TV star to rap powerhouse with her chart-topping debut album Invasion of Privacy. Less than a year later, he watched Kodak Black fully arrive as an adept hit-maker, creating not only a top 10 Hot 100 single in “Zeze” but also earning his first No. 1 on the Billboard 200 albums chart with Dying to Live.
Amidst his run last year, Johnny created an imprint under RCA Records, which he named District 18, after his hometown in Brooklyn. Today, that imprint is ready to unleash its first artist, PopLord, to the masses.
PopLord’s latest mixtape, All Gas, No Breaks, finds the burly Atlanta MC trucking his way through thunderous trap beats with impressive vigor. Not only does he toss out clever lyrics on the ominous “Bells N’ Bars,” but he applies pressure toward his adversaries on the searing “Cap & Gown,” cautioning that at the drop of a dime he will “whack ’em, and put them on Channel 2 live.” And when Pop isn’t wrestling with the competition, he’s boasting about his romantic prowess, as on the Lil Baby-assisted “Call Me Daddy.”
“I don’t give them no breaks,” PopLord tells Billboard days before the release of the mixtape. “Back-to-back hits, punchlines, bars. No matter what style beat it’s on, it’ll still be real rap, all current events and shit that I’m doing. It’s organic. It’s me at the end of the day, along with the team putting it together with proper preparation.”
And while some would crumble under the pressure of Johnny’s lofty expectations, Pop relishes the moment; he wants to be another success story under the tutelage of the Brooklyn exec.
“I really don’t feel no pressure because I feel like I’ve been waiting for it,” he says. “I’ve been able to provide for everybody who’s depending on me. This should be easy, because I’m really just doing what I’m doing as far as everything that I’m saying, I’m actually doing. I can say I’m not worried. I’m not pressed. I’m just ready to go.”
With his new mixtape in tow, PopLord spoke to Billboard about linking up with Brooklyn Johnny’s District 18 label, his new mixtape All Gas, No Breaks, where he stands among Atlanta rappers and how being a songwriter helped him become a stronger artist.
How did you and Brooklyn Johnny link up, and what made you decide to go over to District 18?
We met about a year-and-a-half, two years ago. From the first jump from when we met and he heard the music, he was enthused like nobody else. I felt like he felt passionate about my music like I did. By chance, we got to vibing. He brought me to New York, showed me around [and] broke down certain situations. I’m following him through the business part of it, and it just felt like the best home for me. I had someone who believed in me.
For the project, you only have one featured artist: Lil Baby. Why did you decide to keep it limited in terms of guest appearances?
On a lot of my past records, I was known for doing songs with a lot of different people. So mainly, we just want to focus on Poplord the brand and everything is branded with what we’re [doing] right now.
How did you meet Baby?
Me and Baby are from the same hood. His home is my home. It’s still home. Everybody did what they did to get what they got. It’s always brotherly love when we link up, though.
Atlanta is a hotbed of rap talent. What separates what you bring to the table as an artist and as a brand?
I’m Pop. So it ain’t no limitation to what I can do on the forefront and with what I put together in Atlanta just on my own, striving and sleeping on couches, doing studio time and writing for different people. What makes me different is, like I said, [there’s] no limitation to what I can do. I can do a rap song, I can do a pop song. No limitations.
Do you think coming from a songwriting background gives you a certain advantage and makes you a better artist?
You do have a certain advantage because when you write for people, they really need you. When you’re an artist, they look at it as competition and they might say they’re going to do something they’re not gonna really do. But when you’re in there writing and you make hits, my people are actually trying to put you under their wing and put you by their side. It makes a lot of stuff easier too, to the point where it’s time for you to do your thing, they have no problem returning the favor. You’re ahead of the curve when you write for different people, and you say, “I need you to do this for me,” and they’re like, “No problem.”
Let me get a run down of some of the artists you have worked with in the past.
Everyone from Future, Thug, Rich Homie, PnB Rock, Uzi, 21, E40, Kash Doll, the list goes on. The list is crazy.
Who would you say in the industry gave you the best piece of advice?
From artist to artist, Future. He said always be mindful of how you move because they’ll always remember.
What do you feel is the most underrated aspect of your skillset?
It’s just not getting the platforms to be able to broadcast everything that everybody already knows. So once they start seeing it and it starts looking bigger and bigger, they’ll be like, “Oh yeah, it’s that time. He’s here. Let’s get our shit together.” Because they already know how I’m coming.
What do you feel has been the most vital piece of advice Johnny has given you so far?
Really just staying consistent and learning how to save. Basically having good characteristic traits, and playing with politics and the streets, so being inside and outside and knowing how to turn the switch on and off. Maintaining the focus on what’s the whole goal.
How do you balance being able to keep your ear to the streets but also not getting too involved?
I learn from my mistakes, being attached to the streets and in the rap lane. Having a studio in the trap — trap gets busted and all the equipment gets stolen, they take the hard drive. Basically, now I just invite everybody from the hood to the studio when I record. We have drinks, food, everyone’s smoking, doing what they do. Now you’re hands-on with the people that are there everyday, making them see this side and going over current events and what’s going on in the streets. Staying connected to your people, first of all.
What do you feel what kind of responsibility do you feel you have to your hood?
I feel like I’m the hood’s last hope. At the end of the day, it’s a lot of people, from young to old, looking forward to me winning because they know what type of person I am. I’m a stand-up guy type, so it’s like, whatever he said he’s gonna do, he’s really gonna do it. If he promises you this, he’s gonna do it.
Which three songs of yours do you feel best describes Poplord?
“God’s Child.” It’s a real testimony. I feel like I’m spitting book smart, street smart, and common sense. Those are like the top three things you have to have when you’re doing this shit. You have hood aspects of it, then n—as with money, girls, and the come-up. It just talks about everything. It’s facts.
“I Want It Back.” It goes back to writing for different people and they don’t really know where the style came from. It’s like, “I gave y’all a piece of me. I gave y’all a cup of the juice. I want the shine back.” I’m the creator. I love all of them and everyone is going to describe something different of whatever mode I was in.
[And] I’ll say “Raw.” All gas no breaks, straight raw. Even whatever I say to a girl, it’ll be raw and straight to the point. It just describes a lot.
Do you have any artists in mind that you want to work with?
Of course. I’ll work with damn near everybody in the game. That’s the perk of being a writer and an artist because you get to work with people and create their styles, shit that’s good for them. There’s people I’d want to work with, like the home team Cardi, and Drake, Wayne, just people I really fuck with.
If you could pick one song to be the soundtrack of your life, what would it be?
Meek Mill’s “Respect the Game.” In this chapter in life, a lot of people show you their true colors. They don’t really know what’s going on but they have so many opinions on certain shit, but are not willing to invest so you have to weed and pick out people who are really for you. You have to keep the people who really love you close to you.
When you get bigger and bigger, you don’t even go get your own food and shit. You can hire people to do anything but when people do it out of love, it’s different, because they really care about what they’re doing for you. It’s a team effort and people have to respect what’s going on and not respect what’s coming. They have to respect it now. If somebody say something to you, you gotta nip it in the butt right then and there because they’re going to do it again and not know they’re not supposed to really be doing that. I say “Respect the Game” to respect everything we’re coming with. If you could prevent it, you don’t have to cure it.