On June 5, Yungeen Ace was leaving the Wasabi Japanese Steakhouse in Jacksonville, Fla. when a car pulled up next to his and opened fire. The shooting resulted in the deaths of his brother Trevon Bullard, 18, and two friends, Royale D’Von Smith Jr.,18, and Jercoby Groover, 19. Yungeen reportedly suffered eight gunshot wounds and was rushed to the hospital in critical condition, and was told that he wasn’t going to make it.
In a testament to his character, Yungeen pushed through and was reportedly released in less than 24 hours. Unfortunately, the miraculous moment was short-lived, as Yungeen was then discharged into police custody and booked for a parole violation relating to Yungeen handling a weapon at a gun store earlier in the day, according to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.
For anyone, these situations can be difficult, and a support system is necessary, but as Yungeen admits to Billboard, “I lost three of the closest people in my life to me. I went to jail right after the situation so I couldn’t mention how I was feeling to anybody. Even now I still feel it.” Despite the loss, Yungeen turned to music, as it’s been his way to vent ever since his uncle passed six years ago.
Following his release from prison on six months house arrest on June 21, Yungeen wasted no time releasing a new track entitled “Jungle,” which alludes to the struggles Yungeen has faced living in Jacksonville. He soon followed that up with the track “Demons,” which describes Yungeen’s feelings towards the demons that want to hurt the 20-year-old rapper. Directing all the energy surrounding him to his music, Yungeen is releasing his debut mixtape Life of Betrayal tomorrow (Aug. 3).
Yungeen has only a handful of songs on his SoundCloud page, but with the local buzz he has in his hometown of Jacksonville, and the attention he’s now getting following the incident, he has his sights set on telling the world his story — in memory of his loved ones.
Billboard spoke more with Yungeen Ace about his music inspirations, the pressures of releasing his debut mixtape, and what changes he’s making in his life following the incident. Check out our conversation below.
What inspired you to start rapping?
I’d say when my uncle died. That’s what really inspired me because I never really had anyone that would sit there and really listen to me or really understand me. I basically just listened to myself. I’m the only person who really knows how I feel. As for a rapper, I like Boosie, but Jay-Z really taught me. It wasn’t even only through music. It was through life and how he lived it, you know what I’m saying? He taught me how to go get it.
There’s always been a lot of talent coming out of the Florida rap scene. What does it mean to be a part of that yourself?
It means the world to me, because this is something I always wanted to do. I always wanted to be on top. I always wanted to shoot for the stars, you know what I’m saying? There are a lot of people in Jacksonville, and in Florida, that all love Ace Hood. He was always the one to talk about. So it means a lot to be recognized and have people like my music. If you like my music that means you can feel what I’m saying. That’s real, it means a lot.
What’s the concept behind your new mixtape Life of Betrayal?
Mostly betrayal. My whole life I’ve been betrayed. With loyalty, I’ve been crossed too many times. Loyalty means everything to me. When you talk to me, just be 100, don’t play or fake it with me. You know what I’m saying? It’s a lot behind that word betrayal. But there’s a lot of different things on this mixtape, too. This is my very first mixtape of my own. Everything I’m talking about, you’re going to feel it. You’re going to see how versatile I am. Some rappers just talk about one thing or they flow one type of way. That’s not me. I can talk about anything. I can get you in and out of your feelings and thoughts. I can have you thinking different things on another level.
With the title being Life of Betrayal, do you feel God betrayed you by taking the lives of your two friends and brother?
No. God [didn’t] betray me. God has a plan for me. The story is already written.
With all the attention you’ve gotten following the incident, is there any pressure with this being your first project?
I mean, pressure? I never been the type of person to go off pressure. I don’t fear nothing. I put my all into it. It’s going to be what it’s going to be. It’s going to fill its space. If you think I go hard then I’m going to go harder because I know it’s going to happen, regardless. I have no choice but to go hard.
Was the mixtape finished before the incident?
Yeah, I already finished it. I’m not going to lie, with this mixtape, I didn’t really get all the way into the incident. But everything that comes after this is going to be focused around it. As you say that, I wrote this one song that will go into some detail about the incident. How I feel about the situation. I was hoping that I didn’t hold anything back, but from now on, nothing is being held on to.
What was the most challenging thing about making this mixtape?
Trying to take myself out of my shoes and trying to put myself in somebody else’s shoes. Trying to figure out what people wanted to hear. Just to see what it’s like to make a specific type of song. I tend to mix up my music and put myself in other people’s worlds like drawing a different crowd you know what I’m saying? If you do something for one crowd you won’t grow. I try to step out and reach everybody. So I had to challenge myself to make something that’ll reach everybody.
You released “Jungle” right after you left prison. What was your mindset going into that record?
Life is a jungle, man. We all know that. I swear to God this life I’m living is a jungle, especially in Jacksonville. Every day you take chances. You go to the store and there is a chance you may not come back, or you may not even make it to the store. Everything is a chance. Even being in your house is a chance. You can come out [of] the house and someone is pointing the gun at you right there. A lot of people play for keeps and with that you have to gamble in life. I got shot eight times. I lost my family. I’m here today but I might die tomorrow. I live for the moment. You never know what’s going to happen tomorrow. It only takes a minute.
What makes this time right to drop a project?
I know a lot of people like my music, but it’s time for them to really like see where I’m coming from and see what I’m shooting for. It’s the perfect time. Like, all the attention that I’m getting right now? It’s just perfect.
With you saying the time is “perfect,” do you think everything happened for a reason?
Yeah, I’m not going to sugarcoat it. It definitely raised my stock up. I was at 76.9 thousand followers on SoundCloud. When I got in the hospital I was at 133 thousand. I wasn’t even in the hospital for 24 hours. I was in there for only like 15 hours. I had already jumped damn near 70 thousand followers. It definitely did a lot for me. A lot of people reached out to me but I can’t name all of them. But it for sure brought me a buzz.
How do you flip everything that happened into a positive for you?
I’m just a strong person. I don’t know, but I used to pray. I don’t even have a correct answer for you. I don’t know how I do it but I just do it because it’s me. That’s just how I am. I just know how to keep moving on. I’m still hurt, but I’m healing. It took my heart away. I don’t have no one I could laugh or kick it with right now because I lost those three people who I called on the daily.
Will your music explain all of it?
Most definitely. This shit inspires me and makes me want to go harder, it’s motivating.
With the situation surrounding the shooting, I’m sure you’re making changes in your life. What are they?
The number one change I made was to separate myself. A lot of people are saying I’m acting different or changed, but really, I’m just keeping my distance. A lot of people don’t know what I saw. This shit is crazy. They don’t understand the thoughts that run through my head. When I was in jail, I was in confinement. I was in the cell by myself so the same thing kept playing in my head. I tend to separate myself from a lot of people because I don’t want to replace my brothers.
You tweeted a while ago that you’re grinding hard because today might be your last. With everything that has happened, how important is that quote to you now?
That’s just how I think. Any day could be my last day, so everything I do, I give it my all. I got shot eight times. The nurse told me I wasn’t going to make it. I try to live my life to the fullest. I’m on probation so I can’t really go outside as much. So all day I’m just making songs. I’m always thinking about different ways to be successful, all day. All there is, is time to think. I work harder and smarter.
Moving forward, I’m working hard and staying focused. I’m not going to lie, I try to enjoy the finer things. Like with my family and all that. Normally, I don’t enjoy it, but now I do. Losing something that’s valuable to you, and then sitting in jail makes you think of the shit you should be focused on. Before the incident, I was never home. Now every time I go out, I’m like damn, I should be spending more time with my mother or spend more time on other things. I hope for the best and prepare for the worst.
Life of Betrayal Tracklisting
01. “True Story”
03. “Wanted” Feat. NBA Youngboy
04. “Fuck That”
05. “Have You Ever”
08. “Jungle” Feat. JayDaYoungan
09. “Hold Me Down”
10. “Find Myself”
12. “All In”