YGTUT has the heartbeat of a Chattanooga soldier. The Tennessee rapper has more soul in one bar than some artists have across their albums. His 2015 album Preacher’s Son remains one of the most affecting projects to come out of the South in the last decade. A methodical rapper and talker, TUT’s latest EP I.O.U. (out January 18) is a far more effortless and spirited affair. He’s delivering the life raps that we love him for, with a freshly emboldened approach. There’s a refined and enthused energy to I.O.U., one that comes from TUT’s self-described sprint towards change.
“You have to evolve as an artist and as a man in general,” TUT tells me over the phone. “If I’m still the same person I was four years ago, that means I’m not doing shit. That’s what being on this earth is about: you're supposed to be better than you was yesterday.”
And I.O.U. is certainly better. The project is a peace offering to fans and a moment of blown-off steam for TUT. He balances danceability with life lessons. He strikes chords and gets the party jumping. Not as laid-back as Preacher’s Son, I.O.U. still fits into the mood music category, only this time the mood is introspective-thinker-who-likes-taking-shots. Forward thinking at its finest.
Even so, YGTUT’s past is not so bad. Four years removed from Preacher’s Son, the immaculate nature of which cannot be understated, and TUT still gets messages from fans letting him know they’re playing the tape and it’s changing their lives. “I really appreciate my fans and people who give me spins, people that can’t wait for me to drop a project because that lets me know that I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing,” he says. “What I’m doing actually has purpose. What I’m doing is actually changing somebody’s life.”
Cherishing the fans is actually the concept of I.O.U., wherein TUT admits he owes the fans new music and a quick update on the time he’s spent away. Now signed to Sony Music and with albums in the chamber, TUT vows to never take a hiatus again.
“We know we been gone, but we come back with guns fully loaded,” he jeers. “We come back, snappin’.” The music, of course, speaks for itself.
DJBooth’s full interview with YGTUT, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
DJBooth: Did you see yourself several projects deep when you first started making music?
YGTUT: When I dropped Preacher’s Son, that was the first project we really dropped. It just did way better than we could’ve really expected it to do. Obviously, I had to regroup after that. People switched up; I had to cut some people off. We ended up getting here, but I don’t think anybody could’ve foreseen how this shit went.
I love the title of the new project. What do you feel like you owe, and to whom?
Oh, we owe the fans music. We’ve been missing for a bunch of years, that’s where the concept came from. I owe y’all music. I get on Twitter all time, any social media, really, and you got fans in the comments like, “Hey, bro, when you gonna drop a project? It’s been like four years, what the fuck?” Even now, you still see people trolling or whatever, even though we done gave them a release date. They’re like, “Man, I feel you. I understand you dropping on January 18, but you need to drop that motherfucker now, bro!” People already been waiting four years [laughs]. I’m just ready to drop, give these people music. We gon’ drop an album after that, drop another album after that. We owe the fans music, and we gon’ give them the shit they been looking for. People, they still bumping Preacher’s Son.
That makes me think of “Get It,” where you mention you live all of your music. How important to take breaks to live life in your process of making music?
It’s important to live life, but I live in the studio, really. I spend most of my time there, but I do try to take little breaks. A week or two at a time, to just live and do something else. Read a book, think about some other shit [laughs]. It’s cool, I don’t really try to think too much about stuff. I just try to take it how it comes to me, and go off of that.
On “Goodnight” you have a line about sprinting towards change. What’s the virtue of changing as a man and as an artist?
You have to evolve as an artist and as a man in general. If I’m still the same person I was four years ago, that means I’m not doing shit. That’s what being on this earth is about: you're supposed to be better than you was yesterday. At least, that’s how I feel. That’s why I was like “You n****s be running from change, I be sprinting to it," you feel me? That’s what that whole thing means.
Were you ever scared of change?
Probably a little bit. Shit, change is scary. But once you start to change or you start to understand, then you understand I’m changing for the better. I’m changing to be a better person in life; I’m changing to help the next person; I’m changing to help my family. If I’m still out here toting pistols and selling molly, then I’m caught up.
How have you changed as a man since Preacher’s Son?
Just more responsible and honest. I just try to be more solid, more real. I try to be somebody that you can depend on, and you can rely on. I’ve become more of a leader as I’ve evolved.
This project feels a lot looser and effortless. How did your recording process change for I.O.U.?
Like you said, it’s just evolving. I’m at a point now, I’ve been doing this for so long, at some point you gotta act like you know what you doing. With these last few projects, it’s like as effortless as possible but [they] still have substance. Still have some shit that resonates, because that’s what I’m known for. People feel where I’m coming from, and they understand it because I put into it a perspective and I’m being genuine myself.
How do you balance fun sounds and life lessons in your music?
That’s just natural. I’m giving you me as a person in the music. I’m a humorous-ass person, I like to joke around. That’s gonna be in the music. I’ve also got a big heart and I’m empathetic, so you gonna hear the empathy in the music, too. All of that. It’s a balance, but it’s, for me, not purposeful. It depends on how I’m feeling that day when I go into the studio. If I’m on some hype shit, I’m on some hype shit. If I wanna talk about something that’s heartfelt, then I’m gonna make something that’s heartfelt.
The heart of Preacher’s Son was Chattanooga. What’s the heart of I.O.U.?
The heart of I.O.U. is just telling you what the fuck we done been at these past few years. That’s what I tried to expand on, but not too much, because I gotta save something for the album. It’s just telling you Preacher’s Son did what it did. After that, we started doing shows, we started getting a fan base. All of a sudden, boom, we get to this point. Now we signed to Sony, now we dropping an album called I.O.U., now we got a situation going on. We know we been gone, but we come back with guns fully loaded. We come back, snappin’.
Was there any fear coming back, especially since music moves so fast?
Yeah I did have some fears about that, but I don’t know, it ain’t like I’m the first rapper to take a hiatus. Frank Ocean did that shit and look at him. I took a hiatus because shit was fucked up in my circle. I had to go get home straight. I had to go get my whole situation together. I had shit going on in my personal life that don’t really affect nobody who listens to my music.
What does it feel like knowing that people still bump Preacher’s Son?
That speaks volumes, bro. It just lets me know how much the music really reaches people. If I told you that I saw this shit coming, I would be lying. I was just taking the shit the way that it came to me. I be trying to reflect more! I ain’t been doing too much reflecting on the past years, meeting fans, how many lives I done touched. I be trying not to think about that shit for some reason [laughs], and I don’t know why. I really appreciate my fans and people who give me spins, people that can’t wait for me to drop a project, because that lets me know that I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. What I’m doing actually has purpose. What I’m doing is actually changing somebody’s life. I just wanna be that for people, but at the same time be myself. I want you to know that I’m genuine. Whatever I tell you, I’ll tell you to the truth. I just wanna meet as many fans as possible, and just show ‘em just how appreciative I am.
Knowing you change lives, do you feel any pressure when you’re creating?
It’s not in my mind. You can’t think about those kinda things. If I’m saying something that touches somebody else, I kinda look at myself as a vessel. That’s God speaking through me. I don’t necessarily see that as my own doing. My own doing is probably more of the ratchet shit, you know what I’m saying? I feel like it’s God speaking through me, to help somebody else get through their shit. Nonetheless, it’s still coming through me.
What’s the biggest life lesson you learned during your time away getting things straight?
Don’t compare yourself to other people, because you not other people.
Is that something you struggled with?
I don’t compare myself to other people, but once you really understand that… It speaks volumes. You gotta understand that it’s deeper… Whatever path you on and what you doin’, it’s just your path. Just because you’re not moving as fast as the next person is moving, don’t get down or feel bad, or get hard on yourself because your path ain’t the next person’s path. You have no idea, nor do they have any idea, what’s in store for you and your future.
Last question. Yoh mentioned to me you two have a new bowling tradition?
Oh yeah, bro. I bowl with no bowling shoes. I always wear sneakers, like fly-ass sneakers when I go bowling with Yoh. Whenever me and Yoh go bowling, we go bowl and he wears bowling shoes and I probably have on some Bape sneakers, and they always be trying to get me to put on bowling shoes and I be like, “Nah, I’m cool. I’m too fly for that shit. People gotta see this whole fit together.” I gotta make sure you see the whole fit, from head to toe.