Louisville’s 2KBABY knows a thing or two about grinding. As Eric Skelton wrote for Complex in his 2019 interview with 2KBABY, “Growing up in Louisville, 2KBABY, 19, and his little brother didn’t have anyone else to depend on, so they had to fight for their survival from a young age.” A hasty decision to move from Louisville to Atlanta spurned on 2K’s understanding of his melodic talent—he was used to “really rapping” before moving to ATL. “I was staying at hotels and all types of shit,” 2K told Skelton of his move. “So as soon as I got out after getting jammed up, I hopped on the road and went to the A. I ain’t even tell nobody.”
Today, 2KBABY is releasing the fruits of his move, the fruits of his musical and emotional labor: Pregame Rituals. On the standout song “BALI BLONDE,” 2K sings, “I went through hell just to feel accepted.” Like I said, no stranger to fighting and grinding, working to the bone, and getting to the other side of pain. 2KBABY is no stranger to getting to the promised land.
“I always felt like I needed to catch up,” 2KBABY admits to me over the phone. “I wasn’t jealous of other kids and shit, but I felt like I was behind. Even with this music shit. It’s a blessing, but I still be like, ‘You behind.’ I wanted shit to happen a year or two prior to when it did happen. Right now, I could feel like I’m on top of the world, but on the real, there’s another n***a out there working five times as hard as [me]. My biggest fear is going back broke—I’m working.”
2KBABY’s story is one of success and impressions. His virality in 2019 has led him to an impressive 2020 debut. Pregame Rituals packs all the pain of his musical lineage—Lil Durk, G Herbo, et. al.—and puts him alongside contemporary phenoms like Polo G and Roddy Ricch. Despite his aching soul, one of the best things about Pregame Rituals is 2K’s sly positive energy. He is thankful for his blessings, his family, and his overcoming. “Money, that’s my genre,” he jeers. Nothing can steal 2KBABY’s shine, his humor, or his smile.
“Everything I do is for my family,” 2K assures me. “This lifestyle I’m living now—which I was only seeing on my phone a few years ago—is cool, but I ain’t gon’ lie, it do be a lot of pressure. Not on no ungrateful shit, but every now and then, a n***a be like, ‘I wish I was regular.’ At the same time, I can’t be like that. I got so many people depending on me. I gotta keep rapping for my family.”
I come away from our talk, realizing 2KBABY is wise beyond his years—something he admits to viewing as a gift and a curse. His wisdom will, much like his melodies, take him very far. Our conversation, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
DJBooth: When did you first decide to start making music?
2KBABY: I started making music when I was around 15. The only reason I started making music was because one of my n****s got locked up for some guns; we was young. I started rapping so I could say, “Free my n***a” at the beginning and end of all my songs. By the time n****s came home, I had got the look. The city was already on my ass—I had a buzz. I kept running with it.
How did Louisville influence your sound?
I ain’t gon’ lie, now Louisville is starting to get a wave and sound. That’s only ‘cause artists like me and Jack [Harlow] are starting to blow out the city. But being someone that lived there before we had a music scene that people took [seriously], Louisville never really had its own sound—it’s a mixture. There’s people who listen to Chicago, Detroit, listen to everything. It’s very diverse. Everybody doing their own thing. That’s why my sound’s so unique. I wouldn’t say Louisville is oversaturated with a specific sound, because we get influences from all the other big cities.
That’s exactly what Jack Harlow told me, how Louisville is everything.
Louisville is everything. It’s also in Kentucky, so you could find some country. But there’s street music, trippy, wavy shit. Growing up, I was listening to Lil Herb and Lil Wayne, Michael Jackson.
You went viral in 2019, what has that boost meant to your career?
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It felt good, ‘cause… I ain’t asked for nothing but to be heard. I always believed in my music and knew where it was going. Anybody that knows me will tell you I always say [that] I believe everything always falls back on good music. Good music gon’ do what it’s supposed to do. When I started going viral, and people was just hearing me, it was a great feeling. Shit don’t sound like anything they ever heard. I knew it was it from there. Being heard from all different places of the world and I’ve been in Louisville my whole life, and seeing my voice stretch to the farthest corners of the world? It was cool.
Today, you’re releasing your debut EP, Pregame Rituals. What’s your go-to studio ritual?
I record every single day, for real. I’m a big believer in speaking shit into existence and manifestation. I try to motivate myself by talking to myself every day. Every day, when I wake up, I tell myself: “You gotta make a hit today.” When it comes to the studio, it’s all about vibes. I don’t write my music. I make all my music on the spot in the studio. I try to keep the vibe good. I try to gather up everybody I jig with, family members, my girl, and we start vibing. Get in a good mood. Listen to beats, listen to sounds. Every time I record in the stu, it’s like a kickback.
On the opener, “DROWNING,” you pack in paranoia and notes on grinding. Where does your work ethic come from?
That comes from my parents. I watched my parents work they asses off. My mama, for example, made sure she instilled that shit in me. She made me get a job when I was 14. Growing up, I always worked jobs, and I was hustling outside of the job. My mama put it in my head that I gotta make money. Growing up, I watched my dad hustle. Regardless of how he was hustling, he’s hustling, and that’s always been my mindset: to work.
I ain’t never had it growing up. I wanted to play sports and shit, but it’s kinda hard to play sports when I’m going to school, and the other kids, they only job is to go to school and play sports. As long as they do that, their parents gon’ make sure they eating the best every day. They wearin’ good clothes. I ain’t get an iPhone ‘til my sophomore year of high school. I didn’t have that. I gotta get some money so that I could look presentable. I can’t be in practice, because I’m missing out on money. I always felt like I needed to catch up.
I wasn’t jealous of other kids and shit, but I felt like I was behind. Even with this music shit… It’s a blessing, but I still be like, “You behind.” I wanted shit to happen a year or two prior to when it did happen. Right now, I could feel like I’m on top of the world, but on the real, there’s another n***a out there working five times as hard as [me]. My biggest fear is going back broke—I’m working.
In 2019, you told Complex: “Family is everything.” How much of this debut EP is for your family?
Shit, all of it. Everything I do is for my family. This lifestyle I’m living now—which I was only seeing on my phone a few years ago—is cool, but I ain’t gon’ lie, it do be a lot of pressure. Not on no ungrateful shit, but every now and then, a n***a be like, “I wish I was regular.” At the same time, I can’t be like that. I got so many people depending on me. I gotta keep rapping for my family. Ain’t nobody in my family ever had it. Growing up, my parents always told me: “We don’t got it like that.” I have to do this for my family.
On “BALI BLONDE,” you talk about going through hell to feel accepted. Talk about the hell you’re referring to?
When I say I went through hell to be accepted, that falls back on what I was saying before. Growing up, I seen other kids being young, having fun, no worries. I used to ask myself, “Why am I 14, 15, 16, [and] this stressed?” I was always an outsider. Not even just in school—in the streets and shit. When my big bro YC took me up under his wing, he always told me: “Ride by yourself.” I always ride by myself, because there’s less people you gotta watch. When I was young, I was never the kid trying to fit in. I went through hell to feel accepted, but at the same time, I wasn’t trying to be accepted, because being accepted wasn’t on my mind. On my mind was getting to the top by my damn self.
Now, I’m accepted. They see the diamonds and the money, so now they accept a n***a. Even everybody back home that didn’t fuck with me. Everybody be hitting me now: “I’m so proud of you,” but it’s cool. This is what I do it for, ain’t it?
You never lose your hope on the EP. What makes you happy?
This sounds weird, but pain makes me happy. I just be eating that shit up. Sometimes, I still be feeling guilt from the decisions I’ve made. Sometimes when I be feeling that shit, it’s like, “Yeah, I deserve this.” At the same time, when I’m hurting like that, that shit fires me up and makes me take my ass to the studio. Good music, one good song, like “Old Streets,” resolved a lot of my problems overnight. Also, what makes me happy is making everyone else happy. At this point, I don’t even do this shit for myself. The majority of the rap money I have spent ain’t even been on myself. I’m paying everybody else’s rent. That’s what makes me happy: putting a smile on everybody else’s face.