“Moral of the story, I got it all out the mud”—Lil Baby (“Can’t Explain”)
Some of hip-hop’s most remarkable origin stories begin with someone moving away from their hometown. North Carolina rapper J. Cole traveled from Fayetteville to New York City on an academic scholarship in hopes of securing a major-label record deal. Kid Cudi left his life in Cleveland, Ohio, for New York City in pursuit of the same dream. Artists are always in search of the place they believe their talent belongs in.
On occasion, an artist will move where they belong without comprehension. California-born rapper K$upreme was two weeks from his 18th birthday when his mother remarried and relocated with her new husband to Marietta, Georgia, from their home in Pasadena.
Initially, K$upreme, born Khalil Dalton, believed he would stay in California with his grandmother instead of moving, but sudden complications with her health caused a change in his plans. “She had surgery, and the surgeons left a sponge on her spine that dissolved,” the 25-year-old Atlantic Records rapper tells me over the phone a few weeks back. “She was dying.”
Unlike Kid Cudi and J. Cole, K$upreme didn’t move of his free will. He didn’t want to become a rapper. If the state of California had different laws for minors, he would’ve stayed put, existing in a place surrounded by friends without adult supervision. The Boys of Pasadena.
What would have happened if you stayed? I asked him. Without hesitation, K$upreme replied: “I would’ve been fucked up.” How so? “A lot of my niggas from high school are in jail. Niggas were kicking doors in, feel me? Breaking in cribs is how they hustle. Pasadena is a different part of the world; it’s a different mindset there.”
At 18, no young man knows the route their life will take. K$upreme liked rap. He listened to Eazy E, The Game, Chief Keef, Jim Jones, and Yung Gleesh without ever imagining he could do what they had done. K$upreme didn’t think of tours, collaborations, studio sessions, record deals, or GRAMMY Awards. Not in Pasadena.
“I wasn’t rapping when I was in California; there were no people around me doing it,” K$upreme said. But that all changed when he met Miles McCollum, the soon-to-be teen rap idol who makes music under the moniker Lil Yachty. McCollum is a few years younger than Dolton, but they became close after meeting over FaceTime in 2014.
K$upreme decided to try his hand at rapping over beats he produced around the time he met Lil Yachty. “I wasn’t serious at first, it just happened to get serious,” he said, nonchalantly. His first music video, the FARELI-directed “KU$H BAGS,” is still online with over 244,000 views. It’s a simple yet striking visual, reminiscent of early, more underground versions of Chief Keef and A$AP Rocky. Back when their visual aesthetics were dirtier.
Artists tend to lose that edge once they receive big budgets to make art. But K$upreme didn’t have a budget. It was just him and his friends in the woods with mouths full of gold.
Behind those smiles were hardships—all the youthful troubles befalling young men and women with creativity and time, but no money. In 2014, K$upreme was arrested in Kennesaw, Georgia, on one count of tampering with evidence and one count for the purchase, possession, manufacture, distribution, or sale of marijuana. In 2016, Lil Yachty released the “Free K$upreme Freestyle,” which begins with, “I miss my brother, that knucklehead nigga.”
Another marijuana-related arrest occurred in April of 2018. K$upreme told HipHopDX his side of the story:
“HipHopDX: You went to jail in April while out in Brooklyn. What happened?
K$upreme: My dumbass driver. We had this driver and a Sprinter and his dumb-ass had two straps on him. You know how they be about that in New York. We just had hella weed in the car, pills and some other shit. When they pulled the car over, it was just too much shit in there so they took everybody to jail.
DX: Wow, what did they end up pinging you with?
K$: They didn’t get me for the gun. I just got charged with the weed. I was only in jail for 12 hours. I have to go to court on the 22nd of June or July.” –“How K$upreme Seeks To Shift Rep From Fashion To Rap With ‘Flex Muzik 2’”
Prison never held K$upreme long. Music kept him focused. Building a close relationship with Lil Yachty and the other members of his friend group, named The Sailing Team, put him in a broader music community. Following the release of Lil Yachty’s breakout single, “1 NIGHT,” K$upreme saw firsthand what it looked like to blow up in the record business.
“When I came to Georgia, I saw niggas really make it. That’s not as common where I come from to see niggas making it, up close and personal. It was crazy, bro. Just walking in the stu’ and Future is in that motherfucker with my folks. Crazy shit like that is a whole ‘nother ball game. It was all a blessing.” –K$upreme
K$upreme saw Lil Yachty’s life change. Their friendship placed him in proximity to a new network of peers and industry connections. That’s how he landed on songs with Soulja Boy, Jim Jones, and Chief Keef—three of his favorite rappers from high school.
Well, it’s not that simple. Standing next to success doesn’t yield personal prosperity. Without the work ethic to keep up, being that close to a growing giant will only overcast your days with his shadow—which is why K$upreme worked for everything he has received. Every step of progress was motivated by his hustle. He kept making and releasing songs until he found a voice to call his own. Released in 2018, “Gucci Cologne” is the record responsible for setting off K$upreme’s domino effect.
“I ain’t gonna lie, that motherfucker went crazy for me,” K$upreme says, still shocked by the reception. “It’s crazy how that all played out… My niggas were telling me, ‘That’s the one.’ I was like, ‘Y’all for real?’ I couldn’t hear it. Yachty and my boy Dior were the first ones to say, ‘This one is the one. It got that sound!’ So then, when the ‘Whoa [dance]’ was super hot, Yachty posted 10K dancing to ‘Gucci Cologne’ on his Instagram. That motherfucker starts going up.”
K$upreme continues: “After that, I found Seth [Vangeldren] online and asked him to dance to my song. When he danced to my shit, that bitch went viral. Drake liked my shit; Tyler, The Creator was commenting on my shit. I’m like, hold up, this going viral-viral. Then, me and my boy flew little Seth out and shot the video. After that, all the other good stuff started happening.”
“Gucci Cologne” also got the attention of Sammye Scott, a Director of A&R at Atlantic Records, who, upon first listen, thought K$upreme was major-label material. “K$upreme puts me in the mind of Travis Scott,” Scott says by phone. “I don’t know Travis [Scott] personally, but from his beginning music to where he is today, I see a similar trajectory for K.”
Multi-Platinum Houston rapper Travis Scott’s slow burn is a great model for an artist like K$upreme to follow. Any artist, really, who is in the bubbling stage, that period in a career where the artist could either rise, fall, pop, or burst. The gradual rise always reaches the heavens, which benefits the rappers who are diligent and committed to the work.
“He works,” Scott says. “I never have to ask him to go to the studio.” That work ethic—the will to work and the ability to listen—is something Scott looks for in an artist. With those two attributes, you can catch one.
“It only takes one to change your fucking life.” –Sammye Scott
Of course, changing your life and keeping your life changed are two different obstacles entirely. Success does not breed hunger; it breeds comfort. Too much comfort will affect how an artist works. “The thing about labels is, they’re always waiting for you to catch that one so they can come and add fire behind it,” Scott says, bringing up one of the many misconceptions of having a record deal. If you don’t make yourself a priority, you are invisible. Without smoke, no one will scream fire. If no one screams, no one hears you.
“You got to move like you don’t have a fucking label,” Scott continues. “I tell K$upreme that all the time because when they catch up to you moving, it’s going to quadruple what’s already going on.” She explains why artists have to work harder when they sign to majors:
“People think signing to a label means everything gets easier, but everything gets harder. You’re competing against every artist at the label once you get signed, but you’re new. You have to build the momentum where they see it and they believe it and can assist in lifting it higher so that it does what it’s supposed to do.” –Sammye Scott
In speaking with Sammye Scott, it occurred to me that K$upreme’s story is miraculous. He moved from Pasadena, California to Kennesaw, Georgia, at the right time, met the right like-minded creatives, went viral on the right platform, and signed with the right A&R who believes in him. For an artist, it’s a dream scenario that could be a movie.
Call it, K$upreme, Almost Famous.