By Chuck "Jigsaw" Creekmur and DJ Boy Wonda
(AllHipHop Features) “For you looking outside, you think that’s a lot of guns, but for a Memphis, point of view,this is just Memphis,” says NLE Choppa, of his latest video. The teenage rapper coming out of a heralded Hip-Hop hub has gone viral again. The 16-year old has quickly amassed a tsunami wave of a following with the raw, unabashedly hood “Shotta Flow” and the pop-esque “I Don’t Need No Help”.
Continuing, he explains, “This is why I tried to make the video (for ‘Shotta Flow’) as Memphis as it could.The way we dance, the culture, our unique haircuts, the way we talk, some of the slang, and guns. Memphis is a tough city.” NLE Choppa talks shop with DJ Boy Wonda, the producer and owner of WonWorld studios in Manhattan. The conversation yields much in the taut chat.
The young rap artist isn’t particularly talkative, which defies his charismatic persona in his videos. He’s charted as a rapidly moving meteorite in this musical universe and he’s on a collision course with Planet Hip-Hip. As this story is being written, “Shotta Flow” has amassed well over 9 million views and growing, with visuals that tell a sobering tale of Memphis. And, so as impossible as it seems, he’s also peeking out from the soil of his native land.
The ground that also bred Elvis Presley, a pioneering culture vulture of Rock music, has endless creative and customs and accolades.The heralded Stax Records hails from Memphis, as does Hypnotize Minds. The same soil that birthed Elvis, offered rural urbana the Three 6 Mafia, Gangsta Boo, LaChat, 8 Ball MJG, Tela, Young Dolph and current fan favorite BlocBoy JB, among many other talented individuals like young Choppa.
Memphis, nicknamed Bluff City, has several other distinctions, which has clearly contributed to the city’s unique brand of gutter, amped rap music. In 2018, the metropolis ranked as the fourth most violent city in the United States of America. In 2017, it ranked #3 and back at #4 in the previous year. Urban blight is nothing new to Memphis as USA Today reported that more than a quarter of the city’s population was under the poverty line.
NLE Choppa’s eyes see all of this apparent desolation, yet his hope for the future swells far beyond the bleakness of national statistics.
“I ain’t gonna lie...Memphis is just starting to get on the map a little bit from where it was a year ago. Because you know different artists are paving the way for the people that’s coming up,” he says with reserved frankness. “A lot of talent coming out of Memphis. Shout out to Drake. Drake really helped it.”
The Toronto-born rapper spent his summers in Bluff City with his now-infamous father, Dennis Graham. Drake would later, put on for the city in videos like “Worst Behavior.” The video is like an artsy tour of Memphis. Drake’s father even credits his talent to his roots in the city. "That's why his metaphors are so phenomenal now, because he's been in Memphis," Papa Graham told WMC5 Action News. "He considers Memphis home more than he does Toronto." Drake has helped the Hip-Hop economy rise in a lot of ways with an affiliation with BlocBoy JB. But Choppa represents the other side of his affluent Canadian counterpart.
Either way, NLE Choppa has buckled up for all of it, the fast, furious ride, and has plans to expand his fledgling empire in any direction possible.
“NLE, that’s my brand, my label I started. NLE stands for No Love Entertainment. (It's gonna be) everything, clothing lines, music...real estate,” he says with a sheepish, but ambitious chuckle.
The present is the true gift and a bevy of sites and outlets have already embraced young Choppa, in part due to a high end affiliation with Steve Stoute’s artist-driven venture United Masters.
“I’m good at rapping so I gotta go 100% with it. I want to be the best to ever do it,” he tells interviewer DJ Boy Wonda, simultaneously outlining his takeover plot. “Right now, I’m just dropping videos. Pretty much every two weeks. I might have one dropping next week.”
“We part of a group called Shotta Fam. I just took Shotta Fam [and changed it] to ‘Shotta Flow' - just to show love. I’ma turn Shotta Flow into a series...keep it going and have Shotta Flow 10.” When the group song “No Chorus Pt. 3” dropped, NLE Choppa was the stand out to fans. That was just December 2018.
"We" is an interesting word, but Choppa uses it quite liberally on and off camera. Hip-Hop is often perceived as more capitalistic and opportunistic, but Choppa already has his mind, heart and, he says, deeds embedded in assisting people along his journey.
“It’s real important to give back. I been giving back all my life and I ain’t even that old. I just been helping others, passing on blessings,” which rolls off his tongue, seemingly an elder’s wisdom. ”Pass on that blessing, you get more.”
And, what does he do when he’s not grinding?
“Outside of rapping, I like to hoop,” he reveals, while rolling his league and a gang of people he plays with. Before rap took over, he played ball at Cordova High School in Memphis, Tennessee and at 6'1", it is easy to believe he's nice on the court.
But, at the day’s end, Bryson Potts is about the brand NLE Choppa and forging ahead. “I got plenty music.”
Before he leaves WonWorld Studio in midtown Manhattan, he shouts out his Mom Dukes for the camera.
“I came out of her,” which elicits a collective bellow in the room.
At the very, very beginning of “Shotta Flow” - if you listen closely - there is a barely audible quote that says, “I wish everything I touch would turn into gold…” The ominous statement paraphrases King Midas, a famous ruler more known mostly for his existence in Greek mythology. Midas was blessed, and subsequently cursed, for being able the reconfigure matter into gold.
While it’s early, NLE Choppa seems to have the Midas Touch without the greed that the king would eventually regret. About 10 million viewers agree and now, with blessings flowing, he will harness his burgeoning power for the upliftment of an entire city.
21 Gun Salute.