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10:09 LA

13:09 NYC

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"Everything, freestyle": An Interview with NGeeYL

South Carolina rapper NGeeYL talks about growing up in Spartanburg, living by his own rules, loving wings, hating rats, and more.

Nora Lee, Writer

Nora Lee

Writer

Updated

“Y’all wanna hear my diss track?,” NGeeYL quipped, mere moments after I’d found my way to Studio 1. It was a rhetorical question, of course, and an outlandish blend of bells and synths poured out of the speakers before I’d even taken off my coat. Next, a swarm of hi-hats skittered in, quickly followed by two-ton 808s, which rattled the Benihana’s takeout boxes scattered about the room's surfaces. “SSET!” – NGeeYL’s vocal pierced through the noise, perfectly off key and right on time. Business as usual for Spartanburg, South Carolina’s finest. 

A few songs later, he popped open Instagram live, delivering a fairly untraditional greeting to his fans—“It’s summertime and I got a full winter coat on!”—before immediately pressing play. As another freewheeling masterpiece blared through the speakers, NGeeYL turned to his publicist: “They better screen record the fuck out of this.“ She shook her head. “You stay leaking all your songs,” she scolded him, but she couldn’t help but smile. 

Before I knew it, we’d run through over an hour of unreleased music. NGeeYL casually mentioned that he’d recorded all of the songs I’d heard (and more) since he’d been in New York. When NGeeYL clicks in, he’s relentless, eating beats by the spoonful and running full speed with every idea as soon as it strikes him. “45 songs in two weeks,” he stated matter-of-factly, ashing a Marlboro Menthol directly onto the table. 

Time spent in the same room as NGeeYL seems to melt away. There’s a very slim chance that you’ll ever predict what’s gonna come out of his mouth next, but there’s a very high chance it’ll make you laugh. One minute he’s trying to recall the name of one of his own songs, the next he’s FaceTiming Yung Icey to ask about a guy they met 3 years ago, and the next he’s lamenting, “Y’all food ass. I done lost four pounds out this bitch. I’m eating gotdamn shish kabobs and shit.”

It’s as if he’s overflowing with too much knowledge, too many anecdotes, and too many ideas to settle on a single topic for too long. This rings true for both his raps and his conversations, though for NGeeYL, the line between the two is often blurred. This ability to let his mind run wild colors each track with an expansive sense of possibility—and the result is nothing short of invigorating. There’s a productive chaos to his style of doing things: “I go in there, I cut all the lights off, I close my eyes, and then it just come out. It really be like I’m in a damn day dream just talking.” 

At surface level, his approach to music (and life in general) seems totally haphazard. But if you look deeper, you’ll see an individual driven by a uniquely powerful intuition. “I really don’t be knowing how to say it, but I can hear it,” he explains, “I can’t tell you how to make the beat I want, but I can tell you which one I’ma get on.” And for NGeeYL, that beat will always require an extraordinary imagination.

It’s this same intuition that enabled NGeeYL to convert three videos, all recorded within weeks of each other in the summer of 2017, into a deal with 300 Entertainment. His sixth sense can be heard in full force on the first of these tracks, “Torch,” as he oozes over the beat, hiking up the tension with each subtle shift in pitch, volume, and tempo. 

Three studio albums, a dozen or so singles, and thousands of unreleased songs later, his intuition has only grown stronger. On his upcoming project, NGeeYL has one primary aspiration: “Just show ‘em how built I done got, ‘cause they really don’t know. I really be workin’ on my craft, I really be in the yo.” This album will undoubtedly be a testament to his artistic growth, and hopefully it’ll bring him a little closer to broader aspirations, too: “Get a hundred million dollars and blow that shit.” 

Photography by Travis Shinn
Photography by Travis Shinn
Photography by Travis Shinn

You’re from Spartanburg?

Nora

Hell yeah, Spartanburg, Murdaburg.

NGeeYL

Tell me more about growing up there

It’s small city shit, really ain’t too much to do. You got 3 options: you gonna work at a plant, be in the streets, or gotdamn go to school and play football or some shit like that. 

Do you feel like Spartanburg has shaped you?

Hell yeah, I’m the epitome of a n**** from Spartanburg. I’m the average Spartanburg n****, for real.

How's that?

Cool. Dangerous. 

You mentioned before that you were a pretty good student in school.  

Hell yeah, I was smart as fuck. I had good grades and all that. But I got my ass throwed out, I was bad as fuck. 

What was your favorite subject in school?

Social studies and ELA. Shit was turnt. And I used to be servin’ all my classmates. I was in honors classes, so all the lil white boys and shit, they knew me. So when I got grown—about 9th grade, 10th grade—and now I’m really thuggin’, it’s like they my clientel ‘cause they know me, you feel me? They comfortable—I was a Black person they was comfortable with type shit. So being smart really helped me with servin’ too.

Why’d you get kicked out of school?

Cause I used to be gotdamn flashin’ out. Now looking back on it, I was trippin’. I used to be like thuggin’, cussing out teachers. I was in law and politics class. My teacher, Mr. White, I told him I would smack the shit out him. I’d be on shit like that, like I was straight disrespecting shit. 

At my school, it was like, dean hall, then ISS, and then you get suspended. But I was so gotdamn bad, when I used to go to the office, they used to try to give me dean hall or ISS, and I’d just be like, “Bruh, I’m not going to that shit. Y’all might as well suspend me.” And then they suspended my ass. I had FA due to attendance, but I had a 3.7 GPA this whole time, you know what I’m talkin’ bout? I wasn’t even at school for real, and I still had a 3.7.

What music is most important to you? What do you listen to a lot?

It ain’t even no preference, I just like good music. My favorite non-rap song of all time is gotdamn Janet Jackson, “Any Time, Any Place.” I play that song all day, be in traffic all day, real life sliding, listening to that shit. [Sings] ‘In the thundering rain…’ That shit like that. You know about that shit!

How’d you end up signing to 300?

I had just dropped 3 videos, and then I had got locked up for some shit. When I got out, I had a deal. That’s exactly how it went. I had got signed off 3 videos type shit.

How’d you first meet Jetson?

I met Jetson through Savani. When I shot 3 videos and blew up, that’s who shot my videos. I ain’t really had no videos before that. I was just buzzing like on some underground cool shit, and Savani just hit me one day like, “Bro, we gonna pull up on you and shoot your videos.” And I ain’t know them n****s from a can of paint, so I’m just like, “Fuck it, cool.” 

Looking back on it, that shit was really legendary when we linked up. The shit that got me signed… I made “Torch” with them boys. Pulled up on me, shot the videos in one of my lil spots. Hell, sticks and all that. Them boys know what I got goin’ on.

You work with Banbwoi a lot too. 

Hell yeah I fuck with Banbwoi, his shit hard. He got a lil sound. Without Banbwoi it wouldn’t be what I’m on today, you feel me? Like that’s my sound for real. Damn near like that’s my producer. Facts.

So when you’re making a song, you mostly freestyle?

Hell yeah, I always freestyle. Every song.“Off-White,” freestyle. Everything, freestyle. ‘Cause I know too much. I know too many words to write. That shit slow me down. I do this shit off of fuckin’ impulse. My songs be straight random. I don’t even know what I’ma say, and half the time I don’t even know what I said on the song. I have to listen to my music so I can learn my lyrics 'cause I real life don’t know what the hell I just said. 

This song might really speak to your heart or this song might make you wanna go kill five people or some shit, ‘cause I really mean that shit, you feel me? What I’m talkin’ bout on my songs is what’s goin’ on in my life and what’s in my head. The first thing that come is what I’ma say. 

Let’s talk about Live Ammo. That album or Hiatus might be my favorite.

Yeah, everybody like that. I really ain’t drop too much shit though. I got probably like 2,000 songs. I be thinkin’ like people know that, but people really don’t know that shit. They think that’s the only music I got, so I be getting frustrated by that part. But yeah, both them tapes was real shit I sat down with. 

Live Ammo was really like… I dropped that right after my daddy had died. That shit was like a tribute. My daddy used to rap, like on some inner city shit. I really been around music for my whole life, on the low. It wasn’t like my daddy like put me on music or put that in my head or none of that. I just indirectly been around music, you feel me? I really listen to music. 

Yeah, you grew up in it. 

Before my daddy had died, I was asking him what I should name that shit. His old group was called Live Ammo, and he was like, “You might as well name it Live Ammo, fuck it.” And I was like, “Man, shut the hell up.” 

My daddy had died right after that, and I had remembered that conversation vividly. And it was crazy, ‘cause I had dropped “Real Smoke,” and that shit came out on his funeral day. But it was weird ‘cause he posted it before, like, “My son finna drop this song ‘Real Smoke’ coming June 23rd.” And that shit wound up being his funeral date. That shit crazy.

Wow.

Facts. That shit really was sad. 

I'm so sorry for your loss.

That’s why Live Ammo was on some shit like that, you feel me? I really put that out just to do that for him.

You’ve been doing numbers lately. 

Facts.

But I feel like it’s been long overdue. Do you agree?

Kinda, like half and half. ‘Cause it ain’t like, “Oh they sleepin’ on bro, wootdewoot.” It’s more like real life people don’t know who the fuck I am. ‘Cause I ain’t really met somebody that know who I am who’s like, “Oh that shit ass.” You get what I’m sayin'? It’s just about reaching more people. 

You’re consistent, too. You had 2018, Tales of YL. 2019, Hiatus. 2020, Live Ammo.

I feel like I’m not. I’m really slacking. I be thinking n****s know, you feel me? But to them, I’m one of them n****s who never drop. That might be why it’s like it is, overdue shit. I ain’t dropped it.

It’s like, “Bet, you good as hell at basketball. I wish you’d go damn play a game!” I just keep getting on Instagram and dribbling like fuck. Go play a damn game! 

There’s a balance to it though. Some people aren’t precious enough with it maybe.

Maybe that is cool though, ‘cause that’s kinda my outlook. That’s like my lil mystique with this shit. ‘Cause the life I came from—not even came from, the life I still live—in general it’s like, you private. You don’t be seen all the time. That’s my outlook with shit. I might not show my face for 3 months, you feel me? 

Aside from the fame, do you feel like you’re private in your normal life?

Yeah, that’s a big thing for me. I don’t really be with all that other shit. If I wasn’t no rapper, I wouldn’t even have Instagram. That shit stupid. The life I live, that shit’ll get people killed. Besides the rap shit, everything else about social media, I got in trouble for that shit. I went to jail for Instagram.

Really?

Hell yeah. Then it’s like, okay this goin’ on, now people know what my momma look like or people know I was here at this time. This shit just weird, bro. I come from a life where you try to be the quietest. People be wanting me to do what a regular celebrity or famous person do. But I’m not on that, you feel me? I’m really not on that. 

I don’t even know how long I’ma rap. When it really get there, like household name status, I don’t even know how long I’ma do this shit. I’d be straight with a 5 year run, and I’ll be one of them rappers that vanish off the face of the earth.

What are you gonna do after?

Probably some cool shit. Buy my momma some shit, start a business or some shit like that. I’m not gonna be one of these n****s that fell off and then tried to come back, and now you like, “Boy, you remember when gotdamn wootdewoot was that n**** boy!” I’m not tryna be like that. 

When it’s over, it’s over. There’s so much other shit I could be doing. Rap is like the bare minimum shit for the brain power that I got. I’m really gonna use this shit to open up other doors. I’ll fuck around and get on some other shit where it’s like, “N****, I’m makin’ more money than rappers.” Rappin’ cool, but it’s a lot of shit that make more money than rap.

Besides staying private, are there any other rules that you try to live by,?

I live off street rules, you feel me? I’m not fuckin’ with no rats, I’m not ratting, I’m not hanging with no n****s I don’t know, I’m not doing too much, I know when and when not to be gangster. I just live by street rules and grown man rules, you get what I’m sayin’?

What are the grown man rules?

Just grown man shit. Like, don’t be doing no pussy ass bitch shit. Take care of yourself. And do not indulge in rap shit business or extra internet ass shit business. Get your fuckin’ money and make it home, that’s my rules. 

So what keeps you motivated to keep doing the rap shit?

Just my family. Helping my family, for real. ‘Cause my daddy was really like the head of the family type shit. And it’s just like the movies: when the king die, the prince gotta step up. But he really prepared me for this shit. So it’s like, I hate that it had to be like that, but this what happens. Mufassa die, Simba gotta be the king.

How did your dad prepare you?

Just showing me real grown man shit. Like just take care of your family, just take care of your fuckin’ business. I’m really way more advanced than a lot of n****s my age when it come to shit like that. And that don’t got shit to do with no money, that don’t got shit to do with no status, that got something to do with how you was raised type shit.

I know certain shit… It’s hard to explain ‘cause it’s embedded in me, but it’s just regular shit. Like, you don’t live with no woman and she paying the bills or no shit like that. Don’t let no woman take out no trash. Just regular shit, bruh, regular shit.

I mean, you’d be surprised. 

A lotta people like lil boys, you feel me? But that’s more like where I’m from too, ‘cause that’s the norm. We in the south, this shit real—you hold the door, all that shit. You got to be on that. 

What words would you use to describe yourself?

Me? Gotdamn crazy… Misunderstood… Reliable, at the end of the day. Might not be reliable at the beginning of the day, but I’m reliable at the end of the day. And fuckin’... Wily, like a fox. A real manipulator. I get what I want. I’m a fuckin’ predator, you get what I’m sayin? Whatever I see, and I want it, I know how to get it. Whether that’s good or bad. Facts.

What makes you feel misunderstood? 

People don’t really know me for real. In the street, n****s know what the fuck goin’ on. But in the real world, with like regular civilians type shit, they might see me or hear me and be like, ‘What the fuck wrong with this dude?’ But really, if they took time out their day, they wouldn’t ask questions. They’d just be like, ‘Okay, we understand this happened to him, and that’s why he behave like this.’ I done been through a lotta shit in my life. Been through a lotta shit.

Do you mostly stay in Spartanburg still?

Hell yeah, I’m still in my city.

What are you gonna eat there first when you get back?

I don’t know… that’s a good ass question. Probably have some of my people cook or some shit like that. I like home shit better than fast food, ‘cause all that shit nasty for real if you think about it. Shit be nasty for real. We don’t got no like gourmet shit down there. I like fuckin’ barbecue ribs. I like TGI Friday’s. That shit hard, the Jack Daniels ribs. 

They don’t take you to TGI Friday’s in New York?

Nah, I wouldn't try that shit out here. 

You don’t trust it?

Nah, I just had pure bad experiences out here. Like, I went to this truck. Bruh, they finessed the fuck outta me. The pictures on the truck, like some hot wings and shit—that’s what I really like too, some hot wings. We got this place in my hood called TNT Hot Wings and it’s fire. You come to Spartanburg, you go there. 

What sauce do you get?

Carolina gold. That shit like a slightly… Not even spicy enough for you to say it’s spicy, but whatever makes sauce spicy, they put like a lil pinch of that in there. So it’s like, you ain’t gonna know it’s spicy, but this shit on some like fuckin’ honey barbecue, slight spicy mustard shit. That shit’s fire. 

So what happened at the truck though?

Oh yeah, I went to the fuckin’ halal truck and they finessed the fuck outta me. The pictures on the truck looked like some good ass shit, like hot wings and shit. Bruh, I gotdamn order this shit, come back and get it, and this shit breaded chicken. This shit got ass bread. 

I can tell you shit I hate more than shit I like about food. I hate breaded wings. I’m allergic to seafood, so I hate all seafood. Hate coleslaw, hate fuckin’ cantelope, hate watermelon, hate fuckin’ all vegetables basically except for like… Is beans vegetables? I like beans, but other than that, I’m really an unhealthy ass person. 

The food up here just taste… I think it’s the water. They using New York ass water. We using South Carolina water, you get what I’m sayin’? It’s a different taste. You ain’t never went to a city and you like, ‘Boy, this city stink!’ This shit smell like fuckin’ anthrax. It be stinkin’ and shit.

They’ve got you staying in Midtown though. 

And I’m scared of rats. I hate rats. I was walking this morning to the deli—oh, that’s what I eat when I be out here, I eat chopped cheese. But gotdamn, I hate rats. New York got a lot of rats.

When it was flooding, they had these videos of—

I seen that shit. Shit disgusting. Like, that shit’ll make me throw up. So I was walkin’ down the street to the deli today—like 3 o’clock, 4 o’clock this morning—and it was like a group of fuckin’ rats, and they was chasing each other type shit. It look like one of ‘em had got the last food and the other ones were chasing him, and they was just running crazy. That shit was scaring me, so then I tried to cross the street, and there was a rat in the road, squished, like all its guts splattered and some more shit. Like out on the fuckin’ road. Shit was disgusting… Y’all don’t be scared of rats here though?

Well, I don’t like them.

You can walk past a rat though?

I mean, not comfortably.

I’m sayin’ though. So like if you walking down the block and it’s a rat walking towards you, running towards you, scrambling towards you, you gonna be straight walking by?

No, that’s his sidewalk now. I’ll go home, like that’s all him. 

Oh my god, bro, it’s nasty as fuck. They’re like the dirtiest fuckin’ creatures ever. That shit nasty, that shit disgusting. I hate rats. I hate rats in the street and rats in fuckin’ real life. Hate rats… 

But yeah, other than that I fuck with New York though.


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