NME Radar: Breakout

NLE Choppa: Memphis rap hero with the golden touch

Following a spiritual breakthrough, the Memphis rapper showcases the knowledge – and vocal dexterity – to be the next global teenage breakout

Each week in Breakout, we talk to the emerging stars blowing up right now – whether it be a huge viral moment, killer new track or an eye-popping video – these are the rising artists certain to dominate the near future

A global star and he’s not yet legal, NLE Choppa is Memphis’ new prized possession. At just 17, the rapper has already scored himself three Top 40 Billboard tracks in the US, a Top 10 album with polarising debut ‘Top Shotta’ and established himself as one of the South’s most explosive new names. On release, we said that Choppa “proves himself with a collection that balances his braggadocio and vulnerability to thrilling effect,” and now a once- brazen, gun-toting bad kid now embraces a Buddhist regime to work through life. It’s already been quite the journey.

NLE Choppa talks to NME about his new spiritual journey, positive mental health, being a national superstar and what comes next.

Your debut EP, ‘Cottonwood’ was named after the area you initially grew up in Memphis, Tennessee. What was that place like for you?

“One of my favourite memories is with me and my pops. Out in the front of our house we had a pecan tree. I saw him go pick up these hard ass shits and start eating them and I was like, “What is you doing? You’re eating off the nasty ass ground!”. He was like, “Look! Crack it open – they’re pecans. It’s pecans”. I cracked one open and they were fire. I was out there looking for them everyday. “

That’s a really positive memory, but the music doesn’t always reflect that…

“I had a rough life, I just don’t talk about that because that’s the past and that’s negative. Once I was about guns, I loved them, that’s how I had to live. I was just too reckless and I’m now moving away from that. Fuck guns, meditate. I don’t need a gun no more because I know God’s with me.”

Who are some of the musical influences that helped you through your upbringing?

“I listened to a lot of YGK, Lil Wayne as a kid that was what we were really bumping. But in Memphis, we don’t really listen to a lot of famous rappers. We would listen to a lot of unreleased music all around the city. All I listen to now is my unreleased shit and reggae – Bob Marley and shit. My earliest memory of dancing is that I won a dance contest in Jamaica when I was 6. I won the dancing contest and my mum won the twerking contest. I do a lot of Memphis dances and if you came to Memphis, you’d see guys dancing just like me or Blocboy JB because you see us two doing them.”

The video for ‘Shotta Flow’ is what turned heads – how are you adjusting to the big-time lifestyle?

“After the video for ‘Shotta Flow’ came out, and I saw my views go up by millions, I knew I was famous. It did like 40k views on the first day, and that was just the power of manifestation. My brother said it was going to do a 100+ million views and it did just that. In the beginning it was hard for me to adjust to the new lifestyle. Like at first at shows, the way I was behaving was causing me not to get booked and I was missing out on show money. If you’re not getting booked, you ain’t getting no money so I had to change. But I think I live quite regular – I haven’t bought a mansion or a car. I may have a lil’ bit of jewellery, but that’s all.”

“I don’t need hope, I got faith. Everything I touch turns to gold and my blessings are coming true”

Has the birth of your daughter changed how you see the world?

“It’s a beautiful experience. When I found out that I had a baby on the way it changed my mind and my whole way of thinking. I knew I needed to change and be a better person for my daughter. I feel like if you let people know how you feel, they know how to approach you. Letting people know how you feel and being real with your fans is important because if you’re making real music then you’ve got to be all the way real. I don’t know why people can’t believe that I can be mellow. In real life, I’m goofy around people I know but my music portrays me to be hype when most of the time, I’m actually mellow.”

On ‘Top Shotta’, you spoke candidly about your battles with mental health. What helped you through that time?

“Meditation and changing your mindset by being more positive. It worked for me: I’m no longer depressed, I’d say I’m more so confused. I feel like mental health – like Rod Wave said on the XXL round table – is a label. You’re meant to wake up with different emotions everyday. Like people with ADHD, they wake up hyper but that’s not wrong, that’s just how they are. They don’t need medicine for that, they need to learn how to figure how to be themselves regardless of whatever emotion they feel. They need to ground themselves spiritually. You can’t overcome mental health by giving someone a label and giving them medicine for that. That’s not going to help everyone. Spirituality can work.

But I think it’s important to let your fans know that as a human you go through the same things that they go through. You build a bond with them by doing that and letting them in. It also helps for them to hear how you overcome it too.”

Why do you think you’re more spiritual than religious?

“I always knew I had a voice and I know everything isn’t a coincidence. I prayed for things now in my life and for God to reveal myself to me and that I can help others. I feel like I’m a light and I can change the world. Little things I can say could do that. Knowing that I have a sole purpose, I can’t spend my money and do nothing. I’ve got to help people. I didn’t grow up in a church. I believe in God and the power of prayer but I don’t follow any religion. I meditate and ask God to show me the way. I use my time wisely, trying to stay in the present.”

What’s the future of NLE Choppa?

“I focus on the present because I have no worries about what the future holds for me. I really want to live in the moment because I feel like not many do and they lose what they have now on what they may have later. I don’t need hope, I got faith. Everything I touch turns to gold and my blessings are coming true. A lot of the stuff I wanted to do I’m now doing and you only need yourself to get far. By staying true to yourself and knowing what you want and can do, that’s how you keep your longevity. Everything you want to accomplish is already within yourself so when you start to roll in self-doubt and think negative thoughts then you’ll fall off. So keep visualising and keep knowing what you’re destined for, it’ll come to you.”

NLE Choppa’s debut album ‘Top Shotta’ is out now