Love, Pain & Prayer: How Rod Wave Became Rap's Brightest Street Star

In February, Rod Wave shared snippets of new music using the hashtag #Pray4Love. It was a subtle way of revealing he was dropping another album, just months after releasing his debut LP, Ghetto Gospel, which featured Kevin Gates as the executive producer.

The singer, rapper, and songwriter told his fans that same month that music saved his life, giving him an opportunity to share the hardships he went through and becoming a stronger person from the experience. In his young career thus far, he has won over people for being 100 percent himself, writing stories that express pain, depression, overcoming the odds, and more.

On April 3, Rod Wave fans finally got to hear Pray 4 Love. Looking back at the journey up to this point, he’s done nothing but make the right moves. He’s worked with veterans such as E-40, got Cole Bennett to direct his “Thief in the Night” video, was recognized by YouTube Music as an “artist on the rise,” and somehow crossed over in the world of TikTok with his melodic viral hit “Heart on Ice” without even knowing it. It’s because the 21-year-old is too busy staying focused on his music career, building from the  ground up and hoping the next release continues to widen his fan base. 

With “Dark Clouds,” “Pray 4 Love,” “The Greatest,” and “Ribbon in the Sky” already gaining traction among his fans for their powerful messages, it’s no question that Pray 4 Love is an album you’ll want to digest from start to finish. To hear more about it, Billboard spoke with Rod Wave about being a fan of Kevin Gates, being inspired by 2Pac, the meaning of Pray 4 Love, and why he can’t wait for Adele to drop another album.

You and I are dealing with similar things since the coronavirus pandemic has taken over the world. How are you holding up?

I’m good, man. Just chilling, staying in the house. Being clean. Positive. 

That’s good to hear. I saw you were supposed to go on tour in March for your Ghetto Gospel album.

Yeah, I was in the middle of a tour. That’s crazy. That f–ked my whole tour [up]. I had to postpone it until everything cleared up. It’s terrible that it had to happen this way, but if you look at [the glass] half full instead of half empty, people just needed to slow down and be more appreciative anyway.

Since everyone has a lot of time to themselves, what have you been doing?

I’ve just been resting. I’ve been on the go for the past two years, just pushing music and getting my career the way it’s set up now. I’ve just been resting, enjoying life. Living a regular life, getting up every day. Spending time with my girl [and] my family. 

I was watching one of your old interviews and you were saying growing up in St. Petersburg, Fla., was frustrating because you didn’t know which way you wanted to go. Does creating music give you purpose?

Yeah. I feel like before music, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I didn’t know where I was going to end up. I was scared to even have people depending on me. I just wanted to get away and do my own thing. So if I fail, I fail on my own. 

But now, I’m making music and actually living life and being the one that people depend on. It feels good. It gives me a reason to wake up. It gave me a purpose. It made me want to live and have kids. Live and see 50, 60. Because before music, I was ready to crash out. 

A lot of your subjects in your music is about love, pain, and everyday struggles. Can you recall a story when a fan either DMed you or told you that your music got them through a tough time?

Yeah, people tell me all the time: Keep making your music ‘cause the kind of music you make is about real life. People tell me all the time to keep making that music. Like, the music you make is needed ‘cause you are talking about real, everyday stuff. When they see me, they appreciate me. My music got them through hard times. It made me feel good because that was my purpose. That is what I was trying to do. 

Just be relatable.

Yeah, they can relate to it because we all go through pain. I’m a rapper and an artist, but I’m a human. That’s what people forget. That’s why I try to make them remember.

You and Kevin Gates are pretty cool with each other. You used to listen to him growing up?

Yeah, I used to listen to Kevin Gates in middle school. I honestly met him late last year. I have been following him for so long that it kind of felt like I already knew, bruh. When I met him, it didn’t even feel like it was my first time meeting him. It just felt crazy when I was with him. I already felt like I knew, bruh, so it wasn’t like what you think it would feel like.  

How was that first studio session like with Gates? How was his energy?

He just walked in, did his thing. And he was like, ‘C’mon, brother, let’s go get something to eat.’ [Laughs] Walked in, jumped on the song. He was like, ‘We gonna come back and finish this.’ We was going for about three, four hours. [We] came back the next day, we did “Titanic.” That was it. It didn’t feel like we was making music. We was just vibing, chilling.

I wanted to get into “Heart on Ice” because that’s a song that caught on in the mainstream. Have you seen any of the TikToks? Any funny ones that stick out?

Nah, man. The interview before, you made me download TikTok. You’re, like, the sixth person to tell me that, and one of them my little sister. She was telling me like, ‘You need to have a TikTok.’ I’m like, ‘I don’t even know what that is.’ I’m definitely gonna get into it after today because everybody keeps telling me about it. 

On your new album Pray 4 Love, you have a song called “Roaming” that features a speech from 2Pac talking about “if the churches took half the money that they was making and gave it back to the communitym, we’d be alright.” Why did you want that message on the album?

That’s crazy. When I heard the final song, I didn’t hear that on there any more. I thought they took it off. I really wish people could hear that. [Editor’s note: The sample was removed due to clearances.]

Well talk about 2Pac. It seems like you’re a fan of him if you wanted to get this on the album.

Yeah, I’m definitely a fan of ‘Pac. ‘Pac laid the blueprint. If you’re gonna make music and you’re gonna send a message, make it mean something and try to change the world and [hopefully] end up doing it. Don’t be up there, bouncing around being a damn clown. Actually have meaning, you know what I’m saying? You could tell how these n—-s live they life and how they really feeling and what kind of person they is by the music they make. You can always read a person by what comes out his mouth.

What are some of your favorite ‘Pac songs?

“Letter 2 My Unborn,” “White Man’z World.” I listen to all of ‘Pac’s songs.

Another song I was listening to was called “I Remember.” You rapped, “I remember my first show, I remember who booked me.” Can you tell me the story behind that? 

Yeah, it was in a strip club on a school night. I had a show, $500. And the dude brought me in. It was 20 minutes away from my city, so it was a bunch of people from my city in there. And they was just singing, word for word. After that, he booked me every week. He booked me every week for about two months until I started getting other calls in other cities and stuff. 

Why did you want to name the project Pray 4 Love

I named it after the single, “Pray 4 Love.” I feel like the song was a summary of all the songs that were on the album. Just what they meant and the message behind them. I just named it after the song so people could go to the song, “Pray 4 Love,” and kind of get a summary of why I named it that, what it was about.

You’re rocking this one without any features.

Nah. It’s real personal for me. Even the average song process where there’s a bunch of us in the studio, you like the beat so you on it. It’s real personal, so I am in there doing my thing. Just me and the engineer in the studio. Not even in the studio, probably in the hotel room. 

You did the video “Thief in the Night” with Cole Bennett. Was that the first time you were working with him? 

Yeah, that was my first time working with Cole. It was cool. Cole Bennett is a real humble person, down to Earth person. It was exciting, but at the end of the day, I made a friend. It was deeper than that.

Are you fans of any other artists? I feel like your sound fits with the G Herbos, NBA YoungBoys, Lil Durks, etc.

I listen to everything that sounds good with a story. I even listen to Adele. I listen to all kinds of music. Everything with a story that I can listen to and close my eyes and visualize it. I just love music.  

You like Adele?

Yeah, I love Adele. I’m ready for her to drop her album. You can just hear her pain. You can hear everything she went through. It’s real life.