"I know how easy you could lose everything you gain."
There’s a changing of the guard brewing in the Midwest. After introducing himself to the world with the vivid storytelling behind Die A Legend, Polo G cemented himself as a fixture in rap for years to come with the May release of his sophomore album THE GOAT — a crown he’s striving to snatch in the future.
Even with lifestyle changes like moving his family to the cozy hills of lavish Calabasas or becoming a father last summer, Polo refuses to sacrifice his artistic integrity and disconnect from the struggles and trauma of growing up in the unforgiving Chiraq.
“I’ve been a signed artist, but it’s only been a full year-and-a-half. I’m still kind of new to money and this kind of lifestyle, so me being in a messed up predicament wasn’t too long ago,” he says. “I know never to forget that and I know how easy you could lose everything you gain.”
A fascination for mournful production and harrowing piano-driven beats, which he credits to loving songs like John Legend‘s “Ordinary People,” has given the 21-year-old a sound unique to himself and unlike a lot of his hip-hop peers. Taking risks such as sampling Bruce Hornsby & the Range’s “The Way It Is” (via, of course, 2Pac’s classic “Changes”) might seem daunting to most, but Polo does his idol’s colossal track justice to close out TG by remaining authentic to his come-up with some help from BJ The Chicago Kid.
“Pac inspired my way of thinking and just making me be able to want to speak out on problems or not be afraid to speak up,” Polo explains. “To me, Pac was a gangster and a revolutionist. I just try to represent myself in that same way, but still being able to be articulate and show my knowledge.”
The momentum he’s garnered in less than two years has already made a serious dent on the commercial charts as well. THE GOAT nearly tripled Die A Legend‘s first-week sales (38,000) with 99,000 album-equivalent units sold, which came in at No. 2, only behind Future on this week’s Billboard 200.
With that said, Polo occupies quite a bit of real estate on the latest Hot 100, where he’s holding down 10 percent of the total chart, making him an early contender for rap’s most improved player award.
Dive into the rest of our interview, where Polo G reflects on his friendship with Juice WRLD, how he plans to give back to Chicago, and much more.
Billboard: With a title like THE GOAT, are you saying that’s something you’re aspiring toward, or claiming the throne?
Polo G: That’s something I’m aspiring towards. I’m not calling myself THE GOAT as of now, no.
Were you always super confident in yourself growing up?
Yeah, I was always confident in whatever it was that I picked up on. If I wanted to play soccer, I’d step out on that soccer field like I’m the best soccer player. Even though I don’t have that much experience, I always try to have that type of confidence in myself just to make people believe it.
You’ve had a lot of changes in your lifestyle since the release of Die A Legend. We saw you move to Calabasas and become a father last summer. How did that impact your creativity?
It’s surreal trying to really adjust to the new lifestyle — or just even waking up and seeing my son, that’s something that’s fairly new to me because he’s not even one year old yet. Those different type of experiences cause me to look at life a lot differently.
How do you still manage to keep your connection to the streets?
Just knowing where I come from. I’ve been a signed artist, but it’s only been a full year-and-a-half. I’m still kind of new to money and this kind of lifestyle, so me being in a messed up predicament wasn’t too long ago. I know never to forget that and I know how easy you could lose everything you gain.
Is it tough to have your mom as your manager? How do you juggle looking at her as both?
I feel like we keep a good separation between the two. So we never mix up anything. We bump heads here and there, but that’s just the manager-artist relationship and not really mother-son.
We saw Die a Legend do 38,000 in first-week numbers last year, and here you do 99,000 [album equivalent units] first-week with THE GOAT. Do you care about the numbers and how does it feel to see that kind of growth from year one to year two?
I definitely care about the growth because that shows how much I’m elevating as an artist. That’s just getting me into even more discussions and topics of who’s one of the top rappers out now, and the most improved player, I guess.
How did “Flex” with Juice WRLD come together? What was your friendship with him like?
We didn’t make that song in the studio. The producer who made it, Hit-Boy, he did the song with Juice. After I heard it, I called Juice’s phone all happy and s–t like, “Dang, man, I’m happy you jumped on that too!”
We was homies before that. We used to kick it with each other every day — not music related, didn’t make no songs, none of that. He was rocking with me. I was on his music before he blew up, but we didn’t know each other before music. Juice actually reached out to me and showed love to me. And he didn’t have to do that, because at the time, he was the biggest artist in the world.
What inspired you to flip Tupac’s “Changes” on “Wishing For a Hero” with BJ The Chicago Kid?
I was listening to “Changes” while I was on tour last summer, and that came naturally. I knew I wanted to remix a Pac song and pay my respects to Pac on my album — and that was the perfect song, because that’s my personal favorite Tupac song. I got BJ The Chicago Kid on there because he’s a great vocalist from the city, and it was all a no-brainer.
Did you have to get the record approved by Tupac’s estate?
Nah, I had to clear Bruce Hornsby’s “The Way It Is.” I didn’t have to get clearance from Tupac’s people. I never knew that was a sampled song because I was thinking how I was going to have to contact Pac’s people, but the whole time I had to talk to him. He was real receptive towards it and he really appreciated that I was doing a remix to the song.
A lot of the issues he was speaking out are still applying to today. You spoke out today about the viral video of the Minneapolis police officer killing George Floyd. How do you plan to be a voice for change in society?
I feel like by just taking more action, not just making a tweet or saying something. That’s why I really stray away from speaking out on social media — because I feel like that can only go so far because we run into these problems a lot in our culture. We run into police brutality often and it’s always a problem that we always have to protest and speak out. I feel like taking action is the best way to go about these problems from here on out.
When you say actions, what are some specific actionable items you plan to put in motion?
One thing I can say as far as people from black communities dealing with trauma or PTSD is putting some trauma centers or some type of therapy sessions and some after-school programs for the kids, so they can have a real outlet to express themselves. And just putting more stuff into the neighborhood that’s not really as needed.
You also reference Malcolm X on the album, is that another revolutionary you want to follow in the footsteps of?
Yeah, I look up to all of those guys that showed prowess in stepping up and being leaders for our race. Considering whatever state we were in for the hardship, whether it was slavery, segregation or modern day racism, any guy who was able to step up and be vocal in those instances, I respect them.
On “No Matter What,” did you know you were rapping over Nick Mira playing Vanessa Carlton’s “A Thousand Miles” on piano?
I did not put that into perspective, but I seen them in the comments saying that. I never thought about that. [Laughs.]
Where did you develop your ear for cinematic production and love for piano-driven beats? It sounds a lot different than what a lot of your peers are using.
I like pianos and I like guitars. I know one of my earliest memories of liking a piano-driven song was “Ordinary People” by John Legend, so I guess I did have a liking to those kind of instrumentals.
We’ve seen some major co-signs for you this week. How did it feel to see “Be Something” make one of Jay-Z’s playlists on TIDAL?
That’s huge. I feel like Jay-Z showed me love in the past with an older playlist too, so I really appreciate getting that type of recognition.
We know you’re a big hoops head with you name-dropping Peja Stojakovic, Carmelo Anthony, and Kendrick Nunn across the album. Can you speak to your love for basketball and who’s your favorite team?
My love for basketball really been since I was a kid. I remember the season Derrick Rose won MVP, we watched every single game that season. We didn’t miss one! My favorite team is definitely the Bulls.
Were you a Kobe Bryant fan as well? You mention his tragic death on “Trials & Tribulations.” I would assume some of your earliest basketball memories have him involved as well.
Yeah, I was always a big Kobe fan. I remember catching a lot of his games. That’s like our Michael Jordan. We never got to witness Mike — only highlights on YouTube. I respected his drive and will to win.
You hopped on Lil Durk’s “3 Headed Goat” with Lil Baby, which has been a hit on the Billboard Hot 100. Do you feel like Durk was almost passing you the torch or knighting you in a way?
He’s definitely helping me pick up steam because whenever it comes to a song, he keeps me in mind. He definitely wants to make sure that he’s putting on for the city and helping me, so I appreciate the love from him.
Are you working on anything else right now?
I’m working on my new album right now. We’re about three or four songs in, but I’ll probably wait a nice little minute before I drop my next project. I’ll probably do some singles here and there, but I’m focused on my next project and really trying to make something happen with that and making sure the music gets even better.