Guided by the wisdom of his mentor Yo Gotti — who initially connected with him on his tape 2 Federal in 2016 — Moneybagg Yo has managed to make a living off sharing authentic stories that connect to both the hearts and minds of the streets. Sitting wide on the plush couches in Roc Nation’s corporate office on the eve of the release of his fourth studio album, A Gangsta’s Pain, Moneybagg is relaxed — a feeling he’s earned.
Moneybagg has always been vocal about the different struggles he’s faced in his music. His cornucopia of mixtapes between 2012 to 2017 and three other studio albums reflects that — but his newest effort, A Gansgta’s Pain, is the Memphis rapper at his most transparent. Released on Friday (April 23), it’s an amalgamation of the pain and triumph Moneybagg has experienced up to this point. Making songs that reflect either his “gangster” side or “pain,” Moneybagg explains that he originally wanted to split the album in half — but decided against it so both sides could get equal love.
“When I was originally doing [the album], I was thinking, should I do a side A and B,” Moneybagg explains. “But I didn’t want to do it like that… I still did have half gangster, half pain, but I mixed them all together, so you get different vibes.”
After his last album, Time Served, earned him the No. 3 spot on the Billboard 200 with the help of songs like “All Dat” and “U Played,” Moneybagg looks to replicate that success here while also being the most honest he’s ever been. Billboard connected with the rapper to talk about getting in touch with Lil Wayne for the upcoming “Wockesha” music video, how completing A Gangsta’s Pain was therapeutic for him, and what it was like getting Pharrell to produce and feature on the album.
I saw on your Instagram Story that you were shooting a video for Jimmy Fallon. What was that experience like?
Man, a great experience. I didn’t plan that, and just everything going on is a blessing. Hard work is really paying off.
It looked like a whole production, too. With this album, how important are the accompanying visuals and how they bring the songs to life?
I’m real creative with the visuals. I’m digging into my creative bag. I’m showing people my acting side, which you see on the “Time Today” video. I’m just digging more into that, to help bring everything to life.
The cover art for A Gangsta’s Pain is also really detailed. I know you first started writing raps in your car. Did you want the cover to reflect where you started?
Exactly. That’s why, when you see me on the cover, I got Walker Homes behind me. That’s my hood, and I’m sitting in a car writing my raps. That’s exactly how it was, so I just wanted that image because I’m back on that tip. It’s like a total reset.
I thought the interlude was really touching with all your kids and family sending you words of encouragement. How important was it for you to include that?
It just felt good, and I just wanted to share it with the world. That’s why I made it my interlude. I could’ve done anything else with the interludes, but I wanted to really show the people what’s going on in A Gangsta’s Pain. This is why I endure.
Speaking on that pain side, “Wockesha” was powerful. You’ve been clean off lean for a while now. How therapeutic was it for you to make that song?
You had to just blank out, you had to just go into the studio and close your eyes and think about everything you’ve done. That’s what I did, just close my eyes and reflect back on everything.
The clip from Lil Wayne’s Tim Westwood interview from ‘09 was a great touch, too. When you chose to use that, how did you relate to what Wayne was saying?
[Lil] Wayne is in the “Wockesha” video. I shot that video with Wayne; that’s about to be crazy.
A Gangsta’s Pain feels you are being the most transparent you’ve ever been. Did you feel like you were beating demons making some of these songs?
Exactly. I feel like I was beating them and, at the same time, I felt like I was still fighting them. This is why I mixed it up because it’s exactly what I’m dealing with and it’s what the world is dealing with, too—just pain. The world is dealing with a lot of pain, so it felt like perfect timing for this album.
On “FR” you spit, “Look at me they see a threat/ Look at me they see a check/ Guess thats how they view a ni–a/ Learned it from the internet.” How challenging has it been to balance your private and public life as you continue to grow?
I found a way to balance it. How I’m balancing it all is good. I’m ignoring certain situations because I have tunnel vision right now. I know the end goal, so I’m not really tripping on the outside noise. I’m looking past that at this point.
It’s like NBA players get used to all the noise from crowded stadiums, both love and hate.
Exactly, but I’m staying focused. It’s all like an NBA game. You got the stadium full, and you got the fans. Half of them are booing you, but the other half is cheering you on. That’s just how it goes.
How have you developed that melodic part of your game to where it is now?
I’ve always been able to do it. People just finally got in my ear, like big homie [Yo] Gotti, who said, “Come on, bro. You’ve mastered this, just step on it. Don’t hold back, don’t limit yourself.” So I finally brightened it all the way up. I really exercised my melodic side on this album.
You can see the improvement on“One of Dem Nights” with Jhene Aiko. How much fun was that to record for you?
It was really fun, and it was one take. I went in there, did it in one take, and I sent it to her. She sent it back about three weeks later, and it was just a movie after that.
What’s it like being Pharrell’s favorite artist right now and getting him on the album?
It was something I couldn’t even plan, it just happened. [Pharrell] hit my people out of the blue as I’m wrapping up the album. He hit my people like, “How is Moneybagg about to wrap up the album without Pharrell?” So he flew me down to the Hit Factory in Miami for two days, we knocked out tracks, and I used both of them. He produced “Projects” on there, too. He produced that and is actually featured on “Certified Neptunes.”
Who’s the next legend that you’d want to collaborate with?
I’ve worked with a lot of them, so it’s really just people like Drake. He might be the last one on the list.
Speaking on your other business ventures, how has investing in real estate been?
It’s been going great. I went back to my hood and bought a few properties. I got a car wash in Memphis, and we’re going to expand with that and make it really big. I’m just starting to dig into it. Stuff like seeing [Rick] Ross and his properties motivate me. I talked to Ross about that. He invited me to his house. I’m just trying to dig way deeper into this.
Between Time Served and now, what areas do you think you’ve grown the most as an artist?
On the melodic side. From now on, especially when I drop this, and the world accepts it, I’m going to exercise it all the time. You got “Hard For the Next” that’s winning right now, and I went melodic on there. There’s a lot of songs on this album that are melodic, so I’m leaning into that.
What’s left for you to accomplish now that this album is out?
Right now, I’m just transitioning into the movies. I got a movie I’m working on. A Gangsta’s Pain was actually supposed to be the soundtrack to the movie, but it got a little delayed, so the movie is going to come out after the fact. I also have this clothing line I’m working with, so I got a few things coming.
What do you hope people going through their own “gangster pain” takeaway from this album?
Just don’t let anyone judge you. Move at your own pace. Do things the way you want, and if people don’t get it immediately, then make them understand. I’m a prime example, I had to force my music on people for me to get to this point. I came up with my own little strategies, but I did it.