Though BlocBoy JB became an ubiquitous figure in the hip-hop community after his sizzling ear-worm "Look Alive" with Drake dashed its way into the Top 5 of the Billboard Hot 100, in his mind, his name was always attached to stardom.
"It wasn’t quick to me. It probably seemed quick to everybody else, but I’ve always been a rapper," the Memphis star tells Billboard. "I’ve always been saying, “One day. This is my year.” 2012, my year. 2013, my year. I’ve always been saying it." In February, BlocBoy had kids and adults alike gushing at his fun-filled video for "Look Alive" because of his "Shoot" dance. The dance, along with the alluring hook, had listeners enthralled. Along with his rapid crescendo, Bloc's ability to stand alongside rap juggernauts including A$AP Rocky on "Bad Company" and 21 Savage for his follow-up single "Rover 2.0" was jarring, initially, to rap pundits.
With those major names plastered on his resume, BlocBoy later caught the attention of another rap heavyweight in the form of Childish Gambino. The multi-faceted talent recruited Bloc and a phalanx of stars including Young Thug, Quavo, Slim Jxmmi of Rae Sremmurd and 21 Savage to pepper their signature ad-libs for his newly-minted No. 1 single "This Is America." While contributing to the record was a huge deal for Bloc, watching Gambino pay homage to his "Shoot" dance in for the single's visual was far more gratifying. "This video got real deal lit. I ain’t gon’ lie, when he shot the guy, I was just thinking, “Shoot!” I ain’t think he would do the dance, though," recalls Bloc.
Billboard caught up with the budding star about his rise to fame, his best friend Simi -- who he named his latest mixtape after -- playing a role in Childish Gambino's "This Is America" -- and the best advice he would give to the kids of Memphis who are fighting to get out of the trenches. Check out the interview below.
I want to ask you about the Simi tape, because I know that Simi was a close friend of yours and he was killed. If you could have one conversation or ask him one thing, what would you talk to him about?
I would ask him, “Would you believe this shit?” Would he believe it came true?
Are you surprised at how quick everything came about, success-wise?
It wasn’t quick to me. It probably seemed quick to everybody else, but I’ve always been a rapper. I’ve always been saying, “One day. This is my year.” 2012, my year. 2013, my year. I’ve always been saying it.
What role did Simi play in your life and in your career?
Simi played a brother role. People be so close to you growing up, you just call them your brother, your family. Simi was like a brother.
What would you say is the best advice he’s given you?
"Keep rapping and stay out of the streets. Don’t move like everybody else. Watch how I move."
How hard was it to separate yourself from the streets, especially with your potential in rapping?
I never separated myself from it. I just moved differently. I can’t just be around shit like I can’t be posted on the block all day because I’ll fuck around and meet somebody and I don’t know what he did. This n---a could have just shot three n---as on the block and came on the block like it’s a regular thing. Joking around. Then, they pull up and shoot at everybody. They don’t care. I just watch how I move around. Move n---as away from me.
You landed a Top 5 single on the Billboard Hot 100 with “Look Alive.” What’s it like walking in the streets of Memphis today?
Cool. Everybody respects it and everybody fucks with me.
There’s no difference now?
It’s basically that more people know me. Everybody knew. I was always local. They still support me and still salute me everywhere I go.
Is anybody like, “Ay, let me hold a dollar. Let me hold something...?"
If they asked me for a dollar, I would not give them a dollar. I just don’t like people ordering me. I can] be giving like a thousand dollars a day, just to do it, if I go out and] I see folks who don’t look like they’ll ask for something.
Who would you say has been the most fun to collaborate with? We know the “Look Alive” record with Drake, “Bad Company” with A$AP Rocky, and you teamed up with 21 Savage and Lil Pump on Simi.
YG. He’s funny as a mu’fucker. Laughs] I fuck with him. He’s my boy.
Could you see yourself doing a whole project with YG? I know chemistry’s important. Or if you were to do a collab tape with someone, who would it be and why?
There’s a lot of people. Shit, I don’t know. It would be a whole lot of songs just with me and other people on it. I fuck with all of them the same way. It would just be fun to have moments.
Let’s get to the whole Childish Gambino collaboration, man. How did that come about? For “This Is America,” who called who?
He reached out to my people. Like, “Childish Gambino wants your vocals. He wants your ad-libs.” He sent me the beat and I was really supposed to do it a week before but I was running late. I was doing a whole lot of running around, so I finally had a chance to sit down. It was just the beat and I really wanted to rap on the beat. That beat was just so fuckin’ hard. I was like, damn. I ain’t gon’ lie, when I heard it, I was like, “Man, I just wanna rap on this mu’fucker.” But nah, I ain’t gon’ do too much. I’ll just do what they say because if he doesn’t like it, well, I said I was just going to record it and give it to him.
What was your first reaction when you saw the video? Did you know they were going to pull out the shoot dance?
Naw. I was like, “Damn.” This video got real-deal lit. I ain’t gon’ lie, when he shot the guy, I was just thinking, “Shoot!” I didn’t think he would do the dance, though.
What would you rate his shoot dance?
Nobody can get the ten. I’ll give him a nine.
What would you say was your favorite part of the video?
When he shot the guy in the head and he got the choir singing. This shit is America. Mu’fuckers die every day. Shit is crazy.
Why do you feel it’s not being highlighted? ‘Cause I know street dudes get busy out there in Memphis. And it’s the same shit with Chicago. There’s shit going on, but nobody’s doing anything about it.
What can they do about it? They try. They got the police but they can’t do nothing about it. At the end of the day, people are going to do what they want to do. They grew up and just watched TV all their life and that’s how they think life is. Life is just a movie, boss movies. They think they a boss now and they make their own moves. If the police is in one spot, that’s still not going to stop you from shooting a gun.
With you being where you’re at right now, what’s the best advice you’d give to the kids trying to make it out of Memphis? Because you made it out.
Even when you’re at the bottom, just stop and look at the fuckin’ progress of this shit, don’t look at the process. It might take a long time for you to do this shit. People may think it’s overnight, but the people in Memphis know I’ve been dropping shit for a long time. I was getting a hundred views a month. I was seeing people get thousands of views in three to four days. But at least it’s progress. Of course I need that million, but I need to focus on the progress. Don’t expect this to just happen overnight.
If you want to make it out, you can’t be in the streets. You can be in the streets, but your mind can’t be in the streets. You have to think for the next few years, I can’t be doing this shit. Either you’re going to get shot, your n---a gonna get shot, or you’ll go to jail.
Are you worried about people trying to say you need to try and come up with another dance for you to stay relevant?
If another dance comes, it was already meant to come. I’m not like, “I’m finna make a new dance.” I be just being myself and just doing shit. If my n---as say, “Damn, this shit hard,” then of course I’ma do this shit. I’m not just thinking like who I’m going to do a feature with. It’s not like that. We want to work together. They come to me like. “Let’s work.” I’m looking at the progress from the music before. My mixtape right now overrides all the old shit. I just need to keep being myself and have fun with it.