In 2016, Kevin Gates had two albums, Murder for Hire II, and Islah, in the top 20 of the Billboard charts. Gates has consistently landed in the top 100 for years now and without a fraction of the hype or co-stars of the big names in rap music. For those not familiar with his work, it may be a mystery why this rapper from Baton Rouge of all places is so successful. For those who listen to his mixtapes, the reason couldn’t be clearer – as Kevin Gates has said, “I don’t pay attention to sales because it’s not about that for me. It’s about the music. Music is all I have.”
A Tough Start
Kevin Gates, born Kevin Jerome Gilyard, was first arrested in 1999 at the age of 13. He released four successful mixtapes with a local label before being jailed for three years on weapons and firearms charges. It could have all ended there. The fans could have dispersed to find other artists cranking out the latest hits. But instead, when he was released from prison in 2011, Gates found that his fan base had actually grown while he was away and hungrily waited for his next album. His next mixtape, Make ‘Em Believe came out a year later and was the springboard that launched his career beyond the Baton Rouge area.
“It’s About the Music”
Gates’ lyrics are daringly honest, born out of hardship and struggle that he channeled into a vivid art rather than into anger. His fan base is passionate about lyrics where he lays out his heart without pandering or prevaricating. His honesty shines through in every line, as exemplified in these lyrics from “Stop Lyin”
“I own the prize, and you’re more like a lion Soar like a eagle,
without all the lying, trying. Trying to be something you not”
Gates exhibits an authenticity and genuineness that can sometimes feel missing from stars who’ve already made it and are flying in their private jets to private parties on private boats. His lyrics carry the pain of betrayal, of depression, of decisions gone wrong. Gates demands you know him as an individual before you can know his music and what it means. To those still struggling in those circumstances, Gates’ music speaks to them in a way that feels all too real.
A Unique Sound
While other rappers regularly book famous co-stars to feature on their mixtapes, Kevin Gates has little of that. Gates has shared space with those he started with, but less of the big name crowd that usually highlight a modern rap album. And Gates has a unique sound blending rap and singing together seamlessly in a way few can pull off. His dynamic sound is what first grabbed the attention of executives at Atlantic Records.
His adventures on Instagram have drawn a large following as well. The record label doesn’t mind that either. They remain convinced that the fans who find him on Instagram will click over to his music and they’ll be hooked by the raw sound of this unique rap artist.