Most rappers would jump at the chance to sign on with Cash Money Records, but not Kevin Gates.
The Louisiana rapper has been building a steady fan base for some years now, and garnered a ton of industry attention with 2013’s The Luca Brasi Story and Stranger Than Fiction — particularly from CM CEO Bryan “Birdman” Williams.
“I’m around Birdman, and it’s like I got the world right here in my hands. One song, one look [and] I’m in the paint forever,” Gates told MTV News on Tuesday of the mogul who helped launch the careers of Lil Wayne, Drake and Nicki Minaj.
While most up-and-coming artists look at Baby and see opportunity, Gates saw something different.
“I listened to Birdman talk about how it got it out the mud and how it took him 20 years to build his brand. That inspired me,” he said. “I don’t want no handouts, I want to get it out the mud.”
It’s a topic that Gates raps about on “Wish I Had It,” a track off his last project By Any Means. “A vision without action is merely a dream,” he says at the beginning of the track before he raps: “Young Money wanna sign me/ My rap jacket too violent.”
Rather than dream, Gates took action and continued to build his company Bread Winners Association, then signed on with Atlantic Records. “It was kind of like ’8 Mile’ a little bit,” Gates said, drawing a parallel between his underdog status and Eminem’s character in the 2002 film.
“Atlantic reached out to us, and we’re like we got BWA, we got our own brand,” Gates said, realizing that building his brand, from the mud, was the way to go. “They were like ’We like artists with their own brand.'”