ATLANTA — How smart is Shawty Lo's marketing plan? His D4L Studio is right on Donald Lee Hollowell Parkway, better known as the Bankhead Strip, and you can hear his music blasting all hours of the day and night. So anybody coming in or out of the 'hood hears what he's cooking up.
You can get some fried chicken at the restaurant across the street or get your car fixed at the store right next to it. A strip club is down the block; so is the housing project where Lo grew up, the Bowen Homes. It's all boarded up now, and most of the residents have moved out. Right outside the D4L Studio doors, there's a barbecue brewing. A grill is being put together, and the food is on deck.
Inside, Lo isn't grilling anything — he's baking.
"I had to stop doing shows for a minute," said Shawty, wearing all white except his red Louis Vuitton scarf, which matches the walls. "I'm not a freestyle [artist]. I take my time and write. So I had to stop doing shows and dedicate myself to being in the studio and making quality music, what people wanna hear. I call it putting it in the oven. I bake my music and put it out."
The popularity of Lo's 2008 debut, Units in the City, caught everyone off guard — including Shawty himself. He hurled three club bangers with "Dey Know," "Dunn Dunn" and "Foolish." The night wasn't complete if a DJ didn't play a mini Lo set. He's been in demand for live performances for more than a year.
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"I was a new artist," Shawty said. "I hadn't been rapping no longer than three years. People took to it. People was going crazy and I thought it was luck, but I was inspired to keep writing."
Lo's new album, I Am Carlos, is due in June.
"What everybody knows in the streets of Atlanta is Carlos from Bowen Homes," he continued. "It is more than Shawty Lo the rapper, and I'm finnin' to let the rest of the world know that it was more than Shawty Lo the rapper. I'mma give them a little more of me, like my negative side when I was a D-boy. I'm giving them my story of how I've been able to turn a negative into a positive."
Since L.O. is still recording, he hasn't chosen his first single yet, but he played MTV News a gaggle of tracks. The first, "About My B.I.," features Mya on the hook.
"I'm not really good with the computer; I'm good with the pad," he said as he pulled up the track. "One of my fellow members from my projects, Bowen Homes, he just died. He was murdered. I gave him a shout in the song: 'Rest in peace, Marlo.' "
"It's Miss M.Y.A.," we hear Mya belt to start off the record. "I'm about my B.I./ I be on the grind, steady pushin' all the time, OK?/ I'm about my B.I."
"I've been a fan of Mya for long time too," he said after the record played. The two met at the Ozone Awards, and Mya sent Lo the track with the hook on it. "She had the concept and everything. I thanked her for the record. It's a song called 'About My B.I.,' and I'm just telling the story why I'm about my B.I., my business."
Rick Ross, Bun B, Lil' Kim, T-Pain and Gucci Mane also appear on the album.
"It means a lot. I grew up listening to them," the father of 12 said about working with some of his more tenured guest stars. "I was listening to UGK when I was coming out seventh or eighth grade. Lil' Kim is a diva. I messed with her from long ago. Ross is my man — the boss! We been doing it since day one. When he brought out 'Every day I'm hustling,' that's when I brought out 'I'm the Man.' We connected off the rip like brothers."
On "Sick of Myself," Lo stays connected to cash. "What's happ-ninnnnn?" he raps on the lead verse. "I hear you talking/ Your baby mama, bi--- still stalkin'/ I'm in the Lambo, bi--- still walkin'/ Ice got my chest cold, I'm coughin'."
"I'm talking about [people] being sick of me," he smiled. "Like, 'Yo, boy, I'm sick of you, you doing too much. Ballin'!' "