The early morning sun stretches across NLE’s pad as we talk over Zoom, tugging on the drawstrings of his hoodie–sporting an image of the legendary 2Pac–NLE Choppa sits down to talk to New Wave about honing his emotive brand of storytelling on his latest album, being a voice for a young generation and becoming a healer through his music.
Born in 2002 in Memphis, Tennessee, Bryson Lashun Potts, known on stage as NLE Choppa, is the vanguard to an original wave of young musicians coming out of the US today. At just 19 the young artist’s legacy is already exceptional. His singles span top charting lists, from his breakthrough track, “Shotta Flow”, to leaping onto Billboard’s Hot 100 charts and the aptly titled "Youngest To Do It" being an A1 example of the ear-worm quality to his sound. Top Shotta and From Dark to Light were both supreme pieces of work but in comparison to his latest album, Me Vs Me, Potts has pushed his skill set past the ozone layer, way beyond the confines of his earlier projects.
For Potts music became way more than just an avenue for expressing himself and sharing his pain. It became a means to understand a lifestyle that wasn’t right for him, a way to get out of a position that can feel so condemning. “It's just crazy.” he tells me “Everyone has guns. Everyone has drugs. Everyone is affiliated. It's just rough because it's kind of easy to get sucked into that cycle of life. I was probably one of those people that got sucked into it. But it's just all about how you grow from it when you do finally get in a position to change your life, for you and your family. And I feel like I did extremely well with doing that. “I feel like music showed me and set me up to be something way greater.” he adds, “To be a helper and a healer.”
“But it's just all about how you grow from it when you do finally get in a position to change your life, for you and your family.”
The new album is the dawn of an introspective era in the Memphis rapper’s body of work, complemented with a hard-hitting delivery and imposed on by a the veil of lies that society is perpetrated by each and every day. On “Lose My Cool” with 070 Shake, Potts takes on a vocal odyssey, moving through different timbres and soulful inflexions, compared to his previous dives into trap and rap this is just one view into the scope of Potts’ dynamics as an artist.
Tracks like “Change My Ways” were integral to the overriding theme on inward thinking on this project, a moment of vulnerability. The Gospel influenced “Still Hood” being another example of this later on the album with lyrics like “I done been stuck in the bottom with sharks and piranhas / The robbers and gunners and runners / I swear I been left without nothin'”
If you know anything about Memphis, you know life’s all about dance, evidenced by the sparkle in Potts’ eyes as soon as I mentioned the relationship Memphis had with dancing. “A lot of people are scared to dance.. but it's just a culture. That's how we was brought up. So we never really shattered through it–It's just having fun, you know, I feel like that's needed.”
The 19-year-old now finds himself signed to a major record label, owning his own masters, starting new ventures in entrepreneurship (such as his soon-to-come social media app) and an exceptionally proud fanbase, which seems to be ever growing “…my fan base is really crazy for me, they just want to get every bit of me and all of me. And most of them are young too, so I got the youth in a headlock. And that's what I really appreciate because I want to be the best role model for them.”
"I got the youth in a headlock. And that's what I really appreciate because I want to be the best role model for them.”
You can give the full interview a read below…
NW: NLE Choppa, the artist taking Memphis style global, making music which (maybe in an underrated way), but music that goes beyond boundaries in a lot of genres right now. With your new album MeVsMe, you really get a window of the growth into your musicality. Talk to me a little bit about the process behind putting that one together?
NLE: One of the main things is just writing my music now. I used to freestyle a lot of my music. And now I'm taking the time out of my day to write every song. I really paint a picture and structure it nicely so I feel like that has influenced my flow and my lyrics, my structure, the sound, everything has grown tremendously with me just sitting down and putting my thoughts on a piece of paper and rapping to the mic.
I know you’ve probably got crazy some bars off the top of your head… so how much of it was freestyled?
You talk about album structure as well. How did you come up with an album structure? What went into the process?
One of the things I did was just listen to the way each beat sounded and which beat sounded a certain way when transitioning into the other one... if they sound alike, in a way... I use that to become the next song. If you listen to every song they transition and they're usually the ones that are back to back with each other and use the sound somewhat similar in a way. So I feel like that is what caught my ears, I feel like that's what made it smooth.
See how it flows. And again, going back to that versatility you seem to really explore some soulful stuff as well. Like the 070 Shake track, "Lose my Cool". That was something different. Your fan base seems very supportive as well, would you say you have a strong connection with your fans?
Yes, I do. My fans go crazy for me, they've been through every trial and tribulation with me, you know what I'm sayin' since I first came out, and they're always still there and there's always still room for me to be strong. They love when I drop music, they hate when I hold it in. So my fan base is real crazy for me, they just want to get every bit of me and all of me. And most of them are young too, so I got the youth in a headlock. And that's what I really appreciate because I want to be the best role model for them.
I know that ownership is something that's important to you. And also it's a big discussion for artists right now. Where are you at in terms like in terms of owning your own masters and entrepreneurship?
I currently own my masters right now with the partnership with Warner that I have. I'm happy I'm in control. They gave me my own label. But this don't come to someone that's just blowing up, this come to the person bet on themselves and stayed relevant without signing that deal, quick. Just being patient and saying, 'oh, I can do it without the label' and showing them that you can so they come back. They can give you way more bang for the buck. So I feel like that's what I did and I recommend any artists to do it. Because if you go in hot with that first song, you for sure gonna be hot on the next few songs that you do.
And you talk a lot about music as meditation and finding music through the power of prayer and, tell me about what that journey was to you?
It was everything because I just know God put me in a position to be able to be more than what I am, I know this is not my end journey, I know this is not the finish line. I feel like he had so much more in store for me. And that was one of them things here and in store for me because I asked him like, I know this ain't it, what's the next step? And the next step was purpose. The first step was getting the affairs and getting everybody's eyes and attention on me. The second step was purpose was to be able to change their lives with them looking at my lifestyle. So I feel like music showed me and set me up to be something like way greater. You know? Be a helper and a healer.
"It was everything because I just know God put me in a position to be able to be more than what I am, I know this is not my end journey, I know this is not the finish line."
Super powerful, honestly. And do you find it hard to access that vulnerability?
About me, I'm able to dig into each emotion. Whatever I'm feeling I can go to it because I've been feeling it my whole life. Shit. I feel like when everything isn't peaches and cream and when everything isn't good, and everything isn't going well in your life, which is everyone. Life is always like a roller coaster, it go up and down. So I feel like when you're able to tap in to those emotions to when you feel how you felt when you was down, even though he's feeling great right now. I mean, it's just powerful. Because you know how you feel, you know what you want to feel, so you able to recite how you feel because it was already there. It's a part of you. You know what I'm saying?
Tell me about Memphis? What was it like growing up there?
It's just crazy. Everyone has guns. Everyone has drugs. Everyone is affiliated. It's just rough because it's kind of easy to get sucked into that cycle of life. I was probably one of those people that got sucked into it. But it's just all about how you grow from it when you do finally get in a position to change your life, for you and your family. And I feel like I did extremely well with doing that. And kind of like not being 100% until it was still a norm. It was a part of me and a part of my upbringing. So just to balance it out when and where to show the grit n’ grime side of me. But I feel like it for sure helped me more than anything though.
"it's just all about how you grow from it when you do finally get in a position to change your life,"
And you finished high school a few years ago right?
Three years ago
Would you get back into education one day? If so, what course would you take?
I've thought about taking business classes to improve on my business side. Because as well, my mom, she's the head honcho wants to come to business. And I just want to be as up to par as her on certain things. So I may, one day, take business classes whenever I really truly have some free time so I can just do what I want. But I do want to do that.
Growing up what were you hearing? What was your mom or dad blasting in the morning?
My Pops played a lot of 2Pac, so that's when I was first introduced to him. And my grandparents are from Jamaica, so I heard a lot of Bob Marley and reggae music, all very diverse and I feel like this is where my sound comes from. So this where it comes from to be so genuine and so unique to me is because I listened to a lot of music that was diverse and I feel like the music I listened to made me make my music the way it is.
100%. And there's also the Memphis dance. This is so key, especially during a pandemic when the world's collectively going through something a bit shitty. And Memphis has something different with its dance style, it immediately makes you want to get up & start moving. So what’s your connection with dance being from Memphis yourself?
Most definitely a strong one. I feel like it's just a part of culture, I feel like everyone in Memphis says I own the dance or whatever and I feel like this is what keeps the fun. A lot of people are scared to dance or whatever. But it's just culture. That's how we were brought up. So we never really shattered through it–It's just having fun, you know, I feel like that's needed.
"...[dance is] just culture. That's how we were brought up. It's just having fun, you know? I feel like that's needed."
As you say, people are kind of scared of it. Obviously, there's this trend with TikTok but it's actually quite powerful to see that because it brings kids and communities together. Props to Memphis for bringing that energy.
Is there an app you're building as well?
I'm currently trying to make my own social media. It's taking longer than what I thought it would butt's for sure gonna be there one day, so it's just a process.
Your tour with Juice world. I think it was maybe just before he sadly passed. Is there any stories from that? I really feel that was a momentous tour for music.
Just how he free freestyled he would turn on a beat and he was the only person I knew that could freestyle for like 15 minutes straight. He'd turn on a beat him and just rap. He was that guy. It was crazy to me because I knew I couldn't do it, it'll be rapping for 15 to 20 minutes and never lose pace. Like, he was so fluent. It was like he was talking to you about how fluent his freestyling was I feel like that was what amazed me on everything.
"...he was the only person I knew that could freestyle for like 15 minutes straight. He'd turn on a beat him and just rap. He was that guy. "
Crazy. He was seriously talented.
You can listen to NLE's latest tape here.