Although he’s only 20 years old, NLE Choppa presents himself with a calming, zen-like demeanor. He speaks with composure and slides in some inspirational anecdotes that give off the vibe that he’s been around for much longer than he really has been. He’s wise well beyond his years. But he hasn’t always been like this – he only began releasing music in 2018, but his quickly-attained mainstream success, along with his impressive discography and legacy that he’s proudly built for himself in just four years, has been a winding journey. He’s currently fresh off the release of his newest album, Cottonwood 2, as well as its expanded deluxe version with nine additional songs. The original album already spans across 22 tracks, boasting features from an A-list string of artists including Lil Wayne, Rick Ross, Fivio Foreign and Kevin Gates. As a whole, the project is a sprawling embodiment of all the different sounds and flows that have made up NLE Choppa’s career thus far. The way in which Choppa conducts himself now is evidently different when you compare it to the 2019 release of his new project’s predecessor, Cottonwood, whose name derives from the area in Tennessee that he grew up in. Growing up in the Parkway Village area of Memphis, Tennessee, Choppa was an avid basketball player and began freestyling with his childhood friends when he was just 15 years old – he already began taking it seriously by the time he turned 16. At one point in time, Choppa spent some time at a juvenile detention center, which he says helped him to improve his behaviour going forward. Later on down the road, he would go on to use this experience to alter his mindset going forward. His initial online buzz came when he made an appearance on his former crew, the Shotta Fam’s “No Chorus Pt. 3”, which is a cypher-style song made by him and his fellow Shotta Fam members Big K Mula, Dee Bentley, OG Chuccy and Kabana. Choppa’s charismatic opening verse filled with his energetic persona, and his accompanying dance moves helped him to quickly garner attention online. Choosing to capitalize on his momentum immediately, he dropped his breakout track, “Shotta Flow” in January of 2019. After his subsequent debut on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, a remix with Blueface and a Cole Bennett-directed Lyrical Lemonade music video, his ascension into the rap game was on a steady incline. When he first broke out on the scene, he quickly became known for his aggressive cadences and lyricism that he often matched with his rapid-fire flows. Although this is the style of music that’s responsible for blowing him up into an international star, he saw ways in which he could switch up his style and simultaneously change his life for the better. Not long after being inducted into XXL’s 2020 Freshman Class alongside the likes of Jack Harlow, Polo G and Baby Keem, he vowed to stop rapping about violence and instead opt to spread positivity. It’s certainly an interesting change of pace from a then-17-year-old who was experiencing the complicated process of becoming a famous artist in modern society, but it proved to work out extraordinarily well for NLE Choppa. In November 2020, he officially released his third full-length project, From Dark to Light. The album cover displays an animated cartoon of NLE Choppa sitting cross-legged in lush green grass. Surrounded by butterflies and a rainbow over top of him on the right side and a crescent moon above him on the left side, his caricature has his eyes closed with his arms vertically across his body, touching fist to fist. This was the beginning of his new era. This same year, he also officially launched his YouTube channel, “Awakened Choppa,” where he began to document his healthy lifestyle and promoted holistic practices like gardening and veganism. The music scattered across From Dark to Light is noticeably more conscious, self-aware and motivational than his previous releases, but the switch-up in the rest of his music that’s followed isn’t actually as drastic as it may seem. He still experiments with his flows, flexes about the perks of his lifestyle, and occasionally shares some R-rated sexual innuendos. He continues to assert his dominance as one of the most popular rappers in the game over the past few years, but he’s much more deliberate with his subject matter overall, and keeps his spirituality and public image in mind. Although From Dark to Light is a one-of-a-kind project within his discography in terms of complete subject matter and concept, his renewed mindset is staying with him – even when he gets back to his roots like he does throughout Cottonwood 2. He says this change of mindset came as a result of being at the lowest point he’d ever been in, at a point in time when he was uncomfortable with himself and the public perception of him as a person and an artist. He turned to prayers, meditation, changed his diet, stopped his drug use, and most importantly, changed who he was hanging around with. Reflecting back, he credits these five things with helping him get on the right path after the release of Top Shotta, when he was around 17. “It’s hard to pick what box I wanted to be in, so I’d rather stay outside of it,” Choppa says as he thinks back to the turning point. “Just using my positive and also, you know, using my negative. Like I said, everything has a ying and a yang, and a balance, so just learning the balance of what type of music I wanna put out or what message I wanna get out of certain songs. That’s what’s helping my balance – is just being the person I am, it keeps my sanity,” he says about his renewed, conscious effort to intertwine music and his spiritual journey. On his latest project, Cottonwood 2, he set out to cement his diversity as an artist and an emcee by engaging in an array of different flows and topics. As a result, there’s a healthy assortment of Choppa expanding upon different sub-genres like drill, Southern trap, R&B and even jersey club. Explicit songs like the erotic single “SLUT ME OUT” and “AUTOMOBOOTY” combine with more introspective tracks like “CHAMPIONS” and “WHO THEY GONE CALL,” as well as club-ready anthems like “DROP TOP” and “AIN’T GONNA ANSWER,” resulting in a truly all-encompassing project. “CHAMPIONS,” he says, is “targeted to the people that are underdogs and have their back against the wall, so within that process, those type of songs can also show it’s a balance between ‘SLUT ME OUT’ and then you have ‘CHAMPIONS,’ where it gives a person motivation to attack life with.” Everything in Choppa’s life is about balance. The most notable feature is none other than Lil Wayne, who appears for a signature verse filled with clever wordplay on the up-beat, braggadocious single, “AIN’T GONNA ANSWER.” Wayne is one of Choppa’s biggest influences and he grew up following his career religiously. “It was like a surprise, like I said, it came with a bow [and] ribbon in a box, you know? Confetti when it opened, you know? It was huge – big for me. He’s one of those people that I’ve always wanted to have a song with growing up, looking up to, so to be able to have him on a song, when I heard the verse as well, it was like, one of those full circle moments,” he reflects with a smile across his face. The way that the collaboration came to life was organic – “I feel like when he heard it, it was a big energy transfer. Like he knew what had to be done on the track. It wasn’t a blank canvas, it was kinda like a picture that was almost painted and he just finished it. He did his due diligence for sure,” he says. Fresh off of his very first sold-out European tour last year and with over 800 unreleased songs in the vault, the possibilities are endless when it comes to where NLE Choppa’s career elevates from here. It comes down to him staying true to himself and making both personal and artistic decisions that allow him to be the best version of himself that he can possibly be. His artistic process always depends on the feel of the beat when it comes to what type of record he’s going to be making – it’s never planned, he goes off of spiritual feelings. He actively tries to translate what the beat is saying to him; however the beat is speaking to him, that’s how he steps up to the plate and delivers his performance.
As we wrap up the interview, we learn that Choppa’s very first tattoo was his mom’s name, Angela, written on his wrist. His latest is the skeletal outline that covers his left hand. Although he isn’t able to tell us exactly how many tattoos he has, the drastic difference between his first and his last speak volumes to the diversity of NLE Choppa and the many layers that exist with him as both a person and an artist.
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