The South had been championing Yung Bleu well before Drake came around and put his stamp of approval on “You’re Mines Still” — the song that propelled Bleu into the top 40 on the Billboard Hot 100, and earned him a #1 song on Rhythmic charts. At that point, a cult following had already developed. His deep, vibrato voice brought grief-induced melodies coated with warmth, underlining the vulnerability in his music. “I always just been as honest as I can,” he explains on the latest episode of On The Come Up. “Like, it just naturally comes out. I just really just say the real. I would never really sugarcoat anything but I think that’s what makes the music, the music. The real.”
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It’s a formula that Bleu developed over the course of the Investment series, both as a vocalist and songwriter. Unlike many of his contemporaries, however, his growth as a musician has been documented publicly from projects like Investments, culminating in the release of his debut album, Moon Boy — setting a new benchmark for the merging of trap and R&B. Where a project like Investment 3 garnered comparisons to Future and Kevin Gates, it was Investment 5 that cemented the regional buzz into a national one.
In the past year, Bleu’s gone from a staple on mixtape sites to dominating Spotify, Apple, and TIDAL playlists every time a new single drops. Boosie predicted this success long before “You’re Mine Still” ended up on the charts or even landed on Chlöe Bailey’s radar. Though Bleu is no longer signed to Boosie’s Bad Azz Music Syndicate, there’s a familial bond they’ve developed over the years. Earlier this year, footage of Bleu gifting Boosie $100K in cash went viral. Ultimately, it was simply a token of appreciation for taking a chance on him. “He really just motivated me [with] just the type of stuff he’s doing,” Bleu said.
Check out the latest episode of On The Come Up with Yung Bleu where he discusses his career beginnings, the origins of Bleu Vandross, and how Lil Wayne shaped his penmanship.
Read the unabridged editorial version of the interview below, edited for clarity.
WATCH: Yung Bleu’s episode of On the Come Up
HNHH: Tell me where you’re from? What were your stomping grounds like growing up?
Yung Bleu: I’m from Mobile, Alabama.
I mean, that experience was probably like any other childhood. Like, growing up in, I don’t know, a Black neighborhood. A young Black neighborhood. Really no different from any other in any other place.
What were you into, outside of music, as a kid?
Outside of music, I used to play basketball, football. I used to play sports. I used to play a lot of sports, back when I was young and stuff like that.
Was sports your first love before music?
It’d be basketball. Basketball and probably, then football.
I played basketball for my school. Like, I never really pursued it like I was trying to go to the league or nothing. I just used to play for my school. You know, just be athletic because I felt like — I wasn’t rapping then.
Gospel music is prominent within Alabama. Obviously, a lot of R&B and soul influences come out in your music but were you growing up around Gospel and Blues as a child?
Yeah, I mean, Alabama probably got the most churches on every corner than any other state. But yeah, definitely. I used to listen to everything growing up. I would fuck with old school music. I love that type of music. You know, just the oldies. You know, Lauryn Hill, Luther [Vandross]. Just the oldies that the older people were listening to.
“Yeah, I mean, Alabama probably got the most churches on every corner than any other state. I used to listen to everything growing up. I would fuck with old school music. I love that type of music. You know, just the oldies. You know, Lauryn Hill, Luther [Vandross]. Just the oldies that the older people were listening to.”
Who are some of the local acts like when you were growing up?
In my city, we had Mr. Bigg. We had C-Nile. We had Rich Boi. That was pretty much it, you know, from my era growing up. Before them — before me, they had Dirty Boyz, stuff like that.
Outside of Alabama, what rappers were you listening to?
Like I said, I used to listen to all types of music. I used to listen to R. Kelly, Lauryn Hill, DMX. Just all types of — everything, for real.
Tell me about being able to chop it up with DMX with him as you got older.
Yeah, definitely was exposed. You know, we all grew up on his music, and being able to chop it up with him before he passed was a good experience, for sure.
I know your dad was also into music. What type of music was your dad making?
He says he used to. I don’t even know the genre. Whatever type of music. Old school music that n***as used to make back then [laughs]. I don’t even know the genre. I just know he sings.
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That’s obviously something that he passed on to you, right?
How does your family feel about the type of music you’re making now? Especially as you move from trap to saying that you’re giving the R&B guys a run for their money.
I mean, my dad loves my music. He listens to my music every day. My mom I really, I really don’t know, like, she don’t — I don’t know for real. She ain’t really, like, into music like that.
I know I read that you used to like, you were so into music that you were bringing your karaoke machine with you to school. Can you just tell me about the first time you ever recorded a song and do you remember any of the bars from that song?
No. All I know is I was rapping some shit about Spongebob shit [laughs]. I was, like, eleven.
Big SpongeBob fan?
Yeah, I was used to rap. Just freestyle about all types of shit [laughs]. I was rapping about all types of shit.
Do you remember going into an actual studio for the first time?
Nah, I already had a home studio. When I went from a karaoke machine, I went from the karaoke machines to a home studio so I always have my own home studio ‘cause I used to record all my music.
Issa Rae tweeted something the other day that I found was really interesting. She was like listening to Mint Condition’s “Breaking My Heart” and realizing that a lot of the music guys today aren’t dramatic enough. I felt like you’re definitely one of those guys, beyond your penmanship, who brings that emotion that resonates with your fans. How do you feel like you’re filling in that void in songwriting with your vulnerability and honesty in music today?
I feel like I’m in a lane of my own when it comes to, like, things I talk about in songs and types of situations I bring to the table in songs. I mean, I feel like she probably just didn’t heard everybody’s music. It’s not possible to listen to everybody’s music.
I’m pretty sure if she goes down a wormhole, search for more artists, she’ll find what she’s looking for. But a lot of people, sometimes, just listenin’ to what’s mainstream, what’s being pushed into their ear and really not takin’ the time to find what they’re looking for.
Did you ever find it difficult to kind of tap into that level of honesty?
Nah, I always just been as honest as I can. Like, it just naturally comes out. I just really just say the real. I would never really sugarcoat anything but I think that’s what makes the music, the music. The real. I never really bit my tongue about anything, as far as the music goes.
“I would never really sugarcoat anything but I think that’s what makes the music, the music. The real. I never really bit my tongue about anything, as far as the music goes.”
You made headlines because of your comments on the XXL Freshman cover. You did get a nomination at the BET Awards for Best New Artist. For yourself, do these acknowledgments carry weight to you considering the success you’ve had independently?
I mean, they do. I’d be lyin’ if I said it doesn’t. But, I mean, you get past it. You just look at, you know, what you create for yourself. You know, you got personal accolades that are more important than other accolades. I got a lot of personal accolades that I personally did for myself.
Any personal favorites on the Freshman list this year?
Uh, who is on the list? I mess with Flo Milli.She’s from my city. Yeah, I mess with Flo Milli. You know, Lakeyah’s my homegirl.
What has been a fulfilling moment in your career for you?
Oh, I mean, just like my recent deals like my recent independent deals. You know, buyin’ a house, ownin’ an estate. Just doing everything the right way for real and honest, really. Managing myself the right way.
You’re one of the few guys right now that’s making timeless music that in 5, 10, 15, 20 years from now, we’re going to be revisiting and it’ll still sound as good. Is there a particular song or a particular moment in the past like 5-6 years where you knew that you were onto something special?
It’ll probably just be an album, for real. Probably be like Investments 5. It’s just the love it got and what I was able to do from that project. Then I came back and dropped Bleu Vandross project. Each mixtape I was dropping — I dropped three mixtapes back to back and I got a plaque for working off all them mixtapes. So, I feel like I was doing something right. I was just doing something right in the mixtape world itself. That was even before I was putting music on Apple. I was on Spinrilla with my mixtapes.
“I dropped three mixtapes back to back and I got a plaque for working off all them mixtapes. So, I feel like I was doing something right.”
Investments 5 and Bleu Vandross projects put eyes on you. Tell me about Bleu Vandross. Who is that persona?
He’s just an aura for when I do R&B. Like, when I just go into my R&B bag.
I know you mentioned that there was a lot of oldies in the crib growing up so what is it about Luther Vandross that inspires you?
Oh, I feel people was comparin’ us ‘cause of our deep voice, really. The vibrato. You know, he sing and people just started comparin’ us. I kinda just ran with the whole thing. Yeah, I feel like it was just something I ran with it.
The Investment series showcases your growth but you mentioned it was Investment 5 that caught everyone’s attention. It also helped introduce what’s now your signature sound. What was the process like developing that sound from the early Investment tapes to the fifth installment?
Oh, I don’t know. I feel like my voice just matured. Maturity is just natural. Like, everytime I go into the studio, I’m tryna mess with a different sound, you know what I’m saying?
A lotta people used to say to me like, back in those days old days, Rich Homie Quan, Fetty Wap, Future. I used to get like everything — Kevin Gates. Everyday, everybody said I sound like Kevin Gates. I feel like that’s what you do with new artists.
I also know that you mentioned Lil Wayne was somebody you tried to imitate. Tell me about Lil Wayne’s influence on you when you were younger.
Yeah, Lil Wayne is definitely one of my favorite rappers. I feel like he just used to go so hard with the punchlines. Everybody just wanted to say and do them punchlines and see how creative they can get with punchlines. So that was kind of the wave I was on back in the days. Like, I was way more lyrical than I am now.
“Lil Wayne is definitely one of my favorite rappers. I feel like he just used to go so hard with the punchlines.”
Coming from the school of Lil Wayne, how do you think that impacted the way you write songs now?
Yeah, I write songs now more for the feeling than the bars. I feel like, sometimes, bars will constrict you from getting across the truth, you know what I’m saying? ‘Cause, some shit might not rhyme, but the shit that you tryna say that’s really real. So that’s kind of where I just started rapping more about a real-life situation. I kinda get away from the bars and just kind of replacing that with hitting a mothafucka soul. I feel like that has the same effect.
Let’s jump into the new album Moon Boy. What does the title mean to you and what does this new persona add to who Yung Bleu is?
It’s just all metaphors to just going to the moon. Going past the sky. Going sky’s the limit. It’s just all metaphors, really. There’s no specific meaning to me, towards me. It’s just towards my career.
How long did it take to just secure all the features for the project?
It didn’t really take that long, for real. I’ve been working on this project for like seven months. Didn’t really take as long as I thought it would take. I probably re-did the album like — well, I added stuff to the album, like three times, before I turned it in.
Since it’s your technical debut album, did you feel more pressure with this one compared to other projects?
Yeah, I mean. I did a little bit ‘cause I feel like there’s people like, you know, people just want to see you fail and wanna see you tank. It do put a little more pressure but at the end of the day, I can tell people like, I already know before I drop my project that my project’s damn-near gold. My album as a whole. So I really don’t need to care too much about anything as far as first week sales and stuff like that. Just because I know you can’t put your first week sales on a plaque. You can sell 50k in the first week but you would never be able to put a plaque up on the album then it’s like — you know what I’m saying? So, that’s what I’m more focused on, having Gold or Platinum albums.
How was it like working with Chlöe Bailey and Wale in the studio?
It was good. It was a good vibe. I mess with both of them heavy. I mess with Chlöe and Wale on a real note, fasho.
What was it like working with Chris Brown for the album?
It was good. It was a good experience. Like I always envisioned it, you know what I’m sayin? Since I was a kid, doing a song with Chris Brown. N***a dancing videos and sh*t. It was surreal, like a surreal moment. These moments being able to come true and sh*t.
Can you talk to me about the John Legend record as well like how did he reach out to you or how did that connection end up happening?
My people reached out to his people. We sent him the record and he ended up liking it and the message. We just did it.
What was that conversation like whenever you guys met like?
No, we never met. That was the only one that I didn’t get in the studio. That and Drake one. That’s the only one ‘cause Drake was out the country. And John Legend, I don’t know where he at but he did it quick, though.
You tweeted that you want to be working with more international artists so how did working with Davido come about?
I mean, Davido got like a whole lotta of fans. They very active. It was good just them spreading love to my — it drifted to me, and Davido cool, man. Davido’s like my African brother. I mess with him heavy. He’s just a good person all around.
Your breakout moment happened in the pandemic. How do you think that helped you shape the new project? If it did at all.
I don’t know, I was still moving around during the pandemic. I was still booked up and stuff like that. I really didn’t hit as much as everybody else did. It definitely let me stay at the house. If you stay at the house a little more, it’s time to work on the album. Spend a little more time on the album.
I was watching another recent video where you explained how you were signed to the majors but you weren’t getting as paid as you should be. Can you just talk a bit about that experience and how that shaped your hustle now?
I mean, it just made me hustle in other types of ways because I know I wasn’t really gettin’ it from the label.
Can you elaborate on some of the other ways that you were learning how to monetize off of your craft?
Just shows. I was just doing a lot of shows. Doing shows, features. Stuff like that, basically.
You had your deal with Boosie but you ended up leaving. He’s had nothing but greatest things to say about you. How do you think that that relationship has developed beyond just business?
Yeah, it has always been more than just business. I never say like — like, the blogs will say that I left Boosie. Boosie’s still — it ain’t no leavin’ Boosie. We still tight, we still tying in. It’s just doing other business deals.
“It ain’t no leavin’ Boosie. We still tight, we still tying in. It’s just doing other business deals.”
What’s the best advice he ever gave you?
Boosie just taught me how to — he really just motivated me just the type of stuff he’s doing. Like, Boosie does business stuff, too. Just seeing the type stuff he had, he just motivated me to go get it. I used to see his house, see how he live. He’s motivated to just go get it.
I just want to clarify, are you still doing management with Meek?
Not for real.
Would you mind just elaborating on just your connection to Meek Mill?
I mean, bruh cool. His company, some people from his company helped me out with a few things during my come up and stuff like that but it wasn’t really nothing too deep.
Okay, because whenever that happened, a lot of people were saying that you signed a management deal with Meek.
Yeah, I did. I did.
This is my final question for you. But just going back to Boosie he said you were a megastar. So my question for you is, where do you see yourself in 5 to 10 years?
I don’t even know. More platinum plaques. Hopefully, a couple of Grammys. Stuff like that. Just keep making good music. That’s just the things I’m focused on. Just lettin’ play out however it plays out.