At the top of 2020, NLE Choppa was in a different state of mind. Granted, none of us knew what to expect as the year wore on, but as we were all forced to slow down and be still, the Memphis rapper found himself embracing the quiet moments.
“I’m a helper and I’m a healer.”—NLE Choppa
From time to time, anyone can catch Choppa online, either tending to his garden, making a vegan breakfast or meditating in his backyard. In October, he tweeted: “I didn’t change. I just found myself.”
Two months before in August, the rapper released his debut studio album Top Shotta, a nod to his Jamaican heritage on his mother’s side, but admits that by the end of recording it, he felt drained and listless. The fiery, devil-may care energy of Choppa’s music simply wasn’t moving his spirit anymore. If there was ever a line between the reckless abandon of adolescence and the confident gait of “being grown,” Choppa crossed it months before legally becoming an adult.
“I’m a helper and I’m a healer,” he shares. “And I feel like that’s what a lot of Black… Not even just Black but melanated people, are here for. Whether you’re a melanated Indian or whatever, as long as your skin is just brown, it’s essential to help and heal.”
On Sunday, November 1, NLE Choppa celebrated his 18th birthday by releasing his second studio album, aptly named From Dark to Light, with the direct intention of adding a bit of brightness to the world. “I don’t know,” he says, laughing. “I feel like it’ll be perfect. I feel like people are gonna fuck with the new flow more because they’ll be able to actually apply a lot of what I was saying, to everyday life. It can change their life and everybody around.”
Hip-Hop Wired: What would you say about your outward growth this year? Between promoting Top Shotta in January and preparing to drop From Dark to Light now, it’s clear that 2020 has had an effect on you.
NLE Choppa: I feel like the growth I’ve been showing has been helping every day of my life. It’s in my day-to-day life—it’s in how I’m feeling physically, how I’m feeling on a conscious level. I just feel like the space I’m in is beautiful for me right now because I’m at peace with myself. I’m more in love with myself and all within myself my soul is just at rest. It’s calm and patient and it just feels like the universe is working for me. I’m not forcing the direction of anything, it’s just been cool.
In early October you tweeted that you’d “found yourself.” Define who NLE Choppa is.
I had been a helper and a healer but I was forgetting myself. I never helped and healed myself but once I did that, I was able to be that for everybody else around me. The whole world. Whoever I could touch.
How did the artwork for From Dark to Light come about?
I came up with a concept and got with a graphic designer, from England I believe. He came up with the art and put my ideas on paper. He brought my ideas to life.
Where on the album would you say that your enlightened self shows up the most?
I feel like it shows up most in the intro which isn’t really a song, but it’s more of where I describe the album. I describe how you’ll be hearing the “dark” side, like, my older, more negative songs but I feel like it’s all about accepting that growth. I wasn’t just gonna trash them, I was gonna find some way to put them out. It was best to put them out with the new stuff I been on. But on the new album you’ll be able to hear it, the first song is gon’ be a life song and I tried to mix them up in a way where it’s a balance of it all. I guess everybody will have to hear it but I feel like the checklist flows smoothly and you’ll get to hear both sides.
You’ve stated that Top Shotta proved difficult to finish. It wasn’t until you recorded the final song, “Depression” when you felt your mood alleviate. Did you already have it in mind to make this album lighter?
I always refer to my “higher self” or my “future self” but I look at the future in a different way. I look at the future as if everything I’m thinking about in the future has already been done. It’s just my higher self telling me what I need to do to get to that point. I feel like anything you need, you have within yourself. Just trust your intuition, trust what your higher self is telling you and work towards that direction. Ever since I started trusting my intuition and going with that “good” feeling. Everything has been better for me. It’s really mainly that. Nobody can tell me how to live my life. This is just the way I’ve always been. My mama always used to tell me little things about being more positive but I overlooked it, but once I started to look deeper within myself, I realized that the change had to start with me and I was gon’ finish it with me.
It’s barely been two years since your breakout hit “Shotta Flow” came out. Is there anything you wish you could change since your start, anything you wish you could’ve done differently?
No. Because this is what life is all about. This is what growing is. If you did everything right, there would be no room to grow, only room to have your downfall. I accept all the flaws and all the negatives that come with life. Instead of letting it hold you down, just look at the past and all the other negatives… ‘Cause I done been through a lot of shit… So just look at that and how strong you were after the fact. It’s about taking the negatives and turning them into positives, overcoming that. I feel like without those lessons in life, I wouldn’t be as strong as I am. If everything was just going right for me, I wouldn’t be able to handle an ‘L.’
And just being able to grow beyond Memphis is tough. Rappers out there have a reputation for holding each other back.
Man, hell yeah. In the city, when you first blowing up, it be love but when they see you growing? I don’t know, it be weird. I receive a bunch of hate in Memphis. I could do something good and still get a bunch of hate in Memphis. I be on my own lil’ island out there pretty much. It’s like, a lot of the artists in Memphis, they bump you in silence but they won’t let you know they do it. They be fans but they always have something to say, it’s beautiful though. I guess everybody who’s doing something right, always has somebody saying they’re doing something wrong.
How often are you tending to your garden these days?
With the process of creating my album, I haven’t been in my garden as much as I should be but every time I’m in Memphis, I make sure I’m out there, watering my plants before and during sunrise and again during sundown. It’s about showing that love and speaking over it even if you’re not around your garden. As long as you keep speaking to it, talking to your water [and the plants], make sure you’re out there showing love to ‘em because they’re alive just like you are. I make sure my people at home are at least checking to make sure that my garden’s good.
How often would you say young Black men struggle with depression?
I feel like “depression” is just another label to keep you at that level. Even if a doctor tells you that you suffer from bipolar depression, make sure that it doesn’t dwell on you because at the end of your day, your thoughts create your whole entire reality. So if you’re thinking like, “I have depression,” so of course you’re gonna feel depressed. It’s all about taking a deep breath one day, breathing right: in through your nose, out through your mouth.
Just keep telling yourself: “I don’t have depression. I don’t have anxiety.” Keep telling yourself: “I feel better than ever. I feel great.” And you would come out of that meditation feeling so much better about yourself. You’d feel energized. You’d feel like ‘you.’ I tell people, I feel like, “I never even had depression.”
That’s how I look at it now. Once I realized my thoughts controlled everything, I started to wake up and tell myself that I feel great. I used to tell myself certain positive affirmations and now I’m all those things.