King Louie is hungry. He’s hungry to claim his position at the top of the Chicago hip-hop scene, and for all the national acclaim and accolades — but right now, he is literally prepping for a feast. As I greet the 26-year-old at his hotel in Champaign, we forgo any type of dap or handshake because his hands are full with a care package consisting of WingStop, liquor, fine greenery and an array of smoking utensils. As we enter the hotel room, Louie begins doling out chicken wings to his 10 or so MUBU comrades, who are busy taking in the NBA three-point contest on TV. “Who are you rooting for?” I’m asked by one of L’s boys. After showing love to my hometown guy Bradley Beal, I sit down with Louie to discuss a myriad of topics. We touch on subjects such as recent music, relationships with other Chicago artists, and his work on Kanye West‘s Yeezus. We get down to the essence of drill music — a genre that King L certainly helped launch, if not completely invent — and talk about differences between him and his record label, Epic. About two hours after our chat, Louie will begin his set at the Fluid Events Center in Champaign, sending scores of U of I students into a frenzy with the party banger “Pop Out.”
To the average listener, a quick run-through of Louie’s recent mixtape Drilluminati 2 would likely garner instant comparisons to Chicago drill scene counterparts, the likes of Chief Keef, Lil Reese and Lil Durk. However, a more thorough dissection of Louie’s project makes it clear that he should not be lumped in automatically, as he pairs hard-hitting beats with a unique, oft-autotuned flow to craft out a distinct sound. While his city’s violence is etched into every nook and cranny of his music, Louie makes sure his gun talk stays lyrical. Catchy one-liners and obscure namedrops (Meyer Lansky, Val Venus, Scottie Pippen, etc) separate his work. And, after chopping it up with L, these thoughts only become that much more apparent. As King L notes, the drill scene is like a pot of gumbo, with many different artists and sounds being thrown into the same category simply because the genre is both new and somewhat misunderstood. Read our conversation below.
UPC: First and foremost, you’re a Chicago guy. But if I’m not mistaken, you did spend some time growing up here in Champaign?
King Louie: Nah, I ain’t never spent no time growing up in Champaign.
UPC: Oh, that’s weird. I was on your Wikipedia page and that’s what it said. You should get that fixed.
KL: Yeah, I’ve got to get that fixed. I used to live in Joliet if that’s what they were trying to say. I stayed in Joliet during my younger years.
UPC: Let’s get into some music. Drilluminati 2. Really good tape, I know a lot of people really liked it.
KL: Thanks bro. Appreciate it.
UPC: The thing I like about your music is, I think your flow really complements the beat selection. Tracks like “EastSide Shit,” “I Might,” and “Tony,” especially — I really liked the way you selected your beats. Go into a little bit about your creative process, how you select beats or reach out to producers.
KL: As far as my beats, how I go about that is, I check my e-mail. I tend to put my e-mail up on my social sites. And I just tell people to send them through. Throughout the years I’ve built relationships with people. So there will be some new producers, and then sometimes it’ll be my guys, my friends. You know, I’m big on doing the producers beats that don’t have names already, because it’s like raw talent. Stuff people ain’t heard of before. It’s kind of different, so that’s what I do.
UPC: I really like the couple of tracks on the mixtape by Paris Bueller and Jay Storm.
KL: Yeah, Jay Storm be going hard!
UPC: I also liked your features on Bibby’s tape, Free Crack, which got a lot of exposure recently. Talk to me a little bit about your relationships with other popping Chi-town artists right now. Durk is hot right now, Herb, Bibby, Keef, still, obviously.
KL: Herb and Bibby. They’re cool. They’re my guys.
UPC: I don’t think I’ve heard you collab with Durk since “I Get Paid” on one of his first tapes. You guys got anything in the works for the future?
KL: Not in the works at all. I don’t know what’s going on with the guy Durk. Nah.
UPC: Have you ever thought about reaching out to Young Chop? I think you guys would create some good music together.
KL: [O]-Block. Shout out ‘Block.
UPC: I feel like drill music is a very loosely defined genre of music. If you had to define it yourself in a few short words, how would you pinpoint it?
KL: I would call it ‘Gumbo.’
KL: Yeah, gumbo.
UPC: I feel like it doesn’t get enough credit as a genre. Do you think that’s because it’s just widely misunderstood, or is it because it’s still a new genre?
KL: It’s like they’re trying to put like, it’s too many people that ain’t invent it, you know what I’m saying? They’re trying to put a name on it. If I’m the color red or whatever, you can’t say I’m purple. You know what I’m saying? It’s like too many people trying to like, since they’re just now getting on to it and they think Chief Keef is the founder of it and all that. But in reality, he isn’t. You know what I’m saying? I am.
UPC: Yeah. You’re an older cat, what are you like 26, 27?
KL: Yeah, I’m 26.
UPC: So then I feel like you’ve been in this a lot longer than…
KL: We’ve been in it the same amount of time, but I’ve just been doing music without a buzz before them guys.
UPC: Jumping off that, what are some advantages of being on a record label like Epic compared to back in the day when you were hustling demos out of the back of your trunk?
KL: It really ain’t no difference bro. It’s just like how people look at you or whatever. Some shit like that. But it ain’t no difference, I’m still going hard for myself. I go harder for myself than Epic does. They don’t really go hard for me like that.
UPC: You’ve been going around the country touring for the past few years now. What are your favorite cities to perform in? Favorite spots to shop at? Favorite strip clubs?
KL: They got some dope strip clubs in Houston. I like the Houston strip clubs. Shopping, I like Lennox Mall. The malls in Houston are cool, too. I like going to LA, you know what I’m saying, of course, to smoke or whatever. Freedom to smoke. Just on some sightseeing shit, Paris was dope.
UPC: Was that with Yeezy? Or was that a separate trip?
KL: That was when I was working on the Yeezus album, a little business in Paris. Like three times. New York goes, too!
UPC: Of course. My brother lives in New York so I’m there a lot. Since you brought it up, the whole Yeezus thing, that must have been a huge look for you. Working with a legend in the game like that must have been a big moment for you, even though I know you’re doing your own thing.
KL: It was dope to know I got recognition from Kanye West, and it wasn’t from my label, Epic. It was like showing me my work, that I still do good work. You know what I’m saying? And my team that isn’t Epic, you know what I’m saying? It was dope. Hopefully Epic will start rocking with me. But until then, I’m rocking hard for myself.
UPC: Definitely. So I know that recently you had to change your name to King L on some dumb, Jungle Book BS…
KL: My name is King Louie, bro. On my shit it says King Louie. My checks say Louis Johnson so that’s all that matters. Fuck all that shit! My name is Tony.
Watch the video for Drilluminati 2‘s intro track below, and expect Drilluminati 3 to drop in 2014. Follow King Louie on Twitter @KingL.