Beating the odds has always come naturally to Shawty Lo. In 2005, just as things were starting to come together for rapper who came up in Bankhead’s notorious Bowen Homes projects, he was facing 20-40 years on drug charges. Although he would only serve one year, in the time he was away, the group that he had assembled, D4L, would take over the airwaves with their commercial smash “Laffy Taffy.” Only able to hear the song through the phone, Shawty Lo’s hands were tied until his release. Upon getting out of prison, he refocused his priorities to find success in music.
After “Laffy Taffy,” D4L would release “Betcha Can’t Do It Like Me,” a song Shawty Lo recorded with the group before serving his one year prison sentence. However, internal strife would delay the group’s work, which left Shawty Lo to do it on his own. Recording “I’m Da Man,” an aggressive and brash song, Shawty Lo was able to develop a buzz around himself so that he could release music while the D4L situation worked itself out. “I’m Da Man” led Shawty Lo to record other songs, which would turn into his first mixtape, I’m Da Man, hosted by DJ Scream, which would go on to sell over 40,000 units. Lo brought D4L Records over to Asylum Distribution to release his debut album, Units In Da City, in 2007, which was led by his single “Dey Know.”
It’s been over three years since Shawty Lo has released an album, but he’s not going to let you forget about him. Besides, despite having music out, Shawty Lo kept his name out there through his public feud with T.I., which has since been squashed. Between releasing mixtapes, working with artists signed to D4L Records and staying busy on side projects, Lo is not going to let you forget about him. With his new mixtape, the DJ Drama-hosted Bowen Homes Carlos, Lo takes it back to his street roots while getting fans ready for his sophomore album I Am Carlos. Check out our interview with Shawty Lo as he discusses his inspiration for the mixtape, Bowen Homes, as well as recording hit songs and squashing things with T.I.
Your Gangsta Grillz mixtape Bowen Homes Carlos is dropping this week. What can you tell us about the project?
It’s going to be probably my hardest mixtape, man. I worked so hard on it, man, and it drops this Tuesday. I just worked very hard on it. This one, I went to the streets. That’s where I’m from and my projects were torn down last year and I got it tatted in my blood. I went in.
Why did you go harder on this tape?
Man, I want to go hard on every tape but I just went extra crazy. It’s like a fresh breath of air came through because of the things I’ve been going through. There’s a lot of positive energy. I worked with my family on this and we made a great project. We’re the talk of the town!
What was it like growing up in Bowen Homes?
Oh, man, it’s a jungle, big homie. We was raised with no carpet, no shower, no AC, rent’s probably $10 or zero rent for some people, no washing machine or dryer, no microwave, no food stamps…Our mothers and fathers got caught up in the crack epidemic. My mother was on drugs when I was coming up and I was raised by my grandmother. She’s a strong, Black woman. She passed in ’93. If she didn’t raise me I don’t know where I’d be. She’s the reason I’m here today.
Growing up, what options did you see for a successful life?
Well, you know I didn’t have any options. I lived every day like it was my last one. I didn’t know music was going to be my calling. When my grandmother passed, I started robbing and taking and doing everything in the streets and I stopped doing that stuff and started selling drugs. I don’t like to brag about it, but I became very successful, I guess because I’m a leader. I came to be very big in the streets. I did a lot of stuff but my time was spent in the courts and the drug game and it was like, What’s next? The police was trying to get me so bad and I felt like music was the way to go. I felt like my life story should be heard and should be told and that’s when I went and got with other dudes from my projects that was rapping and formed organization D4L.
How did you feel when Bowen Homes was torn down last year?
You know, it was like the good, the bad and the ugly. It’s kind of probably good but it’s still bad. You know, if the crime wasn’t so high, man…You would get people getting killed almost every other day out there and some people, I see the good because it’s stopping some crime and it’s bad for people who don’t have anything else and it’s ugly for the people who have to come out of there and survive the real world.
Are you ever surprised by the success you’ve had in music?
Oh yeah. I’m very surprised. I don’t feel like it’s luck. I feel like it’s God. Me, I have 20 arrests and four convictions. I feel like I could be anywhere. I could be dead or in jail. How could a person with 20 arrests and four convictions be on the streets? That just let me know, man, I was blessed. Bowen Homes is a jungle and Bowen Carlos is here and living through my music. I’m switching D4L Records up this year. It’s going to be D4L Ent. We finna switch it. We finna do so much. I got the TalkoftheTown website. It’s like World Star and I got the DVDs I’m going to be dropping every month.
Your lead single for Bowen Homes Carlos is “Tunnel Vision” where you talk about staying focused. Where did that perspective come from?
Bowen Homes gave me every perspective for what I do in life. I feel like I’m an all-out hustler, man. If I wasn’t from Bankhead, Bowen Homes, I wouldn’t be me. Shawty Lo is a rapper, man. I’m Carlos from Bowen Homes. I really live it.
How’s your sophomore album I Am Carlos coming?
Man, it’s coming along very great. If you say, Damn, this a mixtape? I wonder what the album gonna be! It’s really not a mixtape. It really is a mixtape. Producers will ask me if I want a song for the mixtape or the album and I’ll tell them I’ll put my all into every track. I just don’t work on any track. It gotta be a hit track and I don’t care if you’re a local producer or a big producer, Shawty Lo gonna give his all to make that record a No. 1 record.
You were locked up when “Laffy Taffy” dropped so your first real introduction into the music game was “I’m Da Man.” What was it like dropping that?
It was crazy. My very first song was created in 2005. It was “I’m Da Man” and when people heard that song from me, they said, Shawty Lo, that’s the song we want to hear. You’re from Bankhead and that’s what we want to hear. I just kept recording. That was a song I did off emotions. I heard people saying D4L ain’t shit without Fabo and I didn’t make no comment about it. That’s when I started writing music myself and when I did that, people told me that’s what they wanted to hear from me. I was smiling and I just kept writing and doing more songs and I did my first mix CD with DJ Scream in ’06 and people told me I got it and I was the one. That’s what made people love the Shawty Lo sound.
Do you consider songs like “Dey Know” to be your signature sound?
It don’t matter what kind of song I make. I just want to make songs that are hit records. All beats are not the same. As an artist, I had to adjust to the track that the person gave me, as long as I made a hit. It could be like “Let’s Get It” or “Foolish.” All of my music is mostly different.
“Laffy Taffy” got a lot of mainstream love but a lot of hate from the hip-hop purists. Did the hate ever bother you?
You know there was some people saying they didn’t like the vibe, but if you check the Guinness Book of World Records, we sold the most ringtones in history. There was more people liking it than didn’t like it. It was a new sound and that’s what it was. To be honest with you, I didn’t like “Laffy Taffy” to be honest with you but I grew to love it when I came home from prison. I was hearing it through the jail phone.
How do you know when you have a hit song?
You don’t know. You don’t know. You don’t never know until the people, when they hear it in the streets and when your fans hear it, that’s when you know if it’ll be a hit or not.
Did the success of “Dey Know” surprise you?
Yeah. I didn’t think “Dey Know” was a hit. Other people were telling me it was a big song and I was telling them they were crazy.
Have you ever had a song that you thought would be a big hit and it didn’t do as well as you thought it could?
Yeah. Yeah, plenty times. When I put it out, if it kicks, there we go.
Who are your favorite producers to work with today?
I don’t have favorite producers. I love all producers. This ain’t no favorites out here. I don’t like choosing and picking favorites.
You shouted out Gucci Mane on “Tunnel Vision” and you’ve worked well together in the past. How important is that unity between other artists from your area?
See, believe it or not, we’ve been like brothers before both of us blew. I met Gucci when I got out of prison in 2005 or 2006. I met him at the mall and we both hadn’t really been heard yet. I had the “I’m Da Man” song and he had the Traphouse album. We were in the studio working all night. We were friends beyond rappers. We used to hang out all the time. He knows my family and I know his family. He knows my mama and I know his mama. We’re like brothers from different mothers.
What’s it like when you guys work on music together?
It’s like magic. When the people see me they always say me and Gucci need to do an album together. There’s just so much different stuff they say.
Is that a possibility?
Yeah. We ain’t never thought about it but we will. That’s no problem. That’s my brother from a different mother.
Why do you think you and T.I. were able to squash your beef?
Basically I guess it was a couple of old heads from our city that came in and talked. When you got two stubborn dudes who run they cliques, it just be hard sometimes. I guess they seen it going too far so you know, I said, Aight and I guess he said aight and it was what it was. He got family. I got family. He got kids. I got kids. I wasn’t trying to hurt him and he wasn’t trying to hurt him, but we can’t control the people around us so we ended up letting it go.
What do you want to accomplish next?
Man, my goal is to take care of my family. I want to get into everything. Music isn’t my only passion. I want to act. I want to be very good at acting. I want to reach Will Smith heights, Bruce Willis heights. I want to be very large.