Music News & Reviews

Hip hop star Kevin Gates has things to say about life behind bars and out

Hip hop star Kevin Gates will play Rupp Arena this weekend with special guests Money Bagg Yo, Boosie Badazz and Sada Baby.
Hip hop star Kevin Gates will play Rupp Arena this weekend with special guests Money Bagg Yo, Boosie Badazz and Sada Baby.

Plenty of hip-hop music has a foundation of brashness and bravado. Some of it is built on rawness and realness. Even less of it is built on an almost naked vulnerability.

Kevin Gates has found success in hip-hop with music that embodies all of the above.

The popular trap rap star behind hits like “2 Phones” and “I Don’t Get Tired (#IDGT)” continues to carve out a niche in hip-hop as one of the genre’s more melodic and compelling MCs. The artist is bringing The 3Kingz Tour with special guests Money Bagg Yo, Boosie Badazz and Sada Baby to Rupp Arena on Saturday, May 25.

Gates, 33, came up in Baton Rouge, Lousiana alongside artists like current tourmate Boosie Badazz and Webbie in the mid-2000s, leading to the three collaborating on his first mixtape “Pick of Da Litter” in 2007. While Gates released another mixtape a year later (2008’s “All or Nuthin”) and showed his songwriting talents and potential early on, his activity in the gang culture he chronicled in his songs eventually caught up with him, leading to his incarceration from 2008 to 2011. Prison may have stifled his musical output but it didn’t stop him from working with his then-girlfriend, now-wife Dreka Haynes behind bars to set up his independent label, Bread Winner’s Association, in 2010.

Upon his release, Gates hit the studio and produced his third mixtape “Make ‘Em Believe” a year later, which made a believer out of hip-hop star Lil Wayne and his Young Money Entertainment label, who signed Gates to its management wing. The next mixtape, 2013’s “The Luca Brasi Story,” led to critical acclaim and a record deal with Atlantic Records and three mixtapes that charted on the Billboard 200 in 2013’s “Stranger Than Fiction,” 2014’s “By Any Means” and “Luca Brasi 2,” which featured Gates’ first smash single “I Don’t Get Tired (#IDGT).”

While Gates was luring fans in with his hooks and narratives that laid out his street life and personal struggles, his first official album “Islah” would essentially come out of nowhere in 2015 to become the second biggest-selling hip-hop album that year only behind Drake’s “Views.” This was spurred by both critical praise and the momentum generated by the singles “Really Really,” “Time For That” and “2 Phones,” which peaked at No. 17 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Hip hop star Kevin Gates will play Rupp Arena this weekend. Jimmy Fontaine

Gates said one of the reasons why he is resonating with so many listeners is both what he talks about and what people get out of his music.

“Kevin Gates is no longer a great artist. Kevin Gates is a great feeling,” Gates said in a 2018 interview with radio personality Sway. “Whatever that feeling it is, it provokes you to a great feeling, whether it provokes you to a great feeling of anger, a feeling of happiness, maybe you want to be sexually explicit, a feeling of depression, a feeling of, well, I call it, most people call it depression, I call it depression-curing because I notice when you release it and get it out, it doesn’t take as much of a toll on you anymore when you speak about the things that affected you, because there’s somebody on earth that’s going through that same situation.”

Gates has hit a few legal bumps in the road that potentially stifled his ascent in hip-hop, the most recent serving a nine-months out of a 30-month sentence for felony gun possession. While his wife released a new Gates mixtape while he was incarcerated (2017’s “By Any Means 2”), after he was released in 2018 he quickly hit the studio and released the mixtape “Luca Brasi 3,” which comes with hooks and reflections on his time behind bars and the effect is had on himself and those around him.

Considering his previous productivity, his release of four new songs this year (most recently “#Yucatan”) and collaborating with fellow trap star Gucci Mane on “I’m Not Goin’,” it looks like Gates isn’t making any plans to take a hiatus. If anything, he is taking stages across the country with stories to tell, choruses to belt out, crowds to excite and no time to waste.

If you go: The 3Kingz Tour with Kevin Gates featuring Money Bagg Yo, Boosie Badazz and Sada Baby

When: Saturday, May 25, 7 p.m.

Tickets: $62 to $82

Where: Rupp Arena, 430 W. Vine St.

Phone: 859-233-3535