Atlanta's SahBabii landed a major label deal on the strength of last year's "Pull Up Wit Ah Stick," a bait-and-switch where cheerful, fluffy synthesizers give way to a hard-bitten, ruthlessly repetitive hook. The video for the single has accumulated more than 14 million views on YouTube, while the track has earned remixes from a stars like T-Pain, Wiz Khalifa and Fetty Wap. Now "Pull Up" is beginning to pick up steam on the national airwaves.
Warner Bros will re-release SahBabii's Sandas mixtape on June 9th. "Pull Up Wit Ah Stick" is the most direct song on Sandas; the rest is at once brighter and more diffuse. Rolling Stone spoke with the rapper about the success of "Pull Up," his passion for wildlife and his recent internet spat with Offset of Migos.
When did you start rapping?
In 2010 when I first had moved to Atlanta. My brother had been doing music for 10 years. When I first started, I wasn't even really listening to music. Then I started listening to local music. Rich Kidz, Young Thug, all that. They were all coming up in Atlanta. Thug remind me of [Lil] Wayne; he got that different sound – it's melodic, not just that regular, repetitive bullcrap. We was bumping that all summer when we was younger.
I did [rapping] just for the fame when I was young; just to be known for it and that type of stuff. I started taking it seriously in 2014 because I wanted to be rich. I just wanted to be rich. And I started liking making music. When I started, I wasn't doing it for money – I wanted to hear myself on the beat and listen to my own music. At first I was making music just for me to listen to. Then I said, This can be a career and I can get rich off this – 'cause this sounds good. So in 2014, I got to going hard.
You said you had almost quit before Sandas became successful?
The music wasn't popping off fast. I was making good sounding music, but it wasn't being heard, and I didn't have the funds to keep pushing it. I was getting frustrated, stressed out.
What would you have done if you left rapping?
I wasn't going back to a job. I was probably going to try to get off into cartoons or making video games – which I'mma still do. I definitely wasn't going to get no job. Hell nah.
Do you think it's hard to stand out in Atlanta where there are so many successful rappers?
I just do me. I know there's a lot of talent out here. But I work hard, do me, make sure I'm comfortable with myself. I just look at myself as in a whole different lane and another world. I'm in SahBabii world. I'm not putting on a persona or a fake image. I'm a very colorful person, I love animals and shit – there's a lot of references to animals in my music. I like playing video games. You can see the fun type of shit in my music.
Where did you get your love for animals?
Shit, I been liking animals. I used to watch a lot of Animal Planet and Discovery Channel. I had three pets; I had fish before. I used to feed the birds breadcrumbs. I've been loving animals. I just started putting them in. I'm getting older, getting comfortable with myself – I just say, in my music, fuck it, man. I'm gonna do me on this shit. I just stay true to me. I ain't never trapped before, never did that. I rap about the stuff that I have been through.
Do you distinguish between rapping and singing?
It don't really matter. I vibe off the beat. The ad-libs and melodies just talk to me.
And you just find beats online?
I used to steal beats; I was the king of that shit. I was stealing beats off YouTube, SoundCloud. I never thought this was going to be a career so I just got beats off of there. But then it popped off and I had to buy these beats, so I'm moving forward like that. Or I used to go on SoundClick and hit "rap instrumentals" and go through all the beats. You just click – I used to go through 2,000 beats a day, straight clicking. I could tell in two seconds if I'm going to like the beat. Just steady clicking all day.
What would you hear in two seconds that would grab you?
I don't like that dark sound. I like my beats to sound happy and uplifting, but still with a lot of bass in there. If you heard "Marsupial Superstars" – there's this little map on Mario Kart, this rainbow map and this little beach map, and I like to be in that mindset. When people listen to it, [I want them to be like], "I'm going to get on the Wii today and play Mario Kart."
Are you always in that rainbow map space mentally or do you have to work to get there?
I'm always in that mindset. Everything is fun to me. I live in fun world.
You recorded most of Sandas in your bedroom?
No, in my brother's bedroom downstairs. I never went to any big studio; I couldn't afford that stuff. I recorded in my brother's bedroom, and I'm still doing that. I got some little speakers in there. When you got your own studio, you can really find yourself. If I was to go in a big studio – the bird ad-libs wouldn't be on "Pull Up Wit Ah Stick." The weird noises I'm making on "Marsupial Superstars" wouldn't be there. People wouldn't understand, and they look at me like I'm crazy. Like, "What the fuck is this nigga doing making all these weird noises? Probably just wasting time." But that stuff really makes the songs. They would just look at me like, What's wrong with him?
This is where it all came from: I can't switch up on the bedroom. When I have to record in the big studio, that's when I do it, but I like T3 to be engineering it. That's my big brother. We've been doing music since I was younger, so he already knows what effects I like. He did all my videos back then, the artwork, engineered the whole project. He's amazing. You don't need a major producer. It don't take all that.
Did you think you had a hit when you recorded "Pull Up Wit Ah Stick"?
I like the instruments on that. I liked it when I finished, but then I grew out of it. It was already old to me, and I thought it was too simple, me just saying, "pull up wit ah stick." But people loved it. And it's about the people.
Why do you think that song has connected?
It's a fun-sounding song. You got the club vibe with the bass. You got even little kids dancing to this. It's them happy type of instruments.
The video for "Pull Up Wit Ah Stick" got a lot of attention due to all the guns in it.
Ain't nobody even get a papercut out there. We just holding guns – soldiers and police officers hold guns all the time. We just respecting our second amendment. In Georgia, it's legal to have guns down here. Nobody got slapped, nobody got punched, nobody got a papercut, nobody got cut by a pencil, nothing.
Have you heard the T-Pain and Fetty Wap versions of "Pull Up Wit Ah Stick"?
I heard it. That feels good. You know T-Pain – he's a legend. I would've never thought he would've remixed my song. I used to listen to him when I was younger. He started the AutoTune.
Is the Drake remix that you've talked about still in the works?
He told me he was going to do it, but I know he's a busy man doing what he gotta do, so I ain't really stressin' it. I'm just doing me.
How did you end up connecting with Warner?
They was the last ones trying to sign me. I had, like, 16 labels trying to sign me. Warner came in last and won. There's not really that many superstars in their urban department. They just started rebuilding their urban department. They gave their artists to Atlantic. A lot of people was telling me, if I go over to a label with a big artist, I have to sit behind them and the big artist will be a priority over me. [Warner] was telling me I don't have to sit behind anyone. They told me I could be the Lebron and the Michael Jordan over there. They treat me like a priority over there.
You and Offset have been throwing jabs back and forth on social media lately. What's going on between you two?
I'm chilling man. I ain't wanna keep talking about that or doing videos. I got caught up in the clown-ism with that. I got caught up into that. That's not even how I carry myself, doing all that on social media. I want to stay positive. I had said I would never do something like that. So I'm ashamed of myself for even doing something like that. I'm going back to the positive place. Focusing on my music – I don't care about that negative stuff. I've got a lot of people depending on me, man. I got a family of six of us. I've got cousins and all that; there's like 20 of us staying in this one house. I got a lot of people depending on me. I gotta stay focused.