August Alsina’s debut album, “Testimony,” debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 album chart, but he hasn’t had a chance to consider the significance of that feat.
“Honestly, I haven’t had time to stop and really get my thoughts together, I’ve been moving around so much lately,” the “I Luv This” singer tells Yahoo Music during a telephone interview the day the chart ranking is released. “It’s kinda the wack part about this s—, that you don’t really have the opportunity to live in the moment, because the moment is always gone when you have so much going on.”
The artist, who’s collaborated with Chris Brown, Trey Songz, Trinidad James, and Young Jeezy, sounds exhausted and even unimpressed, explaining that he has more records to make and that he needs to stay focused on the road ahead. “The grind is way more important than the talent,” he says, noting that sometimes less talented artists with superior work ethics surpass their peers.
Alsina didn’t have it easy growing up, so he knows the meaning of hard work. Raised in New Orleans and Houston, he lost his older brother to violence in 2010 and saw his family endure Hurricane Katrina. After the devastating storm hit in 2005, many in Alsina’s family traveled to his mother’s house in Houston to find shelter. He was shocked when they returned to Louisiana to look for his paternal grandmother’s home.
“Her crib was just not there,” he recalls. “It was somewhere on a whole ‘nother street.” For Alsina, though, one of the most troubling aspects of the loss was the photos of his father. “I never really knew my pops like that. We had a little relationship when we were younger, but my grandma, she had all the pictures and s— inside of her crib, and all of that s— just washed away and was gone with the wind.”
Both Alsina’s father and stepfather battled drug addictions, and Alsina ended up selling crack. Witnessing a disturbing event helped him break the cycle. “Well, first of all, everybody in the hood they never wanted me to be selling dope anyway, but you can’t tell a young n—- nothing who’s like, ‘That’s what I’m going to go do,'” he says. “But seeing somebody actually smoke crack in front of me, I just realized that my heart is way too big to do this, simply because I know what it do to people’s families and the destruction and toll it has on people’s lives, because I’m a witness to it.”
Alsina’s reflections on his life are prominent storylines in his music. On “Testify,” the introductory track on “Testimony,” Alsina covers everything from financial struggles to wishing his dad was around, cutting class in school, and the murder of his brother. On “Mama,” he discusses holding on to advice from his mother. On “Make It Home,” he talks about living with the reality that he could meet an unfortunate fate on any given night.
The perspective Alsina takes in his music distinctly separates him from his contemporaries, but he doesn’t see it as a big deal. “I tell people I can only talk about what I know,” he says. “I can’t lie to you. I can’t fake and floss like, ‘I have a 100 million bottles,’ because I don’t. When I get that, I’ll talk about it.”
Alsina was upset when a commenter on a social media site accused him of winning in his music, saying that because of his success, he should be singing happier songs. “I shot back, ‘That’s the stupidest comment in the motherf—ing [comment], because number one, I haven’t, and number two, that’s the problem, when n—-s get on everybody expect you to forget about where you came from.”
Alsina’s humility is admirable, considering how his career has been taking off. The singer inspired by the likes of Lyfe Jennings and Lauryn Hill recently auditioned to portray a younger Dr. Dre in the forthcoming N.W.A film “Straight Outta Compton.” “My whole squad is from the Bay and Cali,” he says. “My management, they all put me up on the whole N.W.A movement and how they came through and caused a lot of havoc on the game.”
While Alsina waits to find out whether he will land the role, he considers scoring a the gold record for “I Luv It” as a career highlight. “It wasn’t even about the gold plaque,” he says. “It was more so a gold plaque for a song that everybody went against, everybody said wasn’t a hit, everybody said it wasn’t dope, said it wasn’t gonna win. That’s a slap in the face. That’s one of the most beautiful things ever for me. I guess the plaque kinda did it for me.”
Considering his reception from his fans and fellow recording artists eager to work with him, there are plenty more of these moments to come.