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Over the past year, the pandemic utterly upended any number of artists’ plans, forcing many to push back their projects, change them, or abandon them altogether. The latter almost happened to North Carolinian Dreamville artist Lute, who was in the midst of his rollout for his new album Gold Mouf when quarantines and lockdowns forced the shutdown of most of the music industry.
For Lute, it was also the beginning of a months-long depression that had him questioning his place in the game. Sure, he’s signed to Dreamville, the label project founded by fellow North Carolinian J. Cole and modern equivalent to one of the Big Three rap labels back in the day — you know, Roc-A-Fella, Murder Inc., Ruff Ryders — alongside Top Dawg Entertainment and Quality Control. Dreamville is where emerging superstars like Bas, JID, and Ari Lennox have honed their craft over the past several years.
It’s also where Lute released his own debut album, West1996, back in 2017. But in today’s modern rap landscape, four years is a long time for a new artist to have to wait for a follow-up — even with a standout performance on the Revenge Of The Dreamers III compilation alongside label head J. Cole and another then-burgeoning NC standout, DaBaby. In the meantime, many of his labelmates have released projects and generated buzz for themselves, threatening to turn him into an afterthought of the roster, lost in the wash.
Fortunately, for Lute, Gold Mouf is more than worth it and proves equal to any project from his compatriots, including last year’s Spilligion, which featured Dreamville standouts JID and Earthgang. A vulnerable, confessional, relatable jaunt through the past four years, the project is not just a paean to his personal growth, it’s a beautifully produced, well-sequenced call for us all to check in on our mental health. Songs like “Birdsong” with JID and Chicago rapper Saba unearth lyrical gems from the muck of the past year, while “Changes” featuring BJ The Chicago Kid diagrams survival through myriad struggles.
The secret sauce is sequencing from yet another North Carolina native: Phonte Coleman of Little Brother and Foreign Exchange, who stepped in and offered to help sequence the album and make it the heartstring-pulling affair that it became in preparation of its delayed release. On a Zoom call with Lute, the rapper details the origins of his Gold Mouf< character; discusses the importance of self-care; and reveals his most wild remembrance of the legendary Revenge sessions.
So I guess, what’s been going on with you in those four years? Because you started out in one place, and now you’re in a different place. How have things changed since West1996?
I mean, honestly, it’s just life. Life changed, and life had been the… Just dealing with shit and anxiety and depression, and just everyday life stuff, bro. But at some point, I had to realize that in order for me to move forward with my life, in order for me to move forward with myself just as a man and as a human being, I got to get control of the things that keep me from blocking my blessings, like my anxiety and depression and stuff.
So just trying to figure out what’s the next step. Once I figured out what it was that I was going through and what I was dealing with, it’s like, “What’s the next step to kind of conquer those things?” And I went through all the steps, to be real with you, every last, even the bad steps. So just living and learning, man. That’s all. That’s all this album is really about is living and learning and holding yourself accountable.
Yes, sir. No, I certainly do hear that all over the album, especially on the joint with BJ and the joint with JID and Saba. Those were very beautiful songs. I want to talk about where this Gold Mouf character comes from because I don’t think that I’ve really been able to find a lot about the origin of it, why this was your-
Well, for me, I’ll put it to you like this. How can I explain it? Have you ever seen Nutty Professor?
So Gold Mouf is, to me, what Buddy Love is to Professor Klump. I deal with anxiety and depression and shit like that. So for me, Gold Mouf is like my highest level of confidence. I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s a mask, but another persona of myself that’s like top tier. And then on Instagram, I’ll be messing around sometimes. I call myself “Big Ugly.” So Big Ugly is like my low self-esteem type sh*t, and Gold Mouf is like me at my highest. So when I feel like my best, I feel like I take on the role of Gold Mouf, kind of like how Clark goes in the booth, and he turns into Superman.
Absolutely. One of the things that, I guess, struck me was this album had a very interesting release, right? Because you started the rollout in March last year (with “Getting Every Dollar“), and I was gearing up. I was like, “Yo.” I was talking to the people like, “Yo, let me get on the phone with Lute.” And then just, nothing happened, because everything shut down.
And that was also the beginning of me going through my depression, so that kind of slowed everything down. The pandemic hit, then I went through my depression. So everything really slowed down for me. And I realized that I was so used to moving that by the time the pandemic hit and it slowed everything down, all my traumas and everything that I was running from, or everything that I didn’t heal from, caught up to me.
It was easy to go through something and be like, “Well, I ain’t got to worry about it right now, because I got to go on tour.” Or, “I ain’t got to worry about that, because I got this show.” Or, “I ain’t going to worry about that, because I got to be at the studio.” But when all that shit shut down and you ain’t got nothing to do, now, you got to figure all that out. And then I lost my cousin during the pandemic, not to COVID though, due to gun violence. And I lost a childhood friend of mine. I almost lost my dad as well.
So a couple of other things happened that kind of set me down in a little spiral, and I just had to pick myself back up. I had to find a way to get back in the game. But for a minute, I was kind of tapped out. I didn’t think I was even going to finish the project. I thought that was just about to be the end for me. “I think I’m done. I think I did what I could. I did the best I could. And now, I think I’m just going to gracefully bow out.” But I felt like that was like me being defeated talking, and I kind of had to get that out of my head and just get my ass back up. I had to get back up. I had to get back in the game.
Well, I’m glad you’re still here, man. I’m glad you stood up because it was worth the wait. One of my parts of the early rollout was when you were doing the “Gold Mouf Chronicles” videos, which I thought were hilarious and very on point with the Wish Sandwich and the Lute Ross ones. What was the origin of this funny thing? In the process of doing it, did it reveal anything about your creative process to you?
I’m a very introverted person. But when you get to know me, I can be a super funny guy. I’m easy to talk to when I’m comfortable and I’m around people that I’m comfortable being around. So the “Gold Mouf Chronicles” was a way just to show my personality outside of my anxiety and me being or seeming very introverted. We felt like that was a good way to showcase my personality.
As far as the actual album is concerned, I know that as a North Carolina native, it meant a lot to you that it was executive produced and sequenced by members of Little Brother.
Oh no, for sure. Well, see Pooh is my manager.
I didn’t know that.
Yeah. Pooh’s my manager, and it was just a blessing for them to put a verse on. Because I chopped it up with Phonte a few times but when it came to album time, it was a blessing that they were able to put a verse on there for me. And the fact that Phonte wanted to sequence it, … If Phonte asks to sequence some shit, hell yeah. I’m not going to say no to that.
It definitely passed the car test.
You know, when Phonte passed it to Pooh, and Pooh gave it to me to listen to, to see what I liked or didn’t like about it, man, I almost shed a tear, because I worked on most of the project out here in LA. But I finished the rest of the half of it back home in Carolina. So when I was out here in LA, we were working in a studio almost every day. I had no idea what I had. I was just going into the studio, venting about the sh*t that I was going through and what I was dealing with. But when Phonte sequenced it, I had no idea. I didn’t even realize that I was building a story the whole time.
And the way he sequenced it, it’s like, “Man, this sh*t is beautiful as hell.” Because the way it’s sequenced is the way my life went. It’s like, I started off very optimistic about shit. Then you go through life, and you start dealing with shit. And then towards the end and coming out of my depression and shit, I realized that I love who I am. I love the person that I am. I love what I’m doing, and I love the direction that I’m going.
People don’t really realize how important sequencing is to how good albums are.
But that’s why I was very, very appreciative that Phonte wanted to sequence the album, because me, I’m the type of person when I drop bodies of work or projects, they tell a story, and that’s on purpose. I don’t want to have an album where you go through, and you’re just shuffling through this sh*t. I want you to listen to it from top to bottom. And sometimes, granted, you just still do, but at least you get the storyline. I want you to feel some sh*t after you listen to my album. I want you to experience something. I want you to have an experience. That’s why I love Kendrick’s albums, because they gave you a little story, and it just makes you experience sh*t.
What’s crazy to me is you have Cozz, you have Saba, you have JID, you have Boogie. On Dreamville you rapped alongside J. Cole and DaBaby. You’re surrounded by massive, massive lyricists. Do you find yourself challenging yourself to push harder when you are around these guys?
I don’t feel pressured at all. Only because I write from experience and being myself. I’m not an artist that writes every day or goes to the studio every day. And I sharpen my pen, but I sharpen my pen by living and experiencing and being present in my life. My inspiration comes from my day-to-day life. I was telling somebody the other day, even when I’m having a bad day, that sh*t sucks, but at the same time, when I really look at it, it’s going to make for a good song later.
I feel like at the end of the day, the only person I’m trying to be better than is myself. I’m trying to grow, I’m trying to learn and figure out all my quirks and stuff like that. So, as far as pressure… It’s definitely a friendly competition.
I think I’ve actually asked everybody, whoever was at the Dreamville Sessions if they have one good story to tell about the Dreamville sessions.
So much sh*t happened in that span. It’s not a blur, but everything is all jumbled in one. But I will say that the most shocking thing that I’ve seen… coming around the corner, looking over, and Chris Bosh is in the corner making beats and they were f*cking fire. The beats were hard.
So, I like to ask everybody, what’s the ideal outcome of your album rollout because I know everybody’s got different expectations and everybody has different gauges for success.
Just everybody being more self-aware about their mental health and taking more self-care and taking more time for themselves to grow and learn and hold themselves accountable so that we can progress and we can move forward. That’s literally all I wanted out of this album.
I was actually nervous to put this album out because I felt so vulnerable and exposed. But I realized when I was making these songs if I could be more vulnerable and more transparent or myself, then if that could help somebody else and also help me, then everything else out of it is just a blessing. That’s my goal, is just to help people be more aware of mental health.
I’ve made mistakes and I’ve held myself accountable on those things too. I’ve done things the wrong way and I also done things the right way. So, just holding myself accountable and just trying to move forward and grow. That’s really the whole synopsis of everything, man, just trying to f*cking grow and progress.
Gold Mouf is out now via Dreamville and Interscope Records. Get it here.