Hard Times Don’t Last: A Conversation with Rap’s Newest Star 42 Dugg

Two decades ago rap music was beginning to transform from a counter-culture that at times made national headlines and even more hit records to one of the primary genres in America’s musical lexicon, and in a pop-culture sense was beginning to be seen by at least the youth as what was en vogue at the time. However, not all of our country received it that way and many criticized the genre for being too materialistic and braggadocious to even be truly considered to be art, but it is interesting that as these twenty-some years have passed, income inequality in our country has dramatically risen and has made it more difficult than ever to be a member of America’s working poor and lower-class in general and scarcely in this nation’s history have there been periods where upward mobility looks more impossible than it has in the past decade for those at the bottom of the totem pole.

In my opinion, this is precisely why rap music, a style that like I said was considered to be too flashy to have any substance whatsoever, has become the new musical status quo for people both young and old with an influence that’s spread has been nothing short of infectious, even in comparison to what else is happening in the world. It has never harder to be poor in America and with the current state of affairs worldwide, it is very understandable that music has in a sense shifted towards a direction that is more carefree and perhaps less reverent, but nonetheless is indicative of the feelings of society. This present climate of millions sick of being broke has led to a hyper-bombastic brand of rap taking center stage in the mainstream and Detroit’s 42 Dugg is one of the latest to flex his way into the spotlight while simultaneously garnering comparisons to one of gangster rap’s most respected and ruthless forefathers. Dugg affirms his get-money motivations on his track “Palm Angels in the Sky,” proclaiming, “I ain’t into fashion baby I’m just into bragging,” which raises a middle finger to the bourgeois and pretentious that would wish to refuse him a seat at the table, but nonetheless cannot.

While many may write Dugg’s music off as being ‘substanceless’ it is clear to me that even in the midst of his unashamed boasting there is something to be admired, both in his rags to riches story, and his confidence that has fueled the fire of his relatively brief but scorching hot rap career. The fact that 42 Dugg makes enough money off of his music to ascend from a treacherous and hostile environment such as Detroit is should be considered art in it of itself. Much like his mentor and frequent collaborator Lil Baby, 42 Dugg is beloved by the hustlers of the world and although he hails from the midwest, his affiliation with Baby has been one of the main reasons that his music has caught on so quickly in the south as well. Of course, his signing to Yo Gotti’s kingmaking Memphis based label, CMG, has also contributed to his exposure down south, but without question, it was the strength of his electric and unashamed anthem “Dog Food” that first caught fire in the region, which’s title is also indicative of other issues in the south that he likely struck a chord with.

42 Dugg is a natural born hustler and is currently living every prison rapper’s dream, having initially come up with the idea of pursuing a music career while serving a six-year sentence, but within one year of getting out, just as he had forecasted while behind bars, he was already on tour with quite a bright future ahead of him. It is hard not to be impressed by both his bravado and the Cinderella-story he is living and Dugg appears ready and willing for the fame and the difficulty and expectations that come with it because he has already persevered through far worse.

While 42 Dugg was already quite young and turnt before the last six months, having already established quite a cult-following in Detroit and the surrounding region off of the strength of a prolific number of grimy videos where Dugg stunted on his competition and peers, flashing enormous bankrolls and earning a large number of genuine comparisons to Eazy E on behalf of his similarly raspy vocals and the shared element of rapping what you live. “Dog Food” was one of Dugg’s first tastes of major mainstream success, racking up millions of views and earning top editorial coverage from streaming platforms that propelled him from a midwestern (and frankly YouTube) phenomenon to a new member of the mainstream, if you will.

This of course was cemented recently by his two extremely memorable performances on Lil Baby’s recent album and consequential deluxe version My Turn where “Grace” and “We Paid” were easily two of the very best tracks on the entirety of the project and this led to Dugg essentially receiving the maximum amount of attention he could have received from this record, thanks to Lil Baby affirming himself as the hottest rapper out, at least currently. 42 Dugg’s star has now been born thanks to high level co-signs like this and his aforementioned signing to Yo Gotti, amongst numerous other co-signs and shoutouts, however, Dugg had already built a substantial cult following beforehand which is going to ensure that 42 Dugg is not only a star in 2020 but also many years to come.

The following interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

LL: Your whistle has become one of your music’s main trademarks, and at least judging from your fans begging you to do it every time you go live on Instagram, it seems to have been a big hit with your supporters. How did you first decide to do that on a track and what does that sound mean to you personally, if anything?

Sometimes the beat comes on, like “boom boom boom boom,” and sometimes the beat drops in like three seconds, and if you mess that up you’ll mess up the whole song. So the key to the drop is I’d do the whistle and then start rapping. People all thought that was part of the beat drop, but now I gotta do it before I rap, and it gets my energy right.

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LL: Detroit has established itself as hands down one of the best rap markets in the country in the past year, and you have managed to shoot above the rest of your peers in your home city. What about your music sets you apart from your peers and competition so much?

I just stayed true to myself and who I am as a person. I made sure everybody in Detroit knows that everything I do is for Detroit. And I didn’t go to Atlanta or Memphis and copy the way they rap. I stay all the way Detroit. I say what I want and keep my lingo Detroit, you know what I’m saying?

LL: Do you think it could have anything to do with your massive listener-base in the south? Why do you think the south has gravitated to you more than most other Detroit, or midwestern rappers in general?

I really don’t know. Probably because I’m signed to some artists from there. Other than that I really don’t know. Real recognize real, people relate to me from everything.

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LL: Following this same train of thought, who were some early inspirations and influences for you musically? Both back before you started to take rap seriously and after you started to think of rapping yourself?

A lotta people from Detroit. I used to listen to Gotti and Jeezy a lot, but they weren’t my influences with rapping.

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LL: You have hopped on some very interesting beats in the past year, ranging from tracks with super-sonic base and little melody to up-tempo, menacing “Detroit” style beats. What are the main things you look for when you select beats and do you have any sort of system for when it is time to find something to rap over?

Nah, I really just go with whatever moves me. If I’m in a turnt mood then I WANT to hear something like that, but if I’m in a down mood or been going through something then I want a slow beat to get stuff off my chest.

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LL: How have you been passing the time during the quarantine?

Shit, playing Call of Duty, gambling. I shot a video. I’ve been doing a little bit of everything. I haven’t recorded that much but I just started to get back into it.

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LL: Both Lil Baby and Yo Gotti are main role models in your corner now, and with the success of both their individual music careers and the subsequent success of their respective record labels, 4PF and CMG, it seems you are in pretty perfect hands to learn the path to long term success in this industry. How important is it to have the ear of someone like Gotti who has been around and relevant for decades now and the perspective Baby who is undoubtedly currently on the shortlist for hottest rappers out?  

I mean, I feel like it’s very important with my music and my everyday life. They might be going through it too or have gone through it. They’re always looking out for me and I know they always got my back in this business. I already got my first two artists already, we got the little label going already. Now, I’m just waiting to turn that shit all the way up.

LL: Many rappers share the story of coming up from rags to riches, building lavish lives for themselves off the strength of their music, and the love their communities show for them. However, not every rapper has been certain of their future success before it finally materialized, but others knew they were destined for the limelight since they were born. Which side do you fall into here and would you have ever imagined having seen so much monetary and worldly success at the age of 24?

I already knew I was gonna be that n*gga whatever I was gonna do. All my life I’ve known I was gonna make it. I was never tripping on that, you feel me? I just didn’t always know it would be through rapping.

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LL: When you first started making music what did you think success looked like for you personally? Do you think you’ve surpassed that point already? What new goals do you have for your career?

I really was just trying to get my music out there, I wasn’t worried about getting signed or anything. I just wanted people to hear my music, and then it took a turn for the bigger and better.

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LL: What’s next for 42 Dugg?

I want to keep making songs and dropping videos, we’re just gonna keep going.