Rich Homie Quan first charted in 2013 with "Type of Way," a craggily sung, emotional rap song for a generation that prefers expressing their feelings in emojis rather than words. It was a very rare sort of Hot 100 single: one that sold thousands despite first appearing on a free mixtape. Though originally distributed by the independent label Think It's a Game, the booming track hit Billboard and iTunes with a copyright attributed to Def Jam, and it seemed that Quan had signed without telling anyone. But Quan swears he's always been independent. "I've never signed to Def Jam," he says over the phone from Atlanta, where he was born and still lives. "I've been to their offices and whatnot, met everyone there. I've just never signed. Because I want my deal to be about longevity. I don't want to be here this year and next year nowhere to be found." Whatever happened with "Type of Way," Def Jam has washed their hands of the whole thing, too; a spokesperson says they don't know anything about what transpired, or even who could explain.
But for an artist in it for the long haul, Quan's career isn't defined by its peaks so much as the spaces between them, the autobiographical details and down-to-earth personality that have helped him connect more deeply with his audience than the typical hitmaker. Born Dequantes Lamar, and now 25, he got serious about music in 2010, after serving a 15-month sentence for burglary, and stayed committed after the murder of an early mentor. That's not the only time Quan's life has been touched by violence: last September, his father was shot multiple times during a robbery in Atlanta, which Quan declines to discuss.
In 2014, he reached the Hot 100 again, this time as part of a group, Rich Gang, with Young Money overlord Birdman and fellowing rising Atlantan Young Thug. Quan sees a partnership with Thug as a chance for steel to sharpen steel. "It's not like we're trying to compete," he says. "We both want to be the best at what we do, but we still want to help each other. Two voices are always better than one." They first crossed paths years ago, as students at Price Middle School—although Thug, a few years his junior, was closer to Quan's younger sister. "Once we knew we went to the same middle school, that was almost like, 'Man, we got to be brothers in the rap game,'" he jokes. Thug has gone through his own murky single situation with the Atlantic-released former mixtape cut "Stoner," and their collaboration has been mutually uplifting, allowing the pair to tour on a major stage without the meddling of a major label.
That's great for Quan, for whom every experience is an opportunity to grow, his unpretentious personality matched only by his intellectual curiosity. "Reading has been my hobby since I came home from jail," he says. His favorite author is novelist James Patterson, and he talks earnestly about how this renewed interest in books has impacted his songwriting. "I'd rather read than watch a movie," he says. "It gives me new ways to approach my delivery, gives me a new vocabulary." He's currently deep in The Art of Seduction by Robert D. Greene, the self-help author widely known for his 50 Cent-endorsed 50 Laws of Power.
Soon, Quan promises more music: an official Rich Gang album in late 2014, then a solo LP at the top of 2015. It's a hectic schedule that can be overwhelming at times. Earlier this year, he collapsed on the set of the video for "Walk Thru," although he claims TMZ blew it out of proportion: "No, I never had a seizure," he says. But it was another teachable moment. "At that time, I wasn't eating properly or getting the proper rest, saying yes to every show," he says. "That was when I had to learn that health is more important than wealth."
That's not to say he's limiting his options. Soon, he plans to release a new apparel line: women's lingerie. No, seriously. "It will be very nice," he says. "I do have a big lady following. I thought it would be a different approach. You don't see a lot of guys coming out with lingerie lines for women. I thought it would be a marketable, strategic move."