Most days, Atlanta’s Street Execs recording studio has a private, in-house chef on call to serve the culinary needs of the artists who record there. On one warm evening a couple days shy of Thanksgiving, though, the cooking isn’t for the artists who use it as a creative base—who include co-owner 2Chainz, as well as Travis Porter, Young Dolph, and Skooly—but for the local community. Tonight, the kitchen and lounge are starting to resemble a food bank, with long tables furnished with bagged loaves of bread. Rapper Bankroll Fresh, a signee to the label, is excited: not only is his company making a charitable contribution to the season by providing dinners on Thanksgiving Day to single-parent households, but he’ll also release his third mixtape, which is self-titled. In honor of this, he’s referring to the holiday as “Banksgiving.”
In a city full of stolen flows, in the past few years Bankroll Fresh has emerged as one of Atlanta’s newest, truest originals. In 2012 and 2013, signs had started to point toward the name 'Yung Fresh' (his prior alias), who’d put out a smattering of tracks, with his credit cropping up on a couple of not so memorable Gucci Mane songs (“Faces,” “Shooters”). Over the following year, a name change to Bankroll Fresh marked a transition: he forged links with the city’s premier producers, guesting on Future's "For The Love," from Metro Boomin's 19 & Boomin' compilation mixtape, and teaming with Mike Will on 2014’s “Screen Door.” Honing his flow, he crafted a viral hit of his own in “Hot Boy,” a minimal, lurking beat with lyrics inspired by early Cash Money (Balling like a hot boy, nigga Lil' Weezy/ Feeling like Birdman and Meechy), and which established him as a solo force.
Though his thematic content rarely veered far from the beaten path of trap life, Bankroll’s characteristic rasp and stutter flows breathed a new freshness into it. Cosigns from outside the local scene rolled in for him, perhaps most passionately from Earl Sweatshirt, who wrote a number of tweets praising Bankroll’s rap style and anticipating mainstream swagger-jacking. As well as a recent namecheck from Erykah Badu, last year he got a bizarre shout out from Drake on a spring 2015 Instagram post which pictured goth-rock overlord Marilyn Manson, “I watched this guy go up to Bankroll Fresh tonight. Sydney is lit.”
In the context, his second breakout hit, “Walked In,” from last April’s Life Of A Hot Boy 2 mixtape, arrived somewhat unexpectedly. It’s a bouncy, function-friendly, highly dab-able song alone in an otherwise menacing trapping soundtrack of a mixtape. When I ask him if he anticipated the song’s success, he said “No. I just let the people decide.” Bankroll puts out the tape, and eventually a people’s choice hit surfaces from it, much like how Future’s “March Madness” and “Commas” rose from their respective tapes. In one of the professional studio rooms, we sit down to share a cup of cognac from a flask-sized bottle of Hennessy, and, after lighting his blunt from a miniature flamethrower, Bankroll speaks on his growing up in ATL’s west side, what it’s like when your five year old nephew is more famous than you, and how an unexpected encounter in New York’s Times Square affirmed that he was on the right path.
In terms of Atlanta rap history, the east side has been very well represented—Gucci Mane has always put on for the east side’s Zone 6, as has Future. You come from Zone 3, the west side of Atlanta. For those who don’t know, tell us about the differences between the west side and the east side.
All the projects and the hoods in Atlanta, they was on the west side. East side, more like they housing suburban neighborhood niggas. The east side is very well represented because a lot of them east side motherfuckers have the family that can buy them the nice computers and they can sit in there and make the music, so there’ll always be some fye artists. But the motherfuckers from the west side, they just got the swagger and the demeanor about themselves so when they do this shit it’s big too.
About a year ago, when I asked Mike Will about your relationship to the scene, he said you had known Gucci Mane since as early as 2007. You’ve been around the right people for quite some time.
It was like I walked into a bank and everybody was gone, and money was everywhere. And I was really trying to learn like how I can get the money out of the bank. So once time went on, I was like “Damn, let me start jumping on some of these songs.” I’d go in that bitch and put something together. None of the songs were ever big but they were songs. And it made an impact. It was big enough to get me noticed.
What was your life like in 2007?
I was in the streets, running around. I was hustling. But I also was going to the studio because I had seen the bigger picture. I knew I wasn’t gonna be able to make millions just running around in the streets because first of all your name will get too hot, they’ll try to knock you off. Or, I’ll get too piped up, a nigga might try to rob me. I shoot him, he shoot me. That’s just how this shit goes in Atlanta this shit real, for real. And motherfuckers don’t know it because they be so caught up in the “Okay, well, Atlanta. The music. The glamor. They ball. The strip club.” They don’t know. I done seen this city swallow motherfuckers.
I was fucking with Wop in 2007, 2008, then we had some shit together in like 2012. I was just trying to figure out like “Damn I wanna do this shit.” The streets was fucked up at the time, it was just dry. Like around this whole city it wasn’t nothing. Then it was like, you gotta do something and in my spare time I was just so bored I went to the studio. Fucked around made a banger.
"I wasn’t really young no more. I was growing into the adult stage. So I wanted to make it bigger. Make it mean something. Who don’t want a bankroll?"
So you had some songs here and there a few years ago, as well as appearances with big artists like Gucci and Future when you were still going by 'Yung Fresh.' Since then, you’ve transformed into 'Bankroll Fresh,' an established solo act. Was that a calculated move to give your career a new footing?
Yes, it was like a rejuvenated thing. I wasn’t really young no more. I was growing into the adult stage. So I wanted to make it bigger. Make it mean something. Who don’t want a bankroll? So I started getting a little money and I just put that with it, then that’s just where it went. It kind of sounds like a little rap name, 'Bankroll Fresh.' Shit like an action figure, that shit hard. You know he gon’ keep a bankroll on him, and you know he gon’ be fresh as fuck.
Your flow is very distinctive. Earl Sweatshirt tweeted last March, “bankroll fresh is about to get bitten mark my words.”
I be hearing people say, like, “Oh, you gotta do the "ESPN" flow.” But it’s really like an instrument. It just go with the beat. The beat has to match. Even when a person tries to mimic the “ESPN” flow on another beat it won’t sound as good as how I had it.
I had a song called “36” with the stutter flow. I had created that. I been did this like, times ago. But, the beat is what makes you make these flows. That’ll give you the way to come on the track. I create flows. The beat gives you the direction. When I create a flow, a person can hear it and think “Shit, let me put my little step on it and create some shit, too.” Like, nah.
You mentioned not being totally certain of your direction as a rapper at first. When did you realize what it could be for you?
I went to New York City. This was about three years ago. I didn’t even have “Hot Boy.” I didn’t even have “36” yet. This was around the time Trinidad James was just about to pop. In the middle of Times Square, a white guy run up out of nowhere, saying “Hey what’s up Fresh, man?” I ain’t really know who the guy was, but for me to see this one Caucasian man run up out of all these millions and millions of people and know me, out of all these millions and millions of people, meant something to me. And it just stuck with me. I went home, and I started focusing on that shit.
I heard you recently handed out cash to children in your neighborhood, and today you’re preparing food to give out on Thanksgiving. How important is it to you to stay accessible in the community from which you grew?
I’m still there every day. Shit don’t change. The apartments don’t change. The areas don’t change. Them bricks been there before I was there. So it be the motherfuckers change. Some motherfuckers change for the better, some motherfuckers hate the change. They don’t know how to change.
Your nephew Bankroll PJ is Instagram-famous in his own right. Whenever he posts a picture, it generates thousands of likes. Do you think all that exposure could feel a little strange for a five year old?
Yeah, it could be. Sometimes it’ll take a person’s arrogance level to a high capacity where they feel like they can look down on others. It just be within the person. But PJ’s like a grown man in a young man’s body. He just knows and been on the scene. He’s very smart. He just showed me his report card actually today, he just ran up on me like, “Look at this.” All As. If you can teach a 5 year-old kid calculus and they know it, why not teach it to him? Imagine when you was five years old and you had an iPad and the technology was so geeked up. Now it’s a whole 19 years later, you’d be on some astronomical shit.
When did computers and the internet become a part of your life?
Internet didn’t get popping until I was like 11th—12th grade. The computers was already out, [but] it’s like we came face to face with the computer, like, this is what’s it’s going to be.
In order for you to learn this shit it has to be presented right. If you go to class, sit in the back of the class. If you too close to the board you can’t really see it. But if you back away from the picture you can see the whole board—the fucking test will be right on the board the whole time. They’re showing you exactly how to solve the problems. If I’m close up on this cup, I can’t see nothing but these fucking lines. I back away, I see there’s a rim on this cup.
I stepped back from the picture. I moved from a fan perspective. I like these niggas who rapping, so I was a fan of them. But I moved back from being a fan, from being a man. Like “This what’s going on. You ain’t finna die in these streets, is you?”