Southern Rap was recognized as its own sect of Hip Hop long ago. From the all-encompassing lifestyle that surrounds it to the rearview mirror rattling bass, its reputation is geared towards parties. But artists like Outkast, and later T.I., have helped slowly change that perception, mixing in club tracks with deep, introspective cuts that have let those outside the region better understand a culture unlike any other.

Among the select group of emcees pushing this change is Atlanta veteran Young Skoop, who dropped the first installment of his mixtape series The Blindfold last month. HipHopDX sat down with the self-proclaimed Atlanta Hawks fan and former football player to talk about the diversity in his music, the importance of record labels in today’s music industry and making it through the come-up stage of his career.

Young Skoop Explains Why Fan Interaction Is “Hand-To-Hand Combat”

HipHopDX: There’s no straightforward method for the come-up in today’s Rap game. What have you done to set yourself apart?

Young Skoop: I’m keeping it straight music, and I’m just making good music at the end of the day. I’m just trying to keep on doing it, man—no gimmicks. A lot of people get caught up in other dreams besides music, but this is really coming back to straight Hip Hop. I’m really trying to keep a steady pace with my music, seriously make good music and not letting anybody down or getting caught up in the hype or anything else that’s going on.

DX: Social media seems to be the biggest way for artists to interact with their fans these days, but what else do you do to keep in touch with the people that listen to your music?

Young Skoop: Oh I get out, man. I get out in the streets. We call it hand-to-hand combat, when you’re actually out there in the streets talking with your fans, giving them CDs, letting them know your favorite song and what they can expect from you. I’m just paying attention to the fans, man. It might not even be a fan; it might be a co-worker or another up-and-coming artist that’s on the same grind as you, because the music talks for itself. So when the fans hear it or another artist hears it and you can collab, it’s in the record books.

DX: The music video for your song “Talibandz” is in a strip club, which isn’t an uncommon setting for Southern Rap videos. Why are strip clubs so important to Southern Rap, and why aren’t they as big a part of East or West coast Hip Hop?

Young Skoop: In the South, we have a lack of labels, and what we do is, we have to break our record ourselves before we can get the help of major labels. In New York and LA, you can. You have all the labels actually there; you can just walk up and go to the labels, meet somebody and ask them to listen to your tape. But in the South, just to get the noticed, you have to do all that yourself. So we’re actually taking our records to the club and getting them played. We’re actually taking them to parties. It’s hand-to-hand combat once again. We basically have to break the record ourselves, and the strip club is a major outlet. That’s where everybody likes to go to have a good time and kick it, so that’s a great way to get your record heard and get out there.

DX: It seems that as the music industry shifts into the Digital Age, labels may no longer be needed for success. Can you talk about the relationships you’ve had with record labels and how important you think they are to the genre?

Young Skoop: Record labels are still important. I respect the record labels; I respect a lot of record labels, but not all of them. I respect the record labels that are actually willing to work with the artist, because like I said, at the end of the day I’m a firm believer in good music.

A lot of people don’t have the means to get their records out there, but they don’t have the quality of work or the quality of music. And so you think about how saturated Hip Hop is and how people are getting mad and saying Hip Hop is dead. But that’s because the people that have the means of getting their records out aren’t the ones making good music, and the ones that are making the good music don’t have the means of getting it out. So the record labels that are still signing people on straight talent, I salute you for that. But a lot of record labels are just jumping behind people that are already hot—whether their music is good or not. As long as they have a buzz or not, record labels are willing to get behind them.

It means that the artists who know how to count bars aren’t always getting signed. It’s really tricky. You’ve got to have all of your stars aligned: you’ve got to have buzz, you have to know people that know somebody and your product has to be good. A lot of labels are just jumping on the bandwagon and aren’t willing to spend the time to break in a new artist. They want artists who have already done the majority of the legwork, and that’s cool, but to me that’s not the game.

How Atlanta’s Diversity Works In Young Skoop’s Favor

DX: As an Atlanta-based rapper, you have such a wealth of past and present ATL greats that have laid out a roadmap for you. Who do you think are some of the best all-time Atlanta artists and what up-and-comers are next in line?

Young Skoop: I like everybody, man. It’s not one style, and it’s not one sound; Atlanta has different swag from Zone 1 all the way to Zone 6, so I won’t knock anyone who’s doing their thing. Shout out to Chaz, man; shout out to Young Jeezy. They’re really keep it dope for Atlanta, man. It goes without saying—Outkast.

But the up-and-comers…salute Trinidad [James]. I love everybody, man. It’s like a big melting pot out here. But as for me, I love Young Skoop too. I put in the work, I have a solid background behind me, and I really have good music. I can stand the test of time, and if anyone wants to test it or go against it, I’m open for whatever people need to do. Get at me.

DX: Let’s talk about your upcoming “Blindfold” mixtapes. What can we expect?

Young Skoop: You can expect a total 360, man…around the world and around Atlanta. It’s definitely not what people are expecting, and it’s not just a one category time of thing. It’s not just a club deal; it’s not just the street deal. We’ve got some club joints on there, we’ve got some riding tracks and we’ve got some really lyrical tracks.

The Strategy Behind Young Skoop’s “Blindfold” Mixtape Series

DX: Why did you decide to break up the mixtape into a larger series of installments?

Young Skoop: I have a super producer on my team, man. Soundz is dope, and when me and him get together, it’s like magic. We always have so much music, and we couldn’t stuff everything on “Blindfold Vol. 1.” ” one is just a couple of chapters of a big book we already have, so we decided to put some tracks out. We put “Blindfold” out, and we’re going to put “Blindfold Vol. 2” out. We’re continually making good music, and it’s just going to get better from here. We have so many records, and we’re still working.

DX: You’ve talked about being a basketball player, and sports seem to have such a big impact on the game today. How does that influence your sound?

Young Skoop: When you get out on the court, it’s people skills man. You talk a little stuff with people, and I’m a real competitive person. I like it to beat you in basketball, and when I knock you down, I’m going to be the same one to pick you back up. But the next game we play you might beat me, and it’s the same thing with the music.

I practice my craft so much, and I’m very confident in my craft. I stay back, watched the game and I’ve actually worked on it, and worked on it, and worked on it, versus a lot of people who just flipped a card, got lucky and they’re just there now. I’m actually working with my stuff. I prefer to be here.

DX: Well you’ve collaborated with a bunch of people, including Jeremih. Who else would you want to work with going forward?

Young Skoop: On the production end, I got to work with a new producer called Mo Diggity, he’s out of East side Atlanta too. He did a beat called “Beat Steady Knockin’” with samples from Gorilla Zoe. And Duke Nukem did “Talibandz” with me and Jeremih on “Blindfold.”

DX: You discussed this a bit earlier, but most of your music seems to have a party sound. Yet you actually talk about your life and what you do. How do you balance the two?

Young Skoop: That’s because my life is balanced. That’s about keeping it 100. When you wake up, you don’t feel the same way every day. If you want to slap the shit out of somebody or go to the club and talk to females… People that say they wake up and feel that way every day, that’s a lie. I just keep it all the way 100. Everything I do, I put it in my tracks and it is what it is.