Joy in the Journey: A Conversation With Kevin Gates About Fasting, Spirituality, Prison, and More

kevin gates
Image via Bread Winner Alumni/Kevin Gates

Kevin Gates‘ sense of optimism centers it all. The Louisiana rapper remembers making the most out of his time behind bars as a key turning point in his life. “They didn’t understand me in jail,” he tells Dirty Glove Bastard. “They said, ‘Man, you in lockdown.'” I said, ‘But y’all feed me breakfast in bed every morning.’” A hearty laugh makes it clear that there is no shame in his gratitude. It became something that he retained as part of his identity – a tool for transformation that would shape Kevin’s life and musical journey. 

When the self-described “big ole nigga” from Baton Rouge joins Zoom for our interview, the energy funnels in his direction. It’s a quarter to five p.m. on the east coast and he’s beaming with joy. Kevin is dressed to the nines, donning a white button up with black trousers and a bow tie as he sits in the office that he manifested. “I was driving one day – I was on autopilot, letting my heart lead me – and I accidentally came to the wrong neighborhood,” he recalls. The 37-year-old rapper proceeds to explain how he was led to that specific location, despite having no recollection of that house being on the market. 

But this wasn’t the first (or last) time that Kevin had to operate in unfamiliar territory. “I’m not prepared right now, big brother,” the Khaza creator admits halfway through our conversation. At this moment, he’s smiling from ear to ear, completely unfazed by what’s going on around him. His phone is ringing off the hook. Alvina is motioning for me to wrap-up the interview. And yet, Kevin insists that we “stay where it feels good” instead of acknowledging that there is a problem. He would rather live in the solution by focusing on what he can control, while not ignoring the cause. This approach, which has often been misconstrued as indifference, is what brings him inner peace regardless of circumstances.

If there was a hand-drawn illustration to support the definition of weathering the storm, it would be a picture of Kevin Gates. In other words, he’s the poster child of placid; the prince of pragmatic; the buoyant of the bayou. And when adversity arises, he embraces the moment as an opportunity to become better. 

These days, Kevin finds himself at the center of a new viral storm every time he opens his mouth. He’s getting used to moments like this, though, because these things usually happen by accident. His continually-evolving approach to embracing positivity and the wondrousness of life itself is what keeps him motivated. And despite not knowing what lies ahead, he finds joy in the journey.

Talk to me about finding the balance between having a rap career and a family. 

God first, then family, then money. That’s the balance. 

In that exact order or does one take precedence over the other? 

It’s about moving with the flow of the energy around me ‘cause my children gon’ have different needs then what the music or whatever gon’ have. As far as my relationship with God, the spirit of God is in everything I do. It’s with me. It’s how I move. It’s how I operate – in that spirit. Most people don’t understand – the word spirit don’t mean like a soul or anything like that. Spirit is energy.

Some people have a roach spirit: they can have roach energy. It’s just that spirit of God… it’s that energy I move with. I move with a God energy. 

What is the spirit of music? 

Whatever spirit I put into it. It’s about the intention of the heart. If you ever look at a car, the engine is really the life of the car. The heart never stops moving. Even when you sleep. Even when you in pilot mode, resting, your heart – that motor, that engine – is moving. When you operate out of the brain, sometimes I… (I’m not gon’ speak for other people, I’ma speak for myself first. ‘Cause I’ma hold myself accountable: whatever I utter out of my mouth, my actions must prove.) So, when I’m speaking from my brain, sometimes it’s ego. Sometimes, I’m overthinking. Sometimes, fear can creep it. But when I’m moving out of love and out my heart, it’s about the intentions of the heart and what I put out there. That’s why the music different. It feel different when you listen to it ‘cause I meant it when I said it. 

It’s funny that you mention that because I… 

It came from the heart. 

My bad, I didn’t mean to interject. 

No, please. Listen, it’s no big I’s and little you’s. We are reflections of each other, and once I stopped operating out of ego, I learned that I’m only this big. I’m only adaptive. So, I can contribute with positivity and love or I can contribute with negativity, but if I’m a reflection, and we’re all reflections of each other, whatever I put out, I get it back ten fold. 

I stopped looking at bad situations like a bad situation – I look at it like a test for me to become greater because adversity builds character. The world isn’t as it is, it’s as we see it.

This is refreshing to hear.

Brother, let me tell you something. This office I’m in – I bought a house that I created and curated, and made it an office. It wasn’t even on the market for sale. I manifested this, I spoke this into existence. I don’t care who doesn’t believe me. It was on the market, it came off the market, it was on the market, it came off the market.

I was driving one day – I was on autopilot, letting my heart lead me – and I accidentally came to the wrong neighborhood. Guess what? 

What happened? 

He said, “Nah, they don’t have that address back here.” I say, “Okay. Well, this where I’m supposed to be. See what they got available back there.” “They ain’t got nothing available back there.” “But I did just take something off the market. See what they wanna do – ‘cause I’m ready to do something.” 

Have you ever been presented with something that you weren’t prepared for? 

I’m not prepared right now, big brother. I’m not prepared right now. But I’m gon’ make the proper adjustments. What Lebron say, “We gon’ make the proper adjustments.” [Laughs] How Lebron say, “We made the proper adjustments. We did great but we still got a long way to go.” [Laughs] 

One interesting thing I noticed about some of your songs is that they’re titled after specific locations. What is it about traveling that inspires you? 

It’s that spirit. That’s like, I met a lil’ dude, right. It’s crazy, I meet from people from all around the world. And they tell me where they from and I be like, “Yeah, what it’s like over there?” And they be like, “Come visit.” You don’t have to tell me twice. 

(Kevin proceeds to emulate knocking on someone’s door) 

“Who’s there?” “It’s just me. You said I was always welcomed.” 

What’s the key to being happy?

Want me to be honest?

By all means. 

Fasting. A lot of our emotions are connected to the food that we eat and the chemicals that are released in the body. 

Do you think more people should fast?

Fasting is prescribed for us. No matter what religion you are – ‘cause I don’t do the religious thing like that. I’m not no religion. You know, this a lifestyle for me. But fasting is one of the most beautiful things you can do for the body, for the soul. 

Is (fasting) what helps you spread love? A lot of your captions end with “I love you all,” and I think there’s not enough of that going around in the world today. 

You can’t love nobody else if you don’t love yourself. When you fasting, you showing that you love yourself. I’m willing to sacrifice feeding my flesh in order to feed my soul and my spirit. Our souls are way more ancient than our reflection. We put tattoos and graffiti all over – this just a costume. This a shell. 

It was five billion sperms – I heard Dick Gregory say, “It was five billion sperms that went up the fallopian tubes, and out of those five billion, you were the only one that made it.” You supposed to be here. 

Any room I’m in – I used to be intimated when I walk in big meetings. But I’m supposed to be here. ‘Cause y’all ain’t living how I’m living. Y’all ain’t been through what I been through. We in the same place but we got here a different way. Yes Lord. 

Have you ever given much thought about becoming a motivational speaker?

I’m already a motivational speaker. Yeah, I’ma big motivator.

You’re also a breadwinner. 

Ah, man, you ain’t know? I’m already in the dictionary. I told Webster a million times, y’all better gon’ and put some reference behind that. I’ma big breadwinner, man. 

I don’t want to get sidetracked here. I know we’re working with limited time…

Brother, I don’t judge. Let’s stay where it feels good. Why do we need to go back to where it’s unpleasant? Let’s stay where it feels good at. 

There goes that happiness, again. 

My happiness? I think you’re mistaking my happiness for joy, ‘cause I’m not happy. I have happy moments. Happiness is just you releasing oxytocin – that’s nothing. But when you’re grateful, every day you wake up and you grateful… ‘cause it’s a lot of niggas that’s laying up like this here (Kevin closes his eyes as if he’s deceased). You can poke ‘em and they still gon’ be (Kevin stays still) – they can’t wake up. 

Just waking up is a blessing, you know what I’m sayin.’ It’s a blessing, bruh. When you in tune with yourself, you’re grateful for everything. Even when I was in jail. They’d be like, “Why you cleaning your cell out so much?” – ‘cause I’m grateful. They didn’t understand me in jail. They said, “Man, you in lockdown.” I said, “But y’all feed me breakfast in bed every morning” [Laughs]. When every day you find your gratitude, you gon’ have joy. Even the prison guards used to laugh. I used to make they day good ‘cause they’d come knock on my door, “Get ready for chow,” and I’d be like, “Room service.” They’d just be laughing. That make them feel good. 

You have to be mentally strong for prison. It’s a mindset thing. 

It got to be in you, not on you. See, it’s in me, not on me. Ion care when you put me at, we gon’ make the best of it. I swear to God we gon’ make that trip. Yes Lord, we gon’ make that trip. Count me in, don’t count me out. [Laughs] 

Aye man, your smile is contagious, bro. I’ve been trying to keep my composure this whole interview. 

[Laughs] That nigga fuck with my swag, bruh. Why not? Let’s stay where it feel good at. Ion wanna go home to no disrespectful-ass bitch. House ain’t clean, arguing and fussing. You wanna know where I been but I’m tryna see what you did. What you done did to make me feel like I need to volunteer this information to you? You not happy for me. I’m ‘bout to go back where it’s happy. I’m going where I’m celebrated, not where I’m tolerated, baby. 

And in the midst of going where you’re celebrated, what are you trying to forgive, Kevin? 

Man, it’s past traumatic experiences that we been through that we don’t even know that we done suppressed so deep,  that we don’t know what we’re forgiving. So, every day I tell myself if it’s anything past traumatic that I went through that I can’t think of right now, I forgive it. If it’s anyone that offended me out there that I’m unaware of that might trigger something later on, I forgive it. ‘Cause we addicted to self-improvement this year. We catching flights not feelings, baby. Aye, big ole nigga.

I’ma big ole nigga. Aye, guess what. I love that word ‘cause it’s so privileged. Everybody can’t release that from their mouth. It’s a blessing to be able to consider yourself a big ole nigga, man. That’s a blessing from God. That’s blasphemy if you ain’t this here and you say that. That’s against the laws of the universe. I’ma big ole nigga, man [Laughs].

Is it hard being a big ole nigga?

Yes Lord! [Laughs] I just liked when you said that. It gave me some energy when you said that. Oh, them people sick of me at the airport. When I was filling out my paperwork, I say, “Ma’am, they don’t got my race on here.” She said, “What you mean, you just check…” I said, “Nah, I’ma just put a lil’ box right here, B.O.N.” She says, “Huh.” “Yeah, Big Ole Nigga, mane. That’s me.” Right there, that’s me. Them people died on that plane, ya hear me. 

At this stage in your career, do you still get nervous? 

Like before a concert, I get nervous. Do my nervousness come from fear? No. My nervousness come because I care. I’m nervous ‘cause I care. But I always gotta remember I’ma smooth operator.

I be having to talk to myself. I be having to talk to myself and tell myself, “Look, I know you nervous right now, but aye, remember one thing – you a smooth operator. You supposed to be here. Rumble young man, rumble.”  

I look at myself like Muhammad Ali. I love him. Every negative situation that was ever thrown at him, he weathered that storm, and he was positive about it. He always smiled. But you get in that ring with ‘em, aye. You get in there boxing with ‘em if you want to. 

Kevin, I have one more question for you: what’s next? 

I know this gon’ sound crazy or cliche for what I’m about to tell you. Could you ask the question again. 

What’s next? 

I don’t know. [Laughs] Big brother, I’m on my journey. Just stay tuned, that’s all you gotta do. Aye, fuck with me and keep in touch with me. You know how it go. 

About the Author

Derrius Edwards
Derrius is a music industry professional with experience in content strategy and editorial writing, sharing relevant and resonating stories as a conduit for hip-hop culture advancement.

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