Sleeping with a pistol doesn’t seem entirely practical. It’s a cold and unyielding weapon and the concept seems like something straight out of a movie rather than an everyday necessity. But for listeners of Luh Soldier, a 20-year-old artist from Birmingham, Alabama, that sense of dread is palpable. To Luh, the pistol that he claims he keeps tucked under the pillow is more than just his protection or a trope that he frequently wields in his lyrics, it’s his companion. In Birmingham, he says that life revolves around two things: “getting money and the murder rate.” It’s a day-to-day “by any means necessary” war of survival for Luh and those like him.
But his music is more than simply a depiction of a young black man raised in a system designed to oppress and imprison – it is complete immersion. Luh’s music plays out like a night at the club that ends in gunfire; the ruminating trance-like beats harmonize with the intense, yet controlled delivery as Luh brings his street tales to life. His 2019 debut, Soldier Mentality sounds like the testimony of a guerilla war veteran. You absorb the raw memories of a survivor. That danger – a suffocating brand of foreboding — continues to trail him, following him at every cold street corner with each block progressively more nefarious. His confidence and bravado are already analogous to the trap legends – think Gucci Mane in the late 2000s. Yet his demeanor is so calm that it makes his threats sound infinitely more convincing.
Luh Soldier draws inspiration from Atlanta and Chicago, but maintains a strong desire to build Alabama’s rap scene in a similar way. The influence radiates into his music, harnessing the bounce and innovation of Atlanta trap, and the blunt homicidal aggression of Chicago drill. Sprinkling Alabama slang on top, Luh’s sound is a natural evolution that helps put Alabama even more on the hip-hop map.
You can hear the pain, struggle, and perseverance that has defined the Black experience in Alabama — a state that vehemently opposed the Civil Rights movement and hasn’t made many strides since. If you’re an African-American – 27 percent of the state’s population – run-ins with law enforcement and racial discrimination are all too familiar. In a system driven by dehumanization, the everyday struggle to stay alive – let alone escape the generations of poverty and despair – become more constricting and dire. This summer, politicians debated the imperative of allowing college football games (due to Covid-19) over more deeply felt, impactful and hyper-local issues like racial equality and police reform. Luh Soldier feels that this shows how distorted politician’s priorities really are — as well as their desire to distract from creating systemic reform.
Across four mixtapes and an EP, Luh has steadily progressed, becoming increasingly effortless, comfortable, and imaginative. With his latest project, Thug Luv, Luh delivered in a newly focused way, polishing his vocals, and using R&B to add a new lane to his sound.
Over the course of our 40 minute conversation, Luh Soldier talked about the ‘Bama brushstrokes of his work, those sweaty summer nights defined by paranoia and bloodshed, and the institutional failures that he’s painted onto a barbarous canvas. — Anthony Malone
Were you born in Birmingham? What part?
Luh Soldier: Yeah, I was born in Birmingham. I think I was actually born In Montgomery. I was born in Montgomery but raised up on the east side of Birmingham though.
What were your parents like? Did anyone in your family make music?
Luh Soldier: Hell nah, shit my family was all about making money, you feel me? And I didn’t spend too much time with my parents growing up. They didn’t have no nothing to do with making music. I’m from Birmingham, know what I’m saying? Music wasn’t even an option. Before the way it was now, it wasn’t something a child should be doing in a household.
What was your part of Birmingham known for?
Luh Soldier: Getting money and the murder rate.
Where are you located now? Still in Birmingham?
Luh Soldier: I’m right here on the Eastside now. I love it.
What was your home like growing up?
Luh Soldier: Shit man, a nigga always in trouble, man. I knew I was different though. I know my problem was I was supposed to be a slave or locked up, you know what I’m saying? For the majority of my life, I knew God was calling on me to do something, my grandma and my auntie always told me I would be the one to bring my family out of bondage, you feel me? And I always knew I would be different.
How would you describe your music?
Luh Soldier: You know, going off my hits, you know what I’m saying I got that turnt trap shit — or that shit you can god damn listen to every day, you feel me? You can listen to it and get some money to it. And motivation, my catalog of music is more about motivation and more about a meaning. I ain’t about making no punchlines or nothing. I’m tryin’ to make someone feel this shit, I’m trying to make them understand this shit.
Who were your favorite rappers growing up?
Luh Soldier: I listen to a lot of southern rappers. Now that I’m a rapper I can’t say who my favorite rapper is. These niggas may be hoes, you know what I’m saying? The rap game paints pictures of people, you feel me? So what I’m saying is I don’t have a favorite, I listen to all southern music.
Want to throw me a couple of names, a couple of guys who really influenced you growing up?
Luh Soldier: Yeah, you can say like Gucci, you feel me? You know that trap shit.
How’d you start making music? What was your driving force?
Luh Soldier: Say you know like, I wanted to do something different, you feel me? To break the cycle. I just sat back and realized how easy this shit looks, man. These rappers god damn, these niggas be punching the air. I can freestyle better than some of these niggas. So why not go and try? The whole thing went crazy.
You got noticed by your freestyles last year. Blowing up like that in the current landscape of rap music is impressive. Raw freestyling isn’t seen as much nowadays.
Luh Soldier: Hell nah. But see that shit turned into a whole craft for me now. I’m a real-life artist, I put something together. That shits just crazy to me, man what that shit just transformed into.
It’s like how everything came together.
Luh Soldier: Yeah, it’s like some folks are good at freestyles but can’t put that shit in the booth, you know what I’m saying?
How did you decide on “Luh Soldier” as your name?
Luh Soldier: Shit, I ain’t even know why I put the “Luh” in front of that bitch for. I’m a big ass nigga. [Laughs] Shit, you know “Luh” is slang down here. We call shit that’s little, “luh” you feel me? That’s real-life slang down here. And soldier, I just get compared to Slim all the time. Most of my family even called me Slim and shit, and I’m like fuck that Slim shit I’m calling myself soldier, you dig? I was like soldier, slim, so I decided I was going to do that. I should be “Big Soldier,” though. I may go back and change that bitch to “Big Soldier.”
Do you feel like Alabama artists aren’t represented enough in the current hip-hop scene?
Luh Soldier: I feel like, I feel like we got exposure, you know what I’m saying? I feel like the roster that’s coming up, right now, we ready for the task to bring that shit to light. We ain’t really trippin on exposure cause that shit growing day by day. Our cities aren’t as big as other cities, but our hearts are just as big. So I feel the roster right now, we ain’t really trippin on nobody not noticing us or nothing, y’all going to notice us regardless, you feel me? This shit is impeccable, you know what I’m saying? It’s gonna take time, just like Atlanta – it took time. Just like Chicago, it took time. You feel me? So we ain’t really trippin on it right now. But we know in the future it’s definitely going to get more crazy. For XXL purposes, I don’t give a fuck if I don’t make it. I definitely think there should be more representation from Alabama on the XXL list if anything.
What other artists from the Alabama scene do you think are going to blow up with you?
Luh Soldier: Shit, the whole 205 gonna blow. 334 gonna blow. Alabama goin crazy. We got Yavo coming out the city, Cinco, me, we got all types of artists in all different types of lanes. This shit right here I feel is solidified where someone can hear our sound, and immediately say they may be from Alabama. This shit right here is a real-life takeover. This movement we got going on, we kicking down all fuckin doors. I feel like this is as big as when the other cities like Chicago or Houston became cities known for rap.
What separates you and other Alabama artists from everyone else?
Luh Soldier: It’s different, we really talking about experiences that other places don’t get to see or don’t get to hear you know what I’m saying? And our slang also, the way we grip the beat, the way we talk – I feel like our sound is going to be the sound that these other rappers will start imitating. Once the sound gets more familiar, it’s going to become a normal thing.
Based on your music, loyalty seems to be an important element in your music. Loyalty doesn’t seem to be as highlighted nowadays as it used to be. Do you feel loyalty is in short supply these days?
Luh Soldier: In this generation, loyalty isn’t seen as something common anymore. It’s rare. ‘Cause of the influences we have in our lives. We got the wrong people portraying the wrong image. You know, all these things you find these days, these kids watching from a jit all the way until they’re grown, they brought up on the wrong morals, you know what I’m saying? Even with this generation, you got the people producing this stuff spreading the wrong morals. A lot of shit getting stamped isn’t supposed to be getting stamped in the first place though. You know, loyalty isn’t seen as something you should even have. Some folk don’t even think. Some folk like to brag… people have gotten shiesty nowadays. The streets have gone cold.
Do you think social media and the internet played a large part in the loss of street code?
Luh Soldier: Yeah you feel me because it normalizes fuck shit, you know what I’m saying? It normalizes a lot of fuck shit. I stay far away from the media. I have to fuck around and remember before I post something online. I don’t like that shit, there’s the wrong shit on there you feel me? I’m getting my paper off of it, and it’s easy – money is the root of all evil, so everything just associated with all this social media, and being on that shit 24/7 is ruining your fucking mind, you aren’t experiencing life and life is what you put on your experience. You’re supposed to be on there trying to experience what somebody else is experiencing, you’re supposed to get on there and experience what you’re seeing.
You released your debut with Soldier Mentality last year, with ”What Happened” becoming your breakout single. It even got a remix with Young Dolph. How’d that record come about?
Luh Soldier: I have made the hook right in front of him, and I went in the studio that same night and killed that bitch. He was god damn in the A, and he was fucking with me. By the time I got in the studio, he god damn was going crazy on that bitch. I fuck with them niggas though, I fuck with their camp.”
So much has happened this year between the upcoming election this November, Covid-19, and the George Floyd tragedy — being in Alabama, has any of that affected your plans?
Luh Soldier: I mean hell yeah, you know the world really shut down. So yeah it could put your career on hold, but I see what’s going on with livelihood and family members, or niggas I know from the street. It’s just a blessing I’m just able to take care of priorities… at any time, with a lot of shit fucked up. A nigga don’t know what’s going to go on tomorrow. The world we living in now, you don’t know what’s really going to happen, you feel me? Like the shit don’t look like it’s going to stop. It doesn’t look like riots are going to stop either, ‘cause obviously, we are going to riot every time. In these times, all you got right now is to call on God, my lord, and savior. Because you question these times, you living in times where you don’t know what you’re going to wake up to, for real. And that shit is going to affect you, you know what I’m saying? It ain’t going to affect the next person, not just one person in your community, it’s going to affect your ass, you feel me? We are just living in different times, god damn. I know I’m built for it, you know.
COVID-19 has stopped a lot of artists from their normal recording processes but you haven’t seemed to slow down in 2020 at all. You dropped Trench Baby in February, and you dropped Thug Luv in June. Has the lockdown worked in your favor creatively?
Luh Soldier: It made me sit down with my craft if anything. Try new shit; you know when the world opens back up I’ll god damn fuck around and drop their head on their ass, you feel me? And still during these times though, I’m still dropping music. I got a tape dropping tomorrow, I got Soldier Mentality 2 – I’m going to finish the year with that one. I’m still working and I’m still putting in work. This shit ain’t stopping me.
You have politicians fighting over College Football in Alabama, do you think that’s—
Luh Soldier: Man that shit is stupid as fuck, but man you gotta understand the thing about Alabama, our government are just idiots. The decisions they make, the way the shit is ran down here, it’s like people that’s voting for them I know are sitting there questioning “why the fuck did I, or why the fuck would I”. I just don’t understand what’s going on? Like high school games playing football when muhfuckas can’t even go to church. What kind of shit is that you feel me? I had a lil’ partner who had a football game the other day. How the hell are you playing football when they ain’t even god damn went to schools yet? It just goes to show you that these folks’ priorities are fucked up. They been fucked up. They been fucked up. Like niggas… we living here, and muhfuckas who don’t even live in Alabama know that Alabama ain’t a place to go to for politics! Muhfuckas is rednecks and shit like these people are stupid as hell. These folks are stupid.
Do you think this is a distraction from the bigger issues like racial equality and police reform?
Luh Soldier: Yeah, it’s a distraction! Yeah, it’s a distraction! I deal with the court system 24/7, and honestly I just… but that’s America though, it’s one big cover-up. It’s crazy though. America is crazy. I watch the news every day, I been watching the news before the corona shit so I knew shit been crazy.
Being so young in the rap game, do you think the experiences you’ve endured in your city has helped you further mature your music?
Luh Soldier: Man, I been like this since I was younger. I’m too old to be as young as I am, you feel me? I have done seen too much, done too much – hell yeah I’m mature, I know I’m mature. I’m a grown-ass man, bruh. [Laughs] I’ve been living this shit for a minute, bro.
Through your music, what are you hoping to communicate with fans who may have gone through similar experiences?
Luh Soldier: I’m trying to connect with them you know what I’m saying? If they not hearing it or they’re hearing that bullshit they play nowadays, they can always run to my shit and vent you feel me? Talking about, you can relate to this shit. That’s what this is about – relating to this shit. A muhfucka can relate to this shit. I can make hits too. Like I said, some folks can make hits, but not everybody can make that real shit. I got enough of that.
If there’s something you could go back in time and change, what would it be? What would you say is your defining moment in life so far?
Luh Soldier: I mean, I don’t feel like I’ve reached my defining moment, you feel me? I feel like my life is like a movie, you know? It’s been like climax after climax, I just feel like it didn’t happen yet.
When you listen to a beat, what speaks to you the most? How would you break down your creative process?
Luh Soldier: Sometimes I start with off a beat, sometimes I might’ve had started something where I freestyle and add the beat later cause I remember it. There are all sorts of ways how I go about a song. And I got more than one way to make a song. I can really go in there and write something, I can go in there and do a one-take freestyle, and the way I construct my beats – it’s how I’m feeling at the time. If I’m not feeling that turnt shit, I’m not making no turnt shit. I mean I can, but I want it to be organic. For instance, if the real shit happens earlier in the day and I hit the studio – that’s the type of music that I’m making.
Luh Soldier: Really authentic, like this shit ain’t bought my nigga, it’s talked.
Any producers on your radar to hopefully work with soon?
Luh Soldier: I was just talking about that boy, Tay Keith. That boy Tay Keith, that boy a fucking beast on Jesus. Southside, you know them bitches going to be hot as fuck. You know I been working with Zaytoven though, and to me, that’s a big thing because I’ve listened to so much Zaytoven growing up. And now I’m working with him, you know what I’m saying? And we possibly going to be dropping a tape soon. That shit hard, we got like 10 songs locked in. I’m on his tape that just came out, I got my song “Rich” on his tape, that shit goes hard.
Thug Luv is your R&B album, what inspired that?
Luh Soldier: Shit, just stuff I was going through. I had got me a girl I was fucking with, what we were going through I just went to the studio with it. As I said earlier, whatever I went through that day, I swear to god — I’m going to talk about it in the studio that night. [laughs] On that same night. That’s my way of venting, I don’t fuck with people — I’m antisocial. And I hold this shit in, you feel me? What I go through … when I hit that microphone it’s somebody I can literally talk to, [laughing] it’s somebody that’s not going to tell the police on me cause I can control what it tells, feel what it says, you get what I’m saying?
How long did it take you to make that album then? Did you just go in one night and make song after song?
Luh Soldier: Nah [chuckles], it took about a good two weeks. Man, I god damn knocked it out, and made something for the females you know what I’m saying? Some relationship type shit.
On “Feeling Like Future”, Future’s influence is there throughout your verses. How has his music inspired you?
Luh Soldier: Future definitely a GOAT. Definitely. When I said I listen to all southern music, Future is definitely someone I would sit and make my playthroughs, used to sit in the trap to, used to god damn wash dishes to.
Any plans on working with him?
Luh Soldier: Hell yeah, that’s going to be god damn epic. Future’s a GOAT. I met that nigga, though! I met him and he was mad cool. That nigga was mad cool.
Who do you plan on linking up with? You already have worked with the likes of G Herbo and NLE Choppa. Who’s next?
Luh Soldier: I’m not too big on being a reach out person you know what I’m saying? Real recognizes real and that’s how I be doing it. I don’t sit here and anticipate on working with this and that one. These rappers are fake anyways. So, if anything I would be on some Alabama shit anyways. Who the fuck out here is making music that I link with that has different vibes to go crazy with. I reach back before I reach forward, I’m trying to turn this shit up. I rather link with someone who’s in the same lane as me, who has the same vision as me, I rather spend my time with someone that can show something or teach me something.
You told me earlier you got a project coming out tomorrow and one coming out by the end of the year. Want to talk about those a bit?
Luh Soldier: The project coming out tomorrow is Gorilla Warfare with Yavo. You know who Yavo is? You don’t know who Yavo is; you’re going to find out who Yavo is today. You know I got a label we are getting off the ground right now.
What’s the name of the label?
Luh Soldier: Soldier Life Entertainment. It’s a partnership with Cinematic. But yeah, the project coming out tomorrow is a collab tape me and Yavo, I got another artist on the label on there, I got TLE Cinco, Donway, and I got Li Heat on there. It really just a collab tape with me and Yavo, we are on every song and that shit goes crazy.
Where do you see yourself in a year from now?
Luh Soldier: On some bigger and better shit. Some new shit.
Is there anything you want to tell the world today? What do you want people to know about you as an artist?
Luh Soldier: If you just found out about me, you ain’t ever gonna forget who the fuck I am. If you just found out about me, you ain’t ever gonna forget who the fuck I am. If you see me out 30 years from now, you see me on TV, or the New York Times, you’ll say, “that’s Luh Soldier”. If you see me pulling up taking somebody’s bitch, you’ll say “damn that’s Luh Soldier.”