Starring: Bear1boss

The Atlanta rapper speaks on hoop dreams, his pop star ambitions and that time he ran into Carti in jail.

Art by Srikar Poruri.

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Bear1boss really wants to be famous. Not just Instagram famous, but like, can’t-go-to-Trader-Joe’s-without-starting-a-riot type famous. Met Gala, Academy Award type famous. For years, the 25-year-old rapper has poked and prodded the threshold of superstardom, cozying up to A-lists while flooding Atlanta’s estuary of talent with spunky plugg psychedelia. By virtue of the algorithm, he’s become a fresh face this year for teenage SoundCloud scrapers, (accidentally) introducing himself to the masses through a viral encounter with Playboi Carti in jail. As he rides this momentum with a few tour stops across the country and a new deal with Rick Rubin’s American Recordings, Bear1boss has no incentive to slow down.

On Zoom from his home in LA, a sparked blunt nestled between his fingers, he outlines a clear vision for his life as a household name. When I ask him what he’d wear on the Grammys red carpet, he describes his potential fit in extreme detail: “We goin’ Celine–woooo! I might go toe rings with the Prada sandals, no socks. Celine dress pants, flared. Celine suit top.” It’s hard to tell if he’s already thought this through or if the vision is coming to him as he goes. “I might go, gotdamn, Maison Margiela collared shirt–the cream one. I might have diamonds all in my face. Comin’ trim!”

The past half decade has seen Bear1boss pinball between the ground floor and the apex of his hometown’s underground rap circuit. Between having 2 Chainz as his godfather, Popstar Benny as his twin flame, and countless collabs between KEY!, UnoTheActivist, Tony Shhnow, and Skooly, he’s been Atlanta rap’s human dot-connector for a while now. Despite being well-connected, personal tribulations in his past led to temporary stints away from music, all while numerous artists in his orbit have become commercial mainstays. Still, Bear’s persistence has yielded an extensive catalog bound by supercharged iridescence: mind-melting AutoTune, buoyant 808s, Super Mario tags out the ass. Listening to his 2022 single “$$$” is like hitting a slipstream on Rainbow Road, adrenaline peaking as he warbles over jovial organ keys. In his mind, Bear1boss exists in some strange grey area between Lil Uzi Vert and Selena Gomez, or Future and Justin Bieber. (And the self-proclaimed popstar is dead serious.) 

On his first tape of the year, Super Boss, his sheen vocal mosaics find a familiar home in rose-tinted plugg and rage. It’s the sporadic morsels of somber, more sullen production that display the project’s depth, though, bringing bluer hues to light through “Again” and “Slow It Down.” But don’t expect too much sad shit from him. Relentlessly radiant, yet equally enticing, a glimpse into the world of Bear1boss isn’t far off from staring at the sun for too long.

This interview has been edited for clarity. 

Olivier Lafontant: When I first started bumping your music, the “Cross ‘em up, Hot Sauce” tag really caught me off guard because I grew up playing the AND 1 Streetball video game. Were you watching AND 1 as a kid?

Bear1boss: That’s like my uncle, I met Hot Sauce later on down the line. I met him through my God dad (2 Chainz) and them. They all grew up around the same time. When I [started calling myself] Hot Sauce in 2016, 2017, all my uncles used to be tellin’ me “Nigga we know Hotsauce, call him, call him.” We got in contact and I got his number, I can call him whenever I need anything. If I wanna put him in a music video, he’ll pull up.

Did you have hoop dreams as a kid or you always knew you were gonna be a rapper?

Bear1boss: Yeah, that’s where it come from! I stopped playing basketball. I was playing AAU a long time. And then when I got to high school, they talking about conditioning. Like I gotta run more? I been running my whole life. I’ve been conditioning since six years old. That’s when I quit, like what am I running for?

It seems like you’ve always been really true to your specific sound that you’ve built and you’ve dropped a lot of music. The energy carries over from one project to the next. How do you think that translates to a wider audience? Why do you think people are catching on now finally?

Bear1boss: I’m thankful for artists that blew up a lil bit before me. Even if I was making music before them or poppin’ before them, I’m thankful for artists that have shown the world and showcased the sound. The Yeat’s, the Ken [Carson’s], Faygo. These my friends. The fact that they got to showcase a part of the sound–it might not be the whole sound or my sound–but a part of the culture that we’re tryna make mainstream. They made the ear of the average listener more accepting to the sound. 

You have a real tight relationship with Popstar Benny. I feel like he’s somebody who perfectly translates your sound. How did y’all meet? And how has that relationship grown over time?

Bear1boss: Benny been sending me beats in my email for a long time. I wanna say 2019, 2020. I was going through it, I wasn’t rapping for a lil minute. But I had already did a bunch of shit, I still had shows and stuff but I wasn’t really recording. I was in a slump. My partner Taco–Taco is the cameraman for Opium, he shot “Ur the Moon”–we grew up together. Taco’s like “Yo, I got this white boy, he loves yo music and he makes the same shit that you like.” Ziti [Beats] came and got me. I went in the studio, and I ain’t been in the studio in a long time, I probably ain’t rap all year and a half. So I went in there and made “Xan.”

Damn, that’s the first song you made when you got back?

Bear1boss: Yeah and I’m like “Damn, this shit crazy!” We goin’ crazy, like, this a hit. Ziti’s like “We got another session at Mikey Margiela house.” Mikey Margiela is a staple in the community when it comes to our shit, what we do. Tony Shhnow, Anycia, Karrahboo, we all in the same area. We friends. God enabled all of us going up, it’s crazy that happened. All of us are going up and we [were] all in the same house, type shit. When I came over there, Benny was over there and I was like “Oh shit, it’s Popstar Benny!” Now we just get to recording like a hundred songs.  Then we dropped America’s Sweetheart, I put “Xan!” on it, and we been locked in ever since.

To be honest, without Benny or Ziti, [there’s no] Popstar FM. I jumped into them, they was already doing that and I took it over and put my face on it and took it to the next level. They the real reason I started back rapping again. I was going through it, I had went through a breakup. I had this lil deal, they dropped me.

Why’d they drop you?

Bear1boss: They ain’t understand the lane. This was when Lil Baby coming in. They wanted the street shit, I’m a popstar. I feel like if you ain’t understanding it, you gon’ miss out or you gon’ stay down for the ride. They ain’t believe in me but they were straight up with me.

Seeing so many artists in your same age bracket or even younger than you come from the bottom and blow up fast while you’re still having to hold it down, did that ever get exhausting? Having to keep your head down and keep working?

Bear1boss: Yeah, that was part of why I was fucked up before I made “Xan!” It was a lot of that going on, even after “Xan!” I had a bunch of runs, but it do feel like “Man, I don’t think nobody really fuck with me” or the people that I want to fuck with me not fucking with me. But after that you gain 100,000 fans. They don’t have nothing to do with people you grew up with or are tryna impress, so now you gotta try to tell the people you tryna impress like “Yo, I’m really poppin’.” I’m already too deep in to quit. I’m already Bear1boss, I already got people whose lives I’m changing because I’m making music.

You’ve talked in past interviews about having a lot of influence from Southern rap like Future, Quavo, and Hot Boyz, but you’ve also mentioned Selena Gomez, Justin Bieber, Demi Lovato. How do you find a way to mesh those kinds of influences?

Bear1boss: I don’t know I kinda feel like it’s damn near a special ability or a disability. When I hear it I just automatically mesh it. I put what I like about it and bring it to life. When producers ask “What type of beat you want,” it’s not about what type of beat, I just want some hard shit. Whatever’s good.

Do you feel like you have more incentive now to get out of your comfort zone with your sound, or do you still wanna keep building on what you’ve already made?

Bear1boss: I’m always doing new cadences, I’m always creating new sounds. And I’m always going in my bag picking out old sounds to try with new beats. It’s all about how I feel.

I follow you on X and I see you post a lot about pretty girls, being romantically involved and stuff like that. How does that inform your music?

Bear1boss: X is like my therapist, nobody should mind what I be tweeting. I just be really talking to myself tryna get realization. I might tweet something, come back to it. If I still feel like that, I still feel like that. If I don’t then I learn. I’m definitely a romantic, I’m definitely a lover boy. It helps [with the music]. The girls like it.

Do you get in trouble over your tweets?

Bear1boss: Hell yeah, all the time.

When was the last time you went on a date?

Bear1boss: I took like five girls on a date. 

At the same time?

Bear1boss: Yeah, this was like last week. I took ‘em the movies first and then I took ‘em bowling. Then I took another group of girls the next day to the club. This club called Zari in Atlanta.

When you tweeted about getting locked up with Carti and the video came out months later, did you think that it was gonna take off in the way that it did?

Bear1boss: I ain’t know what was gon’ happen, I ain’t gon’ lie.

What was your reaction?

Bear1boss: “Damnnn! What the fuck! Damnnnn!” Cause everybody kept calling, all my superstar friends called me, Trippie called me, [UnoTheActivist] called me. They was like “Yeah, this that shit! This how it happens. This how it happened to all of us.” It be the shit you don’t expect that blow yo ass up, take it to the next level. It’s not in yo control, it shows you that God real too. What you dreaming will come true. It shows you that your checkpoints so you don’t give up on what you’re tryna do. That was a checkpoint in my life. I was just tryna find myself again. I was at a show that night before I got locked up! That was me parking to go perform. My license was suspended.

Yeah, it is crazy how it’s the things you don’t expect and people just take it and run with it. Then the Internet allows [them] to go down a rabbit hole and figure out who this person is. 

Bear1boss: It also showed me I wasn’t as famous as I thought I was until then. Now we got Carti fans. Now some of these people who’ve never heard of me, they’re texting me, DMing me, commenting on YouTube like “Yo you my favorite artist, I would’ve never knew about you without that video.” The video got 11 million views on just X alone.

Atlanta is its own world and you have a whole community out there, but I feel like being famous in Atlanta is definitely different than being famous outside of that. Have you had a moment like in person where you realize like, ‘Damn, I really have this audience that exists away from my home now.’

Bear1boss: Yeah I’ve been on tour, the first legs were Orlando and New York. Them shits was sold out, bruh, and they singing every song word-for-word. Even the artists that’s performing before me, the openers, they like “Shit I’m bouta see Bear!” That is crazy in both states. This south, this north, that shit craaazy.

Do you find yourself getting imposter syndrome ever? Or you’ve just fully embraced your life now?

Bear1boss: I’ve fully embraced this. It’s what I do, it’s what I was born to do. It’s my dream, it’s what I’m meant to do.

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