Key Glock: Moving Places
Key Glock comes from a fine lineage.
A Memphis native, the 25-year-old rapper – born Markeyvius LaShun Cathey – grew up bumping regional heroes Three 6 Mafia and Project Pat. When rap started dominating his own dreams, he was taken under the wing of his late cousin Young Dolph, the self-styled King of Memphis. But, despite all this hometown inspiration, you wouldn’t guess the key influence Glock cites if you had a thousand guesses: “Eddie Murphy,” Glock says. “To see how he could play different roles, different characters with different types of emotions, but still be the same person when he goes home at the end of the day…”
Glock’s music isn’t funny like Eddie Murphy, exactly. It can be cold and unforgiving – more downbeat than it is Delirious. An open-chested writer, Glock often details his come-up in a harsh south Memphis, which, at times, spilled into violence (at the age of 18, he was hit with aggravated assault charges related to a shooting incident). Still, he can be a tier-one flexer when he wants to be. Take his single, Ambition for Cash, which features an unusual flute sample: Glock compares himself to both James Harden and Larry Bird – legendary NBA ballers from different generations – while detailing a youth spent hustling by filling shoeboxes with hard cash at just 13 years old.
Ambition For Cash appeared on last year’s Yellow Tape 2, Glock’s recent full-length project and first solo entry into the Top 10 on the Billboard 200 chart. Initially a 20-song release, the new deluxe edition expands the track list by a third. “I never really planned on putting out a deluxe, but I just had something in my mind that made me want to do it,” Glock tells me over the phone. “Because who knows, there might be a Yellow Tape 3, there might not. That was what the deluxe was for, because I couldn’t get enough of the Yellow Tape [series] and my fans couldn’t get enough.”
It’s no shock that Glock had enough unheard material left to turn Yellow Tape 2 into a 30-song epic – he’s been impressively prolific in the last few years. As well as both editions of Yellow Tape, there’s been the excellent project Son of a Gun, which underlined all his strengths, and two instalments of Dum and Dummer, joint albums with Dolph – all released on Paper Route Empire, the label Dolph founded. Only a studio loiterer could post these kinds of numbers, and this work ethic is all the more admirable when you consider that these recent solo tapes — like the previous Glock Season, Glock Bond and Glockoma – include zero guest features. As he clarifies on the song Eve: “They like, ‘Why you don’t do features?’/ Cause I don’t like meetin’ new n****s!”
“It depends on what kind of mood I’m in,” says Glock of his recording methodology. “If I’m down, or if I’m not going to bring the energy, I’m not going to the studio. So every time I’m in the studio, I’m full of joy – motivated.”
That motivation, he tells me, is solely fuelled by a commitment to his craft. “I’m the type that don’t care too much what people think,” he continues. “Even if it’s negative or positive. I’ve got this thing that I’m so confident, you don’t even have to tell me. If you do tell me, I [just] take it as a compliment.”
This perseverance is perhaps underpinned by an unstable childhood. When Glock was 20 months old, his mother was jailed and would spend much of the next 16 years in both state and federal facilities. With his father not around, he lived with his maternal grandmother, and her mother, his great-grandmother. Glock’s Yellow Tape series is actually named after his great-grandmother’s favourite colour. “My grandparents didn’t play the type of music that made me who I am. They were more into the blues,” he explains of his musical upbringing. Yet rap music was easily accessible, and at age 12, he recorded his first freestyle over the beat from Future’s Ain’t No Way Around It. “I didn’t even have to go looking for [rap], it was right in front of me. It found me,” he beams.
The result of this musical education is rap music that’s identifiably Memphis – from Glock’s Southern drawl accent dripping with natural bravado, to his ability to emulate Three 6 Mafia star Juicy J’s swaggering sense of melody. Yet there are no commercial compromises in his realm. He frequently gravitates towards high-tension beats built out of booming drum patterns, unusual samples and noirish city murk. So you get a song like Rich Blessed N Savage, where Glock dubs himself “immaculate” and “cool as Ben and Jerry” while slapping down his haters, every bar sounding like it could be a hook.
“If I’m down, or if I’m not going to bring the energy, I’m not going to the studio. So every time I’m in the studio, I’m full of joy”
“I was in Memphis when I recorded [Rich Blessed N Savage] two years ago,” Glock explains. “[Memphis producer] Teddy Walton sent me the beat when I was in the studio. I was just caught up in the moment, rapping about my everyday life, what I’m about to do and what I’ve already done. It just comes naturally to me.”
Just months after that session came the tragedy of Young Dolph’s death. The 36-year-old was killed by gunmen at his favourite Memphis cookie spot, an incident that sparked a huge outpouring of grief in the city and even motioned councilman JB Smiley Jr. to call for the implementation of a temporary curfew. The loss sent Glock into a spiral. In January of this year, he paid tribute to his cousin and mentor with the song Proud, and its reflective music video clocked over four million views in its first three days. The song, mid-tempo and sombre, finds Glock in mourning as he admits trying to drink the pain away, before realising he had to wipe away the tears and get back on the grind. “I can’t even go back and pinpoint that dark place,” Glock later told Billboard, rather than commenting further on the recording of Proud. “I just try to stay away from that. It’s hard. That was a letter to him. I didn’t do that for the fans, media, or nobody. I did that for me.”
“I always think and hope for the best, nothing negative goes through my mind when it comes down to business”
Still, the song was indicative of the personalised writing style he has become known for. “I only know about Glock,” he says. “I can only give you the truth about what I do. I stay in my lane and don’t try to turn it [my art] into something it’s not.”
He may not invite other rappers on to his own projects, but Glock has been expanding his outlook. He recently collaborated with Denzel Curry on a remix of the Florida rapper’s song Walkin, the original of which served as the flagship song on his album Melt My Eyez See Your Future. The pair’s chemistry feels natural. “It was different,” Glock admits. “I love doing things that people wouldn’t expect Glock to do. Denzel really loves what he’s doing and I respect him for that.”
Into the future, Glock asserts his loyalty to Paper Route Empire as the company faces life without its leader. He intends to continue a forward momentum that was unbroken by Covid-19 lockdown measures. “Pandemic made and broke a lot of folks. I didn’t let it distract me,” he says. “It ain’t even so much about the moving around. If you know how to take care of business, you don’t have too much to worry about. I always think and hope for the best, nothing negative goes through my mind when it comes down to business.”
Dolph’s death might have hardened Glock’s resolve to make his cousin proud. For some, this sense of dynasty makes him seem the natural choice to carry the Memphis rap torch. But peer closer and you’ll see it’s his on-mic allure and unbending loyalty to the core pillars of his sound that are guiding his ascent. A trajectory that shows no signs of plateauing.
Yellow Tape 2 (Deluxe) is out now via Paper Route Empire