The city of Memphis is hallowed ground in rap history, home to some of the genre’s most haunting and ominous sounds. Those dark strains still run through Memphis’ overflowing scene of artists, and they also run through the menacing songs from the city’s fastest-rising new star, Pooh Shiesty.
While Memphis has produced its share of national stars over the last decade, in recent years, it’s also seen a number of artists burn bright and then quickly fade out. Pooh Shiesty’s ascendance has been swift but, with more eyes on him than ever, the 21-year-old has only gotten more hungry, his verses more forceful, and his songs more anthemic.
Growing up in South Memphis—the home of Playa Fly, Young Dolph, and countless others—Pooh Shiesty grew up around rap. His father, who also rapped as Mob Boss, had his own label called Mob Ties Records. Shiesty obsessed over Lil Wayne’s punchlines with his friends, analyzing the metaphors and the double entendres, and they rapped during school lunches and in their neighborhood for fun, but it wasn’t until years later that he would actually try his hand at making songs of his own.
Shiesty first took the city by storm with his verse on “Breaking News,” a group track alongside BIG30 and other members of the Choppa Gang Ent crew. Sliding in at the very end of the song, the then-19-year-old immediately steals the show with his opening line: “Breaking news, bitch I’m Shiesty Pooh / Taking shit what I do.” His quick verse, and the scenes of Shiesty in a large group, standing at the intersection of Willett and Ethlyn in South Memphis’ Cane Creek apartments, went viral on Facebook. After only four bars, Pooh Shiesty had already made a name for himself.
With his singles and videos gaining traction and his name getting bigger in Memphis, Shiesty caught Gucci Mane’s attention last year, and the Atlanta legend signed him onto his new 1017 roster after hearing the Tay Keith-produced “Main Slime.” Since then, Shiesty’s videos have gotten more glossy, depicting more pool parties at mansions than scenes in the neighborhood, but his songs have remained as sharp and rugged as ever. “Back In Blood,” his latest single featuring Lil Durk, finds him taunting, “You know who took that shit from you, come get it back in blood.”
Speaking with Pooh Shiesty prior to the release of Shiesty Season, his debut album via Atlantic and 1017, he seems confident and ready for whatever the future holds. Despite the pandemic halting many aspects of the music industry, he says this time has only made him more motivated. He seems like the kind of person always thinking two steps ahead; at one point, he stops our interview to check in on his manager, who sounds busy negotiating a price for a Pooh Shiesty feature, before jumping back into the conversation without missing a beat.
Tell me about South Memphis. What makes it different from other parts of the city?
It’s just like the rest of the parts. Other parts got their hoods, but South Memphis all hood. Other parts got big houses and suburbs, but South Memphis don’t. All the neighborhoods in South Memphis are divided by train tracks. Everyone that’s from the South, you gon’ know where they’re from by what track they’re from. Like, I’m from Cane Creek. Young Dolph’s from Castalia. You gotta cross the tracks to get to Castalia from where I’m from.
I just made it out of what I could. It’s either die, go to jail, or get lucky—it’s three options. It’s like a lottery.
Growing up, would you cross the tracks or mostly stay in your area?
Your school would be in your track, but your high school would probably be across the tracks.
What kind of kid were you in school?
My school life was rough. I kept getting kicked out and expelled and stuff. I was smart, though. I always been smart. Even if I didn’t do my work, I was smart enough to pay someone to do it.
What were you getting kicked out of school for?
I got kicked out of middle school; they said I had a gun in my backpack but it was cap. They still took me to juvenile and locked the whole school down.
Your dad was also into music. What kind of stuff was he doing?
He was on his CEO P [Pi’erre Thomas of Quality Control] type of level. He had his own record label called Mob Ties Records. He had a couple artists. Miscellaneous—I think he was finna blow at one time.
Growing up around that, what did you see?
I saw how they gotta get ready to go do shows. I been knew about tour buses and all that—the tour life. I never got to go with them, I was young then, but I would see when they would get ready to go. I done went to a couple shows here and there.
What music was important to you when you were younger?
Being outside, and being on my own, listening to my own music was Lil Wayne and then Chief Keef. I watched Chief Keef come in the game, so I saw that big change and the impact he had.
I didn’t start rapping till about nine or 10 years later. I just wanted to hear music. I liked any good songs, but I really liked bars. We used to break down Lil Wayne bars. Like, Aw, you hear what he said? Nah, he means this. Metaphors and all that. I used to watch rap battles on YouTube: URL and Smack TV, Tay Roc, Hitman Holla, all that played a part.
So you were studying the music, but what took so long for you to jump into it yourself, nine or 10 years after that?
Rappers were getting locked up, slowing down on rapping, messing up. It made it seem like I could jump in and do it. It was the lifestyle I was living. Like, you might as well rap; this is the only thing you ain’t did yet. Been lit, been city famous. You done did everything else but tried to put a song down. First song went crazy, and it’s been up ever since.
It seems like you and BIG30 have been collaborating from the jump, and the chemistry you two have on songs is really forceful. How did you two first meet?
I been knowing 30 since like fourth or fifth grade. He’s from Whitehaven, but his cousins used to live in Cane Creek too. He had gotten kicked out of school and had to go to an alternative school [with me] in South Memphis. Before rapping or anything, we clicked immediately. We were young kids.
The first song that really took off locally for you was “Breaking News.” What was the reaction to that song in the city?
My verse on “Breaking News” went viral. Somebody screen-recorded and posted it on Facebook. I had already had one song before that: “Weak Azz Bitch.”
Right, which flipped the classic Three 6 Mafia song. A few of your early songs, like “Hell Night,” also get into that ‘90s Memphis sound. How much of an influence is that music on your generation of Memphis?
That play a big part throughout Memphis. They the OGs and legends, but I ain’t watch them in their prime or go up. That’s like my mama and daddy’s type of era. I have a song with them that we worked on with Juicy J that’s not out yet.
When “Breaking News” went viral, you’re still in the neighborhood. What did you start to see, and what changed?
People were riding past me looking, and you could just feel it getting different. Things gotta switch up, can’t go over here no more. I’d be stuck somewhere or dead if I didn’t move different.
I think the first song I ever heard from you was “Shiesty Summer.” What was going on in your life around the time that came out?
By that time, I was already stamped, but that song solidified me. It got to a point where they was saying that was my only song or that was my only good song. They was trying to stop me right there, but you know I stayed down and kept pushing. They tripled up the police on me. I stopped worrying about other people ‘cause the police were on me so bad. I had to move right in every situation. Anything that would happen in the city, they’d just say I did it. It just made it triple worse.
Did that make you want to leave, and did you end up leaving?
Yeah, but it’s at the point now where they’ll think I’m out of here and I’ll still come be in the hood with a mask on.
How did Gucci Mane come into the picture?
Gucci came right after “Main Slime.” He DMed me on Instagram and was just like, “What’s up, homie? You too hard. Keep going.” We FaceTimed, and it was up from there.
When the Gucci and Jeezy Verzuz happened, you were right there next to Gucci. What was that experience like?
That was just like witnessing history but living in the moment.
Is there a piece of advice he’s given to you that sticks out?
He’s taught me how to watch my surroundings more than I thought. Since he signed me, he’s shown me another way.
Listening to your early songs and your more recent music since signing, it sounds like you’ve put even more emphasis on your wordplay.
Most definitely. It’s just like going to the gym and working on your jump shot.
Has coronavirus slowed things down for you at all? It seems like you’ve been doing a lot of shows.
It seems like coronavirus sped things up for me. It would’ve slowed me down if I was lazy.
How did you approach putting together your debut album, Shiesty Season, as opposed to just one-off singles and videos?
We just had to find the time. It was well overdue. I wanted to show my whole versatility for fans and give them the full package.
Is there anything about this level of recognition that’s different than what you expected?
Not really. I’m still staying down. I ain’t at my peak yet. I ain’t trying to overdo it or any of that other shit. I feel like I’m gonna get bigger tomorrow.