Show & Prove
Words: Sowmya Krishnamurthy
Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the Spring 2020 issue of XXL Magazine, on stands now.
Brooklyn Chop House is a restaurant with a venerable hip-hop lineage. The steakhouse, located in the heart of Manhattan’s Financial District, is the creation of a former friend of The Notorious B.I.G. When Key Glock and Young Dolph celebrated the release of their joint project, Dum and Dummer, last summer, they came here. The two were visibly in good spirits, clinking glasses as journalists and rap cognoscenti noshed on crispy filet mignon and salt and pepper sea bass, family style. What was striking was how organic and in sync they appeared. They share the same unassuming and relaxed disposition, punctuated by slow Memphis drawls when they talk. They poke fun at each other, playfully cracking jokes. Everyone in hip-hop likes to claim each other as their “bros,” but these two have a bond that’s deeper than rap. They’re cousins through marriage and now, their professional lives are intertwined. “We’re brothers,” Key Glock says. “We really both alike.”
Despite having rap in his family tree, Key Glock initially hid his ambitions from his cousin. “I ain’t let him know I was rapping,” the 22-year-old admits. Markeyvius Cathey grew up like a lot of teenagers, dabbling in music just for fun when he wasn’t playing football or basketball. A DIY head, his first recording was a remix to Future’s “Ain’t No Way Around It” in 2011, which he created with the now-defunct Mixcloud. “I learned how to record myself at home through a friend of mine. I basically taught myself everything.” In 2014, he went into a professional recording studio and laid down the more fully formed track “Actin.” This was the turning point. He remembers vividly having a visceral reaction, an “ah-ha” moment that this was his calling. “It went through my body and through my mind,” he recalls. “It just hit me.”
His resolve belies challenges he faced at home. Glock’s mother was incarcerated since he was a toddler—she would spend 15 years behind bars before release—and he was raised by his grandmother and great grandmother. Hardship molded him into what he describes as a “self-confident person.” Glock realized he would need to shape his own destiny. It’s a narrative he likes to recite often. “I know how to speak shit into existence.” He points to his mother as a driving force and draws a parallel in their closeness to that of Tupac Shakur and his beloved mom Afeni Shakur. “I was reborn again when I reunited with my mama,” he expresses. “Me and my mama have an unbreakable bond. I go so hard because she deserves everything. The Lord blessed me so I just gotta return the favor.”
At age 18, Glock got locked up for aggravated robbery and returned home 90 days later. His aunt, hoping to keep him on the straight and narrow, finally spilled the beans to Dolph that he was rapping and in need of stewardship. To keep him out of trouble, Dolph took him on tour and signed him to his Paper Route label—which has a partnership deal with EMPIRE—in 2017. “It wasn’t even about his skills as a rapper or nothing,” Dolph recalls. “When he told me he wanted to rap, I took him in.” Glock released his debut single, “Racks Today” that year, along with the Glock Season mixtape.
Glockoma and Glock Bond followed; the latter features “Russian Cream,” a freestyle that would prove to be his breakout hit. “Feel like Tarzan, all these trees/I get so high I can’t breathe/Like LeBron, bitch, I’m a king/But I never leave my heat,” he raps. Despite his ascendant status, he showed the confidence of a pro. The Tay Keith-produced track elevated the rapper from mixtape buzz to dominating streaming platforms: Over 43 million streams on Spotify, 11 million views on YouTube and 16 million streams on SoundCloud.
Nima Etiman, COO of Empire, remembers the upward momentum around the track. “The first song that really started to show us that Glock was building a rabid fan base was ‘Russian Cream,’ which is certified gold,” Etiman says. “It became a massive club record in the South.” Combining street savvy with club appeal, Glock was positioning himself as a trap star. “He was making trap music for the streets but had a massive female following,” Etiman adds, “which made him stand out.” It was an unexpected coup. “I knew the song was good, but I didn’t expect it to turn out how it did,” Glock laughs.
The kudos kept coming with the release of Dum and Dummer, which hit No. 10 on the Billboard 200 chart last summer. Glock explains that the project was a response to fan excitement following their collaborative single “Major.” “We realized that the fans wanted us to do a tape together,” he tells. “We secretly did it. It wasn’t even planned.” Although they have clear visions in the studio, Glock says that there’s a simpatico vibe when recording with Dolph. “We respect each other’s opinion,” Glock shares. “Whatever he wanna do, I’m like, ‘Let’s do it.’ Whatever I wanna do, he’s like, ‘Let’s do it.’” Dolph adds, “We have fun with it. The most important thing, you have fun with it.”
Legal issues did complicate things, momentarily. In May of 2019, Glock was arrested for carrying a concealed firearm and marijuana possession in Miami. “Charges dropped,” he tweeted in June. The case was officially closed in August.
Key Glock eyes even bigger success in 2020. His new mixtape, Yellow Tape, is street trap at its finest. “I came in this world flexin’/ Yeah, it was reckless in them trenches, had to make some shit,” he raps on the album opener “1997.” Despite big-name producers like Southside, Kenny Beats and Sledgren, the mixtape is intentionally feature-free. He wants to stand on his own. “It’s all me,” Glock asserts. “I can get it done.” “This new album is what’s going to establish him as a solo artist that can cross over into the mainstream while remaining authentic as an artist,” predicts Etiman. Dolph agrees. “I want him to go as far as he can go. I want him to keep going.” His voice swells with pride. “Can’t nobody stop it.”
Sky’s the limit.
Check out more from XXL’s Spring 2020 issue including our Future cover story, in which he speaks on his Life Is Good album, Lil Yachty discusses his new album, Lil Boat 3, and the respect he deserves, Van Jones talks about his love for hip-hop, the brewing, new hip-hop scene in New York, Show & Prove with Jack Harlow and more.
See Exclusive Photos of Future on a Yacht for XXL Magazine's Spring 2020 Cover Story