Show & Prove: Big30
Words: Peter A. Berry
Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the Winter 2021 issue of XXL Magazine, on stands now.

Big30 doesn’t rap as much as he fires away. His steamrolling delivery and scabrous lyrics evoke a harsh environment as he unloads tales of shoot-outs and block wars in unsettling detail. The rap world saw the aftermath of a Big30 assault after hearing his merciless guest verse on Pooh Shiesty’s “Neighbors,” a menacing, yet infectious single from Pooh’s Shiesty Season mixtape, released last February. On the track, 30’s bars spill out like a death threat: “I’m in the field with choppers, you can’t come up on this turf/And I’m from Killbranch, we known for killing killers first.”

The gold-selling “Neighbors” has been streamed over 34 million times on Spotify since its release last February. The song peaked at No. 51 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. For 30, career milestones like that one serve as a strike against his doubters. “It’s almost like a smack in the face,” he shares over the phone on a cool October night. “Like, look at me now.” These days, it’s growing harder not to.

Born Rodney Wright Jr., the rhymer only began taking rap seriously after he was signed to Moneybagg Yo’s Bread Gang and N-Less Entertainment in 2019. Between street life and being a student who played around a little too much for his teachers’ liking, 30 was never too involved with music early on. While he remembers playing little league football and having fun in his community, older heads would tell him of trouble in the area. It wasn’t until people his own age began dying that the warning sank in. “It got to the point where you had to kill or be killed out here,” he recalls.

By age 14, 30 owned a Glock 30—the inspiration for his rap moniker—and was active in the streets. Around this same time, he began engaging with the street rap of the era, though his father would also play offerings from singers like David Ruffin and Willie Hutch. “Ain’t too many blues songs you could play and I don’t know,” 30 shares. And yet, when his older cousin introduced him to artists like Gucci Mane and Yo Gotti, the rising rhyme slinger felt a stronger connection to lyrics that echoed his own reality. “It’d be amazing that what’s going on in my hood is going on 1,000 miles away in everybody’s hood,” says 30, who’s also a fan of Jeezy and Kodak Black. “I fuck with that.”

Harrowing and hyper-specific, the 22-year-old rapper’s lyrics are the type that almost always have to be pulled from life experience in the streets. In January of 2018, 30 was arrested for firing a gun into an apartment building. He got off with a community service sentence and the charge was expunged from his record. That same year, at the insistence of his childhood friend Shiesty, 30 began telling his own story in the form of rhymes and songs.

At first, the two would just drop bars over random instrumentals at home. Soon, they traveled to a friend’s house in Memphis’ Walker Homes neighborhood to record a song. Using an old Three 6 Mafia beat, they made a track called “RC,” an offering coated in braggadocious gunplay and inexperience. It was a hit with his friends, who told him he should take music more seriously—so he did. By October of 2018, 30 and Shiesty had recorded “Breaking News” with fellow rappers Choppa Tee and Kayy Shiesty. The raucous tune signaled the first time they uploaded a music video on YouTube. “I think we did 100k in like a month,” 30 remembers. “You couldn’t tell us nothing.”

A year later, 30 caught the attention of N-Less Entertainment CEO and cofounder Marcus “Head” Howell, who eventually signed 30 to his label in a joint venture with Moneybagg Yo’s Bread Gang imprint. Working alongside 30, Head became impressed with both the young rapper’s work ethic and sharp writing technique. “The relatability of what he doing is really what stands out to me,” Head says. “It make you feel like you right there with him.”

Big30 collected more things to brag about as he steadily recorded new music with Shiesty. He earned millions of YouTube views with visuals for 2020 songs like the gold-certified Pooh Shiesty-featured track “Allegations”—49 million views—and “Shots Out the Vette”— 21 million views.

However, legal troubles clouded his career in October of 2020. 30 was arrested on drug charges in Alabama after being found with $17,000 in cash, a Glock 40, promethazine, codeine and marijuana that was allegedly packaged for sale. He’s still dealing with the charge, but so far, he’s only had to complete community service for the case.

Since then, Big30 has focused on his momentum in rap by continuing to release loosies of his own. Last September, he moved forward with King of Killbranch, his first project laced with trench tales that are nearly as bleak as they are enthusiastic. While rap luminaries like Future, Yo Gotti, Moneybagg Yo and Quavo are featured on the project, 30’s brand of immediate lyricism ensured that he was never overshadowed. KOK made its way to a No. 13 debut on the Billboard 200 albums chart. A month later, he was announced as an Interscope Records artist through a partnership between N-Less and Bread Gang.

As his status as trap’s next ascendant storyteller is solidified, 30 has made some major changes in his life. He’s stopped smoking in cars and enlisted a security team. “I can’t move like no regular person no more,” he says. If he wants further advice on adapting to fame, he can connect with the likes of Lil Baby, Future and 50 Cent, all of whom have thus far given him guidance. Their most salient input calls for 30 to stay consistent with his artistic output. Sometime in 2022, 30 plans to follow their advice when he serves up his as-yet-untitled debut album. Looking a bit further down the line, 30 wants to start his own record label while reaching plateaus hip-hop’s never seen.

And he’s just as invested in being a beacon for people from neighborhoods like his own. “I just be wanting my fans out there that’s going through what I’m going through to know that they aren’t the only person going through that or have been through that. You can make it out. I was one of you. Yeah, you, that’s sitting on the couch fucked up and don’t have no clue what you’re going to do. I was once like that before. I’m a living testimony, bro. I made something out of nothing.”

Check out more from XXL’s Winter 2021 issue including our cover story featuring the XXL awards board members, Juice Wrld's mother reflects on her son and more.

See XXL Magazine's Winter 2021 Covers

Which cover is your favorite?

More From HOT 99.1