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Hip-hop, Health, & NLE Choppa

In the words of Jay-Z, NLE Choppa is not just a businessman; he’s a business, man. Look no further than his This Can’t Be Vegan food truck on the latest “Boardroom Spotlight.”

When NLE Choppa was three years old, his auntie warned him not to touch a hot iron. The mistake she made was using the word ‘can’t.’

Sixteen years later, the red-hot rapper is cooking up vegan delicacies in his Memphis home — a passion that birthed his “This Can’t Be Vegan” food truck last fall. He touches a sharp knife. Just as he burned his finger on a hot iron as a toddler, he cuts his pinkie. His reaction? Laughter.

“My mindset does not process a ‘can’t,'” Choppa told Boardroom. “That’s why I’ve always been slightly hard-headed when I was growing up as a kid. I never really adjusted to the word ‘can’t,’ because I just feel like if you can think it, you can do it. That’s why God placed it in your mind. People say you can’t fly. Well, shit, you got planes! It’s just different ways to be able to develop whatever your dream is that you trying to tackle.”

Choppa exudes fearlessness and joy, and his never-say-die attitude has manifested a life beyond his wildest dreams. Since independently dropping his No Love Take Over mixtape in July 2018, Choppa has taken over the charts. His highly anticipated Warner Records debut album Top Shotta became his first top-10 entry on the Billboard 200 in 2020, and nine of his singles have tracked within the Hot 100.

Choppa realized, though, that co-signs from hip-hop stars such as Lil Baby, Polo G, Roddy Ricch, and Young Thug — or from his nearly 10 million monthly Spotify listeners — didn’t directly correlate with mental health and overall well-being. He turned toward a vegan lifestyle in August 2020 to help discover the man he wanted to be and the man he needed to be for his daughter, Clover. His third mixtape, which arrived in January, is perfectly titled Me vs. Me.

When Choppa isn’t spitting bars — most recently in “Yak Flow” — he’s practicing what he preaches. He just completed a fast of water, tea, and juices for all but seven days in March. Next month, he will embark on his headlining NLE Tour, and he’ll bring along his This Can’t Be Vegan food truck to continue using his platform as a source of healing.

Before hitting the road, Choppa chopped it up with Boardroom about his vision for This Can’t Be Vegan, his entrepreneurial approach to building a generational empire, mental health stigma in hip-hop, and of course, the music.

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MEGAN ARMSTRONG: What inspired you to launch This Can’t Be Vegan?

NLE CHOPPA: My long-term goal is to have plenty of vegan restaurants around [Memphis]. At least establish two or three before I branch off across the whole world. The way I wanted to start out was with the food truck. I’m a firm believer in starting out small and then building whatever you’re trying to do. So, I started out with the food truck, and probably [in] like a year or two from now, I can have a restaurant.

The main reason I wanted to do a vegan food truck, I just feel like there’s not a lot of healthy options out here for the people. I know how much a healthy diet can change the mindset. Something so basic, what you’re consuming, could just probably simply decrease the murder rate out here — just because it’ll change your thought of mind. The long-term goal is just using my platform, my popularity, to make sure people out here is eating healthy.

MA: You went vegan in August 2020 because you were suffering from anxiety and depression, and you wanted to be able to better care for your daughter. What is the biggest way in which your quality of life has changed?

NLE: I don’t wake up feeling how I woke up feeling during that time period. And that’s the biggest thing because some people wake up and what’s on their mind is they don’t really want to be here. Now when I wake up, I know it’s a [breath of] fresh air because I know somebody didn’t have the opportunity I had to wake up.

That’s just the biggest thing to it: to be able to wake up refreshed and want more out of life and know that every day is a new start. Every day is a fresh chapter. I feel like a lot of people take for granted two things: making it home, ’cause a lot of people leave their house and don’t make it back, and the second thing is being able to go to sleep and wake up. Those two things have really been one of a big focal point of my life and something that I’m extremely grateful for. 

MA: How has This Can’t Be Vegan been received so far in the community?

NLE: It’s been received very well. Every time we’ve brought it out, it’s sold out. Every time a person tasted it, they came back for more. Just seeing the smiles on their faces after they consume whatever we’re serving. We make sure everything is [made] with love. We make sure not only it’s vegan [but] we have alkaline options, too, which is the step above vegan. When people know the science behind the meals, and when they taste it, everything of that nature, all combined, it makes everybody happy.

MA: You’re signed to Warner, but you also have your own label, NLE Entertainment, and you’re managed by your parents. What motivated you to make sure you take so much ownership over your discography and music career overall?

NLE: Learning from example. Watching everybody else. I’m a learner. I’m not a person where if I go through something, I’m a repeat offender of fucking up. It took other people that went through certain things that I learned from them, so I didn’t have to apply it to my life and learn. I used to watch how a lot of people used to get messed-up deals.

I got Pac [as] my favorite rapper, then there’s Wayne. Lil Wayne, I used to see the stuff he’d go through with his label. I said, This is my favorite rapper. I see the stress he’s going through. Court, legal system, nobody wants to go through that. I just learned from his mistakes. That’s the biggest part about certain celebrities being your role model: you get to learn from them.

MA: Is it a priority for you to keep it all in the family?

NLE: Hell yeah! I done seen somebody’s mom steal from them. I done seen somebody’s pops steal from them. But if you know what family is — family, sometimes, is not blood. Family is just the basic strength of loyalty. Those people that go out their way every time and don’t give a fuck what they getting back off of it. Once you have those people around you, that’s where the ‘family’ word comes to light.

I’m more than grateful that both of my parents, they’re not grimy. Nine times outta 10, it’s good to have your family involved.

MA: Your music career has always been entrepreneurial, but what has This Can’t Be Vegan taught you about being a business owner? 

NLE: It’s hard. I feel like owning a business is overrated to the point to where people just look at what they can get off the revenue, but they never understand that you’ve got to make sure the people that’s working for you and with you are the right people, ’cause they’ll fuck your whole business up. That goes right back on you. It only takes one person.

At the end of the day, it all comes down to who’s not wanting so much to where you ain’t got profit to keep what you got going and to keep your family good. That’s the hardest part about running a business. You can get everything together, but who you gonna have on there that’s loyal?

MA: What types of boardrooms do you want to occupy in the future?

NLE: The restaurant business. My herbal business is just online right now, so I want to transform that into an herbal shop. I wanna do healing camps — buy large amounts of land where people can come and just detox their bodies. That’s my long-term goal when it comes to just herbal healing and holistic healing.

I want to make a tattoo and a barbershop in one, and a clothes shop. But that stuff, that’s more so the wants. What I feel we need is the restaurants, healing villages, and herbal shops.

MA: You’ve already got impressive collaborations and co-signs to your name: Lil Baby, Roddy Ricch, Polo G, and Young Thug, to name a few. What do you think differentiates you from this class of young artists coming up?

NLE: Just how much of myself I am. I’m me. I feel like I’m the only person that’s preaching about herbal [or] a vegan food truck. Just being comfortable in my skin. Knowing what I came from but knowing who I’m growing [into]. Knowing that my past was probably ugly, but my future is bright. That’s what God puts you in these positions for: to be able to change and become a light.

A lot of people get in this position and still be just straight negative. You’ve got your money. You’re out the hood. But you’re still glorifying it. I could rap about it, but I feel like me day-to-day, what I’m preaching about brings that balance.  This is entertainment when I’m rapping like this, but who I am [with you] now, this is me. That’s what’s important. A lot of kids out there don’t understand what’s entertainment and what’s not.

MA: You want to get into TV and film acting next. What would be your dream role?

NLE: A lead role. Any lead role. My personality fits into any one. When your skin is like this — when you’re melanated — people don’t know when you’re Black, African-American, you’re able to tap into any emotion because you felt it all growing up. You could tap into racism. You could tap into a heartbreak. You could tap into knowing what it’s like for your moms and parents to not make ends meet. You could tap into what we go through on a day-to-day basis, which makes any role perfect for me.

MA: Jay-Z is one of your biggest inspirations because he has established himself in various industries while “he still puts his family first.” Family is already a driving force for you as a father to Clover, as well as recently losing your unborn son. What legacy do you want to leave?

NLE: Just to let them know that their dad was something special, and he was just him. Every day, he woke up to make sure that other people was smiling. Other people was good. Once you live just not for yourself but to be able to better other people, that’s when you’re living for God. He’s speaking through you. You’re using your light for Him. When you do that, you’re in the best space of your life because it’s nothing you will fear. It’s nothing that can go wrong. Everything will always be divine.

MA: How do you want to be remembered as a musician?

NLE: A legend. Just the best to do it. The greatest to do it. I feel like to be the greatest to do it, it’s not just music that makes that. It’s who you are. Whose lives you impact. That’s why I got Pac at the top of my list. Lyrically, Lil Wayne got some crazy lyrics, but when you go to Pac, his lyrics weren’t crazy. They were meaningful. When you go to Pac’s interviews, what he said was meaningful. Powerful. When you would go [listen] to those people like Tupac, you would learn something. Every time somebody will sit down with me, they’ll walk away with something they learned.

MA: You dropped your first mixtape in 2018. How has the evolving social media and streaming landscape in the years since changed the way you approach rolling out your projects?

NLE: Man, it’s just different. In 2018, it was me completely by myself. No Love Take Over, I was 15 years old. I went to DistroKid. I put all my shit up. I ain’t even buy the beats. I really finessed. I didn’t buy the beats, but I was making money off everything. It was beautiful because I did it myself.

In today’s time, I don’t have to do all that. Just send my stuff over, let ’em know when I want to drop, and my label will handle it. I’m starting to get back to it because I now have my own label, and we gotta be distributors. We distribute with Empire as well, but I’m more hands-on now. I’m the label again.

MA: Your music is extremely vulnerable. From “Gender Reveal” to “Letter to My Daughter,” and now your latest project Me vs. Me. How do you feel about the misconceptions about mental health and vulnerability that have traditionally been in hip-hop?

NLE: The biggest misconception of it is just not taking heed of it — and how you take heed of it. A lot of people think taking heed of their mental problems or whatever they’re going through is drug use, which is the biggest misconception. That don’t do nothing but make it worse over time. I am a victim of it. I’m glad to say I overcame all of that, but to create that peace of mind is to understand that everything simply happens for a reason.

[You have to] get in the mindset of whatever is not around me, whatever’s not here, was not meant for me, and start getting in the mindset of just allowing God in your life. A lot of people don’t want to hear that because they don’t think it worked. But it really does work because I’m a living testimony of it myself. There’s been times I wanted to kill myself. I really damn near tried it one time. I know what the lowest of lows feel like, and I now know what the highest and highs feel like.

MA: Have you felt misunderstood by people who don’t really key into the message you’re trying to get across and only judge you on the surface?

NLE: Hell yeah! All the time. Most people won’t get it until they gotta face that experience or go through it. Some people will die before they get it. That’s the scary thing. Some people will never get it.

MA: Music is your primary release, but you’re also a hooper. You’ve been playing in Diddy’s Crew League.

NLE: That shit was lit. Whenever I can be able to play basketball and have some fun, its just sparks something in me. It just makes me young again. That’s what I grew up on: having fun, hooping. Whatever makes me feel like a kid, I’m down to do it because I had to grow up fast. I grew up [at] 16. I had responsibilities at 12 — like, real responsibilities. I grew up too fast, and everybody used to tell me, “Don’t grow up too fast!” I was like, “Fuck this. I gotta do what I do. I’m a provider.”

Me being 19, I look back, I was growing up too fast. I missed out a lot of my childhood. I feel I’m gonna be like the 30-year-old on rollercoasters still. As long as you have that youth in you forever, you good. You always good. Don’t ever get old. Stay young.

MA: What’s your ultimate dream for This Can’t Be Vegan?

NLE: Biggest food truck in the world! We’re going state to state. I’m about to have a tour [starting] in May, so I’m about to [bring] the food truck out to a few dates. Have some people on it and have some people eating good before the show and after. Every venue, we’re gonna have that bitch parked at the door two hours before, and then we’re gonna be parked outside that bitch two hours after for whoever wants to stay. Let me know how it tastes.

MA: And what can fans expect from you next on the music side?

NLE: Ooh! Just growth. Improvement. If you think that my last project was the best, if you think the project before that was the best, just know that my next one is gonna top it all because every day I’m maturing. I’m in an unmatchable space right now with being creative with my music. I feel like it doesn’t get more creative than this.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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