Image via Starlito/Instagram

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Listening to Lingua Ignota gives Justin Ivey just says no to the Oxford comma.

Starlito’s Way is not only a clever title for a mixtape, but also a motto for the man’s career. Nashville’s Jermaine Schute carved out a lane for himself without chasing hits or trends, becoming an integral part of Tennessee’s post-2000 rap scene along with Yo Gotti and the late Young Dolph.

Schute’s rap journey began as All $tar Cashville Prince, a moniker that evolved once he created a mixtape series playing off the film Carlito’s Way. He landed a deal with Cash Money Records during a time when Lil Wayne was the lone star left from the label’s glory days. Starlito was unable to break through at Cash Money yet still developed a following that recognized his prowess as a wordsmith.

“I wanted to be the best rapper in the world even though there’s no true metric for that,” Starlito recalled. “That was what I aspired to be and what I loved about rap was the infinite range of creativity and how artists pushed the envelope … it was about your words and I just feel like a lot of that is gone. It was a cream rises to the top kind of thing.”

Hip-hop history is filled with countless rappers who were never heard from again after a brush with the major label system. But Starlito pushed forward, finding his greatest success as an independent artist in the late 2000s and 2010s. His rise coincided with the blog era, which allowed many rappers to cultivate fanbases without placating powerful record executives.

Starlito was hardly the blog poster boy. When writers and podcasters mythologize those days, they typically focus on artists elevated by the New Music Cartel (2DopeBoyz, NahRight, etc.). Starlito was often cornered off in the southern rap-centric corners of the blogosphere where the likes of Dirty Glove Bastard and DJ Burn One operated. He managed to flourish in this Wild West-esque period with a relentless work ethic, feeding fans with multiple projects per year. He connected with an audience who appreciated his mix of acerbic and poignant lyrics delivered in a laid back fashion.

Like so many creatives, Starlito eventually hit a wall with his passion. He started questioning his years of devotion to his craft. Fatherhood and rap’s ever-evolving ecosystem ultimately led to him going on hiatus.

“I began to feel like the things that are prevailing or most prominent or most programmable even, it’s different,” he said. “The underground has kind of lost its luster. And I’m like, man I don’t really like the way it is anymore. What is the bright side to being the quote-on-quote best in this space or being the best means something very different now.”

Starlito stepped away for a few years before resurfacing with his Love Drug album in December 2023. Fans owe Don Trip a huge debt of gratitude for inspiring his fellow Step Brothers member’s return.

“The fun thing is that our relationship outside of the booth has grown so much into a brotherhood that we can bounce ideas off each other freely and get honest advice or insight from another seasoned artist,” Starlito said regarding Don. “And it’s free of the typical kind of BS that might come with artist interactions. Sometimes, this space is so competitive that people rob themselves of creative energies or whatever the overlap is. People don’t want other people to get the one up on them. It’s like, ‘I don’t want to share much, I’m not going to tell you or show you what works for me because I don’t want you to use it and pass me.’ We don’t have that. It’s something genuine. He keeps me on my toes as an artist and forces me to come with it. And we can just communicate freely and talk about life as much as actually creating.”

Starlito admitted he wasn’t thinking ahead to what’s next in his career, but fans shouldn’t worry about him fading away again. The Step Brothers 4 album with Don is a “very high” priority as they seek to remind listeners why they’re one the best duos of the past 20 years. A simplified version of Southern rap’s history may overlook their contributions in the same way they may do a legend such as Lil Keke. But the full story cannot be told without Starlito (or his Step Brothers cohort).

I spoke to Starlito to learn more about his hiatus from rap, his comeback, fatherhood and much more.

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