Photo courtesy of the artist’s Facebook

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No less than two years ago, Ola Runt was just another Atlanta artist getting it out of the mud. Recently released from prison after serving a five year bid that started while in high school, Ola had two options: go back to doing what he knew and what sent him to prison, or make good on the promises he’d given behind those walls to “Pop” and try his hand at this music thing. In a recent documentary released by his label, Cinematic Music Group, titled, Inside The Mind: Ola Runt, viewers get a look into not just the mind, but the unit that makes up who Ola Runt is, and the Edgewood, Zone 6 neighborhood that he carries with him wherever he goes. 

In Ola’s words, his parents have never really been together. Yet, both provided him the tools he needed to survive in this world. From his mother, Ola learned love, compassion, and forgiveness. This love was shown through making younger cats from his neighborhood go to school. As the story goes, up and coming ATL artist, 24LeftEye was close to graduating but kept skipping class. So Ola and the rest of his neighborhood forced 24LeftEye to either go to show up or stay in the house because they wouldn’t allow him on the block during school hours. The tough love paid off and 24LeftEye graduated with Ola in the stands, bearing witness to an accomplishment that he himself wasn’t even able to achieve.

From his father—who like Ola grew up in Edgewood—he learned the streets, decision making, and respect. It was also his father who recognized Ola slipping back into old habits and decided to provide him a space that would put literal walls between the dangerous distractions outside and his son’s talent. With no choice but to focus, Ola began to record at a maniacal pace. To his recollection, he recorded almost 300 songs. Many were inspired by the life he was trying so hard not to go back to.

Make no mistake, Ola was still Ola and his taste for the street was as ravenous as ever. But the affirmation that his hood gave him as their mouthpiece kept his pen on the paper and his focus in the booth. Locally, Ola’s buzz began to make its way not just through Zone 6, but throughout other parts of greater Atlanta. Songs like “Church Cry”, “What It Costs”, and “Feel Like Guwop” welcomed any and all takers into the Red Store-inspired, paranoid-laced, drank-infused domain that is Zone 6, Edgewood, Mason Ave. aka “Front Street” to be exact. 

What Ola didn’t have in terms of your basic rap “fundamentals” in some of those early records, he made up for in charisma and energy. Lines with cold truths like, “Where I’m from you gotta kill just to live…” and “I done had my heart broke, then I fell in love with the streets,” take Ola’s everyday realities and sit them square in the lap of the listener to feel just a fraction of Ola’s struggle.

With music and visuals dropping rapidly, Ola’s name rang bells among Atlanta’s larger artists. He was turning into who he said he would be while still incarcerated. With the attention came even more decisions to make. Who to listen to, who to align with, who to sign to. For Ola, he felt this was the part of the industry that was weird. This was the aspect that turned relationships into bargaining chips. One of these relationships being an alliance with Gucci Mane. 

The executive producer for Ola’s first official mixtape, Mama Tried, Gucci’s presence brought him extra credibility. But songs like “Yo Daddy Son” and “Blackavelli Story” did the rest, bringing a biting and melodic introduction to the “Runt” from Front Street. With momentum already on his side, Ola dropped his second mixtape, as another collaboration with Gucci titled, Beggin’ For a Body. On it, the two revisit a previous Ola record, “Feel Like GuWop Remix”, and play lyrical spades, betting books and emphatically slamming their winning card on the table. 

With two very solid offerings under his belt, the spotlight became intense. A bidding war began and Ola had to choose between Cinematic Music Group and Gucci. As the former won out, Ola felt he’d found a team that wanted to push what he wanted to push. In Cinematic, he gained financial stability without necessarily having to sign directly to a major. With them, he dropped his third project titled, Harder 2 Kill, a play on Gucci Mane’s second studio album. But at the height of his buzz, with all of Atlanta and extended parts of the industry watching, Ola went back to prison.

As I spoke with Ola through a phone that belongs to the federal government, his energy seeped through the speaker. He was pointed, reflective, and analytical.  Someone who had the ability to recognize that the energy in his life had become very hard to deal with, and for him to overcome this speed bump, he’d need to develop some kind of balance. Yes, music is still coming out. Yes, the visuals are still engaging but it’s Ola who has to wait to truly enjoy the fruits of his labor. 

If the documentary did anything, it gave me the ability to see a cat who was doing all that he could with what he was given. He became the voice for a community that now looks like a shell of itself due to gentrification, but still holds the spirit of The Red House as close as ever. His people and their pride are a true currency for Ola, and the hope that he may be able to lead them through this treacherous world fuels his passion. 

Ola mentioned in a previous interview that it’s hard for cats who are incarcerated to dispel the naysayers and gain buy in for their reform. Currently that may be harder for him then ever. But he made it plain that all he can do this next time around is show them that he won’t repeat the same mistakes. And I have to say, I believe he will. — TE P.

Being from Atlanta, more specifically, Edgewood, Zone 6 is a notable place because of the names that come out of it. What would you say is your favorite memory growing up there?

Ola Runt: My favorite memory growing up in my hood was a lot of people getting money. I saw a whole lot of old school cars. Everybody was ballin’ and having their way. So I knew, once I was of age I could have my way too. I saw my Daddy, and all his friends, and my Grandma doing it. You not from Zone 6 if you ain’t shot a video in my hood at The Red Store. The Red Store is legendary. You got Lil Boosie. You got Master P. You got the whole Alley Boy, Future, Young Scooter came up shooting videos at The Red Store. I used to be inside all of these videos at a real young age. So I knew the music scene was big. But I’m from the heart Zone 6. A lot of rappers not even from Zone 6. They just wanna be from Zone 6.

One thing about your documentary that shined immediately was your family and how close knit it felt. They were incredibly supportive. And they’re [obviously] proud of you now. Can you speak to what that unit was like growing up?

Ola Runt: Nobody knew I would rap. I got out of prison in 2017 but nobody knew. My family was just proud to see me doing something positive. Getting recognition from it. And doing something I love. It’s paying off and it’s getting me paid. It’s taking me places and I’m starting to see new things. I don’t have to do anything that I was doing. My family gives me big support. My Grandma, before she passed away, she told me I would be a superstar. She wrote it down inside of her journal.

Also, in the documentary, I could see that you got different pieces of game from your Mom and your Pop. Can you speak to one thing that each of them taught you that you keep with you?

Ola Runt: I’ll start with my momma first. She taught me to have love. Have love for people who love you. My momma taught me how to interact. She told me that I can’t hold grudges. That I had to let certain shit go. My momma taught me a lot of morals and ethics. My daddy taught me the streets. He taught me respect. He taught me how it go out here. He also let me learn the hard way. But he was right there to tell me, “I told ya so.” He taught me about making the right decision and making the wrong decision. He was big on that when I was growing up.

You mentioned Young Scooter and Future before being cats from your area, shooting videos in front of The Red Store, and in Zone 6. Speaking to your neighborhood, what does it mean to you? When I say Edgewood, Zone 6, what does that make you feel?

Ola Runt: That’s home. That’s home to generations of my family. My Grandma had one of the first Habitat homes in Edgewood. President Carter helped build my Grandma’s house. My Momma’s from Kirkwood but my Daddy’s from Edgewood. My hood means a lot to me, bruh. That’s where I got my game from. That’s where I got my name from. That’s where everybody knows me from. A lot of things happened for me there. I made my transition into who I am right there in that little area. My hood is not that big but it’s big in Atlanta. It ain’t that big of an area but the people that came out my hood got big.

That influence is there. Immediately when I thought of Edgewood, before you came on my radar, Trouble was who came to mind.

Ola Runt: Trouble fa sho! That’s somebody I came up listening to. Alley Boy, Young Scooter, and Future. They people you got no choice but to listen to just growing up in the hood. You got to support. It’s ‘cuz you see them everyday. It ain’t like they just Hollywood. These are people I really seen coming up. I seen them going from they street names to they fame names.

Something I also learned from Trouble and then saw in the documentary is the gentrification in your area. It’s happening in a lot of our neighborhoods right now. They can tear down buildings. They can move in people who don’t even know where they are. But there are still people who grew up there that still live there. They make it what it is. How do you keep the spirit of your neighborhood alive?

Ola Runt: It’s really hard. It’s hard to see it while they’re doing it. Some people just rub it off and keep going. But they can’t take the spirit away. It’s home! It’s home to everybody. They trying to take our home away. They tearing down some of our houses. They selling some our old hangout spots to these people. It does something to everybody’s heart in the hood. It brings hatred. Everybody still loves the hood no matter what they do to it. There’s some people who don’t even come back because they don’t like how it looks no more. So what I did was I started calling one of the famous streets [Mason Ave.] “Front Street.” ‘Cuz Front Street is all we got. They tore down our apartment. They tore down everywhere we can hang at. SO everybody is forced to be on Front Street. And now they trying to take that away from us. There’s been a lot going on. If you type in “Edgewood Community,” “shootings for 2020,” there’s been basically a massacre this year. They trying to take it from us. There’s a whole lot of people coming together to have meetings about the hood. They really trying to make it into something that it will never be.

Back to your pop. He came across as a cool dude. He was funny as hell. One of my favorite parts of the documentary shows him talking about you getting out of prison and him having a car lot. In that car lot he decided he would put a studio in it to keep you in it, instead of you being outside. That’s a special kind of love right there to give you something constructive with what he’d built. Can you speak to that period of time in your life?

Ola Runt: I had got out of prison. My daddy found me doing a lot of the old shit that sent me to prison. He had a car lot but stopped selling cars to turn it into a studio after he found out I was doing music. His homeboys would tell him, “Yo son, he got it. Yo son is hard. He too hard.” People would tell him all the time. So he took a chance on the cars and made that lot into a studio. I went and found an engineer that would record me all the time and made like 300 songs. I was recording everyday. I recorded all of 2018. I didn’t sign a deal until 2020. The whole 2019 I was shooting videos until I got signed. I shot so many videos that I was getting 50,000 to 100,000 views just in Atlanta. My city gave me that support once I started doing it. I started seeing the numbers I was doing on Soundcloud and YouTube. That was my motivation to keep going. I started making noise to the point that a lot of people wanted to get in my videos, or manage me, or sign me. A lot of people were telling folks that they had ownership of me. I knew I had it when Meek Mill started following me and commenting on my shit. I knew then that this was calling. This was what I was supposed to be doing. If it wasn’t for that car lot I don’t know where I’d be right now.

Another part about that time you speak of is developing a militancy while being down for 5 years. Can you speak more to that militancy?

Ola Runt: I learned the different types of personality niggas got. Which ones I need to stay away from. Which ones I can interact with. The type of niggas I can’t talk to. I learned more of myself. I learned that I really don’t play. I ain’t nothing to play with. I ain’t going out bad. I’m going home the same way I left. That was in my head everyday. I’m leaving with all my teeth. I’m leaving looking the same way, you know what I’m saying? I had to move a certain way. I couldn’t move reckless but I was getting in trouble. I learned what I can and can’t do. I learned music. I learned how to write songs. I learned isolated meditation. I really learned about how to interact with people. I realized I’m a thinker. Being in a hundred man dorm or module—I’m a leader. That also made me come out with the mindset to build my own label, build my own artist, build my own shit.

You mentioned in the documentary that before you got out you were speaking to folks about what you were going to do. And you said some people didn’t believe it. I’ve had homeboys in and out, and I’ve seen how they feel when they tell somebody what they’re gonna do when they get out and people just blow it off. Can you speak to fighting those doubts or that pressure to get out and do exactly what you say you’re going to do?

Ola Runt: Being incarcerated a lot of people let people what they gonna do when they get out. But then you’ll see the same people, the next year, locked up again. I put it in a lot of people ear, ‘When I get out I’ma pop.” That would be how I said it. They would be like, “What you mean?” I would tell them, “I’ma be n TV doing this shit.” Folks would tell me to rap something for them. But if they weren’t somebody who I felt knew music. Or could judge my music the right way and give me feedback, I wouldn’t even rap my music to them. The people who had a certain style and really listened to music—I would rap for them. I wasn’t just rapping freely. It was for the young niggas who I felt I could relate to. It was the ones going through something like me. I used to tell people and some would tell me, “Make sure you take it serious.” I did have some people who believed in me. There would be a lot of niggas come in and out of prison with talent. Some of them with more talent than me. But when you see them on Instagram they wasn’t making no music. They was just doing it to pass the time. So when they got back out, they was on some other shit. I used to see them and make sure when I got out I didn’t back track.

When you did come out, and you speaking to your focus on your craft, you did get attention pretty quick. How did that feel to get that affirmation that you set your mind to it, you said you would do it, and you actually did it?

Ola Runt: It’s a blessing. I can’t do nothing but thank God and my ancestors for being with me. Sometimes I can’t even say how I did that shit. I just know I went up doing this. Some of the biggest artists in the world be on my page following me, mentioning me. I know I did it. They can’t blackball me. I’m doing this. I thank God. It ain’t nothing but the higher power for being there. Giving me the strength to make it happen. I wake up and just feel thankful because it could be worse. I could be dead or locked up for some whole other shit. I thank God.

Earlier you spoke about people trying to lay claim to what you worked for. When you first came on my radar Gucci’s name was all over what you were doing. Not to ask about him because I know you’ve talked that to death. What is it like when that starts to happen and somebody else’s name is attached to what you’re doing and it follows you?

Ola Runt: It be weird. I been dealing with it since I first came out. A lot of people wanted to be part of this. A lot of people wanted to get paid off of me. A lot of people wanted to act like they had something to do with my success. I was out here in these streets on my own. Ain’t nobody gave me shit. Only thing Gucci gave me was a chain. I wore the chain for a little minute. He was trying to sign me for a big deal but I wasn’t leaving Cinematic. I wanted him and Johnny Shipes to do a joint deal. I wasn’t stressing that money because I was already guaranteed to be a millionaire. They talked, and I swear on my Grandma’s soul, Johnny Shipes told him a number and Gucci didn’t want to bid with that man. A lot of folks tried to add their name to this shit. But it’s all good because I’m figuring this all out as the days goes by. A lot of rappers didn’t have to go through what I went through.

You going through what you went through also helped you see your value.

Ola Runt: These rappers sign to somebody then they kill the chance of somebody coming behind them. It kills the chances for their artists. You come in and sign to this nigga. What about the dude who you want to sign. How you gonna get him on?

Not speaking on your relationship because I don’t know y’all relationship, but in this game, a lot of the “relationships” are business transactions and ways for people to associate themselves with other people. That’s all they are.

Ola Runt: I done learned a lot about this shit. It’s weird. It’s funny. It’s some real niggas and most of them be fake. When these niggas find out that this certain group don’ fuck with you, they’ll stop fucking with you, because they want to fuck with the certain group. You feel what I’m saying. I don’t be tripping because I was never big on features. I do this shit on my own. That’s why I speak my mind. I don’t sound like no nigga. [Young] Thug called me on Facetime. He wanted to sign me. 21 Savage offered to sign me. I reached out to Lil Baby but he never got back with me. That’s when Gucci came in. Everybody got their certain intentions for you.

In this thing, you can’t be short-sighted. Especially cats like you that did what you had to do what you had to do to get to this point. You have to be able to see through the trees.

Ola Runt: Yeah. I’m just ready to shock the whole game. I got so much music in the tuck. I have so many hits in the tuck. I can’t wait to just shock the world. No features. Man, this shit crazy!

We’ll say Atlanta is a big pond right now. There are a lot of people in that scene making noise. You are now one of those names. What has been like for you being part of a larger discussion amongst some of the biggest artists?

Ola Runt: That’s what I wanted. I knew my worth and I knew where I needed to get to. Compare me when y’all compare them. When people talk about their favorite rappers and who they listen to, I’m named with them now. That’s what I always wanted I don’t want to be looked at as one of their artists. It’s being compared to them. They’ve all been doing it longer than me. I’m just getting started. I ain’t got nothing but three mixtapes. I’m glad to be a part of this. I’m glad to be a part of the Atlanta rap scene.

We’ll call your current situation a speed bump. Where is your mind right now? How are you keeping your focus?

Ola Runt: My mind right now is just on putting out music, staying relevant, and going home. That’s what I focus on. It feels like people want to see me off the streets. A lot of people happy I’m locked up. A lot of people happy I’m out of the way. I was putting press on this shit. Now they can breathe and drop music. I’m letting them enjoy what while I’m in here. When I’m out, I’m back on these niggas necks. I’m back to stepping on these niggas faces. I’m back on they ass like back pockets. I’ve been gone 4 months. Let these niggas enjoy that little 120 days with Ola. Enjoy that shit! When a nigga get back, a nigga ain’t playing!

I saw in an interview one of your young bulls [24LeftEye] said y’all made him go to school. We spoke earlier in this conversation about real OGs. Real people in people’s lives that actually care. Being an OG ain’t always about putting dope in somebody’s hands. Being an OG ain’t always about telling a youngin to do some shit they wouldn’t do themselves. Being a real OG is putting people in positions where they can set themselves up for more than just what’s in front of them. Can you speak to you having that care and that love for you area that does stuff like that?

Ola Runt: A lot of young niggas look up to me where I’m from. I show that leadership. I show people love in ways they dad ain’t never showed ’em. I show them love in the way they Momma ain’t never showed ’em. I’m taking niggas out to do shit for the first time. I’m getting young niggas in the club for the first time. I’m getting young niggas they first trip to Miami, their first trip to California, their first trip to New York. It’s just like a whole lot of shit I do for them that they couldn’t even imagine doing. And LeftEye, our whole relationship is organic and genuine. This is my real young nigga. I got real love for him. And he got real love for me. That’s all we talk about is staying alive and doing this shit. That’s all we talk about is staying alive and where we gonna be at if we stay alive. That’s all we do. “We gotta stay alive bruh.” That’s all we talk about. It’s never no pressure on no money. We both was broke as hell together. I used to tell him to go to school. This is part of our story. I was at LeftEye graduation when he graduated. When he graduated that was one of the best days of his life and my life. My young nigga graduated. That was somme shit I didn’t do ‘cuz I got locke dup. Man. He graduated and stayed in school. He did everything he was supposed to do. On the days he tried to skip school I was like, “Hell nawl, bruh. Go to school.” We was kicking his ass of the block. He ain’t have nowhere to hang out. If he didn’t go to school he’d have to stay in the house all day. That wasn’t fun for no nigga who think he finna skip school. All the niggas on the block was telling him, “You gotta go to school. What the fuck you doing?!” That’s my young nigga. And he gonna be big in this music shit. I ain’t gonna say I taught him how tot rap but I taught him how to this shit go. He just gotta get that work ethic all the way down pat. But when he go in there, and he feeling himself and that vibe, he gonna make a hit every time. That’s what it’s about. I guarantee the rap game feel him! The rap game gonna feel 24LeftEye! And I got a female artist, Woo Da Savage. She gonna be big! I just want to put em on. I don’t want to have no rights or royalties. I just want to put them on!

Just a sidebar, in that interview you also told o’boy interview 24LeftEye to send you books. Are you reading anything right now? And if you are, what are you reading?

Ola Runt: Right now I’m reading The Art and Science of Respect by J. Prince. That’s a real good book. I’m reading that right now. And I’m reading this book that the label sent me about getting out of your own way. It’s a self-help book. It’s teaching me a lot of shit. It’s telling me a lot of the things I’m doing wrong. It’s anger problems and things like that. I read it to stay above water. I read magazines and documentaries on mob bosses and people like Frank Matthews. And Don Diva magazines.

Earlier we talked about the naysayers, the folks who don’t want to see you win, the folks you have to convince that you not going to hit these speed bumps. How do you fight those doubts—again—and prove those naysayers wrong?

Ola Runt: I just got to show them. I have to give them proof. I have to put the proof down. I keep running into these speed bumps. I’m doing something wrong. So right now, I’m trying to figure it all out. And I ain’t perfect either. It’s just so much negative energy on my name. Sometimes I let it get to me and I let it bring me down and box me in. And then I end up in a box again. I let all the negative energy and the negative people bring me down. They can’t kill me so they want to see me locked up. Maybe it’s what I speak about. Maybe it’s what I rap about. I don’t know what it is. Niggas don’t want to see me take off. Maybe they feel like they won’t be able to come outside no more.

What I’ve learned on this journey I’m on is it takes a balance. Yeah you talk about what you talk about in your music but there’s always a balance. My OG’s were old. They were the type to do what they did outside but when they went home it was a completely different story. It was books, it was art, it was going to church on Sunday. And I’m definitely not trying to tell you how to live. It’s just sometimes when you keep bumping your head on a wall, maybe we need to try something different. Whatever that looks like, it’s going to be different for me than it is you. You’re obviously a smart dude. When you find it, keep on the balance. It’s difficult to be up against people who don’t want you to win when you’re already fighting another battle. But it does take that balance.

Ola Runt: I feel what you’re saying. I have to change up my patterns. I have to change up my movement. Switch up certain things about it. You’re right. When I get home, I have to leave all I’m doing in the street—in the street. Just go home and give my family, my girl, and my kids that family time. Be a whole different person. That’s what it is. I get it mixed up. I be living so crazy.

That’s one thing that’s interesting about this generation. A lot of us had younger OG’s than the ones they had. They taught some of us you have to be hard all the time. And I’m not saying you don’t. What I am saying is, you ain’t gotta be hard in front of ya girl. Your girl knows, “Ola’s gonna protect me no matter what.” Your family knows you’re going to protect them. We got tricked into thinking we have to be on go all the time. It’s for sure Stay Dangerous. But you can show the softer side. Turning it down can give you that balance like I said before.

Ola Runt: That’s some real shit though. That’s real. I do gotta listen to that because you right. My people need me. I really can’t do for them how I know I can when I’m out. I plan on killing folks with kindness when I come home!

After finishing the documentary I felt it was a good introduction for folks who are just learning about you to enter your world. What did want people to learn watching that?

Ola Runt: I wanted people to know where I’m from. I want them to know the household I had from my momma’s side and my daddy’s side. To see I’m a leader. My whole hood is behind me. I get that real hood support. I get that real hood love. That’s before the money ever came. Before I ever had money I was selling out shows. I was taking 300 people to my shows. The whole room is full of my fans. When I leave the whole show leaves. The people who perform after me don’t got no show because they all left with me. I was doing that before I ever got signed. I want people to know the support I got from my family. I want them to know how hungry I am for this shit. I shoot videos with no haircut. I’m doing this shit with nothing. The rough way. I started from ground zero. It is what it is.

Your attachment where you’re from is evident and strong. And it’s dope to see the kind of support you get from where you’re from. If we were to think about the 24LeftEye’s, your Mom, your Pop, you people, Edgewood, Zone 6, Atlanta, what would you want people to say about you? If your hood could speak for you, what is one thing you would want them to say about you as a man? No rap shit. No music. None of that. What is one thing you’d want them to step in front of the world and say about you as a man?

Ola Runt: My word is bond. When I say I’ma do something—I’ma do it. I ain’t no crab. This is for us. It’s for the hood or it ain’t for nothing. That’s what people know about me. I’m for the people and I want to see everybody win. I want everybody to see everything that I see. If I’m traveling to London, or I’m finna go to New York or Cali, or oversees, I’m that nigga who wanna take the whole hood. And gonna try. They know I ain’t no hypocrite. They know I’ma take it there. Ola ain’t nothing to play with. I’m the Mr. Take It There. I’m a brave heart. I’m bravehearted. When everybody’s back is against the wall, I’m going to be the one to step up.

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