Photo: Prince Williams/Wireimage
Practice Makes Perfect On King Von’s New Album 'Welcome To O Block'
Drill rapper King Von’s new album welcomes the listener to O Block, the South Side housing project he grew up in that the Chicago Sun-Times called “the most dangerous block in Chicago” in 2014. Like Von’s various music videos filmed on the block, the title is a succinct introduction to his perspective, but according to Von it was less an artistic choice than a practical one. “I ain’t really over-think it,” Von says on the phone from his new home in Atlanta. “You just come up with a name, and it fit perfectly.”
To Von, rapping is more sport than art, a skill that can only improve through practice. The 26-year-old born Dayvon Bennett first broke out with “Crazy Story,” a gleeful tale of a robbery released through friend Lil Durk’s label Only The Family. Von’s trademark storytelling style was inspired by his childhood in Englewood and novels he read while incarcerated, and he refined it further on mixtapes Grandson, Vol. 1 and Levon James.
Welcome To O Block feels like Von’s major league debut. Though the album was produced almost entirely by Chopsquad DJ, its sound expands beyond drill to include G-funk and sleek pop-rap. Von’s pen is sharper than ever, whether he’s flexing alongside Fivio Foreign on “I Am What I Am” or discussing relationships with Dreezy on “Mad At You.” As drill continues to proliferate and mutate in other cities, Von’s album is a potent reminder of Chicago’s influence on hip-hop.
I talked to Von over the phone from Atlanta about his work ethic, his writing process and the only rapper he’s waiting on a feature from.
Do you like performing? Were you waiting to get back out there and do shows?
I f**k with it now, at first I didn’t. Especially with a decent crowd, and people really f**k with you, they perform your s**t for you, so you just have to vibe and kick it with the people. They sing the whole s**t, so you just gotta t up with ‘em. That s**t fun as hell.
Do you meet fans who know your songs word for word?
There’s crazy fans. “I know your songs better than you, n**ga!” You don’t know man, slow the f**k down. [laughs] People be coming like that.
How did you get more comfortable doing shows?
It’s like with everything else, after you doing it a few times, you get better at it. So I got comfortable and I saw myself getting better. It’s practice.
Do you have a favorite track to play live?
Lately it’s been “All These N**gas,” that s**t with me and Durk go crazy. But I can’t even say just that, depends on where you at. Some nights it’s “Took Her To The O,” some night it’s “2 AM,” somewhere else they just love “Crazy Story.” I got options now, a variety of songs with good energy. It used to be hard when “Crazy Story” was the only one people f**k with, so I do four, five songs, they won’t even f**k with ‘em, they be vibing just waiting on “Crazy Story.” I be mad as hell! [laughs] I got a catalog now, it’s decent, getting better and better.
What makes Welcome To O Block different than Levon James?
Like I told you, it’s practice. If you’re doing something and keep doing it, you’re gonna get better results. Everything better. It is the one for real, I’ve been working hard. The songs that are already released been doing great. “All These N**gas” got 24 million [YouTube views] in two months, that s**t crazy.
How did you link up with Fivio Foreign for “I Am What I Am”?
I just DM’d him. I got the beat, I did the song, I said “I need Fivio on this, this the type of s**t he be on.” He hit me back “Yeah, for sure, I f**k with you.”
The track with Polo is great too.
I f**k with Polo, you know he from the city. He’s from a different area than I am in the city, so I met Polo when my career got to be taking off.
Talking about relationships on the Dreezy track is a new style for you. How did that come together?
I be trying to do s**t for the females. They be steady on me about that. I know about the females [rappers], but I don’t know their music. They get to be talking about us on they songs, so I don’t really be in tune with female s**t like that. So I asked around, they like “Dreezy, she good,” so I said “Let’s see how she do.” She came back and that s**t hard as hell.
I see you retweet a lot of women posting about you, and I saw that you were a model for Givenchy this past weekend. How does it feel to be known for your looks and your music?
That s**t be feeling decent. I been big on ladies, but now I got options and choices, s**t’s crazy. That s**t was Givenchy was big as hell, that shit decent, came out alright. I be talking to females but nothing serious, just entertaining everybody.
What are you doing now that this album’s done? Are you back in the studio?
It ain’t really like that. The way my work ethic is, we just working making songs and videos, then we put up lists to see how many [we got], then we just keep going. We already on the next one even before the first one’s finished. Ain’t no point in stopping or slowing down. Ain’t like no “A’ight, I’m done with this, now take a break,” you just keep going.
Have you been able to travel outside the country at all before everything got locked down?
Naw, I ain’t never been out the country. I been a felon for a minute, so there’s all types of restrictions on my movement, where I can go. I ain’t even looking for everything out here [in this country]. Wherever the money at, I’ll be. [laughs] Objects, buildings, or monuments don’t really attract me like that. I want to make sure I’m doing the right thing, taking care of the people with me, there isn’t too much that excite me no more like that.
So what do you like spending your money on?
I love cars and I love clothes, but I don’t really be going too crazy. I buy clothes a lot just because I gotta shoot videos and look nice for the shows, but it ain’t no “Ooh, I’m waking up shopping today,” I don’t give a f**k about it at all. I got a cousin that go through everything when it comes to clothes. And I love cars, I just started f**king with cars heavy, but I got other s**t to take care of before I get to just going crazy. I’m trying to make sure everybody else got at least one car before I start buying thirty of them bitches. I got my eyes on a Rolls truck and the Wraith, so those will probably be the next two cars I get.
Do you ever give any input to producers, like “I want a beat that sounds like this”?
I really only got that type of relationship with Chopsquad DJ. We looking straight for my sound. Say I write some s**t, come up with the flow and everything, and I rap it to him, and he come back with a whole beat for it. I’m just creating from scratch, and he’s amazing on that type of shit.
It’s impressive you can write a song without a beat, since so many people do the opposite and write to a certain beat.
That’s just a strategy I developed when I was in jail, because you know there ain’t no beats in jail. So I just had to go off top, start with the words, come up with a flow, then figure the beat out later. It’s time-consuming for sure. Lately it ain’t been no time, so I just hear a beat and figure it out from there.
So you’ve been freestyling more?
We call it punching in, but yeah, because I ain’t really having enough time to sit and write. It’s different but it just depends on how much effort you put into it. Writing, you got more time to sit over one word, one sentence, really perfect it. The stories can get more detailed, have more depth. If you got time, you see what I’m saying? Nobody got time nowadays. Punching in, you only got XYZ amount of hours in the studio, so you don’t wanna be in this bitch all day with one song. You gotta be a fast thinker, a fast puncher.
Is there anyone you still wanna work with?
There ain’t nobody I’m dying to get a feature with or none of that s**t. I’ll work with whoever decent, but I ain’t pressured, I ain’t dreaming about it. Lil Wayne, that’s the only motherf**ker that’s over GOATed in my eyes, since a motherf**ker grew up so hard to this s**t. But other than that, we’ll get around to it if we get around to it, if we don’t, I never care.
You’ve talked about how you’re rapping in order to make money and provide for a lot of people. Does putting out the album feel like a step up, in terms of getting paid?
Once your catalog get bigger and you come with more hits, the prices go up. You just gotta work. Once you down for the work, shit keep going up. Checks get bigger, features get bigger, the shows, everything gets bigger.