The desire to declare oneself at the top is natural, especially in a hypercompetitive industry like rap music that is fixated on accolades, money, and success. These days, in the era of streaming and social media, the three can come as easily as a rainbow after a storm. Perhaps that’s why 21-year-old budding rap star Polo G, born Taurus Tremani Bartlett, released his sophomore effort naming it the titles of all titles in hip-hop, The Goat.
“I knew people would take it a different way or see it as I’m calling myself the greatest of all the time. I was willing to take that pressure with it because I knew I got good enough music to keep myself in that type of conversation,” he says during a phone interview with BET.com while quarantining in Los Angeles.
In actuality, he chose the album’s title as a homage to his Zodiac sign, the pragmatic Capricorn. Polo G isn’t necessarily immersed into astrology, but one doesn’t have to look too deeply to see that the path that the rapper is carving out for himself is one that seems aligned with the stars.
Although he’s been putting rhymes down since the age of 8, Polo G didn’t seriously consider a rap career until senior year in high school. After a string of singles, he finally gained traction and signed with Columbia Records in 2019, under which he released his debut studio album, Die A Legend. Polo G’s star has only risen higher following the release of his sophomore effort.
Here, he explains why he believes this new album is some of his best work, details about his friendship with late rapper Juice WRLD, and his perspective of being a young, Black man in America.
BET.com: What's the message you wanted your fans to take from The Goat?
Polo G: I had so many different songs that spoke to so many different people. I got a song for the person who protested or somebody who has been through some type of trauma in their household, whatever the case may be. I got a song like “Martin & Gina” for a girl who is going through relationship problems. I got a song like “Beautiful Pain (Losing My Mind)” for a guy who's losing it.
BET.com: Do you have a personal favorite from the album?
Polo G: A song that resonated with me a lot was “No Matter What.” When I made that song I was going through a lot. So everything that I was saying [on the record], it was personal. Losing childhood friends and things of that sort.
BET.com: Juice WRLD was featured on The Goat. What was it like having him on your album?
Polo G: It was dope. I really was fighting for it and wanted him to be on my album just because of our relationship. That was really my friend. So what better way to show a reflection of our friendship than having him on my album and hearing our voices go back to back? It’s like a conversation almost. It brings back a lot of memories.
BET.com: You also had Stunna 4 Vegas, Lil Baby, BJ the Chicago Kid, and NLE Choppa on this album. I feel like with this new generation of rap, there's more of an open sense of a brotherhood. Do you feel the same way?
Polo G: I definitely feel the same way. I definitely feel like all the artists really tap in with each other. Everybody really rocks with each other for the most part. You got some artists who probably don't reach out as much because they're just standoffish people or introverted people.
But for the most part, a lot of the industry, they all rock with each other and they all let each other know. Because we all come from nothing but we [are] all living in way better [with] predicaments than we [are] used to. So it ain't no hate. It's all love. Everybody is doing their own thing. Let everybody do they’re thing rather than hating on them.
BET.com: Can you give an example of a moment that touched you?
Polo G: It was Juice WRLD. This is around the time I don’t even think “Pop Back” was out. On Twitter, I saw he had liked some posts of one of my older rap songs. It was small stuff like that acknowledging who I was as an artist. He wanted to link up with me. He reached out to me for us to just kick it the first time I ever met him. I take something like that and be like, ‘Damn. The biggest male artist in the world, to me, just reached out to me.’ He didn’t want anything.
BET.com: I’m sure you’ve seen or maybe even been a part of the protests going on across the nation. What are your thoughts on our country's issues with social justice and police misconduct?
Polo G: I feel like change is here. It's a lot of awareness being raised [about] police brutality. People have been fed up. But this time, there’s unity and change is going to come about because people are sticking together and forcing action. I feel like it's only a matter of time where we see laws being passed against police brutality and making it harder for you to just join the police force. I feel like people need some type of mental health test before they can enter the police force.
We really do see hate towards young, Black men and things like that. A lot of that stuff is unnecessary. You don’t got to shoot a man in his back when he is running away from you. It feels like it's more so a hate crime than people following procedure.
BET.com: Have you seen any change reflected in the music industry as well?
Polo G: With hip hop being the top genre of music right now, we are getting a little bit more respect. But that's still not stopping the record label from signing you to a slave deal and messing you over in your record deal. They can appreciate your music all they want, but that doesn't mean they really appreciate you as a person.
BET.com: Which song from your album do you feel best speaks to what's going on right now?
Polo G: Definitely “Wishing For A Hero.” I got a line in the song that says, “Relentless” where I say, “White folks starin' like I don't belong /What about the nights I had to suffer? / Like they tryna make me feel insecure about my color.”
Just coming up for where I come from and just being able to be in a situation like this, where I got it now, or I'm moving into a place like Calabasas, and just moving around a lot of places that I probably wouldn't be if I wasn't a rapper. You are around a lot of people that don't look like you. So you come into those rooms and it's like all eyes on you. It's almost as if they don't want you around or they are trying to make me feel uncomfortable. I hate, as a Black man, that I got to feel like that, but I know it's there. I know my mind is not playing tricks on me.
BET.com: What's next for you? Anything in the works?
Polo G: I'm working on my new project. I've been working on it really since before my album dropped. I'm trying to make sure that this project is like really star-studded [and] feature heavy. I got the name from my project and everything. I can't really share too much. I'm only a few songs in. I'm gonna take my time to make sure that it’s something the fans will really appreciate.
This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
(Photo: Phil Knott)