English Avenue and Vine City are two very closely knit neighborhoods in Atlanta, Georgia—bounded by railroad lines and the city’s expansive Metro line. Deeper than the connections to Atlanta’s rich history and the downtown area, “The Bluff” has been a section of the area that has been a headache for law enforcement for years. Infamously called an “open-air heroin supermarket,” “The Bluff” is a neighborhood that is in a world of its own—and most of its citizens unfortunately don’t see a way out. Terrell Davis, also known as Ralo, has seen the good, and the bad. The 21-year-old is just barely able to drink, but has lived a more turbulent life than most people twice his age. He’s unflinchingly unamused by the run-of-the-mill rap tropes—selling drugs, getting money, etc. He’s lived them all, paid the price for them, and managed to smarten up before he was put into a position where it would compromise his burgeoning rap career. He realizes now, after the release of his well-received Diary Of The Streets II mixtape, that he’s seeing the music industry in a different light—even as he attempts to leave the street life behind him. He’s fought, made up, and been in-between the beefs of Atlanta’s brightest stars (such as Young Thug and Future), and lived to tell his tale—and through his raps any listener can see that he’s far wiser than his age would let on. We talked to Ralo about growing up in “The Bluff,” being friends with Young Scooter and Future, and how he overcame his Internet haters.
JUSTIN DAVIS: I want to go a little bit more in depth about “The Bluff.” Can you just talk about growing up in there and how that was for you when you were younger?
RALO: Growing up in the Bluff, as of now that I can look back and see that it was a rough time. But during the time I was growing up that’s all I knew. You feel like that’s what’s going on around the whole world. I ain’t think it was no different. I ain’t think other people can have their own room. I thought that everybody in every household had one bedroom. I ain’t know nobody who was able to get new sneakers and shit like that—I thought it was just a normal thing. I thought everybody’s mom and dad were drug dealers. That made me the person I am today. When I grew up [and started going to school], I started seeing other people’s lives—like I started seeing people come to school with shoes on and I thought, “How the hell they get shoes?” You know what I’m saying?
Were you really into school?
Yeah, I was very interested in school. I [didn’t want to be a] drug dealer. I aint want to be none of this shit I became—I wanted to be an electrician. I wanted to go to school because nobody in my family graduated from school so it was like the history of my whole bloodline. So I was very interested in school, despite me selling drugs and catching numerous cases like shooting people and going to [juvenile corrections] and going to jail and going to prison. I was missing so many days out of school going through those things that they had to essentially kick me out of school.
How did that make your parents feel? Were they upset with you?
Actually, I took care of my mom... she wanted me to graduate. I’m her favorite child and what not; I always had favoritism towards me throughout my whole life from everybody. She was 100% behind me. She’s my soldier. But she was hurt from it. Every parent should be hurt. But she’s going to support me whether I’m right or wrong, though.
When you were younger, cause you said you thought what you went through in The Bluff was normal—what did it take for you to see that this isn’t normal, and you should be getting out of there?
The thing that ran me away from the Bluff is the Federal Agents. They ran me out the Bluff. Like I would still be in the Bluff right now if it weren’t for the Feds. My family is still in the Bluff, and I visit there on a daily basis. But [the law enforcement in Atlanta is really] trying to clean up communities. And you know that’s the worst community in Atlanta. So they kind of got their eye on the Bluff and I was the number one drug dealer in The Bluff. It took a lot [to leave] because I was making a lot of money. I was making $10,000 to $20,000 profit a day. I wasn’t [used to] that type of money and I had family that was depending on me. And just to leave them without an occupation and having to leave the drug game alone in the Bluff... that shit was hard to do, you know what I’m saying?
Because you got comfortable?
It wasn’t the comfort... you know, I’m always going to be comfortable because that’s where I’m from. But I would just rather be free and broke than rich and in jail.
How did you get linked up with Freebandz and Future and everybody in that camp?
I was a childhood friend of [Atlanta rapper and Freebandz associate] Young Scooter. We grew up together. After [my family lost their house] in the Bluff I was homeless. I was kind of going around the Bluff, sleeping in abandoned houses, and I used to sleep at Young Scooter’s house. So when I got out of prison, [I saw that] he had kind of blew up in this music thing. So when I got out, I got with him and I told him I wanted to rap. They told me I needed a single for radio, so I called Scooter and I said, “Shit, I need a single, tell Future to get on my single” and then [he sent it over].
He sent over a verse that quick?
I didn’t even know you needed a single. I didn’t even know what the fuck a single was. We just listen to music in the hood. Instagram really notified us what a single is. A single is a record that you got to focus on and break. I just thought it was music. I didn’t know that people were actually taking that shit that serious. I didn’t know that the music business was that serious. And that’s how I feel on my first project. Like, it’s an art.
Do you see music now as a learning experience?
Exactly. Like I never took it serious because the niggas that’s in the rap game aren’t people that you take serious. These dudes aren’t about the life, they rapping about stuff. I never took the rap game serious until I got in that and saw that you really got to give your all to this shit. You really got to have talent. You really got to paint a good picture. And that’s what I did with Diary of the Streets 2. I really took my time.
Would you say that your proximity to Birdman was a reason?
Nah, nobody can give you that. Nobody in the rap business would ever want to see nobody make it because you’re competition to people. So I had to really learn that myself. Really, the criticism I’d see on Worldstar, and on videos that I put out and stuff like that [was the reason]. I was just wondering why the hell they [didn’t like my music]. I found out why, and I had to fix it. I gave it the best that I could.
What did they say that they didn’t like?
They didn’t like my vocal pitch—it’s a lot of things that they didn’t like. It’s like the rhythm and music that I was doing; but I was just rapping. I was just talking shit. I was talking my life in my lyrics, in my music, which was good to me and good enough for a lot of people that knew who I was. But for someone who doesn’t know who this person is, it’d be hard to get [used to] them.
You talked about how you didn’t really respect a lot of rappers in the game right now. Do you feel like it’s because there’s a lack of loyalty or it’s all just cutthroat?
I think it’s really the two, the cutthroat and the disloyalty thing. It’s a lot of things that I didn’t notice about this rap thing and there’s one other thing I just started to notice; my biggest problem with the music industry was really that niggas [are] rapping about things that they wasn’t doing. How are you going to rap about killing a person when you don’t even know how it feels to kill a person? How are you going to rap about selling drugs when you never sold drugs; you never had a person to overdose off your drugs and you’re responsible person for their family and looking crazy. When your mama ain’t never smoke no dope and left you on the sofa and you’ve been homeless. People don’t know the rappers and artists that I’ve been listening to don’t even know how that feels. That’s a hurtful feeling when you spend time in prison with a whole life sentence over your head and a nigga rapping about this shit that you’ve been doing for real. It’s almost disrespectful.
Because you’ve been incarcerated before, you’ve seen these people first hand. So you get out of jail and you’re like, “Alright, this shit is fake.”
Exactly. I was saying it was fake when I was in jail, when I listen to people like Rick Ross and shit talking about “100 bricks” when he don’t even know how it feel to have 100 bricks or even how to accomplish that amount of weight.
You do have a couple people in the industry or in your city that you do kind of rock with. You did have an issue with Young Thug, and then you guys made up, and you have Future and Scooter who you are cool with.
I mean, I stopped taking shit so seriously. I had to express that shit through rap. I fuck with them in a different way, but I would say they’re a [real] in a different way, but not about the shit that they’re rapping about. I ain’t seen them with 100 bricks. They didn’t kill anybody. There are different levels to that.
Was it tough on you being in the middle of Young Thug and Future’s animosity a few months ago?
It was almost to the point where I had to take sides. But what I know is that both were going to do their thing; they weren’t really going to go too far with their beef. That’s some industry shit. I didn’t really need to take it serious, I knew it’d blow over. Now, when I see them together, it’s kind of funny.
Are you planning on working with people like Gucci in the near feature?
I mean, I would love to work with him. He a solid dude, he genuine. At the same time [I have a relationship with Young Scooter] and I don’t know their relationship right now. Scooter and Gucci Mane were very close. I’m very loyal to whatever person I deal with. I don’t know what there relationship standing is and I never question it. Apparently they try to avoid it. I never speak up about it.
Follow Ralo on Twitter @ralofamgoon