Hailing from the streets of Chicago, Calboy, real name Calvin Lashon Woods, was recently forced to overcome all the obstacles and challenges that come with being from the trenches, using music as his outlet, not only to cope but as a means of income to take care of himself and his loved ones. 

Exploding onto the scene with his viral single “Envy Me,” Calboy quickly established his name. Wearing his heart on his sleeve, it’s his honesty, vulnerability, and relatability that resonates with fans the most. With his critically-acclaimed debut EP Wild Boy, it was no surprise when he was given a spot on XXL's 2020 Freshman Class, as well as HNHH's On the Come Up.

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Image provided by the artist

Most recently, Calboy has been vocal about his struggles in the music industry and not being able to release music. Thankfully, he seems to have shimmied out of his situation, as he recently dropped a surprise project Black Heart, boasting all-star features from Fredo Bang, Jackboy, and Joey Bada$$. The title track alone speaks volumes to his current state of mind, learning how to navigate the bullshit while staying true to his own morals and beliefs. 

HotNewHipHop caught up with Calboy virtually to discuss why he couldn’t release music, surprise-dropping Black Heart, how he got connected with Fredo Bang, Jackboy and Joey Bada$$, being King Von’s cousin, getting Tupac tatted on his back, releasing his art line, and more.

Read the interview below, edited for clarity and length.


HNHH: Black Heart out now! How are you feeling?

Calboy: It’s cool, I feel great. I worked on Black Heart for 6 months, so it feels great to finally be able to drop that. See what my fans think, I haven’t dropped in so long. I haven’t dropped since 2020.

Why?

Just you know, the business side of things. Figuring things out, trying to better the situation I’m in.

I know you’re signed with RCA, a lot of people I heard aren’t able to drop. 

At first, I wasn’t handling it well, it was putting me in a very dark space because I’m an artist, the music is the outlet. The older I get, the more I understand. The more I learn, the more knowledge I get from the business, the more I understand where they’re coming from. Sometimes you gotta compromise, you gotta meet halfway.  

That’s really mature of you. I saw you tweet “the industry shit hard for me cause I'm a real loving person in real life.” How do you deal with it?

Yeah, that’s why a lot of fans say “yo, you be on Twitter venting a lot.” [laughs] But it be true though! I’m a real cool dude. I’m from the streets, I’m a street person so I do have oppositions and enemies. As far as everybody else, that’s a lil small — that’s the neighborhood I come from. Other than that, I’m cool with everybody. I show genuine love to everybody. So when things transpire, it lowkey makes you feel some type of way. Not get in yo feelings or be hurt because it ain’t that deep, but to expect a certain type of respect and love back that you done showed, it doesn't work like that. 

That’s what I was talking about as far as the industry. If anybody pays attention to me, they know I'm posting a new artist’s mixtape every week. I'm sharing somebody’s project that just dropped. I show love to all of my peers. If I really genuinely support it, I’ma really genuinely show love to it. It be a lot of fake love shown to me. You can pay attention to it. I dropped Wild Boy, you see how many of my peers supported that body of work — versus this time around, it’s totally different. My fans are consuming it how they consume it and I appreciate my fanbase, but as far as my peers, they’re nowhere to be found during this time. 

"If anybody pays attention to me, they know I'm posting a new artist’s mixtape every week. I'm sharing somebody’s project that just dropped. I show love to all of my peers. If I really genuinely support it, I’ma really genuinely show love to it. It be a lot of fake love shown to me. You can pay attention to it. I dropped Wild Boy, you see how many of my peers supported that body of work — versus this time around, it’s totally different."

I show X amount of love to all of their projects and all they got going on, so that’s what that tweet was about. You can't show love and expect it back. I’m not expecting it back, that’s why I'm talking to you about it. I don't feel a type of way about it. Putting upcoming artists and other people in different businesses, the ones that’s not in the music industry, it's the same thing in whatever industry you’re in. At the end of the day, it's competition. You gotta understand that. With my tweets, I don’t really be complaining. I be lowkey trying to school and teach people, let people know how it really is. 

Shoutout to my girl Melii, she was going through it too. 

Fasho, I rock with Melii. I’ve been trying to do a song with her, she never hit me back. She be ignoring me, I been trying to make a song with her two years ago. I rock with shorty’s music. We used to be on the same camp as far as Dreamchasers management, but we both fell apart from that. [laughs] I still be paying attention, I still support.

She said she changed her number.

I only have two numbers on her and they’re both out of service, so she telling the truth.

Is it hard for you to not speak in situations when people try to play you?

I’ve been through worse. My life is a movie. Once I tell the story about my real life from a kid all the way to this point, I’ll probably do a movie or write a book about it. It’s gonna shock the world because I’ve been through a lot. The showing love part, that’s the smallest of my problems. 

Why weren’t you allowed to release? Did they want you to make a certain kind of music?

I don’t believe it’s the type of music, it was the business. How the business rolled. I can’t blame my label, I’m not gonna sit here and bash the label. It was my team coming in inexperienced too. We shortys from the hood, 'hey we made a hit.' It’s time to go! We’re in it, but we didn't really completely understand everything. With that being said, we started to feud a little bit and exchange words. They’ll shit on you. If they feel a type of way that you said certain things to them or rubbed them the wrong way, they’ll play with you. It’s always about being the bigger person once you in the industry. You gotta let certain things be what it is and be mature about it. 

"I can’t blame my label, I’m not gonna sit here and bash the label. It was my team coming in inexperienced too. We shortys from the hood, 'hey we made a hit.' It’s time to go! We’re in it, but we didn't really completely understand everything. With that being said, we started to feud a little bit and exchange words."

That’s my business was, a bunch of miscommunication. Things turned sour a lil bit, but we alright

Did you sign before or after “Envy Me”?

After. I released “Envy Me” and that’s what got all the labels on my radar.

calboy

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Signing with a major, I know you were a lot younger then. In hindsight, would you do things differently?

It depends on the individual. It depends on what the individual wants out of his or her music. I know some artists want the big cash out, they don’t care what happens afterwards. “Give me that 3 or 4 million, I just hit a lick.” That’s how some people look at it. Some people are more passionate about their music, they just want to feed the world their music. It really depends on the individual, it's always about what’s best for the individual. 

With me at the time I signed, I felt it was the right move to make. How my deal is set up, they don’t own my entire life. I ain’t wrapped up, they ain’t got me in a chokehold. I’m okay, as far as the business on paperwork. I do have that 50/50 creative control. That’s the thing though, they gotta meet you halfway. You can give your 50, but they gotta give their 50. If they don't agree on their 50, it don’t go. That’s the only thing I'd change in my situation. 

You also surprise dropped the project, was there any strategy behind that?

I was eager to drop. I was ready to drop. Man, I had it, hit the button on that. They pushed the button on that cause I wanted to drop. 

What were you going through recording “Rumors”?

I’ma be completely transparent with you, I don’t care how nobody feels. I got into some business right? With some partners and we did the deal together. We kept on rolling things out and things kept going, I wasn’t aware that I had a grace period, from when I signed to the point where they’ll start collecting on my hit records. I signed in August, but the label did not collect on my record for 4 or 5 months. The indie distro I had done my situation with were still sending checks that way, before it all switched over to the label. My business partners weren't letting me know that.

My head in the clouds, I’m 18 at the time. I’m happy I signed. I’m trusting, so I didn’t know that had transpired like that. That went on and I had fallen out with some of my business partners over that. Y’all collected almost $300K of independent money. One of my best friends went behind my back and signed paperwork with my old business partners. That’s what the song “Rumors” is about. If you know, you know. The individuals I’m talking about in that song know exactly who I’m talking about and they know what I mean when I say certain things. 

When you’re around certain people: they see what you’re doing, they see how you’re living, they see what you’re obtaining. I’m bringing 20 people to a show with me to pick up a $40K or $50K for a show. They see this and they want to be in the same shoes, so sometimes they make desperate moves. My whole camp knew I had fallen out with these guys, but one of my best friends was so eager to be on and so eager to be put in a position I was put in, he never mind that and went on to do business the same way I did business with them. Even though I felt some type of way about ‘em, I felt like it was no loyalty there. They started to spread rumors. When you don’t want to look like a snake, you gotta make up another side of the story. They started to create rumors. 

When you confront them about it, what do they say about it?

You know, it’s the deny, deny, deny. “It didn't go like that,” but the proof is in the pudding. I won that settlement agreement, I won in court because my side was true. I’ma always win because I’m pure, I’m 100. I’ma always say what it is, I’m not gonna lie about nothing. I won that. But it was rumors: “oh man, he ran off on us. We put him on.” It’s the rumors, but people will believe what they want to believe. I did confront them about it, we went to court about it. We had litigation about it, and I came out on top. 

How does it feel to have “Rumors” as the title track?

Well, let’s get deep into the Black Heart. Black Heart is a time in my life. Each one of those titles, the vibes of the songs is basically what turned my heart black. The biggest thing was those rumors, so I had to make that the intro. I don’t do the songwriters, I don't take reference tracks from people, but with that one, I took some lines from 6lement, the guys who executively produced the whole project. Shout out to them, they helped with that song as far as the hook. I don’t do the songwriters. If a person can’t go with their own pen, they’re not a real artist. 

What’s your favorite song on the project?

My favorite song is “Black Heart.” My second favorite song would be “U Turn,” because “U Turn” was another thing that made me sour. The whole project is about things that turnt my heart from red to black. I don’t got no feelings for a lot of things no more, I also don’t show sympathy for a lot of things just because of what transpired in my life or during my career early on. “U Turn” was another one of those songs where a person where do something to you, then try to double back. Holla at you and try to be friends again. No, we can’t do that because I was always pure to you. You had no reason to be sour to me in the first place. That was the whole thing about “U Turn.” 

I had no idea you and King Von are cousins?

Yeah. Not first cousins, second cousins. That’s my cousin’s family. We got one record out. We got the “Brand New” record out, but we still got one unreleased song. I sent him “NASCAR” and he did a verse to it. Someone just told me he did record the verse to it. I thought he never got around to it. We do have one more song. 

"Not first cousins [with King Von], second cousins. That’s my cousin’s family. We got one record out. We got the “Brand New” record out, but we still got one unreleased song. I sent him “NASCAR” and he did a verse to it. Someone just told me he did record the verse to it. I thought he never got around to it. We do have one more song."

We gotta talk about the features, “Glow Up” featuring Fredo Bang is fire.

See man, I got so much love from Fredo Bang. I got real love from Fredo Bang off the simple fact that he didn’t charge for anything, he didn’t second guess anything. I reached out to him like “yo, I got a record for you.” He’s like “man, I been wanting to do a record with you.” He actually sent me a song. You remember my song “Wild Wild” from Long Live The Kings? He did a song to that beat but he couldn’t put it out because I put “Wild Wild” out. He got to the producers late.

He played me that song, I’m like "give it to me! I’ma remix ‘Wild Wild’ with it, we gon’ smash both of the songs together.” When I seen him, He Airdropped the song right to me. It’s his favorite song. I reached out, I'm like “yo let’s do this.” He’s like “fasho, I’m with it.” Two days later, he sent me back the verse. I said “yo let's do the video,” he said “let's do it.” We did the video, I put it right out. It was just that. It was nothing more to it. It was just “man I got u. I’ma do this.” He just texted me like “yo you dropped?” He ain’t even know I dropped.

Fredo a real one. 

Fasho, you know we talked about all types of stuff when we were shooting the video. 

What about Jackboy? Jackboy’s the homie too!

Mmhmm, you know I went on tour with Jackboy. It was me, Kodak Black and Jackboy. Well, Jackboy had just gotten out of jail and hopped on the tour. 

Is that when you guys made the record?

Oh no. We just locked in, that was the first introduction. We kicked it a lil bit. He was always cool. Jackboy a real quiet dude. He don’t rock with nobody, he don’t fuck with people. But his energy’s real genuine, it’s a real cool vibe. We did what we did. I sent him a record the same time I sent Fredo a record. I cooked up all the records and I knew who I wanted on certain songs, so I shot them right out. Shot out the Fredo song, Jackboy song, and Joey song, and they sent them right back. Not even a week's time, it was probably a couple days. 

Love that you closed it out with the Joey Bada$$ song. I have my favorite song of his tattooed on my shoulder, “Love Is Only A Feeling.” 

That’s fire. I’ve been a fan of Joey since eighth grade, freshman year of high school. I chopped it up with him after he did the record. We ain't never talked on the phone or nothing, I DMed him like “I got a record I want you on.” He said, “send it right over.” I sent it to him, then he FaceTimed me when he finished it. We chopped it up, we’re listening to the verse. Joey’s a real cool dude too.

"I’ve been a fan of Joey [Bada$$] since eighth grade, freshman year of high school. I chopped it up with him after he did the record."

You’re a true musician. How much fire music are you sitting on? 

A lot. I got songs with Uzi, I got songs with Coi Leray. Man, I got songs with half the industry for real. T-Pain, Sean Kingston, G Herbo, I got songs with everybody for real. Some of those songs are never coming out just because of how things transpire. Okay, I had one of the hottest songs in the industry. At the time, it's the most popular song in the country and everybody loves you. “Man I rock with you man,” woo woo. 

"I got songs with Uzi, I got songs with Coi Leray. Man, I got songs with half the industry for real. T-Pain, Sean Kingston, G Herbo, I got songs with everybody for real."

I get all these features, I do all these collabs. I do features for free, all these different types of stuff, then the buzz dies down a little bit. Those folks won’t answer the phone, those folks won’t text you back, it wasn’t real genuine. Some of those individuals on the project kept it genuine from the start. They always been the same people and that’s why I chose those people to be on the project. 

calboy

Aaron J. Thornton/Getty Images for BET

Some of your fans might not know that a lot of it is politics. You can have a fire feature but the label won’t clear it…

Yeah, it just be politics. That’s why I really made that tweet about the industry, going back to that. I don’t like to get into the politics. If I genuinely rock with your sound, you genuinely rock with mine: let’s collab. Let’s make some money together, ain’t nothing else to talk about. Everybody wanna know who you hang with, who you kick it with. I’m not into picking sides like that, I don’t do that. I don’t really care about none of that. 

What’s one thing you want people to take away from Black Heart?

Be free. Be yourself. It’s okay to express your feelings. It’s okay to speak your truth. A lot of the upcoming artists are trying to duplicate something or be like that person. They seen Durk do that, they wanna be like Durk. When they see Herbo do that, they wanna be like Herbo. They seen Nardo Wick or Youngboy, they want to duplicate or mimic that in their careers. 

But I inspire my fans and all the up and coming artists that see me: it’s okay to be yourself. It’s okay to create something never heard before. It might take some time for the people to accept it. It might take a few years for that transition to be accepted in this industry, but it’s gon’ work as long as you be yourself. It’s only one of you. Everybody’s like to say “oh, he’s unique. He’s different.” They like to point those things out, but just being you is different. There’s only you in the whole entire world. I inspire my fans to be yourself, be you. It’s only one you. 

I was gonna ask how you handled Von’s death, that was rough for everyone.

It was tough. My cousin Fargo, which is Von’s first cousin, he was staying at my crib when it transpired. They had asked me to come out with Von because we was all in Georgia. I don’t be in the clubs like that, but I had just went to Compound a week and a half before with Durk. They had booked Durk there a week and a half before they booked Von there. Man, I don’t really do the club. I’m not a club person. I probably hit the club once every two months. Just off the simple fact that I had just went out to the club, I didn’t want to go. 

I told Louie and Von: “when y’all leave Compound, pull up to the crib. Let’s record, let’s do something at the crib.” They like “man Cal, you ain’t got no hoes over there at that house. We ain’t coming over there.” I remember it like it was yesterday: “ain’t no females over there Cal.” Because I don't let strangers come to my house. They’re like “we’ll get up with you tomorrow Cal.” When I woke up the next day, my little cousin Fargo was waking me up. He had Von’s sister on the phone and she was crying. He’s like “he’s gone cuz, he gone.” But the media was just saying he was shot, but my cousin’s telling me “nah he already dead gang. He already gone.” It took me, ‘cause I had just talked to them boys. It was last night I’m talking with him. It took me, I definitely was hurt about it. Von was a real dude, showed love. We weren’t super close. We didn’t kick it every day, we didn’t hang out. We grew up on two different sides of the city, but he was a real dude. 

"He had [King] Von’s sister on the phone and she was crying. He’s like “he’s gone cuz, he gone.” But the media was just saying he was shot, but my cousin’s telling me “nah he already dead gang. He already gone.” It took me, ‘cause I had just talked to them boys. It was last night I’m talking with him. It took me, I definitely was hurt about it. Von was a real dude, showed love. We weren’t super close. We didn’t kick it every day, we didn’t hang out. We grew up on two different sides of the city, but he was a real dude."

“Brand New” is one of my favorite records of yours.

He came up with the concept for that video. Them little acting scenes from before, they got some BTS of him planning out like "yo Cal, you gon’ go outside and act like this. I’ma call you on FaceTime…" He was the director in the studio during that video. 

I want to touch on your artistry, you’ve been painting since I met you. 

There’s painting behind me! [shows room] That’s a little angel I painted, that painting’s taller than me. [laughs] I’ve been painting all my life. I’ve been drawing all my life. I drew most of my tattoos on my body. 

What’s the last tattoo you got?

Tupac, I got a face of Tupac on my back. I’m starting my Mount Rushmore, but it was so painful I stopped after the first one. [laughs] Man, a lot of my tattoos didn’t even hurt. That one on my back killed me. I’ma do Tupac, I’ma do Huey P. Newton, I’ma do Fred Hampton, and Malcolm X. 

What can we expect from the art line? 

I just set the website up. It’s beautiful, it’s ready to go. I got a few pieces: Air Force 1s customed by me, t-shirts customed by me. If you see right here, I’m working on that jean jacket right now. I did a lot of things like that, they all one-of-one pieces. Once a fan buys it, it’s gone. It don’t exist no more, ever. I’m doing a lot of that. It should be ready in the next few weeks, we should be dropping. 

Have you thought about turning your art into NFTs?

If you hop on the website, we got NFT situations going on. I did team up with another company and we’re launching a hologram NFT, me performing a song in a digital piece of artwork. We going as far as putting them in picture frames, small digital picture frames where you can literally hit play and watch me perform a song, in your bedroom or sitting next to your nightstand. It’s fire, different couple songs you could pick from. It’s literally me as the animated individual up there performing for you, it's crazy. 

Your fans asked if you have a song with A Boogie?

Nah, I don’t have a song with A Boogie. I’ve been trying to get a song with A Boogie, the man don’t reply to DMs. That’s how I reach out to people, I be DMing they ass. [laughs] I don’t really go through management, I don’t really do none of that. Even as far as the features on Wild Boy, I met Yo Gotti. I said “yo, let’s do a song.” He said “if you need anything from me or anything from my artists — Moneybagg, Blac Youngsta — any one of them, I gotchu.” And he stood on that. That’s the first person to do that type of stuff, I based everything on that. Okay if a person ain't rocking with me like that, I ain’t rocking. If we can't talk personally and get something going, I ain’t going through your manager to try and get a record by you. It’s not that serious to me. 

Have you seen the Kanye documentary yet?

Nah, I’ve seen clips of it, I’ve seen a few of the fans talk about it. They said there’s a scene where he pulled up on somebody, he’s tough for that. I’ma definitely sit back and watch it though. I’m jumping into film, I got this series that I just started talking about with my director homie. I don’t want to leak it, but it gives you a Snowfall vibe. It gives you a Power vibe. It gives you that type of vibe but what’s so unique about it: the individuals that me myself included, it’s about the product they trapping. It’s the product that’s gon’ shock everybody like yo, who the hell thought of that? That’s crazy. That’s all I could tell you right now.

calboy

Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

Is there a Black Heart deluxe coming?

Definitely a deluxe! It ain’t gonna be called Black Heart deluxe either. We still packaging it up like a deluxe, but I originally created Black Heart and a Red Rose. That’s the whole title, so we split it in half and I dropped Black Heart first. The deluxe version is basically the B-side. I got one feature on that side, and that’s T-Pain.

How did y’all tap in?

Did you remember that viral moment that T-Pain realized he could go to the suggested message requests? I was one of those in the requests. He replied back to me, I'm like “man about time! It's been a year and a half bro.” He’s like “bro I just discovered there’s a request section right here in the corner.” [laughs] I’m like “it’s all good, but I got a record for you.” Just like everybody else, he sent it right back. I sent it to him, he gave me a week, sent it right back. 

Did you even remember that you hit him up?

Yo, I really didn’t. But he reached back out to me, I’m like man that’s real shit. I fuck with that. 

How do you feel when people say you’re the most slept-on artist in the rap industry?

I actually appreciate that. Thank you. I do believe I’m the most slept-on the industry, but I don’t feel no type of way about it because I’m living life. I’m eating, I get paid off my music. My music cut me a check, I’m doing what I love. I’m not in it to be the most famous. I’m not in it to be on top of the world. I love music, I have a passion for music and that’s what I do. God blessed me to be able to be paid for the rest of my life off my music that I do, so that’s all I’m in it for. 

When people tell me “you’re the most slept on man! It’s fucked up how they do you, you’re so slept-on! They don’t give you enough recognition” I appreciate that you feel that way about me. That’s all love, thank you. I’m in it for a different reason. I’m in it because it’s therapeutic, I’m in it because I need it. Music allowed me to open up all these other businesses and make money with it. I’m blessed, I can’t complain.