It wasn’t that long ago that Young Greatness almost called it quits. He’d put in a lot of time, money, and effort pursuing his dream of being rapper, but things weren’t working out. “I was making the right moves, but I was making them too early” he says. “About two years ago I just had a moment where I was like, ‘Man, fuck this shit. I’m tired of dealing with it.’”
If you’ve heard his breakout hit “Moolah”—a song propelled by a soulful melody that Greatness delivers over a mellow, barely-there Jazze Pha beat—then you’re probably grateful that he stuck around. At 28 years old, Greatness is one of the oldest of the new upstarts coming out of Southern hip-hop, but he’s also had a distinctly challenging career trajectory. The challenges he’s faced are reflected in the bittersweet sound of “Moolah” in particular. “I wanted to make going through a struggle to make some money sound fun,” he says. “I wanted to break down the process of some of the things that I had to do.”
Greatness, born Theodore Jones, was just getting serious about music when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in August of 2005. After being rescued, Jones was relocated to Houston, where he placed in close proximity to his friend and producer at the time, Gavien Morgan. Despite the disaster, Greatness was eager to start recording music, but they didn’t have all of the studio equipment they needed, having left some of it was back in New Orleans. In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, the city was locked down by the National Guard and nobody was allowed to go in. “We were just like, ‘Fuck it we’re gonna drive back anyway,’” says Greatness. “We got there in the wee hours of the morning between 4:30 and 6:00. We was able to get there, get the studio equipment, and get the fuck out.”
On the strength of the work he was putting in in Houston, Greatness got enough notice to get a record deal, but that fell through. Then he moved back to New Orleans in 2007. Once there, Jones started selling drugs to help finance his music, but he was arrested and put in prison until 2010. But even when locked up, he had a support network on the outside that helped him stay current. “One of my friends would mail me mp3 players, magazines, and CDs,” he says. “As the game was changing, I had an ear for it already.”
After he was released, he began splitting his time between New Orleans and Atlanta. It was during his time in this new city that he found the resources and connections that pushed his career forward. He’s now signed to Quality Control, arguably the city’s foremost independent music label, home to artists like Lil Yachty, Migos, and OG Maco.
Despite getting discovered in Atlanta, the scenes in the video for “Moolah” are distinctly New Orleans. Sure there are crawfish and raised tombs, but maybe the most important part to Greatness’s identity is the inclusion of his old neighborhood corner store. “In New Orleans, the corner store is the hangout spot. That’s the spot where you can get whatever you’re looking for. I don’t give a fuck if it’s a flatscreen TV. You pull up at the corner store, they should have somebody there that sells it or knows somebody that has it,” he says. “It signifies the essence of New Orleans. If you didn’t visit the corner store and get a po’ boy, you didn’t visit New Orleans.”
Young Greatness will release his next mixtape, I Tried to Tell ‘Em 2, in the coming months. Time will tell if he sustains the attention he’s received from “Moolah,” but his history suggests that he knows how to make the best out of a tough situation. Describing the inspiration for “Moolah,” Jones says, “If you work a 9 to 5, on Monday you mad as fuck. But when payday come on Friday, you happy. So fuck waiting ‘til Friday, let’s be happy from Monday through Friday.”