Young Greatness has enough time to sleep, wake up and do it all over again. From New Orleans, he leaves for Atlanta, then Sacramento, California. There are no days off for rap stars in the making.
"Man, my days the same," he says. "It's busy then gets busy. It don't ever change. I barely get rest. I'm at 100 mph every day. You have to be like that to try and make it and get to the next level. You have to work every day. You can't take no days off."
Born and raised in New Orleans, Young Greatness is on his third week on the Billboard Hot 100 chart with his bittersweet, exuberant single "Moolah," a massive viral hit with millions of streams and views on YouTube, followed by countless interviews, radio appearances, road gigs and a hit mixtape, 2015's I Tried To Tell Em. On July 8, the rapper releases its sequel, and he makes his late-night television debut July 11 on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert. But his recent whirlwind success didn't arrive overnight. Young Greatness, aka Theodore Jones, formerly an aspiring teen football star from the St. Bernard Projects, has spent the last decade hustling his music into the right hands across the South, despite tragedy, loss and jail time.
"Life for me was no different than any other black young male growing up in the ghetto," he says. "You're going to be facing adversity, you're going to be facing hard times. It's just about what you make of it. I made the most of it."
Following Hurricane Katrina and the levee failures in 2005, Jones lived in Houston, only to turn around and take Highway 90 into Westwego while ducking the National Guard. "We basically came back to New Orleans to grab a microphone," he says. "I had an AKG mic, my speakers, I had a Presonus preamp — I came back to grab the basic essentials to record in a home studio."
He worked alongside Houston's rap kingmakers, but after a potentially star-making deal fell through, he nearly called it quits. In 2007, Jones moved back to New Orleans and sold drugs to pay for studio time and gear and spent a few years in LaSalle Correctional Center upstate.
Following his release, he hustled from New Orleans to Atlanta, released a string of mixtapes and eventually signed with Atlanta's independent heavyweight Quality Control, a label integral to the third coast's renewed rap domination. With "Moolah" and new singles "Ball" and "Celebration" (featuring Akon) from his upcoming I Tried To Tell Em 2, Young Greatness toasts to his hard-earned success and perseverance while remembering his bleak beginnings.
"I try to keep the emotions in my music and give an opportunity to learn about me and some of the things I've been through in my life," he says. "Just telling a story through music, and just listening to my music and identifying who is Greatness. Just having one of those voices that commands people."
He has plans for a proper studio album and two more installments of I Tried To Tell Em, with singles and music videos in the pipeline. "Music is definitely not a problem," he says. Getting a day off might be.
"Man, if I had a day, I'd like to just catch up with my homeboys and my podnas and shit," he says. "I'm just gone. Family and friends, they miss you."
When that time comes, you can find him at Natal's Seafood & Grill on Chef Menteur Highway: "They have everything you could possibly want — gumbo, red beans and rice, barbecue, jambalaya, everything."