As the previous set comes to a close, a surge of festival-goers shove their way to the BMI stage. The smallest stage at Lollapalooza, meant to fit 4,000 people, will soon be over-capacity. With 40 minutes still remaining before Yung Gravy is set to perform, an already rowdy crowd chants “Gravy Train, Gravy Train, Gravy Train!”

Though it is nearing the end of the Chicago music festival, the energy is at an all-time high.

With hits like “Mr. Clean,” “1 Thot 2 Thot Red Thot Blue Thot” and “Alley Oop” featuring Lil Baby and boasting over 4 million monthly Spotify listeners, former University of Wisconsin student Yung Gravy is making waves and putting Wisconsin and Minnesota on the the hip hop map.

Two hours before his show, Matthew Hauri — aka Yung Gravy — sat down with The Badger Herald to talk about his roots and how he amassed such a cult following.

The following interview has been edited for style and clarity.

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The Badger Herald: So, you’re at Lollapalooza. Is this your biggest set yet?

Yung Gravy: Probably the biggest festival — not the biggest crowd, but definitely the biggest festival. We did Firefly in Delaware, which was probably like 7,000 people or something. It was pretty ridiculous. For this one, the BMI stage fits like 4,000, which is still crazy.   

BH: Why did you call yourself Yung Gravy?

YG: It’s smooth. I worked at a summer camp in high school and I used to sometimes freestyle. We were all in a truck bed rapping, me and all these other counselors, and I was rapping about something. I said, like, “I’m so wavy, come through smooth, you can call me young gravy.” It wasn’t even premeditated, it just came off the tongue and everyone was like, “Oh, shit!” and from that moment on, it was Gravy. I used to be called Lil Steamer, Mr. Butter, I had all these little monikers I would sometimes whip out in the six person freestyle circle, but Yung Gravy stuck and that was that.

BH: How did you get started while you were in Madison? 

YG: I was already trying to make music when I was a junior — a lot of soul music, obviously rap. I was working for Gener8tor, a Madison-based startup accelerator, and had some time on the side. So I decided to just try to be a rapper or whatever. I met Englewood, a lo-fi producer also at UW, and then we started to put together shows in Madison. Then we started doing shows with DJ Mondo, another Madison-based artist. By this time, I had gained a solid following on SoundCloud and Instagram. Our first show all together was in Austin, Texas.  Back in Madison, we did a house party in the Sophomore Slums region, which was pretty fun. And then, couple months later, we did the Majestic, so that was sick.

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BH: So you started out with Englewood, now you’re getting collabs with Lil Baby and Juicy J. How did you get to that point?

YG: So a lot happened in between. I did like three tours, including a tour of Europe and Australia. Basically, I would go to Atlanta a lot, I had a lot of good friends there and producers I liked to work with. I met Lil Baby in the studio one day, and my friend played him some of my songs and he was into them. We did a song the same night — “Alley Oop.”  Juicy J has always been my favorite rapper, so that was more of a premeditated, “let me make this happen” thing. I wanted to make this happen. I had the song prepared and everything. And that just worked out really smoothly. He liked it, so that one worked out.

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BH: Did you know moving to a bigger city was the right move for your career?

YG: I had never really performed in a big city or associated with a big city other than Minneapolis. I used the internet purely. On SoundCloud, my location was Minnesota/Wisconsin, but people love that if they’re from the Midwest. Like, this dude’s from the Midwest? Crazy, there’s not even that many big cities in those two states. That’s what a lot of people do. They make the mistake where they’re trying to get on local shows and all that, they want to perform in front of 100 people. But my thought process was if I go on Soundcloud and collaborate with somebody and get 5,000 plays, it’s worth a lot more than 100 people live because 10 of them aren’t going to go look your name up after. I wasn’t even trying to do shows. I didn’t show my face for the first year and a half of rapping. I was completely mysterious because I liked my job a lot. I didn’t want to become that guy that was rapping out of Madison or whatever. So for the longest time, I didn’t show my face and my music was purely on the internet. 

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BH: When did you decide to fully dedicate yourself to music?

YG: It was my last semester. I had like three months left of school. I got an offer at work to take over as the head guy at the office in Madison where I worked at Gener8tor. They wanted me to take over , but I was just getting some hype for my music. So I declined that and decided to have a summer to just chill and see how music went, and then I spent the whole summer going hard. Right when school started again, I revealed my face with the “Mr. Clean” video, and then just went off from there. That video really did a lot for me. It blew up, and once I revealed my face, I did a tour three months later that sold out really fast. Once I started really putting all my time into it, it took off. That was at the end of 2017. 

BH: What do you say to people who say Yung Gravy is just a meme rapper?

YG: Yeah, if you feel that way, let’s get it. I mean, I get that, I rap about funny stuff. But when I make music, I don’t go into the booth like, “Yo, this meme is funny, let’s utilize this to become popular.” I go into the booth and put a lot of effort into picking a sample or finding a dope producer to make a sick beat. I get in the booth and what comes out is just fun. I don’t like the concept of making a whole song a joke. I wouldn’t say Lil Dicky is like that, but it’s like with some artists, the whole song is a story about how I was drunk with my friend and I fell asleep, or whatever. I’d rather have a normal song with some punch lines. It’s like an exaggerated 2 Chainz. It’s like, funny, but it’s more ignorant. I knew that would spread and then it’s just fun. It’s way more fun to rap about that type of subject than the usual.