Show & Prove
Words: Stacy-Ann Ellis
Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the Fall 2022 issue of XXL Magazine, on stands now.
The majority of people are gonna follow a trend before they try to create one,” says rising Midwest rapper SleazyWorld Go, who’s watching the phenomenon happen before his eyes thanks to his menacing, slick-talking song “Sleazy Flow.” The 2021 track blew up on TikTok this year and introduced his voice to the world. It also caught Lil Baby’s attention. He filmed himself in a TikTok clip casually singing along to the song this past March. By May, Baby hopped on an official remix, which debuted at No. 47 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and catapulted Sleazy towards his first gold record. A major label deal, new songs reaching people by the day and more big-time collaborations have all been a part of his come up now.
A champion for the underdog, SleazyWorld Go grew up in Grand Rapids, Mich., a close-knit town where biking and kicking it at Garfield Park, hoop dreams and picking fights for fun were the norm. The 24-year-old rap newcomer, born Joseph Isaac, was raised by his mother and has six siblings: a sister nine years his senior, two older brothers a year apart after that, then 81Hundo, the 26-year-old rapper and closest older brother Sleazy calls his twin, and two younger brothers that came around much later in life. Despite hearing his mom’s old-school R&B jams around the house, Sleazy latched onto his older brothers’ music tastes: Kanye West, Boosie BadAzz, T.I. and Gucci Mane. Then when Sleazy got older, Tupac Shakur, plus Chicago artists like the late L’A Capone and G Herbo, one of his longtime favorites.
Rapping was never Sleazy’s goal, however, his family planted the seed. His musically inclined father wasn’t around much, but 6-year-old Sleazy and his brother used to battle rap against each other at their dad’s request. By 10, Sleazy recorded his first rhymes with his mom and brother. “We had a microphone and a little laptop and we recorded the song in the bathroom of the shelter,” Sleazy remembers. “We really ain’t realize the situation we was in.”
His mom eventually moved the family to Kansas City, Mo., a bigger city he reps just as hard as Grand Rapids now, but back then, 13-year-old Sleazy went kicking and screaming. The homesick teen wasn’t yet receptive to the new regional sounds that’d eventually shape his rhyming style once he decided to take his rap talent seriously as an adult. For a year, he’d sneak back up to Michigan until police intervened. “I was out past curfew and the police ended up pulling me over,” he admits, recalling a three-month stay in juvie. “They were like, ‘You can’t come back to Grand Rapids. If you do, you’re gonna get locked up.’”
Ultimately, that prophecy came to pass years later. According to the Michigan Department of Corrections, the rhymer pleaded guilty to armed robbery after a 2015 incident. Sentenced in 2016, to four years in jail, he was released on parole in September of 2019 before COVID-19 shut down the world. While incarcerated, Sleazy decided to take music seriously, practicing and building up his confidence.
Once freed, he worked a factory job and passed the time with a song he wrote, which was ultimately “Sliding,” the first official track he dropped in early March of 2020. “In the moment, I didn’t see what God’s plan was,” Sleazy reflects on his music being released during a global crisis. “People were in the house, on their phones, so people were discovering me and having time to actually sit down and listen to me," he tells. The pandemic prepared fans for him; jail prepared him for them.
Then came projects Big Sleaz, led by “Pass Me The Glock,” and The Sleazy Way that same year, followed by heavy hitters like “Baghdad Flow” and “Let Me Talk My Shit” into 2021. His Thug You and Sleazy projects also arrived that year, and “Sleazy Flow” last October.
With “Sleazy Flow” gaining more momentum on social media in early 2022, SleazyWorld Go signed to Island Records in March. However, it was “What They Gone Do To Me,” a brazen song the artist dropped a month prior that hooked the label. From Sleazy’s raw, conversational delivery to his everyday man persona— his A&Rs call him Sleaz Obama—Drexler “Drex” Blue, Manager of A&R at Island Records, and Jhared “Jae” Brown, VP of A&R at Island Records, saw potential beyond the research. They both signed Sleazy to the label. “He passed the eye test,” says Brown. “He looked like a star. He sounded unique. His perspective was fresh. His tone was different.”
Sleazy’s breakthrough track even prompted a wave of peers like NLE Choppa and Yungeen Ace to drop their own “Sleazy Flow” freestyles. “Every week, a new artist that was already buzzing before him is coming out with their version using that same beat, slowing their delivery down and trying to hit the pockets that Sleaz hits with his vocals,” adds Drex.
The train hasn’t stopped moving since. In May, Lil Baby hopped on the “Sleazy Flow (Remix).” A month later, Sleazy got Offset for the collab “Step 1,” an instructional ode for catching opps. This past summer, Sleazy performed at Rolling Loud in Miami and Yo Gotti’s Birthday Bash in Memphis.
The burgeoning artist’s talent and drive to succeed are encapsulated in Where The Shooters Be, his upcoming, star-studded mixtape, to be released in late October. Lil Baby, Offset and G Herbo are among the rappers featured. Where The Shooters Be represents Sleazy crooking his finger at the industry and telling them to get used to it. “I’m looking at the world and I’m bringing them to me,” he shares. “I’m stealing everybody from the sound and the wave that was before me. It’s a new wave.”
Indeed, SleazyWorld Go is on the fast-track to something bigger than he imagined. The rhymer says he’s dreaming big enough so kids in the cities he’s from can eventually see themselves in his shoes. “They used to teach me that ‘90 percent of y’all is either gonna be in jail or dead.’ Where’s the hope in that?” Sleazy speaks brightly despite the grim stats. He’s seen those peaks and valleys firsthand. “Coming from these cities where nobody makes it out when it comes to being a hip-hop artist, you ain’t got nobody to look up to. So, me being one of the first ones, that’s a blessing right there,” he concludes.
Read SleazyWorld Go's full interview in the 25th anniversary issue of XXL, on newsstands now. Check out additional interviews in the magazine, including our cover story with Eminem, Bobby Shmurda, Yung Miami, JID, Yvngxchris, GloRilla, Styles P, Jim Jones, Symba, Reason, singer Jessie Reyez, actor Trevante Rhodes and music executive Katina Bynum. The issue also includes a deep dive into a narrative piece on the U.S. court systems' battle against rap lyrics, rappers’ longstanding connection to anime, the renewed interest music supervisors have in placing 1990’s hip-hop in today’s lauded TV series and the 254 past covers in XXL history.