Show & Prove: SSGKobe
Words: Kathy Iandoli
Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the Spring 2022 issue of XXL Magazine, on stands now.
Louisiana is known for its rich, soulful roots, as well as reinventing the paradigm for music, which is exactly what SSGKobe is bringing to the rap landscape. The 18-year-old rhyme slinger was raised just two hours outside New Orleans in Centerville, La., and has blown up with his diverse blend of melodic hip-hop. His buzzing track “Thrax” became a TikTok darling at the start of 2021, propelling the song to crack the 5 million mark on YouTube alone. Now, the track is at 24 million Spotify streams. He followed with the intoxicating “Calabasas” featuring $not last March, armed with a video directed by Cole Bennett of Lyrical Lemonade that broke Kobe’s previous record with over 6 million YouTube views. The song also has nearly 18 million Spotify streams. The rapper’s brand of flipping harmonies with rhythmic rapping has become his trademark, and he’s just getting started on his road to stardom. “There are a lot of big changes going on in my life right now,” the young artist explains. “I’m taking it day by day.”
Growing up, SSGKobe, born Tyreek Solomon Pellerin, balanced his time between living with his parents and grandmother, each influencing his musical palate with a variety of artists. “My grandma and my dad had me on Al Green, Percy Sledge, Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland, that type of R&B,” he explains. “With my mom, it was Teena Marie. She listened to a lot of dance and disco-type of stuff.” With two sisters and a brother, Kobe discovered rap on his own, gravitating toward artists like Chief Keef, Lil Wayne and Kevin Gates, while later listening to Juice Wrld and XXXTentacion as he got older. When it came to formulating his style, “I just combined everything,” Kobe adds. “Listening to different genres of music definitely helped with being able to write, change flows, sing, rap and mix it together.”
At age 13, Kobe formally started making music, recording his first song with his mother’s iPhone 6 and layering it with Auto-Tune through FL Studio. “My friends were making music at the time, uploading it to SoundCloud, and they were getting like thousands of plays,” he says of his beginnings. “And they were getting a lot of Instagram likes, and I was like, Man, I want to do this.”
With a razor-sharp focus, he kept going, on a constant mission for self-betterment. “My mindset was to try and get better with every song,” Kobe affirms. “That was my No. 1 goal: my next song should be way better than the song I just put up.”
His rap name comes from a nod to Dragon Ball Z. The SSG stands for “Super Saiyan God” and “Kobe” comes from his favorite basketball player, the late Kobe Bryant. At 14, the then-aspiring entertainer dropped his first project, 2018’s Rebirth, though a year later, he saw real traction with the release of “Wyd?,” which showcased his knack for storytelling amid woozy guitar-stringed production. “That song did the best out of any song I had ever done,” he recalls of the time. “It got on the SoundCloud charts, too!”
He watched the track’s numbers grow and utilized his friends’ respective fan bases to further promote his music. 2019 proved to be a busy year for the maverick. That fall, SSGKobe released Project X, a five-track effort featuring forthright gems like “Suicide,” showcasing vulnerability and range. By winter, the rhymer unveiled another five-track EP, M3.
Then a family vacation that same year proved to be serendipitous when Kobe decided to record a Triller video while he was on the trip. That clip was the one that helped catch the attention of influencer, DJ and Field Trip Recordings label founder Zack Bia, who reached out to Kobe and the two began working together in a creative partnership. Zack soon started promoting the rising rapper to his network of celebrities, even playing the artist’s songs during DJ sets. The buzz started growing as model Bella Hadid even vouched for Kobe by posting his track “Tired of Me” to her Instagram Stories in early 2021.
Last April, the rap ace dropped the EP KO., which Zack creatively worked with the newcomer on. A month later, Kobe became a Columbia Records artist. During that time, Zack was still sending Kobe’s music to connects like Cole Bennett. The result was Bennett directing some of Kobe’s visuals, including the explosive “MIA,” which includes an homage to The Nightmare Before Christmas and over 4 million YouTube views.
Kobe’s cosigns have only continued growing, as collaborations with artists like Lil Tecca (who produced “All Day”) and Lil Yachty (a collaborator on “FUK EM”) have broadened Kobe’s reach. The self-proclaimed Harry Potter fan’s style is somewhat reminiscent of the likes of the aforementioned Juice Wrld and XXXTentacion, but his versatility in genre-bending mixed with poignant bars are all his own. “I feel like one of the biggest things with him is that he has a way of saying things that can stick,” multiplatinum-selling, Grammy-nominated producer Charlie Heat says. Heat has produced a few of Kobe’s tracks, including “Escape Your Love” featuring Trippie Redd. “A lot of guys, especially now, are good at making vibes, they’re good at making cool things, but [Kobe] really has something to say and has life experiences to talk about.”
Heat, whose top-tier production credits include Kanye West and Lil Uzi Vert, among others, knows a diamond in the rough when he sees one. “I think I have a pretty good pulse for pointing out superstars, based on my track record,” Heat explains. “And I feel like when I think back on my career, [Kobe] is going to be at the top of the list of people they remember me for.”
Expect Kobe’s major label debut, U4EYA (pronounced Euphoria), to bring a graduated elevation to his music, as the first single “Don’t Miss,” released at the top of 2022, finds him leaning into his newfound fame over ZaySkillz’s ricocheting beat. Kobe has made it a point to carefully curate everything for the rollout, right down to the color scheme. “Right now, purple is the color for U4EYA,” he explains. “So, the video for ‘Escape Your Love’ is a continuation of ‘Don’t Miss,’ where it has the same kind of magic. We’re just building a story to get the people invested.” The LP arrives later this spring.
SSGKobe’s story is just beginning. His unique vocal style and love for multidimensional beats will continue to set him apart from his peers, one track at a time.
“I feel like this is the moment where it’s really about to all take off,” he expresses matter-of-factly. “I can feel it.”
Read the cover story with Playboi Carti and check out the other interviews in the magazine with Fivio Foreign, Latto, DaBaby, Wiz Khalifa and Juicy J, Joey Bada$$, Denzel Curry, Hit-Boy, Big K.R.I.T., RZA, Saba, Morray, Kali, Sleepy Hallow, Nardo Wick, ATL Jacob, Pink Sweat$, Saucy Santana, Jason Lee, Angie Randisi and Colby Turner in the new issue of XXL magazine, which is on newsstands now and in XXL’s online shop.