This past February, the rising star Blxst got an unexpected text: Anthony Saleh, Kendrick Lamar’s manager, wanted to connect him with his client — and soon enough, the two artists were on FaceTime.
“[Kendrick] was like, ‘Yo, I respect what you got going on. I’m a fan of your last project. I want you to be a part of my album,’ ” Blxst recalls.
He had no idea if what he recorded would end up on the album — or when the album would even arrive. “This album is never finna come out. He ain’t dropped a project in four years,” Blxst remembers thinking at the time, with a laugh. Lamar sent him an instrumental and told Blxst to “do whatever you want to it,” he says. “He came with a melody of his own for the bridge. I got voice memos of him singing and telling me what notes to hit.” So Blxst did what he does best: He added an earworm of a hook.
Both the track and the album it landed on — Lamar’s acclaimed 2022 project, Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers — came to fruition. “Die Hard,” featuring singer Amanda Reifer, peaked at No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 and is now nominated for the best melodic rap performance Grammy, and Lamar is just one of the high-profile co-signs Blxst has attracted lately. Since releasing his debut solo EP, No Love Lost, in 2020, Blxst (real name: Matthew Burdette) has become a go-to feature for artists like Rick Ross, Snoop Dogg and Nas, and something of a modern-day Nate Dogg in the process — a “king of hooks” in his own right who surprisingly never charges for his services.
“I’m more about the art,” the 30-year-old explains. “If I’m a fan of the song or if it fits with the direction that I’m going in, I’mma jump on a song off the strength. If I don’t like it, I’mma just not do it.”
Growing up in South Central Los Angeles, and attending high school in safer Upland about 40 miles east, Blxst taught himself how to rap, sing and produce as a hobby. A self-described introvert who’s still remarkably reserved and calm, he spent the rest of his free time at the local skate park, which Tyler, The Creator also happened to frequent. “I used to go up to him rapping lyrics [of his] that he would drop on his Myspace, before he was super big,” Blxst recalls.
In 2018, he founded his own label, Evgle (pronounced “Eagle”) Records, and started to release singles. The following year, Blxst’s business partners — manager Vic Burnett and attorney Karl Fowlkes — joined him as Evgle co-founders. “I wanted to create a platform where I could control my narrative. I think it’s important for people to be able to control their intellectual property,” says Blxst. “Especially with me being a producer as well, I’m doing most of the work.”
Over the next couple of years, Blxst released his first collaborative EP (2019’s Sixtape, with fellow South Central artist Bino Rideaux) and Evgle struck a partnership with Red Bull Records, under which Blxst maintains his independence as an artist. By the time No Love Lost came out in 2020 (and, a few months later, its deluxe version), the buzz around Blxst had grown, and his music — with its two-step rhythms evoking the comfort of a Black cookout — provided a sense of solace for fans post-quarantine. That year, both Evgle and Blxst individually signed publishing deals with Warner Chappell.
This past spring, his debut full-length album, Before You Go, arrived, acting as “a note to self, speaking on the transition I feel like I’m facing as an artist, as an executive,” he told Billboard at the time. From slow jams to upbeat tracks oozing L.A. flair, No Love Lost yielded singles like “Hurt,” “Got It All” and “Chosen” featuring Ty Dolla $ign and Tyga, which recently went platinum.
Not that Blxst has had much time to celebrate. He has been too busy picking up accolades, including a spot in XXL’s Freshman Class of 2021, the first-ever Rising Star award at Billboard‘s 2021 R&B/Hip-Hop Summit and now, Billboard’s Rookie of the Year honor. And when we talk, he’s wrapping up his first headlining world tour — and clearly still wrapping his mind around his newfound fame.
“To travel and see people still singing [my songs] word-for-word, it’s like, ‘What is going on?’ ” he marvels. “I still be tripping off the position I’m in.” And he’s in no rush to “take an elevator” to the top. “I’m moving at a slow pace because that’s what I want to do,” he says. “I elevated a lot in just this one year but being in control of my deal and being in control of my narrative, it allows me to take a look at every step.”
That means remaining a student of the game — and appreciating the little lessons along the way. “I remember I was in the studio with Snoop, just playing music for him and seeing him nod his head, and after I pushed ‘stop,’ him reciting certain lines I said,” Blxst recalls. “It was just a reminder for me to believe in myself even more.”
This story will appear in the Nov. 19, 2022, issue of Billboard.