Musicians are barely getting a slice of music industry revenue, largely eating off of live performances instead. For ‘Tour Tales,’ we dig into the rider requests, delayed shows, diligent preparation, and future of touring by talking with the multitude of people that move behind the scenes. Record executives, photographers, tour managers, artists, and more all break down what goes into touring and why it’s still so vital to the livelihood of your favorite artists. What happens on tour stays on ‘Tour Tales.’
Hampton “DJ Champ” Sallee aided in the ascension of one of the next great rappers from the south: Lil Baby. The 12-year veteran DJ from Indianapolis, Indiana has been helping the rapper’s label Quality Control since 2015, which was right before Lil Baby even knew he was going to rap. As the only DJ to tour with both Lil Baby and southern rap royalty Gucci Mane since both were released from prison in 2016, he knows a superstar when he sees one.
“[Lil Baby’s] a real one… he got tunnel vision. He just works and keeps it moving. Sometimes, he doesn’t even realize how big he is. I have to tell him some days, ‘You’re a superstar. You’re a real superstar,’” Champ told REVOLT TV.
On this edition of Tour Tales, Champ explains what he’s learned from touring with Gucci Mane and how those lessons influence his work on Lil Baby’s live shows, sacrificing life moments with his daughter, and the craziest fan reactions at Lil Baby and Gucci Mane concerts.
When did you start working with Lil Baby?
I saw Baby when he had got out of jail [on July 1, 2016]. His homie Ced told me he was going to get Baby to rap when he got out. They were planning it as he was being released from jail. So, I wasn’t his DJ, but I wanted to do what I [could] to get him started because I saw the respect that he had from everyone around him.
You said Lil Baby is a superstar. Are there moments on tour that proved that?
Yeah, all the time. We’d get to performing and we don’t have to say anything. The folks singing the shit word for word. Certain shows, a song might’ve come out a day or two ago, and he might be like, ‘They might not know it. It’s a new song.’ I’m like, ‘Bruh, you’re the hottest right now. Anything you drop, they’re going to know.’ The DJ Khaled song that just released (“You Stay”), we did that [on May 26] at Vegas. It wasn’t on our set, but they went crazy, so we played it.
Lil Baby’s career changed after ‘Drip Too Hard’ came out. What do you remember about the first time he performed that song live?
When we did it and you hear the build-up of the beat, everybody geeked to hear it, pulling out their cell phones. When they both did it at Rolling Loud, it was the best feeling.
How was being on the ‘New Generation Tour’?
The last tour was the best tour because it was, OK, he’s here now. Now, you have to prove yourself to the real tastemakers in music: The Live Nations. We have to prove to them we have an hour of music. We were in the proving stages. Now that we proved it, we’re going to get on a lot more tours. Bigger tours, bigger shows, stuff like that. Deejaying for Gucci, a lot of times he is on it, like, ‘Bro, we have to do an hour. They were on my ass. I can get sued.’ If you sign a contract for 60 minutes, you have to go out there and do 60 minutes. So, I was on Baby early about that.
How has his live shows changed over the years?
I would say, him being more comfortable. A lot of times people don’t know these artists might have done public speaking nowhere, but in school. This might be their first time in front of a lot of people, even if they have a hit that’s popping. Baby was no rapper, he was made into a rapper. So, he had to get comfortable onstage, get his swag right. Now, he’s rocking shit. The confidence in him is now, he knows what he wants, knows what he’s doing, all of that. He’s running his show now. At first, it was like it was set up. Now, he’s running that shit and doing what he’s supposed to do.
How important are live shows to Lil Baby?
He is excited to do the shows. It’s not even about the money. He already has money… He really is excited to please his fans. It doesn’t feel like work to him.
What’s on Lil Baby’s rider?
Man, I be telling him, ‘Yo, you can put all types of shit on here.’ He just ain’t that type of person. He’s not a needy nigga. He has little miscellaneous shit like soap to make sure he can take a shower. Toothpaste and shit like that. He is big on candy and bubblegum. Also, got to have some Backwoods. Then, he’s straight.
What’s the craziest reaction you’ve seen at one of his live shows?
We did a show the other day and there was a kid in the crowd that had to be about seven or eight years old. When I tell you this kid stood up on his dad’s shoulder and sang every Lil Baby word, I said, ‘That’s the lil’ baby right there’ (laughs). He knew every word. Lil Baby definitely saw that. He sees a lot in the crowd.
How would you describe a Lil Baby show?
A Lil Baby show is a wave. He got the wave right now. He’s going to bring you up, he’s going to bring you down. He’s going to keep it real. He’s going to talk to the ladies. He got a real show. Not a lot of young artists got a full, hour-long set a year or two after they start. Live Nation was familiar with us because they were really impressed [that] he had that many hits people were singing word for word for an hour straight.
What are some activities y’all get into on tour?
See, Baby’s like the jungle boy. He was locked up. So, he kind of has a jail mentality mixed with a street kid mentality with some money. He likes being active. We go to Africa, he likes being out in the street with the folk. He ain’t acting bougie, sitting in the hotel. He wants to be out in the street, fucking with the folk. He got his shirt off on a dirt bike. He cracking coconuts. He doing everything.
One time, we had a break from the tour. Some of the production people had a big place with a lot of land. So, they had dirt bikes and everything. They had these little trucks you could go off road with. Man, Lil Baby and damn near every single nigga he was with flipped them motherfuckers. Every single one of them. The people throwing the tour were like, ‘We ain’t going to have no tour because everybody going to be hurt.’ Lil Baby [is] a warrior, though. So, he [was] going all out. He wants to drive that shit crazy and all of that. He gets scratched up and all that. But, nobody went to the hospital, everyone pushed through and we still did the show the next day.
What’s the most memorable Lil Baby show you’ve deejayed?
The most memorable Lil Baby show I deejayed was his birthday show in Atlanta in 2018. It was a show [that] we wanted to be so big, we sort of didn’t know how we were going to do it. So, we tried to get as many people that fuck with Lil Baby as we could to pull up. We did a set off the fly. He probably bought up 10 or 12 big artists, and we did a set on the fly for an hour and a half show. [Lil Baby] not sure if he’s performing next. So, if I’m bringing somebody onstage, I might have to go download a song. [Lil] Yachty might want to do this song with him. I might not have it on my computer. It was a lot going on. If you were just watching the show, you would’ve just seen a good show. But, during the show, we did a lot of work for that show.
When did you link up with Gucci?
I might’ve linked up with Gucci in 2012 or 2013. He used to come to Indianapolis and do shows all the time. Every time he came to a show, I’d do an all Gucci Mane mix. I’d press up about 5,000 copies. Then, I’d take them to the club. I’d put them on every car, every table in the club, everywhere, and I’ll be the DJ at the club. So, he’s seen me a couple of times, [DJ] Holiday’s seen me a couple of times. They started fucking with me because they saw me build my brand up in my city. Holiday told me, ‘You need to come to Atlanta and build your brand. You’re the truth. You got your city on lock.’
He took me to Atlanta and put me in Gucci’s [‘Right Now’] video the same day. We’ve built from there. The second time Gucci got out of jail [in May 2016], he needed somebody who knew his music a lot and could move around. Holiday was on the radio every day. So, he couldn’t do it. I had to do it. He saw I’m a real Gucci fan and I may know more of his words than he does. You come to a Gucci show and I’m rapping every Gucci word that he doesn’t. He likes that because he can take breaths and all of that. He’s been rocking with me since then.
How was he after he got out?
At first, he had another DJ when he got out. He actually had two DJs. He had his engineer, who wasn’t even a DJ, [Gucci] was just trying to make it work. He wasn’t trying to have that many people around him. When he first got out, he just wanted it to be him, his wife and his circle that he been building up since he got locked up. I get that. I started with Gucci about two and a half years ago — about six or seven months after he got out.
You’ve touched on how both Gucci’s and Lil Baby’s incarcerations affected how they move in public, even on tour. What similarities have you noticed about them?
It’s crazy. It’s not like I’m looking at the same person, but it’s two people who come from the same environment. It’s interesting because Gucci is the superstar that made himself the biggest superstar to come from the trap. I don’t know any superstar who came from selling dope like he did to become a superstar. Lil Baby is the new wave of that. I’m watching Baby become Gucci Mane. That’s how it be feeling. Even when I first started deejaying, they would tell me, ‘You have to find you your Gucci Mane.’ That’s what I had to find. I had to find an artist that I could build up with. Baby is that nigga. Baby is my Gucci Mane.
By the time you linked with Gucci Mane, he had already been in the game for more than a decade.
What’s crazy is my first tour with Gucci — the ‘Trap God Tour’– that was his first tour ever in his career. He’s been rapping all that time and had never been on tour. We’re both experiencing tours for the first time together. But, it helps because I learned the ins and outs of how to move, what’s necessary and what’s not. All of the preparation for a tour, I learned that quick. Once I got down with Lil Baby, it [was] easy work because I already learned this. I know this. So, I helped his team and that kind of gave me a big position to really be the setup man for the dancers, the sound men, the lighting.
I was helping everybody out because I had done it before. I had done two or three tours with Gucci before I went on the road with Baby. I went to Europe with Gucci for a tour and then, we did a tour with The Weeknd. That was for about three months. I was experienced in touring and it helps me help Lil Baby.
For the first year or two after Gucci got out and maybe still, everybody wanted to be around him.
That really fucked some of the shit up because he couldn’t really tell who [were] a lot of people he was supposed to be working with because everybody was trying to be in his face. For instance, he was telling me one of the biggest things he feels like he should’ve done fresh out of jail was sign 21 Savage. He said 21 was coming to him and fucks with Gucci and all of that. But, everybody was in Gucci’s face. He couldn’t really grasp on to everything and pay attention to see, ‘Oh, this nigga is the truth. He’s finna be the one.’ He still respects and loves everything 21 doing, it’s no hard feelings or anything like that. He just feels like he shouldn’t have missed that opportunity.
What’s the most memorable Gucci Mane show you’ve deejayed?
In Europe. It was both of our first times [going] to a country where you can’t even talk to a person because they don’t know your language. Then, you do a show and everyone of them knows your lyrics. They don’t even know your language, but they know your songs. That’s a feeling I feel like every big artist has to experience because it’ll make you feel like everything you did was worth it.
What’s the wildest thing you’ve see in the crowd at a Gucci Mane show?
In the crowd, people have tried to run onstage. It’s happened a few times at Gucci shows. Niggas have tried to run onstage while Gucci’s performing. One time Snake, our manager, saw it before anybody. He gets out there and tackles the man before the security can even get to him (laughs). It was crazy. Gucci was like, ‘Man, Snake, just to watch you do that.’ Gucci thought that was epic.
I know you said Lil Baby likes candy on his rider. What’s on Gucci Mane’s rider?
Gucci’s going to have a real meal. You have to have baked chicken, salmon, tilapia, something healthy like that. It might be some spaghetti or some salad. A lot of fruit. A lot of water. He has Gatorade. He might have a few snacks, but his rider is based on more nutritional stuff.
Gucci has never been shy about showing out. I remember he had an iced out Bart Simpson chain. What’s the flashiest thing he’s done on tour?
That man pulled up to Rolling Loud [Miami 2019] with seven [Rolls-Royce] Wraiths — all red. Don’t play with him. I ain’t never seen anything like that. He didn’t even have enough people to drive them. He got his security to drive them. He might go spend $1 million on a chain tomorrow.
You’re touring a lot between Lil Baby and Gucci Mane. As the father of a little girl, do you have to sacrifice big life moments to tour?
That’s the hardest part out of this shit that’s not really being said. I’m really happy you asked me that. I get into it with my baby mama because I’m not in the NBA or anything like that. So, I can say I’m busy all the time. But, she doesn’t really understand. It’s one thing to say it and one thing to experience it. My daughter kind of understands because she’s at a young age and I go home for everything. But, when I get a break, I don’t get a break because I have to travel all the way to Indianapolis to see my kid. So, I’m still traveling, still moving and still spending some money just to go see my daughter. So, there are no times where I have a break. That’s what people don’t get. I’m always moving. I don’t know the last time I got to sit still and really enjoy stuff.
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