Kevin Jerome Gilyard, born February 5, 1986 better known by his stage name Kevin Gates, is an American rapper, singer, and entrepreneur. He is currently signed to Bread Winners’ Association with a partnership with Atlantic Records. His debut studio album, Islah, released in January 2016 and peaked at number two on the US Billboard 200 chart. Prior to Islah, Gates also released numerous mixtapes including Stranger Than Fiction, By Any Means, and Luca Brasi 2, all of which peaked in the top 40 on the Billboard 200 chart.
Gates began his career in 2005 by signing to local label Dead Game Records his career would blossom along with fellow Baton Rouge natives Boosie Badazz and Webbie in the mid-2000s. The three collaborated on Gates’ first mixtape, Pick of Da Litter, in 2007. Another mixtape, All or Nuthin’, was released in 2008 and featured what Gates described as “a lot of pain…a lot of true stories.” In 2008, both Gates and Boosie were incarcerated in separate cases, effectively pausing Gates’ music career. He spent 31 months in prison between 2008 and 2011. During this time, he earned a master’s degree in psychology through a prison program. He was released early from prison for good behavior.
After his stint in prison, Gates began working on music again almost immediately. In 2012, he earned some buzz with the mixtape, Make ‘Em Believe. He also caught the attention of Lil Wayne’s record label, Young Money Entertainment. Gates was signed to the management wing of the label later that year. Although he was signed to the management wing, Gates never signed a record deal with Young Money. He noted, however, that it was Birdman who gave him the idea to start his own record label later on.
With the release of his 13th mixtape, Luca Brasi 2, Gates earned his third Billboard 200 listing in a row. The mixtape peaked at number 38. The mixtape featured the single “I Don’t Get Tired” which became Gates’ first song to make the US Billboard Hot 100 and his first song to be certified Gold. In February and March 2015, Gates embarked on the I Don’t Get Tired Tour throughout much of the South. In May 2015, Gates released another mixtape, Murder for Hire, which was said to be the third installment in the Luca Brasi series. In July 2015, he released the song, “Kno One,” which would become the first single from his debut studio album, Islah.
In late August 2015, Gates was the subject of some controversy after a video surfaced of him allegedly kicking a female fan in the chest at a show in Lakeland, Florida. Gates responded to the allegations shortly thereafter in the form of a song called “The Truth,” noting (among other things) that the fan had been tugging on his shorts. In October 2015, Gates married his longtime girlfriend, Dreka Haynes. The couple has two children together, one son and one daughter. Later in October 2015, Gates announced the title and release date of his debut studio album, Islah, which means “to make better” in Arabic and is also the name of his firstborn daughter. The album was originally slated for release on December 11, 2015.The album would eventually be pushed back to January 29, 2016. It would also feature a total of four singles including, “Kno One”, “Time for That”, “Really Really” and “2 Phones”. Both “Really Really” and “2 Phones” received commercial success. The album sold 112,000 copies in the first week of its release and it also peaked at number two on the Billboard 200 chart. The album had almost no guest appearances with the exception of Trey Songz, Ty Dolla Sign, and Jamie Foxx who are all featured on the bonus track, “Jam”. Islah received largely positive reviews with Inverse calling it the “Best Album of 2016 So Far.” Pitchfork noted that it was “by far the best single release of his career.”
On May 26, 2016, he announced that the sequel to Murder for Hire would be coming on May 27, 2016.
On September 22, 2017, Gates’ spouse Dreka released By Any Means 2 while Kevin remained in prison. She handled executive controls of the project.In May 2018, Gates released the three-song EP Chained to the City.
Kevin Gates is known primarily for his “confessional anthems” that blend often autobiographical lyrics with refined Southern beats. In a review of his debut album Islah, Consequence of Sound noted that “autobiography and honesty have always been central to Gates’ artistry.” Spin has noted that Gates often combines “melodic tunefulness” and “clenched-teeth street rap.” In recent releases, he has incorporated more singing, having trained with the singer, Monica. Gates’ lyrics often deal with subjects like depression, poverty, and prison time. He has listed numerous artists among his influences including Nas, Biggie Smalls, Jay-Z, Tupac Shakur, Eminem, and others.
Gates married his longtime girlfriend, Dreka Haynes, in October 2015. The couple have two children, Islah and Khaza. Gates hinted that he had children by other women in a 2013 interview with Complex: “I got some children. I’m real real close with them. I lay in the bed with them, hold them, love on them. It really doesn’t make sense to say [how many kids I have]. Not in a bad way, but it’s not like the public will ever get to see my children, and if they do see them, they aren’t going to know they’re mine.”
Gates is a practicing Muslim along with his wife, and went in September 2016 to Mecca for Hajj.
Gates’ first arrest occurred when he was 13 for being a passenger in a stolen vehicle. Gates was briefly jailed for the offense, and said that being jailed had a profound effect on his life: “If they would’ve just pulled up to the jail, left me in the police car, never took me inside and just took me back home, I don’t think I’d ever have done anything else again. But what it did was—by me going into jail at such a young age—all it did was criminalize me in a sense. It kinda steered me in the wrong direction after getting there and settling in; it took the fear of jail away from me.”
In 2003, Gates was involved in an altercation outside a movie theatre and stabbed his opponent multiple times.
Gates was charged with battery for kicking a fan in the summer of 2015 while he was performing on stage at an event in Lakeland, Florida. He used Florida’s stand-your-ground law in defense. On October 26, 2016, he was convicted of the charge and sentenced to 180 days in jail. In 2017, Gates was sentenced to a 30-month prison term at the East Moline, IL correctional facility for gun charges stemming from a 2013 incident, but was released on parole on January 10, 2018.