The Chicago rapper talks about sparking the "Who Run It" challenge and the missteps he made for his debut album, 'Humble Beast.'
Photo by Scott Dudelson/Getty Images
Society's collective attention span makes it difficult for any piece of art to resonate with the public for more than a full week. In music, the span of time is even shorter. Unless an artist strikes gold right out of the gate (which is usually assisted by widespread anticipation), their music will be relegated to their core fanbase and given its most detailed discourse in the depths of Youtube comment sections and rap forums. That's not to say that there isn't value in being cherished in these spaces. More than ever, streaming gives the non-juggernaut artists an opportunity to be consumed quicker and easier than before. Artists who aren't interested in radio placement don't have to make attempts at popular music if they don't want to, even if they're signed to major labels. Timing is the most crucial skill an artist can have right now.
Chicago's G Herbo has been on both sides of this culture of consumption. In September of 2017, the 22-year-old released his debut studio album Humble Beast after years of sharing solid mixtapes and EPs. The album was the most sophisticated and balanced work he'd ever dropped, equally catering to our desires to bounce around unconsciously and our need to evaluate the missteps we've taken in our lives in order to get on track. But as of last month, the album has only sold 37,000 copies in the US and was hardly recognized as an album to consider in 2017's year-end lists.
2018 has been completely different. In March, Herbo shared a clip of him freestyling to Three 6 Mafia's "Who Run It" beat at a Dallas radio station and established the year's first viral trend in rap. There's now a running list of artists—A$AP Rocky, Trippie Redd, Lil Yachty, Lil Uzi Vert, etc.—who have had to give the beat a try in attempts to outdo Herbo's performance. The most unlikely of the lot has been original members of the Memphis group revisiting the song to flex their skills. It's a moment that, like any other trend, runs the risk of getting really tired, really fast but the "Who Run It" challenge could help give Herbo the spark of wide-ranging anticipation that Humble Beast was missing. I recently hopped on the phone with Herbo—who was getting a rare break in time from his newborn son—to talk about the "Who Run It" craze, his lifelong fandom of Three 6, and how he can improve on where Humble Beast lacked.
Noisey: It’s not clear from watching the initial clip that you shared online that your “Who Run It” freestyle came in the flow of a series of beats. I thought you chose it at first. It started with T.I.’s “ASAP” beat then Bay Bay switched to “Who Run It.” When you do radio, do you give them a direction of the beats you like?
G Herbo: It was just a surprise honestly. Bay Bay, I guess he did his homework on me and seen that I’m a hip-hop dude. He was just pulling up all classic shit. I love Three 6. I grew up loving them. One of my first biggest records was a Three 6 remix. So I been paying homage to Three 6 Mafia my whole career. That was in 2012.
One of the best things about this trend you sparked is that—you killed the beat, obviously, and influenced a lot of people to get on just because you did so well—you’re really educating people about Three 6. Out of most rappers from a couple generations ago, their music translates from then to now with the best of them.
You see what’s going on. A lot of people my age don’t have no respect or no knowledge of hip-hop culture, period. So they don’t know who Three 6 Mafia is, who Pac is, who nobody is. Three 6 made music that could still be hits. History repeats itself. They was basically talking about young wild stuff just like we doing now: having fun, balling, partying, females, money, acting crazy. That’s what we talking about right now.
Three 6 had some of the first rappers I ever heard talking about doing drugs outside of weed. Lord Infamous talking about “white in my nose.” My first reaction was, damn they’re doing coke? But they were honest about it.
They was the first rap group even being honest about drinking lean. That’s why they got the love they did. Of course they wasn’t the only ones doing it. They just the only ones who embraced it. It’s like why be involved with anything if you ashamed for being involved in it? That’s what gets you the most respect.
One development I wasn’t expecting since you shared your version of “Who Run It” was you influencing the original group members to put out new freestyles over the beat.
I don’t think nobody ever did that. That’s crazy. I really made them go back to remix their own song. I never seen nobody go back that far and redo verses. They breathed life back into something that already had life. That’s a blessing. I’m humbled by it, honestly. I talked to DJ Paul about it. I talk to Project Pat all the time. I fuck with Juicy. I been talking to Project Pat since I was like 16.
Man. Project Pat is top 5.
Yeah. Project Pat was definitely my favorite rapper out of Three 6 and that whole era—late 90s, early 2000s. I was born in ‘95 so I’m not even that old but we just grew up understanding the culture. Project Pat was like the ultimate GOAT to me. I wanted to be just like Project Pat.
That’s an unpopular opinion for the conversations most people have around the best rappers.
JAY-Z is my favorite all-time rapper. He gives me the most inspiration. He motivates me to be everything I wanna be. But Project Pat just had something that made kids look at the screen like “Aww man. I can’t believe he’s saying that.” That’s what Project Pat did. His wordplay, similes, metaphors. He could use the same first letter of a word ten times. And that’s probably how I learned to do that because JAY-Z don’t do that.
That interesting that you say that because somebody can hear “Malcolm” from Humble Beast and think that storytelling skill comes from an artist like Nas. But I can listen to that same song and say it comes from Project Pat. He’s one of the most vivid storytellers. Songs like “If You Ain’t From My Hood” place you right into the situations gone wrong that he always talked about. I felt like I was watching a movie.
That’s one of my favorite songs from him too. If you go back and listen to my music, that was like the second video I ever did in my life. “My Hood” was the second video I ever shot. Me and Bibby did that and Pat threw a verse on that. I love every Three 6 Mafia song they ever made. All my cousin ever used to do is listen to Three 6 and smoke weed.
My first time around weed was at a family reunion in Virginia when I was like 11 and I was in a hotel room with my older cousins. They were smoking weed, putting 40s of Steel Reserve in ice, and bumping “Bin Laden” from Three 6’s Da Unbreakables album before it officially came out.
That’s crazy. I didn’t even want to say it but I was like 10 when I used to be with my cousins and hit the blunt while they listened to Three 6. My other cousins would find us smoking and threaten to go tell.
I want to talk about Humble Beast because I think it was one of the more underappreciated rap albums of 2017. But street music is in a weird place right now. It may be tied to what came out of Chicago when you all were super hot with the drill movement, but I think the music got so big that a lot of people started to emulate one element which was all about dropping bodies. But great street music has a balance. Everybody’s not walking around killing five people a day. Some people feel bad about the shit that they do when they sit down and reevaluate their actions. You conveyed all those emotions on Humble Beast . I guess the masses just aren’t very interested in that balance right now.
The masses can’t relate. A lot of the rapper nowadays—80 or 90 percent—aren’t really street or have street values. A lot didn’t grow up how I grew up or the rappers I listened to grew up. Because when you’re in the street, the ultimate goal is to get out. When you’re in the street and you got a mom at home you wanna see, you got kids at home that you love, or a grandmother you gotta support, the ultimate goal is to make your life better and your family’s life better. So if you just talking about killing and putting all negative into the world, you gonna get negative back. You have to put positive out. That’s what makes us the people we are.
You can’t really judge a person if somebody is trying to kill them and they gotta kill to survive in order to get home to their loved ones. You can’t judge a person for that. Ultimately, that’s who I speak for. Those are the people I want to touch with my music. Not to throw shots, 80-90 percent of rappers don’t have those values. You can be a killer, but I guarantee every killer that I know got a heart. Every killer I know take care of their kids. I witnessed it. The toughest people in the neighborhood always gave back. Always made sure we went to school. They didn’t want that for the next person. When you rap just about negativity—you have fans. Your got 5,6,7-year-olds growing up listening to your music. They following it.
Humble Beast went a bit deeper into your personal feelings than your previous projects. Do you feel like you could go a few steps further?
Yeah man I got new music and it’s really kinda scary sometimes. I don’t know if I’m gonna get better. If I’m gonna fall off. My music is getting able to touch people. I got stories where I’m able to tap deeper into the souls of my life and my reality. My music is on another level right now.
In what ways? What’s something you’ve noticed that you can do right now that you weren’t able to do when making Humble Beast ?
With Humble Beast I wasn’t being completely honest. I was holding back some situations, and some emotions, and ways I felt about certain things in my life. Now I’m just embracing it. I’m diving all in and I’m going to talk about the good, the bad, the ugly. Even when I did talk about those things on the album, I still held back. I feel like now, that’s turning me into a better artist. I had a conversation with Baby one day—the first day I met Birdman—and he asked me, “You from the streets, right? You believed that when you were in the streets, you would die for the streets, right? You’d die for what you stood for.” Then he asked, “Don’t you feel the same way about rap? If this your life, take everything that comes with it. You gotta embrace it. Die for this shit.”
That’s when I felt it. This is my life. This is what I’m doing. This is what I love, what I’m passionate about. Same way I was in the streets. I put sacrifices on the line. I lost friends. I lost family. I’ve gained friends. I’ve done a lot behind music so I just have to embrace it. I feel like I didn’t do that with Humble Beast all the way. With some things I was like, “Uh...I’m not gonna say that.” Right now I’m working on my project Swervo with Southside and it’s a bunch of crazy trap beats but I’m still talking about real shit.
I always think back to an interview I did with Boosie a couple years back and I asked him was there any parts of his life that were off limits to include in his music. He said nothing was untouchable because if someone he trusts ends up fucking him over, he’s going to tell the world about it. He didn’t believe in protecting people because of family ties. Is that where you are now?
That’s exactly where I am. My music is turning me into a different artist. I’m tapping into my soul as deep as I can go to talk about what I been through and what I’m going through. I’m putting it on wax. You’re just gonna have to hate it or love it.
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