As well as an interview with the up-and-coming rapper.
Once, when standing in the dim glow of some New York comedy club, my friend informed me that it was easier to root for the weird-looking guy than the handsome one, because the latter type always has it easy. I’m thinking about that as I sit down for a phoner with G-Eazy, whose clean-shaven babyface and greaser machismo would put him over in the living room of any God-fearing, grandchild-anticipating American mother even as he’s still attempting to transition into greater mainstream exposure. Blessed with a progressive ear for unconventional sources—he gained attention for co-opting Dion Dimucci’s “Runaround Sue” into a track of the same name—and a nasal, flexible flow that evokes Drake at his most congested, G-Eazy (born Gerald Earl Gillum) seems predestined for photogenic stardom. And yet if it were so easy—if grinding and genetics were all it took—he’d be doing more than breaking even, which he alluded to over the phone.
Fortunately, he’s blessed with the ability to evolve, a non-negotiable quality for any artist once the “HIP-HOPPER SAMPLES DOO-WOP!” headlines fade away. “Been On,” which Noisey is stoked to premiere, showcases that forward momentum, built around plangent production that’s propulsive and understated and a world away from the soulful sound on last year’s Must Be Nice. (That the title recalls one by our most popular singer is surely no coincidence, either.) It’s totally enjoyable, and proof that it doesn’t matter if we’re inclined or not to root for G-Eazy as he’s capable of making his argument on his own terms.
There are a lot of lyrics on your last album that evince a genuine weariness with the trappings of fame. Do you like being famous?
There’s definitely two sides to me, always. There’s one with the nerd, workaholic that likes to stay in and work in the studio and just geek out all night, but then there’s the other side that’s totally like, down with everything from the night on and explains the kind of fast-paced ride that I’m on right now. It’s all exciting. I think the other side has definitely developed as the music’s started to take off a little bit more.
Did you ever feel that by talking so much about your doo-wop influences that you were pigeonholing yourself into being the conscious, soulful white rapper?
Nah, I never want to be pigeonholed into that. That was definitely a side that I was trying to show off, but I always want to try to push the music forward and continue to evolve with each project, you know?
I’m working on a new album right now that I’m really excited about. We’ve got a studio set up in the back of the bus and have been working every day on the new stuff. That’s what I’m really excited about—I get like this every time and it’s like I can’t even listen to the old stuff, I cringe when I hear it. I’m just excited about the new direction.
What’s changed for you?
Every album has been a chronicle of which chapter in my life and it keeps on getting crazier. Like, I’m growing as a musician and life is getting faster and crazier. Sonically, I think it’s moving in a darker direction and just, contextually what I’m talking about on the record and everything. It’s pretty normal shit. Not so much as a darker sound but sonically, but like as far as the lyrics and stuff go... Well, I don’t know. These questions are always kind of difficult.
There’s a lyric on your last album [“Must Be Nice”] that explicitly brings up the language of Occupy Wall Street, which you don’t hear a lot of rappers talking about.
A lot of that comes from my background, from my mom. My parents are artists and I was never raised, we were always broke, never raised with money or anything like that. She’s really liberal, hippie weirdo from Berkeley. A lot of that is taking pride in working for everything and my mom was all the way down for all those protests in Oakland, and she’s all political. I always try to incorporate that into my story and into the music and make sure people know that that’s a big part of me, and that it will always be regardless of how successful music ever gets for me.
Have you found it difficult to reconcile those two trajectories?
I think it’ll be something in the future but as of right now I’m still in those shoes. I’m making enough to pay rent which is more than a beautiful thing, but I’m choosing to reinvest back into the music to build something big. As of right now I could be making the same amount of money I’m making if I worked at Starbucks or something like that, but I’m choosing to run the business the right way. So right now, I can’t really speak on that—I can’t say what it’s like to be a rich, successful musician because I still feel right in the center, because I legitimately still am.
So when you tour with someone like Drake, what are you picking up from him?
Whenever I’m on these big tours it’s always a big learning experience for me because these are people who did it, and these are people who have paid their dues and have earned their position. It’s a lot to learn from, whether it’s how they put the show together or their stage presence or everything, the production, it’s just a perfect template of a way to do it.
That’s definitely the merit of getting to watch everybody because you get to say, I respond to this and that but I don’t really respond to this, or whatever, and I can be able to draw from whatever I choose. You feel out a vibe for you or whatever you can take from every situation.
You also sampled a song from Kyary Pamyu Pamyu a few years ago, and now she’s blowing up Stateside. Do you feel like you were ahead of the curve?
You always try to take a forward-thinking approach to stuff you’re going to sample from instead of grabbing something off the radio, and you want to grab something that’s a little left-field or what you think might be next up rather than... but, I don’t know, at the end of the day I have an ear for stuff I like to hear and the way that I approach records is like, I make a record that I would want to listen to personally, so I take all of my influences that I like in music and I try to funnel that into the creative approach to my own songs.
You came up with Lil B, sort of. Do you have any memories of him from back in the day?
I remember being at a barber shop in Berkeley and this was right around the time that Vans had popped off and the Pack had gotten their deal with Jive and they were straight up neighborhood superheroes. Realistically, they were superheroes at that time. I went from being in class with these guys to seeing them on MTV. I remember seeing Lil B sitting in his car outside the barbershop and I was almost just starstruck in a way—I’d known Lil Uno for a few years, I’d gone to middle school and high school with him but I’d never known Lil B like that. Seeing him and thinking, like, “Damn, it’s possible—you can actually make all this happen.” Kind of inspired by all of it. Lil B’s a legend. He’s really, really a legend.
Have you ever met Rihanna? (EDITOR’S NOTE: Lyric from “Plastic Dreams” - “Homie, I just keep dreaming of the day I bang Rihanna / They say "I'm a dreamer", I say "wait until mañana")
No, but when I meet her I’ll totally try to take her down. It will happen. It’s extremely impossible and will never happen, but in my head you can’t tell me that and I totally think it will.
Follow Jeremy Gordon on Twitter - @jeremypgordon