“I’m a little nervous,” G-Eazy said, seated before 50 or so fans in an intimate gathering at YouTube Space New York on Monday (March 19) evening. He reached to fill his glass with Stillhouse Black Bourbon, to calm his nerves, before diving into his Q-&-A with YouTube Global Head Music (and longtime music executive) Lyor Cohen.
“The thing is,” he further explained to his giggling and adorning fans, “I can get on stage in front however many people, and this has me scared shitless. I could never talk in class. My voice would shake and everything.”
This was just the first countless vulnerable vignettes from the 28-year-old rapper. For one, he is petrified pigeons — acting out just how not OK he would be if a “rat with wings” were anywhere near him and his clean Air Yeezy 2s at this very moment. He much more warmly welcomed questions from Cohen and a few fans for just under an hour, following a private screening his new YouTube Music Artist Spotlight Story These Things Happened.
The doc starts with G-Eazy saying, “My approach to music has always been autobiographical.” What ensues for the next 15 minutes is his condensed autobiography. Throughout, there are equal parts footage unassuming teenager Gerald Gillum and present-day G-Eazy, the self-assured, Platinum-certified artist.
During Cohen’s Q&A, between sips Stillhouse, there's no shortage love shown to the Bay Area (specifically G’s hometown Oakland), the rapper's mother (“She’s my queen, she’s my everything”), his family and team, his fans and ( course) the music.
“Twelve years ago, I was standing in downtown Oakland selling mixtapes with a CD player, asking people walking by, like, ‘Support local hip-hop!’” he says in These Things Happened. “I’ve had to work to get my voice heard in music. I’ve had to hone my craft and work at all that. I knew as a little kid — I looked at my parents and said, ‘I don’t want to live like this.’ My mom did everything she could to supply and provide for me and my little brother, and she scraped to get by. She worked two jobs. I promised myself that somehow, someway, I would make it to some point in my life and I would give and that I would take us further.”
Spoiler alert: He kept that promise. G-Eazy has gone from making $100 a show on his first tour to giving any excess money, upwards $20,000, he makes after a show to his mother. Tuesday (March 20), the MC will close out the North American leg his Beautiful and Damned Tour at Radio City Music Hall. “I'm gonna look at that marquee and cry,” he said.
Before the event, Billboard sat down with Gerald in his green room to talk in more detail about what it means to be G-Eazy. Read our conversation, and watch These Things Happened below.
In the teaser, you acknowledge that eyes are on you now that you've arrived at the platform you've always wanted. What is the No. 1 thing you want to make sure you do with the space you find yourself in now?
I want to do it right. I want to matter. Make music that matters, make music that resonates, music that’s relevant, music that inspires people or connects with people on a fundamental level. And then to matter culturally. To represent the right things, and that’s a pretty broad statement.
But, you know, I think that’s the key to longevity — or at least one them. It’s just doing it right. Staying a good person. Remembering who you are and your values and what you want to represent because you’re this figure that’s in the public eye, that people look up to or look at or whatever, and that audience can be very impressionable. So being aware your influence and just having the integrity and awareness to treat it with respect.
The Artist Spotlight Story is called “These Things Happened” — so do you have a particular stretch your life, something that did happen, that at the time you were maybe embarrassed about or felt defined by, but now see it as an experience in hindsight that gives you an advantage to better help other people?
Maybe meeting with record labels for the first time. So, when I was about 21, I was uploading songs to MySpace. I was trying any and everything I could do to try and build a fanbase — get this ball rolling. And nothing was really working. I made this song that kind caught a little bit attention on MySpace, and a few record labels reached out and flew me out. I think at the time I was so in shock by that experience — I had never been to New York.
Getting flown here and staying in hotels, and going to these big buildings uptown, meeting with these record companies. I was convinced I was gonna get signed, and I was gonna make it right then and there. That was it. And being flown home, and not getting called back — and especially when I’d told all my friends what was going on. I was young. I was naive. I thought that this was my moment, and it wasn’t.
For a while, I felt defeated. I felt inadequate. I felt like it maybe wasn’t gonna work out because clearly whatever they didn’t see in me, I was the only person who saw it in me at the time. Maybe a couple people very close around me. So having to go back to the drawing board and figure it out on my own was that defining moment. It took a long time.
Did you change anything, or did you just keep doing what you were doing before and hope that the right people found you?
When you lose, you don’t want to keep doing the same thing and losing at it. At the end the day, in all honesty, if you lose you have to be able to look in the mirror. It’s like — that’s not always the case, but you’re the most responsible. Period. So, yeah, human beings evolve. Artists evolve. I creatively definitely made changes, but that’s necessary at all times.
I think it’s that imperfect formula becoming the most efficient version yourself that everybody can relate to, but it means something so different to everybody at the same time.
Yeah, there is no roadmap. You have to find that on your own.
More specifically, you're playing a show in D.C. the night before March For Our Lives. What compelled you most to take a position in this #NeverAgain movement?
That was a no-brainer. When that fer came across the table, they brought it to me and said, “Hey, they want you to play this show” and explained to me what it was, what it was about, it was just like a “Yes!” I didn’t ask what the money was, what the venue was, or anything specific. I was just like, “Yes. I’m in, regardless.” Because I think there are certain moments that you just get up and do, and especially with what’s going on in our world right now.
The climate, the temperature, all these ongoing tragedies. It’s like you don’t want to hear politicians say like, “Our thoughts and prayers are with you.” No, like, change is what we need. Dialogue is important. Bringing attention is important. But ultimately, that has to bubble up and lead to actual change. I’m not a politician. I can’t rewrite the laws, but if I can help play any part in bringing any kind conversation or attention to an issue that needs that, then I’m happy to do anything I can.
Well, how does it feel — especially with an issue that I think a lot people feel so helpless about — you’ve found yourself in a position where you get an fer and it’s no-brainer for you to say yes. How does that feel for you to be able to tangibly help in something?
That kind comes back to the first question you asked me about — like, ultimately, what you want to do and realizing the position you’re in, being aware your influence and your power and your reach and the volume your voice and acting accordingly. Being aware and being respectful that power and using it the right way. That’s the important thing.
Less heavy questions now.
What is it about Trippie Redd that you love and appreciate and stands out to you as an artist you want by your side on tour?
Trippie’s got the culture. He’s got the kids. His music, his energy, his whole aesthetic and style, I was a fan. I was following everything he was doing, and I like to give my fans an eclectic experience when I put my line-ups together for a tour. I like to give them a piece whatever I’m into because ultimately, when you experience the whole entire tour, it’s like all a representation —
Me. At the end the day, yeah. So it’s just sharing. Trippie’s killing it. His buzz is crazy, and it’s well-deserved. He’s got a really unique voice. He’s got a really interesting tone to his voice and texture and aesthetic.
Finally, give me one moment during your time meeting Eminem that you'll carry with you forever.
Oh my God.
Besides just the fact you met Eminem, was there something where you were like, ‘OK, this is a story I’m gonna tell at dinner parties’?
I mean, it sounds stupid, but literally just shaking his hand and looking him in his eyes. Being in the presence somebody who has meant so much to me — so much to so many people. Who is a literal living rap god. You know what I mean? Everything he has mattered to the culture for], everything he’s given us, everything that he’s influenced, everything that he’s pushed forward.
Aside from being commercially the most successful artist a decade, which is insane — technique and culture and respect-wise, he’s just as prolific. Just to share space with somebody like that, to converse and be in the energy somebody that magnitude is inspiring, period. I was really flattered by what he said to me. I was kind floored, and I admitted to him, you know, as my voice was shaking, that I was nervous as shit. And I really didn’t know what to say. I left feeling really inspired.
I think what’s cool about that is that you were a fan Eminem, and then Gerald got to meet Marshall.
Yeah, yeah. If you would have told my ten-year-old self that one day I would shake this man’s hand and, like, have a conversation, I would not believe you.