Exclusive Interview: G-Eazy Must Be Nice
G-Eazy is a unique individual. His blend of doo-wop and hip-hop made him an early stand-out in the rap game. Who else do you know who could flip a Beach Boys song and a Crystals song on the same tape?
His newest album, however, is completely bereft of samples. The Oakland-native challenged himself to create everything from scratch and the end result was a more mature, fleshed-out sound. He may look like an extra from the Pleasantville movie, but he’s making his stamp on the music industry and he’s doing it all independently.
His 34-city Must Be Nice tour kicks off January 30, and now G-Eazy talks to us about tour life, musical influences and maturation.
You’re being called the James Dean of hip-hop. James Dean was always a very put-together, cool dude, so do you feel the need to be awesome 24/7 now?
I think that comes with music in general. You kind of have to become the character that you embody with the music 24/7. If you see somebody in the streets or if you see somebody at a party and they expect you to be that character, it just kind of comes hand in hand with the music.
Your albums flow very well from track to track. Does it bother you at all that a lot of people probably don’t listen to it in sequence anymore and just check out select tracks? Does that take away from the experience?
Yeah, [but] that’s just something you’re gonna deal with. To be honest, I’m an album kid. I grew up listening to Illmatic front to back and if you’re gonna put it on you’re gonna listen to it all the way through. 2001, just classic albums you can listen to top to back like that. That’s the way I like to listen to music and that’s the way I like to create projects. Whether or not people are always gonna listen to it like that, obviously you have no control over that, but that’s the way I like to design them.
On “Reefer Madness” you talk about Illmatic inspiring you. What were the albums that you heard growing up that really made you want to become a rapper?
That’s tough. It could have been 2001 by Dr. Dre, to be honest. That album had the biggest influence on me. Just growing up in California, on the Westcoast, that album was definitely massive and that was a classic. That made me want to get into making beats and then just rapping from there.
Can you tell our readers the story of having to leave the Drake tour early for school?
I got this opportunity, which was amazing for me at the time, to go out and open up on Drake’s tour. I was still i school at the time so I had to negotiate with my teachers on how to miss about two weeks of classes and to be able to just send in my homework and try to stay on top of everything while I was on the road.
The whole crew out there really liked us and they offered us a chance to finish up the tour and do the last few dates. It was only an extra couple of days, but I emailed my teachers to make sure I could do it and all but one of them was okay with me missing the days. Then one of them told me if I missed another class that I would fail. So, we had to play the show then drive straight back to New Orleans to get back to that stupid class.
That feels like it would be a crossroads moment. I think a lot of artists would choose to stay on the tour. How hard was it for you to not do that and not drop out altogether?
It was definitely tough. But, to be honest, one thing that always hit me was nothing in music is certain. Ever since I was old enough to work, I had a part-time job all through high school. I had friends that didn’t go to college and just worked part-time jobs and lived paycheck to paycheck. So, I knew what that could be like.
Sure, music was showing a lot of promise but there was no guarantee that music was ever gonna work out and my mom had always preached since day one, “If you want a chance to do something, you’re gonna have to get your degree and it’s safer to have it.” And I think that was like my junior year or something like that, so I had already invested so much into college that it felt foolish to just walk away from that and not just finish it out.
In the first verse of “Must Be Nice” you talk about wanting to get your chance and seeing rappers you know you’re better than getting on before you. Coming from The Bay, where there’s been groups who were never taken seriously but got media attention, how frustrating was that to watch?
It’s always frustrating. I think a lot of artists go through that kind of experience. You see the gimmick rappers come up and get one and if you’re somebody who takes their craft seriously it can get to you. You’re like, “Man, I should have had that opportunity.” But that’s just the way of the game. That’s just the nature of everything. The old cliche is true: the good things come to those who wait and work hard and stay consistent.
You went to school in New Orleans and that seems to have had an effect on your music, especially with the artists you’ve worked with or sampled. From Johanna Fay to the Generationals, how much has that city influenced you?
It’s definitely influenced my music a ton. I think wherever I lived I would have soaked up whatever was around me, but New Orleans is definitely an interesting place with a rich culture and a rich history with music so it’s a cool place to be.
How challenging was it for you to do all the producing and mixing yourself on Must Be Nice? With no samples.
To be completely honest, when I make beats using a sample, it’s kind of like using a crutch. It’s like, I don’t really deserve all the credit because I’m using something to build off of. Having to sit down in the studio and just come up with something from scratch is really different. But, I’m always trying to challenge myself and evolve and mature as a person and as an artist. It was just the next step for me creatively, learning how to get out of my comfort zone and learning how to make tracks from scratch.
You made a really interesting point in the past about how the ceiling is higher without a sample, too, because you don’t have to divvy up the money.
Yeah, at the end of the day it’s more gratifying to look at a song and say, “I made that from scratch.” And, also, the paycheck is better.
You’ve gone from doo-wop to a more hard-hitting 808s style, especially on your new track, “Jack Skellington.” Do you feel like you’ve truly found your voice and style yet?
I think that’s a process. If you look at anybody’s career, even somebody like Kanye, who’s probably my favorite artists who I look up to the most, album to album he’s always evolving. He didn’t stay making sped-up soul samples his whole career. He kept pushing things forward. That’s the motto that i want to take after: never getting too comfortable in one spot. You want to keep pushing things forward and wanting to keep trying new things and keep getting better.
“Acting Up” talks about feeling the need to grow up now that you’re in your 20s but still feeling like a kid at heart. How hard is it to come to the realization that you’re out of school, nearing your mid-20s, and fully in that adult world now?
It’s crazy. I think most people’s careers, they get out of college and they maybe work a part-time job for a while and then they get an opportunity doing something that they really want to do. Then their career builds then they gotta work their way up and maybe by the time they’re in their early-to-mid-30s they’re getting into a groove and they’re doing what they want to do.
Whereas, me, I literally hit the ground running as soon as I was out of school and all of a sudden, I’m thrown into this world where I’m becoming a professional in my field. So, it was crazy. It all happened so fast, but it’s important to mature with it and learn how to pace yourself and take care of everything.
Say music hadn’t worked out, what do you think you’d be doing?
Man, that’s a tough call. That’s something that haunts me everyday. Because, in my mind, it’s still not like it’s worked out. It’s not like I’ve made it. I haven’t arrived yet or whatever. So I just try to keep that thought in the back of my mind. I don’t ever want to go and work in the mall and work at some Apple store or something like that. I want to be able to wake up, drink coffee, and make music all day.
The Must Be Nice tour is coming up in a couple of weeks. How’s it shaping up?
Man, I’m really excited about the Must Be Nice tour. Headlining my own tour has been a dream of mine for a long time. Ever since I first went out on my first tour ever, I realized instantly how bad I wanted to be out on my own run. But it’s necessary to pay your dues and go out and open up for other people and get that exposure and put your time in. But the whole time, I was thinking in my head, ultimately, one day I want this to be my show. And this is the first real tour where I’m headlining, tour’s built around me, so it’s really exciting.
I think it’s just gonna be a lot of fun [to] go out there and just travel the country and play a lot of good shows.
You said the tour is finally built around you. How much pressure goes along with that to put on a good show?
There’s definitely pressure that comes with that, to sell tickets and put on a good show. But that’s kind of what I want. Say James Harden wanted to go to the Houston Rockets and lead a franchise. At the end of the day, if they don’t win, the blame is on his shoulders. Whereas, if you’re playing with other superstars the blame is spread evenly.
At the end of the day, I want to go out and I want to work hard to sell out these shows. It’s just like my philosophy with music, it just feels so much more gratifying when you did it your way. You’re headlining your tour off of music you made yourself and it’s working.
Is signing to a major on the horizon for you or do you want to keep it independent?
I want to keep it independent as long as possible. We all share that philosophy. We like how we run the business and me and my team want to keep it that way as long as possible But, at a point, you begin to outgrow the small business platform.
My studio’s at home. I have all my merch here that we ship out from home and drop off at USPS everyday. But, even that is outgrowing my house. We just had to move the merch to whole new room and get a bunch more shelves because we couldn’t hold all the inventory. So you get to a point where the business starts to outgrow itself, but until that point we want to keep it independent.