WORDS: AYANA RASHED
PHOTOGRAPHER: JAREN “DIGITAL JAY” HOLDEN
CREATIVE TECHNOLOGIST : TREVOR SAGE-EL
RESPECT. FOUNDER: J. RHEINGOLD
COVER PHOTO © MUSINART LLC
We originally closed this feature months ago, but with the advent of COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter movement taking place, we had to get back to the Chi-Town-bred to get his perspective on the current state of America, and how PTSD is more relevant than ever with police brutality, among many other violent acts, taking place in the world that can cause post-traumatic stress disorder.
RESPECT.: What are your thoughts on the current state of America as police continue to kill unarmed black people?
Do you feel like the way artists perform and distribute music will forever be changed after the COVID-19 pandemic?
What positive words could you give to Black people during such a tough time in America involving police killings, mental illness, and COVID-19 statistics that show Black people are suffering the most?
“That was the entire purpose of me recording the album and naming it PTSD — because we get used to a lot of this stuff that we go through, and you really don’t think you can make it out of these situations. The key thing is really just facing your fears, leaning toward your fears and accepting reality for what it is.” — G Herbo
Growing up on Chicago’s East Side, Herbert Randall Wright III saw some things his young eyes shouldn’t have, which has shaped him into the man he is today, better known by his stage name, G Herbo. The silly, passionate, hardworking, personality-driven 24-year-old was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, also known as PTSD. With the release of his third studio album, PTSD, the young rapper shows his vulnerability and street-smart mentality; speaks about his battles with demons, mental health, and internal pain; and talks about his survival tactics while bringing awareness to a much bigger issue in the black community.
From popular mixtapes such as the Pistol P Project, Welcome to Fazoland and Ballin Like I’m Kobe to studio albums such as Humble Beast, Swervo and his latest, PTSD, Herbo has devoted himself to hard work as he takes his fans on a journey through his childhood pain and growing up in the hard knocks of Chicago. He speaks from the perspective of a black man dealing with stereotypes, battling mental health and experiencing so much trauma from the deaths of his close friends. He has prevailed in a major way, and his success speaks volumes all while fighting his own demons.
As with many of the rappers hailing from Chicago, G Herbo speaks about the violence his city endures on a daily basis throughout his music, like hometown heroes such as Common, Lupe Fiasco and Kanye West, to name a few. He strives to keep his voice alive as one of the leaders of the younger generation in Chi-Town, like Chance the Rapper, Polo G, Noname, Lil Durk and Calboy, as well as his late close friend, Juice Wrld, who passed on December 8, 2019.
Chicago is one of the most dangerous cities in America,with one of the highest murder rates in the U.S. Most crime takes place predominantly in African American neighborhoods on the South Side. Filmmaker Spike Lee’s 2015 release, Chi-Raq, showcased Chicago’s tragic gun violence using a narrative inspired by the Greek comedy Lysistrata. August 2016 marked the most violent month in Chicago in over two decades with 92 murders, including the murder of Nykea Aldridge, cousin of NBA star Dwyane Wade. In 2017 the number of homicides fell to 653, and to 561 in 2018. At press time, 191 people have been killed in 2020, which is 1 fewer than 2019, according to the Chicago Tribune. Mental health in the black community is often a subject that is swept under the rug. Rates of mental illnesses in African Americans are similar to those of the general population. However, disparities exist in regard to mental health care services. African Americans often receive poorer quality of care and lack access to culturally competent care, according to the American Psychiatric Association.
The intriguing and eye-catching cover art for PTSD was an eye opener to many, and which Herbo says gave his fans an in-depth vision of the many lives of close friends he’s lost in his 24 years on this earth. Herbo holds up an American flag on the cover with bullet holes, each hole representing a close friend he’s lost to violence. The cover is a sad reality of what many children and adults go through living on the violent streets of Chicago. He says he’s lost nearly 50 friends to violence and explains why he moves a certain way because of the pain, anger and frustration he holds inside. Living his life in a paranoia mindset, enduring so many untimely deaths in such a short span of time, is his story. Despite these devastating events, Herbo remains a dominant force in rap and continues to speak up for people in his hometown and all over the world who endure the same pain every day.
Herbo is heavily involved in the community in Chicago and continues to rise and expand in rap music since his XXLFreshman cover in 2016, and he’s been on a wild ride. In 2018 Herbo went on K104, a radio station in Dallas,Texas, and did a freestyle over Three Six Mafia’s “Who Run It” instrumental. The freestyle went viral and eventually became available on all music platforms. He then went on to release his second studio album, Swervo,which debuted at No. 15 on the Billboard 200 and included features from Chi-Town native Chief Keef, Young Thug, 21 Savage and many more. He’s contributing to the redevelopment of a former school in Chicago, Anthony Overton Elementary School. His latest project, PTSD, charted at No. 7 on the Billboard 200, and his track “PTSD,” with fellow Chicago native Chance the Rapper and Lil Uzi Vert, charted at No. 38 on Billboard.
“That's so crazy that Juice Wrld was two or three years younger than me, and I learned a lot from him just because he was himself. And I'm not saying I'm not myself, but I'm saying I have to be G-Herbo more than I can be Herbert Wright. He was Jarad Higgins, he was Juice Wrld at the end of the day, but he did what made him happy, not what made other people happy.”
— G Herbo
RESPECT.: You’re G Herbo, 24 years old from the eastside of Chicago. Did you think your life would turn out this way?
G Herbo: I had aspirations to have success. It was a game we used to play growing up called MASH — it’s a ghetto game, really [laughs]. Some shit from the hood, as a kid growing up, you always have aspirations of what you want. Everybody going to circle the mansion, but I didn’t know what it would take to get here, like what I would have to go through to get here. All the adversity I would have to overcome to get here. So my answer would probably be no, I didn’t think I would be here right now. I always wanted to be, but I never really thought I would be.
Tell us why you named your latest album PTSD?
PTSD — the album, the title and everything — was influenced by me coming from the east side of Chicago, really one of the toughest areas in Chicago. I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after I went and saw a therapist. I feel like 80% or 90% of people from where I’m from there have PTSD and they don’t know it or don’t really understand what it is, because we’re so desensitized to what’s going on. We normalize a lot of the stuff. I wanted to bring awareness to my situation so I could help other people. I am you, I was once you, and I was once in your shoes. Life is tough, but it’s not anything that you should accept or get used to. It’s always something greater after any adversity that you face. I just wanted to help people understand and deal with it.
How important was it to send a message with PTSD to bring awareness to an issue in the black community and worldwide?
That was the entire purpose of me recording the album and naming it PTSD, to raise awareness. There is so much stigma in the Black community around mental health, so many things we do not discuss. But when you think of everything we go through as Black people – racism, police brutality, unemployment, the school and prison systems – you realize all of the trauma we experience on a daily that is affecting our mental and how we show up in the world. You really start to think you can’t make it out of these situations. The key thing is having these conversations, facing your fears, leaning towards your problem, and accepting reality for what is so that we can figure out the best ways to change our circumstances.
Mental health seems to be a topic that is swept under the rug for black men. Why do you think that happens most of the time?
You know when somebody loses a homie or a family member, a close friend or something, it’s like you’re not really able to grieve in a sense. People think it’s soft or not manly to really grieve over a situation and especially when those situations happen all the time, it becomes normal. People die every single day where I come from. People go to jail every single day where I come from. It’s a desensitized reality, but it’s not supposed to be normal. It’s not a normal thing for people to just go to jail or for people to just die at a young age, when they’re 15, 16. I’m not talking about when they’re 21 or 25 — it’s 14-year-olds dying in the streets. Its also not normal having to suppress your emotions every day towards these things.
I’ve said this in a few interviews: I was in a room where somebody said, “Raise your hand if you’ve ever been victimized or felt like a victim or anything,” and nobody raised their hands. Then they were like, “Raise your hand if you’ve ever been shot or you’ve ever experienced or witnessed police brutality.” The whole room raised their hands. So I feel like its swept under the rug because we don’t realize we’re being victimized, we don’t realize we’re suffering from mental health disorders. We act like it’s normal. People wake up the next day and go to work, go to school. We don’t recognize the impact certain situations have on your mental health. It should be a big deal but it’s not.
What are some things you do to calm your anxiety day by day?
Smoke, to be honest. I smoke a lot of weed.
I used to self-medicate on a high level, though. I used to take Percoset, Xanax; I used to be addicted to lean. I’ve seen a lot of my friends die right in front of me. I’ve seen people get shot. I’ve been shot when I was a kid. When you should have room to make errors at 16, I didn’t. The slightest mistake could’ve cost me my life at that age. I wanted to escape from that in a sense, so anytime I felt like escaping and letting my guard down, I would get high. But you can’t escape unless you actually work at changing your circumstance.
You were a close friend of Juice Wrld. What kind of impact did he leave on you before his passing?
That’s so crazy that Juice Wrld was two or three years younger than me, and I learned a lot from him. Just because he was himself, and I’m not saying I’m not myself. But I’m saying he was Jarad Higgins and he was Juice Wrld at the end of the day. He did what made him happy, not what made other people happy. At times I actually defer from my actual self just because I’m so busy trying to make other people happy. Like, I’m more G Herbo than I am Herbert Wright. Juice was just naturally that kind of person, he made himself happy. He was just a genuine dude. That’s what I fell in love with about him.
That’s my little brother, so of course it impacted me, and it impacted everyone else around me. When I think about it, I’m no stranger to death, and when I was in the streets, I used to try to find a way to kind of accept it, but I never thought I would have to accept it being him passing away. I’m just honored to be a part of that kid’s journey, to be honest. Just to be there, I can say I was there physically. That’s all that matters.
So your artwork for PTSD shows an American flag with bullet holes and friends that you have lost displayed on the stars. What does that cover art mean to you?
I wanted to bring people into my reality, my world. Me on the everyday, day-to-day basis. I know I’ve lost this many people every single day. I move a certain way because I’ve lost this many people. Fifty people, they all died in different ways. Some people died in the streets standing outside, some people got set up, some people went outside without a firearm and got killed. I behave a certain way every single day because of that.
I’m not asking for sympathy or pity for my situation; I never asked for that. I always wanted to bring awareness to my situation to help other people. You can’t judge a person that’s seen 10 people die, they’d go crazy any single day at any given moment trying to hold that frustration, that anger and pain inside. You put anybody in my environment, if they’re a survivor, they’re gonna behave the same way we did. Imagine seeing somebody bleed out, and you got to go outside the next day and you see somebody else bleed out. The third time, you’re gonna want to come outside with a gun, just in case you bleed out. In case somebody put your life in danger.
When you think of PTSD, you automatically associate it with the army. We’ve been at war with each other and ourselves forever where I come from. I wanted to just bring awareness to my life, to my reality and millions of other people’s reality.
You always talk about how many friends you’ve lost. Do you think that had an effect on your mental health growing up?
Absolutely, but I didn’t know. I thought it was normal to carry a gun outside or carry a gun in the church. I had a gun on me in the church at my grandmother’s funeral and a thousand other churches at my homie’s funeral. Can you imagine being afraid for your life knowing a n*gga will kill you right in front of a church. That was my reality growing up as a kid. So it’s like, of course it affected me and everything that I did. I couldn’t go pick my little sister up from school, I had a nice car at 18 years old, and I couldn’t pick my little sister up because I was afraid that anything could happen with her being in the car. With me her life was at risk. It affected me in so many ways. God just blessed me to have a strong mind and a strong will to make sure I’m successful in any situation. Other than that, I probably would’ve went crazy.
So on your social media, Instagram specifically, you always post about when Chicago has good stuff going on and when there are no shootings over a certain span of time. Do you feel like Chicago is getting better on crime?
I actually do. People are able to occupy their time for the better; people are really trying to succeed. They’re seeing kids getting rich. N*ggas 20 years old with millions of dollars, so I think people are trying to find a way out, and they still are who they are and from where they come from, and we’re all products of our environment, but I do think it’s getting better because people realize there’s another way. It took me a while to learn that. I thought I was gonna be able to be on 79th and Essex rich with chains and cars, Maseratis, Bentleys. I thought I was gonna be able to have all of them on my block and do whatever I wanted to, and have my gun on my waist when I was doing it. I didn’t see anything past 79th and Essex. Kids are able to see past their neighborhood now. They want more resources and access to do better for themselves.
On PTSD you sampled some classic hip-hop tracks,like Jadakiss’ “Still Feel Me,” Beanie Sigel’s “Feel It in the Air” and Jay-Z’s “Intro.” Why did you decide to use those samples on “Feelings,” “Intuition” and“Intro,” and what did you want to get across with those songs?
I grew up on hip-hop. Hip-hop always represented vulnerability, it was always real style that’s true to you. I grew up listening to that, and I wanted to get personal and I wanted to be vulnerable on purpose with this album. “Still Feel Me” is one of my favorite Jadakiss songs. It’s one of his most vulnerable songs also. So that was why I kind of ran up on that one with “Feelings.” I wanted to pay homage to the legends, too. Like, I want Jadakiss to be able to hear that and say, “Damn, that little n*gga hard.” I want Hov to hear “Intro” and be like, “Damn, that little n*gga hard.” I want Beanie Sigel to hear “Intuition” the same way. So I approached it that way. A lot of times, kids really don’t want to run up on those types of samples; you’re scared of what people are gonna say or what they’re gonna think, or if they’re gonna gravitate toward it. I was just trying to be me on it, and I put it out. If I didn’t have confidence, I wouldn’t have done it, though.
Who was your favorite artist to work with on PTSD?
My favorite — I can’t pick. Juice Wrld, if I had to pick.
So you did charity work with Chance the Rapper. Does it always feel good to give back to the community?
It always feels good to give back, even if it’s pulling up. That’s giving back. You motivate so many people. Like,when I go back to my neighborhood, if I’m with my homies or on my block with the kids, I don’t wear my jewelry. I don’t want to motivate them in that way. I don’t want that to be the motivation, like I’d probably wear a watch. I’m just going to go with chains because they might get the wrong impression and think that’s important. That’s what you should want to get out of where you’re going. People can really just look at me and see that I really defeated the odds. Like I did so much stuff other than flash what I got —and I’m not saying anything is wrong with that, because alot of people do it for motivation and because we never had it before or never imagined having any of this stuff. But to some people, it doesn’t register to them that they can get that also. You gotta show them that they can strive for and do what they think is right, or they will try to do things the fast way and believe that’s what they need to get. Let me get 20 chains, and that’s not really what it’s about.
Name one rapper that you haven’t worked with that you would love to work with.
Jay-Z or Lauryn Hill.
You called Kobe Bryant “the MJ of this generation.” What kind of impact did he have on you?
I named one of my mixtapes “Ballin Like I’m Kobe.” You either loved Kobe or you hated him, and that’s because he was a GOAT; it wasn’t like, you know, in between. And I was one of the people who loved him. When I was a kid, it was my passion for basketball that made me fall in love with him. I just saw him winning, and the Lakers were the No. 1 franchise. My two favorite players were Allen Iverson and Kobe Bryant.
I think when I got older and started to experience life is what made me fall in love with Kobe even more was his real will. I understood he didn’t just win those rings by coincidence;he put all his dedication, passion, sacrifice into it. Everything that comes with winning. And that’s not with just basketball, that’s with rap, that’s with being an actor. I don’t care if you’re the most successful librarian, you had to sacrifice a lot. You had to do all those things to succeed,and that’s what I loved the most about Kobe as I got older. That’s what made him who he was. He didn’t just motivate people on the court.
What does “respect” mean to you?
It’s having dignity with self. You can’t really respect nobody else unless you respect yourself. So you gotta have self-dignity, honor yourself. Of course, you’re not supposed to get disrespect, but you don’t really look for respect from others because you know exactly what kind of person you are and what you’re capable of and what you’re not capable of. So I would say it’s about having dignity.