G-Eazy | Tell Me Something, My Friend. You Ever Dance With the Devil in the Pale Moonlight?
The plan is to meet G-Eazy in the lobby of his hotel in Brooklyn. I feel like an undercover agent sent to extract information from a confidential witness. We have a highly choreographed series of maneuvers to complete before I can consider my mission a success—after the arrive I will meet him to chat at the hotel, and then we will be swept into a black SUV to rendezvous to the shoot location.
I’m anxiously flipping through my notes on the subway when I hear his platinum single, “No Limit,” leaking from the gold Beats headphones of a guy next to me. A$AP Rocky and Cardi B float over the metallic screech of rails and a symphony of flu-season sniffles. The guy catches me staring too long and responds with an awkward half-smile, like, you need to chill. Little does he know, today I have no chill. Thankful that the increasingly unreliable infrastructure hasn’t let me down today, I make it to the hotel with time to spare.
Before I have the chance to stress any longer, G-Eazy comes around the corner in an all black get-up, shakes my hand, and drapes his well-loved leather jacket over the side of a chair (Yves Saint Laurent, while my own is thrifted pleather—I’m still on the come up). He puts two identical iPhones on the table beside him, both blowing up. “I hate having two phones. It was such a dumb idea,” he laughs. “I got one to be like a bat phone. One to only give to certain people, like a secret line. I have an obsession with Batman.” In theory, one for G-Eazy: extroverted and dominant, at home on the stage or in the club. and one for Gerald Gillum: protective of his privacy and a bit withdrawn, trying hard to make the right decisions, keeping a tight ring of confidants—though it’s clear the lines often blur.
I expected someone who performs in stadiums to have a personality that takes up a lot of space; maybe too much space. But in person G-Eazy, AKA Gerald Gillum, isn’t like that. The cadence you hear in his music is still there, but softer. His tone is introspective. There’s a quiet charisma that’s hard to define. At the time of this interview he’s about a week out from the debut of his third major studio album, The Beautiful & Damned. He’d been doing pre-release performances all over America, screening a short film that accompanies the album, giving back- to-back interviews, and was about to make a guest appearance in Halsey’s Jingle Ball set. Maybe his calm is just exhaustion, but I appreciate it nonetheless.
To understand Gillum you have to understand the places that raised him. The two most important are the Bay Area of California and New Orleans, Louisiana. Gillum, twenty-eight, grew up in Oakland during the hyphy movement pioneered by artists like Keak da Sneak, Mac Dre, and E-40, who Gillum considers one of his biggest inspirations. “I started making beats and rapping when I was fourteen,” Gillum tells me. He continued to work on music as a college student at Loyola University in New Orleans, where he was exposed to brass bands, second lines, and a high-octane subgenre of New Orleans hip-hop called Bounce music. “It was a different world and a different interpretation of music and culture, but the ironic thing is that the tempo of hyphy and the tempo of Bounce is not really that different. I feel like there’s always been kind of an underlying connection between New Orleans and the Bay for a number of reasons.”
Gillum has put out countless mixtapes, EPs, singles, and now three studio albums. Before headlining his own shows he opened for artists such as Snoop Dogg, Drake, and Lil Wayne. I ask him to talk about his career trajectory, which evokes a bland PowerPoint of brightly colored line graphs. Probably too corporate a phrase to describe the life of an indie rapper. “The trajectory wasn’t very ‘up’ for a long time,” he chuckles, “but I kept doing it and maybe eight years later something finally started to catch on.”
The Beautiful & Damned is a meditation on what canhappen after something catches on. Really catches on.The title is borrowed from an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel by the same name that Gillum read while making the album. The Jazz Age book follows a beautiful, elite couple as they navigate the light and darkness of a life of luxury. “There are themes and elements of the book that I drew inspiration from and draw parallels to,” Gillum says. “You can only be a celebrity for so long. You can only stay young for so long...Whether it’s addiction, whether it’s aging or falling off or, like, dying. None of this lasts forever.”
The album fluctuates between robust tracks like “Love is Gone” (a fuck Trump anthem I didn’t know I needed) and the more subdued “No Less.” But G-Eazy’s signature tone is present throughout. “I’m just kind of a dark and gloomy guy, especially when it comes to my taste in music. I’ve always loved really cinematic feeling songs.” Gillum’s influences, at least the ones he shared with me, include: hyphy, E-40, Bounce, brass, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Batman, Hans Zimmer, Johnny Cash, Danny Elfman, Big Fish, Inception, Requiem for a Dream—the list goes on, but you get the gist.
His interests are wide reaching. And the same is true of his collaborations. The Beautiful & Damned features everyone from Charlie Pluth and E-40 to a lineup of powerful women including Kehlani, Cardi B, and Halsey. “I’ve wanted to work with Halsey for a long time, even before we were dating,” he says. “I know firsthand the amount of effort and work she puts into everything she does. It’s a lot. I’ve always had that respect for her.”
MARNI coat, VIVIENNE WESTWOOD suit, AG shirt, and GIUSEPPE ZANOTTI shoes.
The many collaborations add a unique vibe to each song, but the underlying themes of celebrity, duality, and identity unify the album. “I never know what I’m making until I make it. I didn’t set out with this concept in mind,” Gillum reflects. “It wasn’t until we’d made, like, forty songs that I kind of got a feel for the theme that was developing. Looking at what we had at that halfway mark in the making of the album, we decided to fully explore that idea and try to create that double project.”
Gillum’s face lights up when he starts talking about actually making the music. “I wait until I’m in the studio and I find that it’ll start with the beat, the music. Once that’s established, I’ll wait to start writing and I’ll just put that on loop really loud. So loud that if I mumble I can’t fully hear myself, so I’m not too self-conscious to speak whatever words come out because nobody’s going to hear.” He smirks, “I literally just pace a room with the music really loud mumbling to myself until I have a song and then I go in and cut it right away. It’s not about it being extremely polished or perfect. Some of the imperfections add to the character of the song and it’s all a part of the energy you caught that one night in the studio.”
The album’s short film, directed by Bobby Bruderle, came after the album was finalized and helps express that theme of duality. Gillum cites Fight Club as one of the main inspirations for the visual narrative. In the film, G-Eazy and Gerald Gillum are portrayed as two separate characters that share one existence. “They definitely wrestle with each other inside of me on a regular basis. Oftentimes G-Eazy is the character who comes out at night and lives this out of control, lawless lifestyle. Gerald is left to clean up the mess that G-Eazy made the night before.”
There’s a part in the film where Gerald Gillum is sitting shotgun in G-Eazy’s black Mustang. “None of this shit around you is real,” the Gerald Gillum character says, “None of this is real. Hang on, you’ll find out.” It’s an ominous declaration about the tension between fragile reality and tempting artifice.
“Honestly, point blank, it’s hard,” the Gillum in front of me says. “When you live in a constant cyclone it’s hard to keep your head on straight and get a grip sometimes. For me it’s about the people I surround myself with and remembering to listen to them. I’ve seen it happen where people get so lost that they just don’t listen, and it doesn’t matter who it is. I know I can be that way sometimes too. My friends will literally come to me and try to talk to me, and it doesn’t matter. I won’t listen to anybody. I become defiant when I’m in that cyclone of intoxication and hectic fucking schedules. It becomes this nonstop whirlwind that I just get lost in sometimes. So it’s about remembering to step away from that and listen to the people that you love and that you’ve known forever.”
I ask him if he has any advice for his younger self. “Run while you still can,” he laughs. “No, I’m kidding. I mean, the only thing would be just keep your head down and don’t get too distracted. Don’t take drugs because you’re really going to like them, and you’ll end up really far down the road where I am now. Don’t drink too much and don’t make a habit of it because you’re going to end up like me. Keep the friends around you that you have, because they truly are what have helped me the most, I think, in the most insane times.”
This “cyclone” analogy makes complete sense after spending only a couple hours with Gillum. After the interview we are whisked away from the Pinterest-y hotel where he was staying to the Flaunt photoshoot in an Airbnb that looks like a bunker for Trump’s apocalypse. Gillum and a few members of his team eat take-out on the way. It’s a disorienting life Gillum leads, but it quickly becomes apparent that many on his team are not just work associates, but also close friends.
“All big existential questions and heaviness aside, in all honesty I’m extremely blessed and honored to think about where I’m standing right now,” he tells me. “I have an album coming out with a lot of really incredible people on it. It’s hopefully going to actually sell. I remember being a kid selling mixtapes out of a backpack, and now I have an album that will reach the world. And that’s a really, really, really amazing thing that I don’t take lightly and I don’t take for granted. I appreciate the journey for what it’s been.”
At the end of the interview I ask Gillum if there was anything I didn’t ask him that he wanted to be asked. “I never know how to answer that,” he says, smiling, and then he turns the question back on me. “What’s a question you’ve always wanted to ask? Not just of me. Anyone.” Chastened, my mind goes blank, and I reply that I came to this interview as a consumer of pop culture curious to know what it’s like on the other side.
“All I ever wanted was a platform. Ever since I started making music, I wanted to be heard, I wanted to be felt. But I’ve also been on the other side, I’ve always been a fan,” Gillum tells me. “I always kind of feel like I’m on both sides of that. And it can be intimidating now that I do have a platform because you waited your whole life for this and you worked really hard to get in this position, but I still get really nervous about my shit. I hope it reacts, because none of that is promised. The world just keeps moving faster and faster and faster. Kids move on faster now than ever before. So I guess you just hope that it connects. And I hope that the same kid that I was back then listens to this record like I would have listened to who my heroes were.”
As the interview comes to an end, Gillum’s two cellphones are still buzzing with activity. It’s a particularly overt metaphor for the duality we all struggle with—the battling angels and devils of our natures; constantly seeking to balance multiple identities. Is it possible to both protect yourself and open yourself up to the world? Can Gillum keep G-Eazy on the right path, and can G-Eazy keep Gillum’s dreams alive? With The Beautiful & Damned, Gillum is telling us he’s giving it a try.
Written by Shea Sweeney
Photographed by Shane McCauley
Styled by Jimi Urquiaga
Groomer: Eloise Cheung using Lab Series at Kate Ryan Inc.