On first appearances G-Eazy, born Gerald Earl Gillum, appears as an ode to American Graffiti. With his slicked-back Teddy Boy hair, leather jacket, and suspenders, the rapper is more James Dean than Jay-Z.
However, on closer inspection it seems the story isn’t as a clean-cut as the rapper’s appearance.
Born in Oakland, California G-Eazy’s career has been a perpetual rise since day one. With two top-ten albums, over 400 gig appearances including four 40 day tours, and collaborations with everyone from Drake to E-40, all at the tender age of 26.
Since 2007 Gillum has been crafting away, first using MySpace as a music platform. His self-releases garnered attention early on with the mixtape The Tipping Point getting specific attention. During this time he was also studying Music Industry at Loyola University and building his brand: the self-proclaimed “rap game James Dean”. When the auto-tune-infused “Candy Girl” went viral, almost leading to a record deal, industry taste-makers started taking notice.
Life in New Orleans quickly levelled-up for young Gillum when his track “Runaround Sue”, with Greg Banks, bagged him a deal with Lil Wayne’s management. Supporting Weezy on tour dates while writing and recording his own album in the back of the tour bus led to 2012’s independent release Must Be Nice. With its slick verses, and mature production work from Gillum himself, Must Be Nice was a statement of intent, conveying the attitude and big-talk of an individual whose musical evolution had no intention of slowing down. Tracks like “Ladykillers”, “Stay High” and “Breathe” illustrate the overall theme of the album and lay out a solid foundation on which his later work was expertly crafted.
With Must Be Nice G-Eazy catapulted himself into the industry’s consciousness and it wasn’t long before his first major label release, 2014’s These Things Happen, released on RCA records. Debuting at number 3 on the Billboard 200, this was a huge step for Gillum and cemented his status as a genuine hip-hop artist – he was no longer that white kid with the haircut but a recording artist with something to say, someone to be taken seriously. With its slow tempos and rising synths, the production is decidedly-darker than previous releases and the lyrical content reflects this with Gillum concentrating on lost love and late-night drug-induced escapades as inspiration – check out “Opportunity Coast”, “Been On” and “Downtown Love”.
Owing to the success of These Things Happen, Gillum started selling out shows all over the States – including a sold-out night at the Webster Hall in New York. For a Bay City rapper with no radio presence and a relatively unknown status these sold-out shows on the opposite side of the country showed just how far G-Eazy’s music had traveled.
Showing no signs of slowing down, 2015 brought G-Eazy’s sophomore release When It’s Dark Out. Taking on a more serious tone, the album, his second release on RCA, is sobering and demanding. The production duties are fleshed out with a list of talent encompassing Kane Beatz, DJ Spinz, Cashmere Cat and Southside, along with notable verses from Big Sean and E-40 among other collaborators. The album is bolder and shows a hungry intent from Gillum, who even aligns himself with a certain Eminem: “And fuck it, I’m the coldest white rapper in the game since the one with the bleached hair” he states on “Calm Down”. With tracks like “Me Myself and I”, “Some Kind of Drug” and “One of Them” it is clear that Gillum’s independent days are behind him – this is the work of a recording artist fighting to the top. As he says on “One of Them”: “I see them Rollies, I need one of them / I see them Grammys, I need one of them / I seen them millions, I need some of them / See normal people, I’m not one of them.”
Since his early days, G-Eazy has built a reputation on slick verses and a confident street-wise attitude to brand management. Far from gentrifying hip-hop, as some critics comment, G-Eazy is pathing the way for a new generation of aspiring rappers and exemplifies the mandate that only hard work leads to the top. He may still be only “Almost Famous” but 2016 could be the year that G-Eazy makes it big, and when he does, there’s no knowing what’s next.
So remember the haircut and remember the name – it’s G-Eazy (not Eazy-E or Young Jeezy) – because, far from staying in the shadows, his proverbial black-on-black aesthetic is making him stand out now more than ever.
All the albums mentioned in the article are available here.
Hot-off his sold-out world tour, G-Eazy plays The Garage in Glasgow on May 21st. You can buy tickets here.