[Interview] G-Eazy talks “These Things Happen,” succeeding as an independent artist, and fear of failure

G-Eazy Interview on The Come Up Show

Interview by: Martin Bauman

Meet Oakland’s newest hip-hop ambassador: G-Eazy. The 24-year-old emcee/producer is yet another example of today’s rising class of independent hip-hop artists with a do-it-yourself ethos — one that’s increasingly paying off. After achieving his first widespread success with 2011’s The Endless Summer, G-Eazy followed suit with 2012’s Must Be Nice, getting the opportunity to hit the road with Shwayze, then the Vans Warped Tour, and later Hoodie Allen. Now he’s headlining his own tour as he preps his upcoming These Things Happen release, and he stops in Toronto this Thursday. We caught up with the Oakland native to talk about his upcoming album, succeeding as an independent artist, the fear of failure, and much more. Read the interview below.

TCUS: You’re coming to Toronto on March 20th, as part of the These Things Happen tour. How many times have you been to Toronto in the past?

G-Eazy: One or two. Yeah, I’m playing there with Tory Lanez at the Mod Club. Toronto is amazing, it’s one of my favourite cities to visit. Toronto and Montreal are just super dope places.

TCUS: Let’s take it back to the beginning for a moment, recording with Marty as a teenager. Tell me about that time.

G-Eazy: I mean, that was just us having this dream of putting music out, playing shows, and building a fan base. It was all super humble, like, what if we could do this ourselves? We got started in like 9th grade, and we would just hang out every day. We saved up our money and bought a mic, and [we] started trying to get serious about writing songs – and I was making beats. We’d head to my place after school every day and just record.

TCUS: One album you’ve mentioned as a big influence on your life is A Tribe Called Quest’s Midnight Marauders. Tell me about that album’s influence on you.

G-Eazy: I feel like that’s almost a perfect album. That and Illmatic – although they’re different sides – they both capture a time, and energy, and a culture. When you think about New York in the early to mid-nineties, those records capture that culture really well. Growing up in the Bay, I’ve always kind of had this infatuation for New York and their culture, so I was either listening to nineties New York hip-hop, or I was listening to local Bay Area shit like Mac Dre and E-40.

TCUS: Going in another musical direction, you grew up in the same household as your grandparents and also your aunt and uncle – who happened to be in a surf rock band, the New Easy Devils. What kind of an influence did they have on you musically growing up?

G-Eazy: Well, that was me watching a band do it firsthand, you know? They pressed up CDs, they played shows, they rehearsed – they were legit in my eyes. It was like, wow, you really can go from a basement, to a stage, to pressing up CDs, to building something. It was inspiring to watch.

TCUS: What other music would have been playing in the household as you were growing up?

G-Eazy: The Beatles. My mom played a whole lot of Beatles, Bob Dylan, and Johnny Cash. And then I would take over the radio and play the local radio station.

TCUS: Going back to what you were talking about with your aunt and uncle’s band, watching them do it themselves firsthand. You’re part of an entirely new generation of musicians in which, more or less, the mentality is do-it-yourself – you’re releasing a lot of music for free, and there’s also a shift to artists staying independent. How do you succeed in the current climate?

G-Eazy: It’s crazy, man. It’s like a whole new world that we live in with regards to how you create and release music. I mean, the challenge, obviously, is cutting through the noise. With the barriers of entry being lowered, it’s so much easier to get in the game and make shit. But I think it all comes down to the quality of the music and the strategy behind releasing it. I think the special stuff still finds a way [to be heard, as long as] you pair it with a good release strategy.

TCUS: Speaking of success and the music industry, what can you tell me about the Pyramid Theory?

G-Eazy: [Laughs] What the hell! Are you working for the feds or some shit? I wrote that in like 2008 or some shit. I was actually just thinking about it, because I was wanting to go back and re-read that. That’s wild. I don’t know. If you think about rap and how it has become so much easier to record music and release it, and you think about everyone in the world being a ‘rapper’ these days, it’s so much easier. But it’s still as hard as ever to break through and truly be successful in this industry.

“Lost in this young world, I’m just trying to navigate/ See the pie sliced, I’m just trying to grab a plate.” – G-Eazy in “Must Be Nice”

Sometimes it can be misleading, and if you have 10,000 Twitter followers and you get some downloads on a mixtape and some plays on a YouTube video, you feel like you’re doing something – you feel like you’re getting somewhere. But the allure of this is so crazy. When you actually think about it, there’s very few people who are making a living at the highest level and are gonna be able to live comfortably for the rest of their lives. Most people will have a run and make decent money for awhile, [but it doesn’t last forever]. It’s kinda eye opening when you think about shit like that.

TCUS: When you think about success – and there’s lots of definitions of success, depending on who you ask – what does the term mean to you?

G-Eazy: I just always wanted a platform. In the past, I always dreamed of having a following and a fan base – you know, a group of people just listening and paying attention to what I was making. I think the reality kicked in that you have to make a living so that you have enough time to keep creating, you know? ‘Cause if you’re not making a living at this, then you’re making a living working another job, and if you’re working another job, you’re spending all your time doing that and can’t put enough time into the music. If you’re not putting enough time into the music, there’s not gonna be a whole lot of it. So in my eyes, success is just being able to do what I love for a living, spend all my time doing it, connect with fans, and continue that for a long f—king time.

“I just want to live this dream, will it be what I imagined?/ But nothing tops making a living off your passion.” – G-Eazy in “Plastic Dreams”

TCUS: Going back to the Pyramid Theory, and thinking about pyramids of success, it reminds me of the Kobe system. You had the chance to meet Kobe Bryant not too long ago. Tell me about that.

G-Eazy: It was f—king crazy. I was waiting outside of the locker room with Gee Roberson, who’s a friend of Kobe’s. He was the one who was going to introduce me. I was watching all of these Laker players walk out, and I just remember being starstruck – like, seeing Pau Gasol. I’m wondering in my head, man, how am I gonna be able to contain myself when I actually meet Kobe? I mean, Kobe’s Batman to me. He’s a superhero in my eyes. I’ve been a huge fan my entire life.

When he finally walks out, this weird thing happened where I wasn’t starstruck at all. I just looked at him, shook his hand, and started talking, and it was as if I was talking to a peer and not a superhero. And I don’t mean that in the sense of [me viewing myself like that]. It’s more like, this is another person who views the world in a similar way, and who has such a strong work ethic. Obviously, he’s accomplished so, so, so much more than I could ever hope to come close to accomplishing, but it’s just like there are certain types of people in the world, and there was something about him that made me feel like, this is someone like me who just works and loves what he does, and goes in.

TCUS: I want to go back to one of your lines off Must Be Nice. On “Hello” you mention how you’re “sorta happy [you didn’t] blow up any faster,” and you “appreciate it more when the money comes after/ the hard work and dedication it requires.” How do you think you would have handled this success five years ago?

G-Eazy: I would’ve fumbled it. When you’re not prepared for shit that happens, it can all get out of whack. I needed the preparation; I needed the time; I needed to pay my dues, and to work, and to build, and to practice, and to learn, and all that. That’s how you cope with everything when it finally happens, because you’re prepared for it. I mean, this game takes a little bit of luck, but it’s all about [being prepared] when that opportunity presents itself. And if you’re not prepared, then you just f—ked it all up.

TCUS: This theme of success continues in “Almost Famous” and “Sleepless.” In the latter, you rap about how you’re stressing about success. Tell me about this line.

G-Eazy: Basically, I’ve put myself in this position where I haven’t set myself up with a Plan B. I don’t have a safety net; it’s all in. I think that anxiety will always kinda be there, in the sense that yeah, this could totally be cool right now, and it’s amazing that we’re selling out these shows and got this moving, but that anxiety’s always in the back of my head, like, I hope this shit lasts, because I certainly haven’t made enough to live forever. I kinda have this paranoia in the back of my head, like, f—k, what if this all falls apart? Am I just gonna be a bum? So as long as that fear is always in me, I think that’s kind of what drives me to keep working hard.

TCUS: So you think having that fear as a constant motivator is crucial, in a sense.

G-Eazy: Yeah, f—k! ‘Cause if you get comfortable, that’s how you fall off.

TCUS: You know, it’s an interesting binary to think about being successful and yet having to always be looking behind your shoulder, never quite satisfied. Let me ask you about the significance of the mantra “never get too comfortable in one spot.” What does that mean to you?

G-Eazy: Well that’s exactly what we’re talking about. If you push yourself to stay hungry, you’re always working towards at least taking steps forward. If you’re taking steps forward, then you’re making progress. I think even if you look at the greats, like, Jay Z’s still pushing himself. He’s never comfortable; he’s never content. Kobe’s still pushing himself to chase that sixth ring. I think when people get comfortable is when they fall off.

“While I made a splash, rappers came and passed/ But still I ask myself: how long does famous last?” – G-Eazy in “Almost Famous”

TCUS: So you’re on this tour right now, the These Things Happen tour. The project is in the works. What more can you tell us about the LP?

G-Eazy: I’m just really excited. I’ve got E-40 on the album – that was a really big deal to me. It’s pretty much done; we’re just mixing and mastering it, and hoping to set a release date soon.

TCUS: What kind of an icon was E-40 to you, growing up in the Bay?

G-Eazy: I mean, he’s as big as it gets, you know? He put on for the Bay forever. He’s been doing this for so long, so consistently. It’s crazy and inspiring. Growing up listening to KMEL, E-40 was all you heard. [He’s] been the man in the Bay. So that’s just a level of greatness to aspire to.

TCUS: I was talking to Talib Kweli a couple weeks ago about his music, and he was telling me how certain songs you make not because they’ll sound good or make money, but because you need to write that song with a particular message. With that in mind, what has been the most important song for you to make and why?

G-Eazy: I don’t know, that’s a tough question. I know that “Far Alone” was a really important song for me to make, and it was also an important song to come out first and be the buzz single for my album, because I wanted to make that statement. The first story I need to tell is where I’m from. It’s the early sound that inspired me in the first place. And that’s the record that E-40 hopped on.

TCUS: I know that you’re a Malcolm Gladwell fan. What’s your favourite theory of his?

G-Eazy: The Tipping Point, obviously. [It’s] something that we’ve religiously built into our whole perspective on working for this. If you put in your hours, then when that moment of luck hits and it starts to tip, you’re prepared for it.

TCUS: You know, that kind of reminds me of something you brought up earlier. With artists, the window for a career is potentially much shorter and so you have to put in so much more time. The window of opportunity is more condensed. Tell me about that.

G-Eazy: I think it’s like anything else. If you want to play the trumpet, you’ve gotta spend years studying your craft and learning your instrument. Same thing with this shit. Everything has its little nuances and intricacies that matter. But yeah, when that moment comes, it’s about striking while the iron’s hot and going in. That’s what you’ve prepared for, you know? Go hard.

TCUS: What goals have you set for yourself for the next couple years?

G-Eazy: This tour has done really well, so the next tour, we’d love to do bigger rooms. I’d love to get to Fox Theatres – you know, beautiful, old, big theatres. That would be a big benchmark for me, to do a Fox Theatre tour – I think that’s like 4,500 cap. And then after Fox Theatres, you work towards Amphitheatres, and then the ultimate goal is arenas.

TCUS: Final question for you: what do you want your legacy to be?

G-Eazy: My legacy? F—k dude, I don’t know. That’s a crazy question. I just want to make music that matters, that people will remember for a long time.