The area affectionately known as “The Bay” may be the most eclectic patch of sprawl in the nation. It began as waves of immigrants crashing together at the Port of Oakland, and filtered out into a buffet of cultural influences that have consistently pushed innovation after innovation into mainstream consciousness. No different is the influence “The Bay” has had on Hip Hop, where artists often serve as a litmus test for what’s going to be popular at some point in the murky Hip Hop future. 

From Digital Underground, MC Hammer, E-40, Hobo Junction,  Mac Dre, and Tupac to Too Short, Lil B, Saafir, Spice 1, Mistah F.A.B, Souls of Mischief, and the Luniz, the area just over the bridge from San Fran’ has relentlessly offered up to Rap audiences a variety of styles that for the most part, while beloved, have come short of taking the entire nation by storm. The reasons may be many. But whether it’s a reluctance to work within the major label system, which leads to sparse radio spins east of Cali’ proper, or just a diversity that’s often seen as niche, Oaktown typically continues to choose it’s creativity over mainstream mega-acceptance. 

Which is where G-Eazy comes in. Thoroughly from the Bay, but with an aesthetic that’s slightly more inclusive (with influences from New Orleans as well), the easy going emcee managed to independently land a top five release with his debut album These Things Happen and marquee collab’s from the likes of E-40 and A$AP Ferg while cultivating a fan base that is as diverse as the metropolis he hails from. It wouldn’t be exaggeration to say that the G-Eazy listening experience has won over some industry titans either. Recently, Ricky Rozay hopped on Eazy’s “I Mean It (Remix)” along with Remo, and earlier in the year he premiered the “Been On (Remix)” featuring Rockie Fresh and Tory Lanez. So could this be the Bay’s next breakout star? The young spitter explains why it’s all happening. 

G-Eazy Details Building His Brand Through Merch & Diversity

HipHopDX: You said something really interesting earlier. You said merchandise is that crack?

G-Eazy: Yeah, merch is like selling drugs.

DX: It’s like selling drugs. You’re an independent artist. How long did it take you to figure out the merch game is important?

G-Eazy: Too long. Too long. My merch game sucked for a long time. And to be fair, I don’t think the music was there yet. I don’t think the following was there, but as far as everything goes, the merch is a really big money maker for artists right now. Obviously, we all know that the music doesn’t sell like it used to, and the labels aren’t putting up the kind of money, so what does an independent artist do? How do you monetize that popularity as an artist? And a t-shirt is something that you can always sell. It’s like selling the consumers a way of buying into the brand of supporting the artist they believe in. 

But it’s also about trying to make something cool, not just slapping a name on something. It’s like creating something that’s wearable so it both has a fashionable side but also a promotional side to it, and I think trying to blend that is really important. It kinda brings in a double positive. It’s like you’re profiting off of selling the merch, but you’re also getting the exposure of somebody wearing and repping your shit when they walk around. So I always say if we’re at a show, if you make this in merch, don’t look at it as, “We made this much profit tonight.” Look at it as like, “We made this profit tenfold because you sold 400 shirts to kids that are gonna be running around representing your brand. You gave them a piece of something to like promote you with.”

DX: That’s something that you’re 100% accurate on in how you expand awareness about everything that you’re doing. I think that it’s interesting that it took you too long, being a business music student. I always think that’s the kind of stuff they teach you in music business classes.

G-Eazy: There’s so many areas and so many facets of this business you have to worry about. You’ve got some people that are the engineer geeks that will spend countless hours on their mixes. You’ve got some people that just write verses for days and they have notebooks full of verses, but they don’t actually record enough songs. You have some people that just make beats, some people that just focus on the management side. Then there are some people that are just into fashion and design mad clothes, but they don’t really have the catalogue or the records. Some people are just great at the live show, but they don’t have the records or they don’t whatever. So it’s just all these pieces you have to worry about. 

For me, it was just a process of getting up on everything I needed to be. What I always relate it to is like Solitaire. If you’re playing Solitaire, you don’t wanna just have the one king over here, but then the next ace is only on like a two or a three. You gotta have your show on point, you gotta have your raps on point, you gotta have your quality, your mixing and all that on point and you gotta have merch right now. It all encompasses the brand.

How G-Eazy Adjusted To New Orleans After Life In The Bay Area

DX: What’s the difference between Hip Hop in the Bay and in Louisiana?

G-Eazy: Everything. When I moved out to Louisiana for college, it was right after the Hyphy movement. And when the Hyphy movement hit around ‘06 in the Bay… I mean, growing up around that energy was crazy in the Bay, and I still feel like that was maybe one of our biggest moments. The national spotlight was on the Bay. Everybody thought Hyphy was next. “Tell Me When To Go” was a big crossover song that was performing well. But as big as I thought it was, and as well as I thought it was doing in the Bay, I got out to New Orleans, and they’re like, “What the fuck are you talking about? What is this? What is this slang? What are you wearing, and what are these songs that you’re playing?” Everyone thought I was an alien or like a weirdo or something. So it was definitely a big jump, ‘cause New Orleans is in the South and on top of that, in ‘06, ‘07 was when Wayne was at the peak of his mixtape era. It was right before Tha Carter III came out. If you can remember who he was to the culture and to the world of Hip Hop at that time, imagine being in New Orleans. You couldn’t go to any bar, any club, any party where they wouldn’t put on any Wayne song and the everybody in the room, would rap that shit word for word. It was crazy being around that energy at that time.

DX: How does that affect you as an emcee? Those are two completely different styles.

G-Eazy: When I was growing up, all I wanted to make was Hyphy. I wanted to rap just like Mac Dre. I wanted to make beats like that sounded like that. Then I got out to New Orleans, and it was almost impossible not to get swept up in what was going on at the time. If you look back, Wayne was the most influential, popular rapper at the time. Everyone sounded like Wayne and me too. That was when I was finding my voice and moving down to New Orleans, I wanted to rap just like him. That shit was popping. It was definitely like these two different influences affected my music back then.

DX: What does Mac Dre mean to Hip Hop?

G-Eazy: Mac Dre means everything to Hip Hop in the Bay. Mac Dre is more than a legend. Mac Dre was to the Bay what Lil Wayne was to everyone else back then. You couldn’t come across anybody who had their headphones, it was a portable CD player back then. It wasn’t really like, some kids had iPods, but it was more of a portable CD player kinda vibe. They’d be like, “What are you slappin?” [And the answer was], “Mac Dre.” He just had such a big like catalogue of these mixtapes and albums. He had so much music. So it was like, when Mac Dre really, really, really caught on, which was around the time he died unfortunately, that was when everyone really got swept up into it. He was the biggest force in the Bay. You turn on KMEL and it was Mac Dre all day. You talk to anybody, and they were always listening to Mac Dre. Everyone wanted to rap and sound just like Mac Dre and kick that kind of game that he was talking. He was everything.

DX: Where were you when you found out he passed away?

G-Eazy: Man, where was I? I was listening to the radio at home. Like I wouldn’t just listen to the radio in the car, I always had KMEL on. When the news broke, it was like everything just stopped. It was like crazy. That was wild.

DX: When you start talking about artists like Mac Dre, you start talking about artists like Lil Wayne. These are guys whose music and art has affected mass culture, popular culture. How do you get to that level as an artist in your opinion?

G-Eazy: It’s the music, man. It’s the music, but it’s also just like they were just so true to themselves. The shit that Wayne was talking in ‘07 was just that raw shit. A lot of it is a work ethic. Both of them, they put out so much music, but it was just raw, honest shit that they were talking. I think some of that is just in you and then some of that is applying that work ethic. It’s like, “Yo I’m gonna take no days off. I’m gonna stay in the studio, I’m gonna knock this out and I’m gonna strike while my iron’s hot. I got shit to say right now, I’m in a zone, I’m in a good creative place and I’m gonna just keep getting these records out.”

G-Eazy Describes His Style As ‘50s Culture With Contemporary Rap

DX: Where did the Johnny Cash aesthetic come from? 

G-Eazy: My mom raised me on all that. My mom would play all these old Johnny Cash records and stuff, and my grandpa was real big on it. I grew up with my grandparents—my mom, aunts, uncles in this big house. I was just raised around that kind of music. I always thought he was cool, just being a rebel, dressing in all black, and not wanting to always conform. I’m all about pulling together totally different styles of music, different genres, different cultures and combining the two. So you have this idea of this late ‘50s early ‘60s kinda culture blended with contemporary Rap. To me, it creates an interesting juxtaposition that I’ve kinda built my whole shit around.

DX: It seems like everything’s really intentional. It doesn’t seem far-fetched to think of you and the Bay Boys really seeing themselves on tour. 

G-Eazy: Yeah, it seemed more foolish back in the day, but I’ve always had this intention, of, “Yo, if I’m gonna do this, I’m gonna do it for real.” Even back in high school, when my music sounded like trash, you couldn’t have told me different. You couldn’t have told me that I wasn’t gonna be on tour, that I wasn’t gonna be on TV, that I wasn’t gonna be on the radio and have fans all over. I think that kinda vision is what drives you to wanna accomplish something like that. It’s just like, “I’m not gonna do this as a hobby, just in my free time. This is all I wanna do, so I’m gonna make it happen and I’m just gonna work until it does.”

DX: Tell us about your new music. What’re you working on? When’s it coming?

G-Eazy: This new music, I’m really excited about it. Ever since I was in high school, I’ve always dreamed of having a platform to say like now that I have some listeners, I have this opportunity. You can either throw a project out there, and it’ll sell what it’ll sell ‘cause kids are waiting for it and you let ‘em down. Or you can take your time, and now that you finally have the right people paying attention, you can deliver what you’ve been wanting to deliver your whole life. Like we were talking about earlier, how a lot of times, artists spend their whole life working on that first debut album, and then the crazy part comes ‘cause if it succeeds, you got one year to turn out the sophomore album. But I have this luxury right now; I have a chance to put something out and there’s ears waiting for it. It’s on me to deliver. I think I’m really excited about this new shit.

DX: Are you on a different sound?

G-Eazy: Oh, yeah. I mean one thing I admire, Kanye’s probably my favorite all time, outside of Mac Dre. But what I admire about him is—whether you like it or not, every album he’s pushing the envelope, changing the sound and trying to evolve as a musician and as an artist. Something I wanna always try to do with my music is never get too comfortable and stay in one place and just say, “This worked last time, so I’m just gonna do the same thing again.” Have an ear out there for where the sound is going and what you’re inspired by, and try to take all those influences and put ‘em into your stuff and push things forward.

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