She just turned 25, and she has ghost-written rhymes for some of the biggest, toughest, meanest gangster rappers in hip-hop.
Before you accuse Gia Medley of being some kind of a poseur, consider her background. She grew up in South Los Angeles, lives in Inglewood and has close relatives who were in gangs. She has experienced real street life.
So her words have the ring of truth, which is why she's in demand as a writer even before her first EP - which she's working on with mentor Pras Michel of The Fugees - drops sometime later this year.
"My uncles were gangbangers," says Medley, today wearing Ray-Ban aviators and sipping on a milk tea boba at a Sawtelle Boulevard café. "I live on a crack block. My neighbors are murderers. I'm not making this up."
It's a dirty rap-game secret that many stars are selling a life they know little about. And despite the fact that most U.S. gang members are of Medley's ethnicity, Latino, they aren't equally represented in mainstream hip-hop. Latina rappers in particular are in short supply, but Medley has a real chance of breaking through. She's currently preparing for a spring tour of Europe, where she'll open for Michel.
Medley's father is from Nicaragua; her mother is from Honduras. As a first-generation American, she felt heavy pressure to play it straight and aim for law school, which was the plan during her time at UC Riverside until she gave in to hip-hop about five years ago. She says she would use rap as a memory tool in school, creating rhymes to remember material for the Law School Admission Test.
Soon she flipped a Lil Wayne mixtape, spitting her own rhymes over the beats so that his misogynist references became references to men. Strippers at Xposed in Canoga Park would play it proudly, and a producer for a big-name rapper heard it there and invited Medley to start writing for others. She can't say who - it goes against the code of rap ghostwriting - but her career was thus born.
Nowadays her stars seemingly have aligned. After growing up worshipping The Fugees, she's now in the studio with one. Labels are talking to her. But she's not going to sign with just anyone. She wants to make powerful music.
"I'm totally for, 'Hey, let's make a twerk track,'?" she says. "But you have a responsibility to do something greater, too."
Immigrants are risk takers. They come to a foreign land. They start businesses. They double down on a new life. But their American children are supposed to just be boring and happy. Medley rejects this.
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"Being an artist is a big risk. I'd rather die doing what I love than spending a lifetime doing what I hate."