Gerald Earl Gillum might have picked a more appropriate stage name. Because, truth be told, the man known as G-Eazy has had to scrap and struggle for every one of his career achievements to date.
And yet they’ve been plentiful. He built a solid reputation with two self-released albums in 2009 and 2012, with his major-label debut, These Things Happen, dropping in 2014. December of last year saw the release of his third full-length for RCA, The Beautiful & the Damned, and it sees G-Eazy continue his artistic journey of self-discovery. The lyrics are clearly personal and heartfelt while he’s coming into his own as a songwriter.
He’s taken some flak along the way, though, often having to justify his existence in the rap world. His image is stylized — a polished and industry-approved version of biker-cool. He looks like a member of the Glee cast performing Grease. But the flip side to that is that his art is more intelligent, and certainly earnest, than many give him credit for. He’s not up to Drake’s standard yet, but he sure has potential.
It’s been a long journey for the man who started dabbling in music while still a high school student.
“It was me and my best friend at the time, just doing what we were into, after school,” G-Eazy says. “I started by making beats, and then I started writing. I didn’t know how to count bars and structure songs or anything, but we figured it out as we went. It was something I became passionate about very quickly, and never fell out of love with.”
That all happened in the Bay Area, where a young Gillum grew up. He took himself to New Orleans when he was 18 for college, all the while making music and releasing it on MySpace (remember that?). But it wasn’t until he was about 22 that people started to pay attention. He relocated to Los Angeles two years ago and has been releasing music and touring ever since. He’s delighted to be here, too, referring to L.A. as the “land of opportunity.”
“Music lives here,” he says. “There’s a reason why most artists and producers and writers from all around the world come to L.A. to work — it’s because everyone’s here. The sky’s the limit. There’s a lot of possibility here, a lot that you can do that you can’t do as easily in other places. There’s also the other side of L.A., particularly in Hollywood. That’s what a lot of the album is about. It’s about moving to Hollywood, and discovering the dark and light. Making the best out of it.”
“Making the best out of it” is a theme that has enveloped much of G-Eazy’s career. In 2012, he was one of the very few rappers on the Vans Warped Tour — a grueling experience for bands that do fit in with the overriding skate-punk vibe.
“That was a crazy experience,” G-Eazy says. “I definitely felt like an outsider, but then again I’ve felt like an outsider for a lot of my life. I was one of the only rappers on the tour, and it was strange but it was kind of like boot camp as far as touring goes. It was difficult. You had to earn the fans, the schedule wasn’t easy, I wasn’t making any money at all, so you really had to work to get by. When you go through something like that, if you survive it and still want to do it, then you can survive anything. You do it because you love it.”
And survive the war he did. At the end of it, he says that he felt accomplished, and more determined than ever. He also says he made real friends on that tour, and the whole thing was fuel for future work. After all, he describes his own style as an eclectic mix of all his inspirations and experiences. His lyrics are entirely autobiographical, something that is showcased beautifully in the new record.
“I was nervous going up against Eminem, releasing in the fourth quarter,” he says. “But the album was reviewed very well, and it did well in the charts. All of that is cool. I’m just excited to get back in front of the fans, because I think that’s what matters the most — their reaction. It’s been a while since I’ve done a full U.S. tour, so I’m excited to play the new music for them. It’s one thing to read the charts to see how many times something’s been streamed or see how many views it has, but what do those numbers really mean? Being in front of real people is where you can gauge the reaction.”
People really seem to like the record, and the quality of G-Eazy's recent work has earned him collaborations with pop princesses Britney Spears and, more recently, Halsey, with whom he performed on Saturday Night Live in January.
“I’ve been lucky enough to work with some really talented people in my career — people that I admire, people that inspire me,” he says, humbly. “I consider that a blessing.”
This week, G-Eazy performs three local shows — two at the Wiltern and one at the Shrine Expo Hall. He says he loves performing in L.A. because he never knows which of the many artists living here will show up on the night. When he’s done, he’ll be setting off for a European tour, and he’ll be journeying to Australia and New Zealand later in the year.
Sure, nothing came Eazy for G. But he’s getting his rewards now.