There are a lot of things you expect young rappers to say these days. “I have a college degree” is not one of them. And yet that’s something that flows quite easily from G-Eazy’s lips, mainly because he has one.
In 2011, the 23-year-old G-Eazy (real name: Gerald Earl Gillum) graduated from Loyola University in New Orleans with a B.S. in music industry studies. While he was studying in college, he was establishing himself as an MC, dropping a series of mixtapes.
“Well, it was more like a balancing act,” he says, on the phone from his New Orleans spot. “Because I’ve been making music since I was, like, 13, but I just wanted to have a plan under my belt. And it also kind of conditioned me and, you know, taught me how to work hard and balance two worlds while in school.”
Even though he knew he wanted to be a rapper, he also knew he needed something to fall back on. “As the music started to take off, I always knew that, in the big picture, it wasn’t as important as getting my degree,” he says. “So, the music never had any guarantee or any promise of anything that was certain. So, I wanted to have a degree under my belt.”
Now that he’s officially in the music business, have there been things G-Eazy discovered that all that book learnin’ didn’t prepare him for?
“Well, I mean, the music industry is all about hands-on experience,” he says. “They can teach you so much, but you really have to get out there in the field and just do whatever works for you. Particularly, it’s just about, you know, finding your voice, identifying with your fans out there, and working on making great records and taking chances.”
G-Eazy inherited this sense of business savvy while growing up in the Bay Area, home to many rappers who did it themselves.
“It’s got a strong, independent spirit out there when it comes to the music business,” he says. “You got E-40, who ran his own record label. Too $hort ran his own record label. Mac Dre did it all independently. It was just that spirit that was really active out there, that you could do this yourself, you know. And that was just really inspiring for me.”
Growing up in a family that included a grandfather who had a map-making business and an aunt and uncle who had their own rock band also gave him an early education on how to market and distribute himself as a performer.
“So, there were boxes of maps and boxes of CDs all around the house,” he remembers. “I think growing up around that really inspired me to go out and try and do it myself.”
After getting his name known via mixtapes and touring (he has opened up for Drake and Lil Wayne, as well as toured with the Vans Warped Tour last summer), G-Eazy released his official, full-length debut, “Must Be Nice,” last September.
Much as he did on his 2011 breakout mixtape “The Endless Summer,” G-Eazy shows off his knack for sampling pop music from the ’50s and ’60s and merging them with his “greaser swag” hip-hop style.
“Rhythmically, they sync right up with contemporary rap,” he says of the samples. “When you throw 808 drums underneath a doo-wop sample, it just clicks. And it’s just a time period and a style of music that I’d always appreciated and always enjoyed.”
He isn’t afraid to show his sensitive side when he’s on the mike. “I mean, I try to write all different types of songs,” he says. “I wouldn’t go as far as to say ‘emo,’ but I do make introspective records – you know, ones that are being honest, and I’m talking about emotional topics.”
Right now, G-Eazy is on the road, performing for audiences (“I really want everybody to come and experience the live show,” he says. “I feel like that’s when I have the most fun – when I’m onstage connecting with a crowd.”), and letting aspiring rappers know that it never hurts to enroll in some sort of business course just in case that dream of becoming the next Jay-Z doesn’t work out.