Sold-out shows, screaming fans, big co-signs, but still no major-label deal: Is G-Eazy the next indie rap sensation?
The teenagers spy him from across a coffee shop in San Francisco's SOMA district.
"Excuse me. Are you G-Eazy?"
The Berkeley, Calif.-bred rapper in the motorcycle couture jacket nods and smiles at his curly-haired, 15-year-old fan.
"I just wanted to say that I'm in awe of your music. We just love you," says the teen, who awkwardly gestures toward two equally enraptured friends. They need a group photo. G-Eazy, born Gerald Gillum, 25, unfurls his slender, 6-foot-5-inch frame to pose. Before he can even take another sip of iced coffee, the pic is inevitably inspiring teenage Instagram envy.
Such impromptu adoration may be common for major-label stars. But G-Eazy, whose sound can be described as Drake meets ASAP Mob meets Chuck Bass from Gossip Girl, has cultivated teen spirit entirely through blogs, social media, touring and indie releases.
"I was constantly walking into crowds where no one had never heard of me and I needed to leave them 100 percent convinced," says G-Eazy. His jacket, pants, shoes and T-shirt are unanimously black. His cheekbones are razor-sharp enough for Vogue magazine. The look is Rebel Without a Cause for the Reddit era.
"It was also hustling and connecting and making an impression," adds G-Eazy. "Meet-and-greets, shaking hands, taking pictures."
He's still mildly drunk from the previous night's delirious sold-out homecoming show, where he opened for Kid Cudi at the Bill Graham Civic Center. But G-Eazy adulation arguably trumped the headliner. Hands waved. Mini-Mileys twerked. A surprise guest, Bay Area rap deity E-40, joined him onstage. Afterward, G-Eazy tried watching Cudi from the crowd, but a crush of fans mobbed him. "It was the best night of my life," he says.
Until moving into a loft near San Francisco's Union Square a few weeks ago, G-Eazy lacked a permanent address — mostly because he was never home. He just finished headlining a 40-show cross-country theater swing. Last fall, he opened Lil Wayne's America's Most Wanted tour. In between, there were stints in New Orleans and Malibu, where he finished his new album, "These Things Happen," due June 23 through a new partnership between Revels Group, who is G-Eazy's longtime manager, and Blueprint Group, the management/-artist development power broker whose roster includes Nicki Minaj, Lil Wayne and T.I. — a huge co-sign for a fiercely independent artist.
"When we met with Blueprint, I told them, 'I only want to do this if you'll give me the same attention you'd give Drake or Kanye, because that's what I want to be,' " recalls G-Eazy. " 'You guys are all 'A' players, but unless you're giving me 'A' work, I'll just keep doing it myself.' "
Industry sources suggest G-Eazy's album, which Sony RED will distribute, could sell 30,000 in its first week, which would mean a top 10 debut on the Billboard 200. G-Eazy, citing preorders, says it could sell up to 50,000.
"Whether it was New York or Denver, I saw crowds react to him like he'd been on the radio for years," says Blueprint Group CEO Gee Roberson. "I even brought him around Kobe [Bryant] and the first thing he said was, 'Wow, this guy is like a young Elvis.'"
The comparison is no accident. Like Presley, G-Eazy is a white heartthrob riffing on an African-American tradition. But in a world where pop and rap are increasingly synonymous, questions of appropriation are mostly moot. "I see myself as a hip-hop artist, but I never wanted to make music for a specifically white audience. That's not what I grew up around," says G-Eazy, citing his upbringing by his photographer-art professor single mom in diverse Berkeley and Oakland, Calif.
But his influences expand beyond hip-hop tropes. The first song that cut through the noise was 2011's "Runaround Sue," which lifted a sample and title from the 1961 classic by doo-wop crooner Dion. The song, and its aptly retro video, marked an early turning point for the graduate of Loyola University's music industry program in New Orleans, where his teachers sang the gospel of branding and social media marketing. "It was a way to not be just another Internet rapper," says G-Eazy. "It was something different: 'White kid, raps over '50s stuff, slicks back his hair.' It gets you in the door."
In the wake of Macklemore's success, comparisons between him and G-Eazy seem obvious. Both share a DIY, tour-heavy grind that built devoted, largely white fan bases that exist adjacent to rap's core audience. But G-Eazy's brash attitude, staccato flow and melodic sensibilities are more indebted to Eminem and one-time tourmates Drake and Lil Wayne. His musical heroes include E-40 and late Bay Area rap legend Mac Dre. The new album is a chronicle of millennial high life, as played out on the road surrounded by lust and liquor.
"It encompasses who I am as an artist. It's what I've wanted to make since I was a kid at Berkeley High selling mixtapes at school and on Telegraph Avenue," says G-Eazy. "It's me in my 20s on a wild roller coaster surrounded by parties, tours and temptations."
Still, he admits fame's pitfalls. Single "Almost Famous" examines the ephemeral nature of celebrity in the Internet age. For now, G-Eazy may be next up — at least according to the kids in the coffee shop.