Gunna was born Sergio Kitchens and grew up in College Park, on the southside of Atlanta, where his mom worked in the cafeteria at his elementary school. “I didn't have life that good coming up,” the 25-year old rapper says. “I wasn't born with a lot of money. We weren't dirt poor but we weren't rich. All I knew was struggle. My family taught me about saving and how to stretch to make ends meet.”
Despite growing up in Atlanta, the music he cites as his first love actually came from New Orleans: Lil Wayne, the Hot Boys and Master P's No Limit Records. He was barely a teenager when he first started recording. “When I was 13, I went to the studio with some neighborhood friends. It was a studio in my friend's garage.” The first song he ever wrote was called “Swag So Cool,” but for a long time, he was just another kid with dreams of hip-hop stardom.
An older head in the neighborhood named Keith “King” Troup became a mentor. “He was like my uncle,” says Gunna. “Troup would always try to tell us, 'Get some money. Stay out of trouble.' He always tried to let us know there's more to this. He used to always be with people who were already doing good, like Allen Iverson. When Iverson was playing basketball, he used to come to Old National [Highway] with Troup.”
In 2015, Troup invited Gunna out to a video shoot for Young Thug's track, “With That,” which was being filmed on Atlanta's south side. “That was my first time meeting Thug,” says Gunna. “We didn't exchange numbers or nothing like that. We were just cool whenever we would see each other.” But when Troup was shot 14 times and killed at a gas station on Old National Highway in late 2015, it changed the relationship between Thug and Gunna. “We went to the funeral together and that brought us closer,” he says.
Thug was key in introducing Gunna to the wider public, showcasing his nimble, yearning flow on Thug's 2016 track “Floyd Mayweather,” and featuring on the three Drip Season mixtapes Gunna has released each of the past three years. “Thug's just a real good dude. He helped me out a lot to perfect my craft.”
Hanging out in the studio with Thug, Gunna met another key collaborator, Lil Baby. Their 2018 joint mixtape Drip Harder has brought comparisons to Rich Gang and Outkast, and has spawned the biggest hits of Gunna's career: “Never Recover,” a moody creeper that features a verse from Drake, reached No. 9 on the rap charts, and the intoxicating “Drip Too Hard,” which hit No. 4 on the Hot 100. “At first, Baby wasn't even a rapper,” says Gunna. “We just started hanging with each other because we had mutual friends.” After Quality Control honchos Coach K and Pee convinced Baby to try his hand at music in 2017, he and Gunna just clicked. “We're kind of the same,” he says. “We're both young, from Atlanta, we like the same things, so when we get in the studio we just feed off each other.”