“Why do you think New York fucks with me so heavy?” 03 Greedo asks during a snowy Wednesday night in New York City. Dumbfounded by his random question, I mention his prolific output, authenticity and unapologetic candor, which is as equally chilling as the frosty temperatures of the Big Apple.
“Gates, Boosie and early Gucci all possessed that rawness that appealed not only to their demographics, but to the masses universally. People generally respect that kind of realness,” I continue. For a second, 03 pauses, soaks in the compliment and chuckles, displaying his appreciation for my answer.
Since 2016, 03’s woozy, brazen raps have elevated him among the ranks in the West Coast. After losing his friends Mafia Ray — who sparked his biggest single “Mafia Business” — and Lil Money to senseless murders, the burgeoning artist quickly began his assault on the rap game. First, the Los Angeles artist released his 33-track effort Money Changes Everything, serving as a dedication to his fallen friend Lil Money, followed by the 37-song mixtape Purple Summer 03: Purple Hearted Solider. To punctuate his blistering run, 03 liberated his 13-track project First Night Out, an R&B-tinged mixtape filled with syrupy melodies and bruising lyrics that he recorded the night he was released from jail.
Despite being an indomitable workhouse in the booth, the embattled Alamo Records artist has struggled to stave off his demons. 03’s bullish mentality comes from his time in Jordan Downs housing projects, where a large percentage of the population ended up destitute, dead or in jail. Throughout his life, 03 has dealt with drug addiction, homelessness, being shot at, almost having his leg amputated, learning how to walk again with a metal leg, incarceration, friends who have been murdered and more.
To make matters worse, he currently faces two felony charges: first degree possession of a controlled substance and third degree unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon. If convicted on the drug charge, 03 faces 25 to 99 years. As for his gun charge, he could be slapped with two to 20 years, plus an additional $10,000 fine.
Two days before heading to court and also releasing his debut album, The Wolf of Grape Street, 03 Greedo spoke with Billboard about growing up in Jordan Downs, his living legend face tattoo, his disdain for Tupac and Timbaland, and why he’s the Gucci Mane of the West Coast. Check it out below.
I know you’re a huge Stevie Wonder fan, so I want to know…
How do you know this?!
I do my homework. Take me back to the first Stevie Wonder record you fell in love with.
I don’t think it was a song, because I was too young to comprehend. I was recovering — this was around the time I got the ear infection and got the artificial ear drum — so I had to test my new ears out a lot. I was really just on tones and the nasally voice that I had. A lot of my melodies are like Stevie Wonder’s, Sting from The Police, Phil Collins, Sade, Erykah Badu’s tones, but I don’t care to listen to Sade or Erykah Badu’s songs too often, just their tones.
You mentioned being partially deaf with your fake ear drum growing up. How did that affect your ear for production?
I can’t tell that I’m partially deaf in one ear. I just know that’s what my voice sounds like. I’ve noticed that when a lot of people record, they have to take one earphone off when they’re singing. I don’t have to do that.
I know you also do your own beats and that you enjoyed listening to Timbaland and Pharrell growing up.
Don’t mention Timbaland.
He said that we don’t have a lot of producers and we have a lot of beatmakers and kids with a program. I don’t want to endorse him anymore. Some people should watch what they say because it’s a slick shot to somebody you don’t even know you’re taking a shot to.
With the older generation, do you think they should be showing more love to the new school?
I don’t know if you old, but I hate old people.
I’m 28, man.
I’m 30. N—as that have passed my age by like four or five years, after it gets more than that I’m like, “You a bitch.” You feel me? It’s not about old n—as, but it’s about old n—as from those years. That’s how the world was, and the world’s not like that no more. They keep trying to bring up race in my interviews and shit, and I don’t go through that no more. I told like three different white boy interviews like, if I come in to see you and you got these sweats on and dirty shoes and you like you’re the boss?
Or for example, if you see Lil Xan walk in, are you gonna say he’s some artist or some dumbass, you know what I’m saying? That’s no diss, but that’s how it is. This has nothing to do with race anymore, but old n—as just don’t know about paying homage, bro. Like, have an open ear. Gucci is somebody I look up to because he knows to stay in touch with the youth.
LiL Xan banned from hip hop
— Waka Flocka (@WakaFlocka) March 7, 2018
It’s crazy you mentioned Lil Xan, because Waka Flocka Flame came at him recently about calling Tupac’s music boring.
It is, though. Do they need a n—a who can really rap to tell you? Tupac sucks, n—a. Any type of East Coast, West Coast beef, n—a’s from the East Coast. He’s delusional. He’s a great actor. Part of his music shit was acting. But n—a, I got to go to court on Friday, I got a whole metal leg, I’m really from the projects. I really got my ‘hood on my face. My first major project is called The Wolf of Grape Street, the gang I’m from. He didn’t even say nothing wrong. Tupac was a bitch ass n—a. I’m a gangsta n—a. What I say goes. I don’t give a fuck if I’m wrong.
How do you feel about people calling you the West coast Gucci?
They call me and Drakeo that. Drakeo my bro. Most of my people that are labelmates are signed to Gucci. My label is signed to his label. It’s like I get to be like Gucci. I ain’t ever met Gucci, but I met him through Dolph because Dolph is my friend.
One of my favorite records that you’ve done is the “Knew Boosie” record. You paid homage to Boosie and Wayne and how they were influences growing up. What was it about their music that you appreciated so much?
Well, Boosie got the same voice as me almost. When I’m stressed out, that’s the only artist I can listen to, kind of how people listen to Pac. Boosie’s my favorite rapper but I don’t fuck with Boosie like that because one time I had a show early on. Boosie and I had a show flyer together and Boosie posted a flyer with my face with red writing and he wrote the word “fake.” One, this is how you diss Grape Street. You called it Fake Street. Two, you wrote it in red. If my enemy sees this they may know Boosie is my favorite rapper and they’re gonna screenshot this and diss my hood. Three, whoever made the mistake on your team, don’t make me look like a liar or a lame. Just the way he handled business like that shifts away from how real and how street I thought he was. A lot of people think he’s a real n—a but they don’t do shit like that.
Why do you feel like you’ve been getting so much hate, as you’ve been climbing up in hip-hop? I know when the First Night Out project came out, dudes were already trying to shoot at you.
I ain’t getting no hate. I ain’t gonna lie, n—as scared of me. That’s that Internet shit. N—as is spooked as fuck of me. Not even just me as a person but I’m the leader of the craziest gang in the world. We got Memphis Grapes, Japan Grapes, Atlanta Grapes and I’m finna go link back up with my New York Grapes. And I’m the fuckin’ face of this fuckin’ hood. Nobody be hating. I used to do business with some fuck n—as. Nobody hating on me. I’m the king of the streets. It’s within reason and it’s with moderation and I try not to scare people off.
You gotta let a n—a know your boundaries. I’m not playin’. I’m fighting a case. I just learned how to walk again. I lost five of my friends last night and two of ’em were like my brothers. My brother happened to call me when I was in the studio and he had 17 years but he came down on appeals. He’s letting people know he’s back in the county through my song talking shit on the second verse on the phone saying, “Your call is being recorded.” I’m too real for this shit. Ain’t nobody hating on me.
With you coming from Jordan Downs projects — that’s a tough ass area — what good would you say came out of you growing up there?
Watts is the most spiritual place. People from Watts are people who relocated from Louisiana. I don’t listen to West Coast music. We grew up on Cash Money, No Limit and southern music. We don’t even jam to what people jam to in Cali. When you’re coming down, you’re seeing a gang of people sitting outside. You’re seeing old people, smokers, people playing Dominoes and chess, people selling shit, people working with their bare hands, hustlers.
It’s just the most spiritual place. It’s probably for the connection with Louisiana. The energy and spiritually, it’s very real. I just think that how they present it to us is people that don’t have anything to do with that so they make it seem more spooky and creepy and weird. But we’re all Africans, you feel me? That’s where the shit comes from.
I don’t have any grandparents, so my granny is not my real granny. She’s my boy’s granny. I got aunties and cousins and that type of shit. All my grandparents dead. I got a grandmother, she’s my grandpa’s wife, and I just knew her my whole life so that’s my grandma for real, but I’m not Mexican. I got a lot of distant relatives. I grew up homeless, but I was at people’s houses or girls that I dated or homies. Naturally, being a grown man who went through all that in his childhood, I’m overly one hunnid. Even though I can be overly aggressive sometimes, it’s because I’m so honest.
Your debut album, Wolf of Grape Street, did the inspiration come from you watching Wolf of Wall Street for the first time?
Me and my brother, that’s our favorite fuckin’ movie. We just watch that shit hella times. In LA, if you gangster, you say you “with the business.” Or, I got the block like a cubicle, like in me and Buddy’s song. He gets me into not being so vulgar and gangster, but as you can see, I got him on a song that’s his song and it’s like “I got the block like a cubicle!” But he’s talking about his block in his neighborhood and I’m talking about bricks.
You brought up Lil Money. I know that was like your best friend and the inspiration behind the Money Changes Everything tape.
That shit almost at two million streams. We were just looking at that. But he’s not my best friend, he’s like my little brother and shit when I was homeless. I pretty much overstayed my welcome, like overly, overly, overly. His family period is my family. And I had always been so one hunnid, like when he got shot before, I was always with him with the strap. I was there with him side-by-side. When I got shot, he carried me to the car and took me to the hospital. When he got shot the first time and didn’t die, I was right next to him. We used to fuck hoes together, all that type of shit.
What about Mafia Ray?
He’s more of a mentoring type of friend. He was more like a older homie. He was one of the first ones from the hood that was jamming my shit before everybody was jamming my shit. He was one of the most prolific members. He was known for posting people he wanted to show love to. That’s where my reposting game came from but I just made the announcement that I have to stop now because I’m dropping my first major project so I got to unfollow everybody, that’s just how it works. He died two years ago, days before my birthday. So for two years I’ve been campaigning like him. He was just giving me a lot of advice.
What would you say is the best advice you got whether it was from Mafia or Lil Money?
Mafia Ray said I gotta start dressin’ — ’cause I be dressed every day ’cause I’m really into it but nobody really showed me love about that shit — he’s like you gotta start showing a picture of how you dress every day because you dress cold. Even before I was like Gucci’ed down. Before rap, I wanted to go to FIDM, the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising. I’m really big on that shit. Pharrell Williams is a big icon to me.
One of my favorite lines goes back to the “Knew Boosie” record that you had. You said, “I’ll make a million dollars before I see a white hair.”
Well, I’m a millionaire now. I got signed to $1.7.
When you got that deal with Alamo, how did it feel knowing that you got that million before growing in that white hair?
More than I appreciate it for me, I appreciate that I can be a mirror for my community now. People understand my connection to that and I used to be homeless.
The “living legend” tattoo. What does it mean to you now as opposed to when you first got it?
I just got it to keep my chin up. Every time I would go to that bitch house that wouldn’t let me in for like four hours, every time I would go wash my face or shave at a gas station or whatever, I’ll just look in the mirror and be like, “You a living legend.” Now, it’s just like bragging rights. N—a, manifestation is 100 percent real. That’s what I want to teach young people. That Report Card Challenge that I got. I got kids out the ghetto whose daddy ain’t even finish school or they’re in jail, make the honor roll just to be posted on my shit and go on a field trip. I’m here to be something that people don’t think that I am.
A lot of your fans worry about your legal situation. What words would you give to your fans who want to make sure everything is straight?
It’s not about the condition, it’s about the money, and I’m a millionaire now. I’m good. I’m still here.
It sounds like you’re not worried at all.
The damage is already done. I got like a thousand unreleased songs. My program will still continue and I will still get a check off of the streams and I can still shoot videos. Either way, I’m still finna be good.
I respect that mindset. You’re not shook and you’re not scared of nothing.
When you grow up homeless and stay with family members you never know, and in St. Louis with your grandpa in the basement and shit, finding all these guns. St. Louis is dangerous. I was always somewhere where you had to be on alert. My mom wanted me to be diverse so she sent me to different schools. Some public, some private. I’ve been to schools where I’m the only Black kid with Asians, Armenians, Germans or Mexicans. Once I been to all them schools, I’d be the only Black kid at school who’s up on Blink 182, Paramore, Panic! At the Disco and The Killers and shit.
A lot of people think gangstas can’t listen to Paramore.
Yeah, they pretty weird. I remember when I was younger, T.I., one of his favorite shows was Friends. He probably wouldn’t have watched that at a certain point in his life, but it’s just a curiosity thing, you feel me? And musically, I’m with all things. Anything with a good beat. Some of my favorite artists are like Amy Winehouse, Lana Del Rey, H.E.R., SZA. I rap so much and listen to so much trap rap that I gotta unwind and listen to that smooth shit. I don’t like Nelly Furtado that much but that album Loose, that the bitch ass n—a produced, the mix of her voice and the production on “Say It Right,” that shit hard!
If you could pick one word to describe this chapter of your life, what would you name that chapter?
I got another nine-song album that I did after I was just feelin’ it and I did it in one night, I didn’t write it. It’s called God Level. That’s my answer: God Level. That’s what we’re gonna call this level of life. Every one used to just say, “He’s just high.” I went from Wolf of Grape Street to, “Nah, n—a I ain’t high. I’m God level, I’m all the way up here.”
You said God level. How have you been able to maintain your level of spirituality?
I don’t believe in religion, that’s why. I just believe in a higher power and I believe in God. I don’t know why I would have to section off my beliefs. That’s weird. So I can’t fuck with Muslims, I can’t fuck with Jews, because we all believe in God but have different background? Nah, that’s weird. I’m more about unity and if anyone thinks it’s a game, I’ma beat they ass. And if I lose, I’ma shoot.