Hours away from the release of his self-titled major-label debut, GASHI is concerned with his outfit choice for the day during his visit to the Billboard office. Hiding in plain sight behind his designer shades, a salmon Aimé Leon Dore long-sleeve and a pair of gray sweatpants, the RCA-Roc Nation signee kicks his Converses up on the table and asks for my opinion of his wardrobe choices, to which I noddingly approve.
The confidence that carried him to this point and bleeds through on energetic records such as “My Year,” which peaked at No. 17 on the Rap Digital Song Sales chart earlier this year, quickly kicks in again. “I was down on myself because of this shitty outfit I had on today, but I looked in the mirror, and I love it. I just became the shit,” he states.
GASHI is a firm believer of being able to achieve anything he puts his mind to. Just take a look at his neck and you’ll see “Never Quit” tattooed just below his Adam’s apple. Whether that was becoming an all-city football player in high school because he was teased for being in theater, or his plans to one day pursue acting and take on the bright lights of Hollywood, GASHI comes from a family of fighters.
Born in Libya to parents of Kosovo descent, GASHI’s family bounced around as refugees in Europe before finally calling Brooklyn home in the late 90s, where his love for hip-hop began. Looking at him now, you wouldn’t be able to tell GASHI was homeless just a few years ago — even at the genesis of recording his latest LP.
It was a conversation with Nipsey Hussle that would ultimately convince him to leave school and pursue music with everything he had earlier in the decade. “I told him I was thinking about dropping out of school, and he told me he thought I was dope enough to do it,” he says. “After I worked with him, everyone started to take me serious.”
Our particular conversation eventually shifts to take on the feeling of a therapy session, which GASHI actually brings up himself after his near-hour of ranting would run out. He snipes at the inorganic business model of the music industry, blasts a pair of producers he felt were being too greedy for their own good, but touches on thoughts as simple as reminding himself to be more appropriate in social settings with women around. “People don’t have enough pride or respect in this era,” he emphatically states.
Check out the rest of the interview, as GASHI hits on gems he took from the late Nipsey Hussle, fashion inspirations, the stresses of being the provider for his family, and more.
Billboard: What was your introduction to hip-hop?
GASHI: The first rap song I ever heard was Coolio. When I came to America at 13, I started listening to DMX, Jay-Z, Eminem, and Nas. No Way Out [by Puff Daddy & The Family] was one of my favorite albums. As a child, I started out into pop music like Michael Jackson and Prince. I think I’m kind of going back to my old ways when I make a pop album. When I first started recording, I would record on Kid Cudi beats only.
I’ve seen that picture of you handing out your CD to Kanye West from almost 10 years ago.
That was when I wasn’t doing well, broke on the streets of Manhattan. I was trying to get signed to Kanye, so I would wait outside his apartment every other day. He was walking around shopping and I told him, “Hey, I really want you to have my CD.” And he came up and took one and hopped in a car. I respect everyone, but it’s amazing to see I did it on my own without any of these people’s help.
— Jesus Is King *IDK Anymore Bro* (@LordTreeSap) October 1, 2019
Did you expect to blow up after working on “Oh Me, Oh My” with Travis Scott, Quavo, and DJ Snake?
Yeah, me and Snake were doing it. Then we got Travis and Quavo on it. It’s crazy because I used to do shows with Travis in 2013. It’s really cool to see him doing what he’s doing. Him and I are very similar.
What was your mindset going into this album?
This album was recorded when I was homeless to when I became rich. I recorded two albums with 100 songs and picked the best ones I liked. This was from 2016 to 2019. I’m sitting on eight albums of music.
What do you want it to accomplish?
This new album is just the warm-up. This is just to showcase my talents to the people on a major level. I have huge records already. “Creep on Me” is Platinum. All these songs have hit crazy amounts of plays. It’s gradually growing.
Is it true that every song was done in one take?
Yeah. It’s because I’m lazy and I don’t like writing. If I have to write, that means I have to think about it, which means I don’t mean it. Everything is freestyled. I just don’t want to think, because then I’m lying. I just like saying how I feel and being like, “This is how I felt.”
Every song on the project sounds so different in one way or another.
That’s the key. I feel like we’re in an era where kids don’t want to hear the same shit over and over again. I’ve never made the same song. I’ve never used the same flow twice. That’s what makes it amazing. I don’t want to drop any names, but some of the best artists in the world have used the same fucking flow on the same shit.
I was surprised to see there weren’t too many features. Was that something done purposely?
I don’t like features. I think that’s something I have to work my way into. I think features are wack. I think people do features because they want numbers and it’s so trash. That’s why music is garbage. Every single person uses the same feature over and over for numbers. I respect the A$AP Rocky or Tyler, The Creator [types], who don’t even list the features on their albums. You have kids skipping entire albums for one song. It’s what is messing up music right now.
You say that you’re doing this for your family early on the project. How did they play a role in this?
My family is what I live for. I don’t care about myself as much as I do them. It’s my mom, dad, brother, sister, and nephew. My friends as well. I live to change other people’s lives. Not just mine, that would be super selfish.
Do you feel a sense of pressure to continue providing for them?
Yeah, it’s fucking stressful. I just got my mom new teeth and I haven’t fixed mine yet. There’s a lot of things you do for everyone else and you introduce them to this new world. If you lose this, it’s a wrap. You can’t take me to the Hamptons and then tell me to go back to the project buildings. The sweet life is sugar.
What would you see as success for the project?
Success for this album is having the world sing my shit. That’s it right there. The Billboard charts are important and it would be incredible to go No. 1, but at the end of the day, I don’t want to set that goal up and have it not happen. Then I’ll be all fucking down on myself. If it doesn’t go No. 1, then it will be the next one. I want to be a global sensation.
Walk me through “Safety.”
“Safety” is basically my suicidal thoughts. I kind of wanted to make a video where I think about killing myself, and then end up in hell to dance with demons. I wanted to see the world dance to my sadness. It would be cool to see everyone go nuts. When you love someone, you cry for no reason, and that’s what “Safety” is. You can love someone so much that it hurts. Put a Band-Aid over my heart.
Is it a goal of yours to make the Forbes list?
I made the record when I was broke. If it happens or not, money isn’t important anymore to me actually. I just need it to survive, but it’s just a piece of paper. They can’t control me. That’s why I can cancel shows.
Why keep “Forbes List” on the album then?
At the time, I needed money, but then I realized it wasn’t shit. I had a $250,000 watch in my hand, and I couldn’t wait to take it off. It’s so stupid.
What were some of the gems you took in conversations with Nipsey Hussle?
Nobody really saw Nipsey the way I did. That was the Snoop Dogg of my generation. I knew he was going to be big. If you want to be a great artist, you need to be a student of the game first. You need to be able to see the diamond before it becomes one. The world is just a bunch of c—suckers. They want to show love just because he’s gone. I want to salute the people who showed him love when he was out here grinding. A lot of people don’t understand the magic he had. He was a prophet. What kills me is that he wasn’t around to enjoy all this love.
On this air plane listening to the first feature I ever did with Nipsey 2010…. it changed my life forever cuz I dropped out of school right after we recorded that. Thank you for making me believe in myself. We Miss You —-
— GASHI (@gashi) April 26, 2019
Fashion seems to be a big inspiration for you. Props to you and A$AP Rocky for starting the babushka wave.
Thank you. I had to jump off of that because everyone was jumping on my dick. Rocky did it because he had a scar on his face, but I did it because I thought it looked good. Rocky showed love and co-signed it. Jay-Z loved it. He told me I was best dressed at the Roc Nation brunch. Once it went viral, everyone jumped on and I had to retire it. Rocky did it and it made it cool, but I think I made it hot.
Who inspires you from a fashion standpoint?
Pharrell, I love the way he dresses. My favorite designers are Raf Simons and Kim Jones. A$AP Rocky and Tyler, The Creator as well. Kanye West is up there. I dress different everyday. I treat everything like my music. It’s never one thing. I feel like there’s so many people that live in my body. I don’t understand it. One minute you’ll be talking to one person, and another the next. You never know who you’re going to get. I think a lot of artists have that from Nicki Minaj to Eminem.
Were you really into sports growing up as well?
I wasn’t a huge sports head. I was a theater kid and everyone kept calling me gay. They didn’t believe I could do anything. I ended up being the best player once I signed up for football. I went all-state and all-city. I had 47 touchdowns and 25 scholarship offers. I only did it because it got me bitches and clout in high school. Because of football, I was able to have sex with anyone in my high school.
I did a theater show called Back to the 80s. Anthony Ramos is an actor I went to school with, and he told me I was going to be one of the greatest actors ever one day. I actually believe him because I can do anything I put my mind to. People are crazy. They shut me down all the time, but they don’t know my magic. They don’t know the things they’re capable of, which is sad.
What’s the deal with this “’80s album” you’re making?
Sam Smith reached out to work with me and I think he’s incredible. I love him. He’s someone I want to work with. The 80s album is going to be the first time the world sees me in a light that nobody’s ever seen me. I played it for YouTube and [Tuma Basa and Lyor Cohen] said it’s the first time they’ve ever heard a new sound in this era.