Growing up on the Southside of Chicago, G Herbo was exposed to a lot at an early age, forcing him to mature faster than most kids across America.
“It was so normal to me, I saw my first murder when I was nine,” he proclaims of his unpredictable childhood. “I carried guns on me every day for the last nine years of my life because of being paranoid [and not knowing] if I was going to meet my demise.”
Herbo’s words resonate with a phrase we often hear from REVOLT’s Brandon “Jinx” Jenkins on State of the Culture: “We are born in conflict and we live in conflict.”
It wasn’t until his lawyer recommended he see a therapist following a 2018 firearms arrest — which resulted in him being diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder diagnosis — that he decided to take his mental health more seriously. Now, the time is finally right for Herbo to turn his trauma into a vulnerable body of work, with the release of his PTSD album on Friday (Feb. 28).
“I felt if a fan could be like, ‘Herb my favorite rapper and he suffers from PTSD, maybe I should try to figure out what makes me scared for my life every single day…'” he explains of the thought behind the album’s theme.
The 24-year-old MC is also taking some recent career advice to heart, as he moves into his next career evolution. “The best artists are those we see grow into what they’re meant to be,” he relays in our chat at the Billboard office earlier this month. With Herbo bursting onto the scene as a teenager, he hopes others learn from his mistakes and view his evolution as a blueprint to the next generation.
PTSD‘s striking artwork by T.J. Spencer hits fans right in the gut, as Herbo is vividly depicted holding up an American flag with several bullet holes, and the fifty stars are made up by portraits of friends he’s lost throughout his 24 years of life. One of those stars belongs to fellow Chicago native Juice WRLD, who tragically passed away due to a drug overdose back in December. Herbo honored Juice with a posthumous feature on his album.
“I think about him every day — I swear, I think about him every day,” he repeats. “I lost so many homies, I’m no stranger to death, but I catch myself thinking about him. I think about the fact I’ve been losing homies all my life, but how he has a strong effect on me. I just feel like he had a greater purpose.”
Check out the rest of our conversation below, as Herbo delves deeper into PTSD, Kanye West being omnipresent in Chicago, and his love for the late Kobe Bryant.
Billboard: Coming off of your mixtape Sessions, how did you want that to lead into PTSD?
G Herbo: I wanted that project to signify where I am as an artist. That’s why I wanted it to revolve around the title track and put my fans in my mind. I’m talking about my evolution of where I was. The people who know me, know the obstacles I had to overcome to get to the guy I am today. I wanted to let the fans know my headspace going into PTSD, because that’s the ultimate evolution of Herb.
What made this the right time to open up about your PTSD diagnosis?
I’ve been clinically diagnosed with PTSD for about a year now. Just the title alone, I started to learn more about it. As a joke, one of my homies was like, “I got PTSD.” I’ve been sharing stories with [Mickey, his manager] since I was 16 years old, and we just had an open discussion. He said I should name my album PTSD, because he knows how I think and how I’m paranoid and always left the house feeling like my life was in jeopardy.
I go to a juvenile facility to talk to these kids all the time in Chicago. They asked the room, “Raise your hand if you feel like you’ve ever been victimized.” Nobody raised their hand. 30 seconds later she said, “Raise your hand if you experienced police brutality.” Half the room raised their hand. “Raise your hand if you’ve been shot.” Half the room raised their hand.
We’ve been victimized and we don’t even know it. It’s a real mental illness, and we’re immune to it. These kids have no aspirations except what’s in front of them. They think this is their fate. It transfers over to generations.
As a kid from the suburbs, that’s something I couldn’t relate to. Charlamagne tha God’s Shook One book really opened my eyes up to a lot of that.
There are two different lifestyles. A lot of my friends, we play basketball, go to lunch, crack jokes — and the next morning, when we come to school, we get the news that this guy’s dead. He got killed last night. That’s our reality. We were just hooping 12 hours ago, now you tell me he got killed in front of his house?!
What measures have you taken to combat your anxiety or PTSD?
I’ve been seeing my therapist and she diagnosed me with PTSD. She actually gave me a medical card, because I smoke weed to calm down my anxiety. I spent years of my life not knowing whether I was going to make it home or not. You have to take s–t for what it is. I come from this and it’s f–ked up over here. That’s how I’m able to cope with my anxiety and losing all my friends. It’s f–ked up that I could be the next tragedy if I don’t behave a certain way.
I’m still looking over my shoulder too. It never goes away all the way. Life is meant to be hard.
How tough has it been to keep pushing on with life after the loss of Juice WRLD?
He wasn’t murdered — it’s a different feeling when this guy’s life wasn’t taken from him, he just lost it. I think he could’ve taken this to heights we’ve never seen before. I look at every situation, good or bad, and I try to find light in it, but I really can’t with this. So many families depended on him.
I think kids should take this as, live your life for what makes you happy. I feel like he did what made him happy in the time he was here — so I feel like you got to live for you and need to take advantage of every single day you’re here.
“Gangsta’s Cry” is another powerful and vulnerable record on the project.
That’s a special record to me, because I’m not really a sentimental guy. The entire world’s seen me cry before, so I wanted to embrace it, and address that street dudes cry. There are so many reasons that you should cry as a gangster — it could be tears of joy, like when my girl bought me that necklace and I was thinking about my grandmother that day. She has a special place in my heart because she literally raised me. Something just took over me and I couldn’t control my emotions.
Sometimes people think it’s wrong to embrace your feelings, but it’s normal. I’m talking about real instances of losing friends that people could relate to. I listened to that song on the day Juice WRLD passed, and I broke down like a baby. You need that push to let it out.
Is Kanye West still an omnipresent figure in the Chi?
His impact is definitely felt there. I saw when he did Sunday Service in Chicago. Kanye’s always going to be able to run Chicago and be one of the influencers. A lot of the people saying “Kanye changed” were front row at Sunday Service rocking Yeezys.
People gravitate toward Kanye, and he’s always going to be who he is and because of that — we’ve got to see him evolve. If you’re true to it, you got to mention Kanye, Twista, Common, Crucial Conflict, and Sly Polaroid before you get to the Chief Keefs and G Herbos.
Lil Durk is another guy that’s been able to reinvent himself. I’ve seen Durk since he first signed to Def Jam, and he really tried to put 300 people on with him. Then to get away from the gangs and the culture [and move to] Atlanta. I’m gonna advocate for Durk to be able to perform back in Chicago.
You called the late Kobe Bryant the Michael Jordan of your generation. What did he mean to you growing up?
That’s a legend. When I woke up, I was mind-blown. I wanted to cry, because Kobe is the Jordan of my era. Not just because of his skill, but his determination to win. It wasn’t easy being Kobe and being that 18-year-old kid in the NBA with all of the tools they give you to fail when you get into the spotlight. But he turned those around and succeeded. You should have that Mamba Mentality in life — like, when your back is against the wall, you still win.