Staying focused, keeping a steady grind, and never letting up are just a few things that Sergio Kitchens — better known by his stage name Gunna — preaches in his music almost religiously. The titles of his songs such as “Get it if You Want It,” “Don’t Give Up,” and “Outta Sight, Outta Mind” are basically the testaments to his message, and his swooning, melodic raps carry a raw, motivational energy that is hard to deny.
As a native of south side Atlanta’s College Park, Gunna will tell you again and again that there’s no other way to get what you want than to hustle for it. These hard-working attributes can be credited to his life of grinding before music and his love for high-end clothing at a very young age.
“I used to go to consignment stores, I had to have Louis [Vuitton], I had to have that shit,” he admits. “I was going all the way with it.”
Another major reason for the grind-hard mindset comes in large part from Kitchens’ mother, whom he explains taught him to keep focused no matter what, as he still does to this day. Not for nothing, that mentality seems to be working out quite nicely for the 24-year-old melodic rapper. Since 2016, Gunna has released a constant onslaught of songs and projects after debuting — and standing out — on Young Thug’s star-studded No My Name Is Jeffery track “Floyd Mayweather,” which featured the likes of Travis Scott, and Gucci Mane.
Gunna wasted no time using this energy and bit of spotlight, closing out 2016 by dropping the first installment to his now highly anticipated Drip Season series. Drip Season 2 followed up in Spring ‘17 highlighted by the buzzing intro “Phase,” and was received with critical acclaim which earned him even more attention. Gunna also penned a deal with Thugger’s YSL imprint, and gave fans the explosive 7-track Drip or Drown produced entirely by up and coming Atlanta beat smith and frequent Young Thug collaborator Wheezy to cap off 2017.
And now with the release of the Drip Season 3 on Feb. 2, the highly anticipated project has established Gunna as one of the artists to watch coming out of the red hot Atlanta music scene. Billboard spoke with Gunna about Drip Season 3, working with Young Thug, and secrets on how to properly “Drip.”
You’ve been talking about Drip Season 3 for a minute, how did you approach this project?
I didn’t do anything different, but I worked harder, and tried to enhance all my songs. I focused on the tape a lot. I put my all into it. I’ve been working on DS3 since I dropped DS2. I did Drip or Drown with me and Wheezy; that was kind of an appetizer.
What was the first song you did from DS3?
“Almighty” with [Hoodrich] Pablo [Juan]. I was just vibing out like I always do and Pablo … We be working outta the same studio so he might be in the studio before I get there or vice versa. So he just heard the song I was doing, and I kind of heard him on it. Once I finished my verse, I had stepped outside. He was outside the room. I told him jump on it. That motherfucker was a hit. I’ve been getting a lot of good feedback from that song.
What’s your favorite song from the tape?
“Pedestrian,” “Top Off,” and that “No Joke.” Man, I just really fuck with that, it’s another vibe. I fuck with the whole project though, honestly. It’s doing exactly what I wanted it to do.
Who were you talking about on “Money Don’t Change You?”
It’s in third-person. It’s just advice to remind myself. I speak a lot of things into existence. The money’s coming and I’m just reminding myself, “Don’t let the money change you,” and I hope it don’t change me, because with all the shit going on, you can’t forget. You got family locked up, you got family you gotta take care of, you can’t forget about that when you’re going up and succeeding in your career.
All your projects have at least one song about just grinding and staying motivated. Why is it important to keep that message in your music?
In my hood, we was always on some grindin’ shit. We used to do this shit called “six-month runs” where you don’t spend no money for six months. Of course, you’ll spend on gas and stuff like that, but you don’t go to the mall, you don’t do nothing extra. Just a six month run and you stack that paper up. I ain’t never just been rich, but I knew how to hustle and get me some money so I put it in my music.
You mention your mom in a lot of your records. In what ways has she inspired you in your music?
In every way. The shit she was telling me as I was growing up. As I got older and became a man, that shit just stuck with me, [like] staying focused. She’ll call me and we’ll just talk, and at the end of the conversation she’ll tell me, “Stay focused.” That’s one of the main things you can do, stay focused on whatever you’re doing. It’s easy to get sidetracked. You got women, violence … A lot of shit will throw you off track if you don’t stay focused.
All she did was want me to better myself and get outta the streets. That’s the same thing I would tell any young n—a now: focus on something bigger and better so you can actually live off it.
When did you start properly focusing on music?
I would say about three years ago. End of 2015. That’s when I was like, “I’m gonna really do this shit.” I was incarcerated for about 9, 10 months before this. When I got out, [Young] Thug was one of the first people I ran into through one of my OG’s, Troup. You might have heard of him from [Young Thug’s] song “King Troup.” He passed away, god bless the dead.
He’s from the south side [of Atlanta], and he was like the big homie. A lot of people looked up to him. When he died, that shit brought us closer, me and Thug. It made us like family, regardless of the music. I locked in with him not even on no music shit. We were cool before anything, he didn’t even know I rapped. It just built organically.
What was the first studio session between you and Young Thug like?
I used to always go to the studio to pull up on him. We’d just smoke, vibe out, on some cool shit. One day, we were high in the studio, we did a song and that shit went hard. The song never came out or nothing though, it was just hard.
[Thug] got a real good ear for music. He could tell I wasn’t new to it. Well, then we locked in and “Floyd Mayweather ended up being probably the third song we did. It was just me and him on the song at first, then Guwop [Gucci Mane] came home heard the song and jumped on it; Travis [Scott] heard the song and jumped on it; I was like, “Oh yea, it’s time.” I ran with that.
Have you learned anything from being around Thug?
Oh, for sure. He instilled in me that you gotta to keep working. Of course, you’ll get achievements, but shit, we just gotta keep working. Everyday I’m in the studio, me and and him are in the studio everyday. That’s one thing that just stuck and is going to keep us in the mix, in the loop, and in this industry.
Now that you have a few projects under your belt, what have you learned about operating in the music industry since coming in?
In this industry, you can’t be too cool, and you can’t be a bully, you gotta be just right. You can’t try to bully the game, you ain’t gonna win that way. I’m still learning as I go though.
You did the whole Drip or Drown with Wheezy, and you’ve worked with some of the top producers in the game. Do you have a favorite producer you like working with right now?
Yeah, my new producer Turbo. He’s crazy. He got some hard ass placements on [Drip Season] 3 too. We just got a vibe. He records me too. So after months and months of recording me, he just makes beats for my sound now. We’ve created some hard shit, some really good music.
What does it take for a rapper and a producer to reach that efficiency?
I would just say staying focus on your craft. It’s god’s work at the end of the day, I didn’t really go out and find Turbo, we just found each other. Once we locked in, it just made sense to lock in again because of the music.
We knew each other through mutual friends.. Shad Da God, who was on DS2, had been working with Turbo for a long time, and I met Turbo through him. We did “Another Wave” off of Drip Season 2 with me Shad and Duke…That shit went up, and from there, I knew.
Explain what “Drip” means.
Drip is your attire, the clothes you wear. My drip today man, I got on a Saint Laurent hoodie, some Balmain’s and some Chanel shoes because it’s Friday. I drip everyday, all week, but weekends I’m really putting that shit on. I might wear a $10,000 outfit on a weekend, no cap. Before the deal.
On God I always had a passion for clothes, though. I was best dressed in high school. I always spent my money on clothes. My mama will tell you I used to get dressed three or four times a day as a kid, just putting shit on.
I saw an interview where you said that you wanted to work with Beyoncé and Wyclef Jean. Are you still shooting for that?
Oh, for sure. I got a chance to meet Wyclef, actually. I met him in the studio with Thug. He a real one. I knew he was a cool artist, but god damn, me and him in person? That shit was cool, his vibe is cool. You gon’ be comfortable around him because he’s comfortable. He’ll make you comfortable even if he done came to your setting. He came to our studio, I mean it was a cool setting, but this is Wyclef! We were in there like, “Shit, we got Wyclef coming in this motherfucker.”
Did you get a chance to make music with him?
Nah, I didn’t. He came to do the song with Thug [“Wyclef Jean.”] He came and I already had wanted to work with him, but that just made me want to work with him more.
It seems as though Atlanta has been the center of hip-hop for a long time now, why do you think that is?
I just believe that in Atlanta, we’re creative; we got a lot of styles out here. We try to be different and try new shit, and we’re putting that in our music and people are catching on and they like it. We work together for the most part. At the end of the day, we’re just building up to feed our family so why not link with somebody if you can make some good music?
What’s up next?
I’m working on that Drip or Drown 2 right now, it’ll be out before [the end of] this year.