G-Eazy Returns a Hero

Four albums in, has success left the Oakland rapper beautiful, damned, or both?

It ain’t easy being G-Eazy, if you believe the East Bay-reared rapper’s new album The Beautiful & Damned. Named after the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel about a Jazz Age socialite wasting his life away partying and chasing beautiful women, G-Eazy’s fourth release — his seemingly most confessional to date about “All the sex, and the drugs, and the boozin’ ” that come part and parcel with celebrity — suggests he was on the same destructive path.  But is he putting his own personal experiences to paper, or, as rappers have claimed for years, those of fictional personae?

“Especially in hip-hop, music tends to be autobiographical,” the 29-year-old “Me, Myself & I” rapper says. “You’re writing from a personal perspective. You’re telling stories about what you’ve been through, are experiencing, and are inspired by. I’ve seen the industry firsthand, the highs and lows and dark and light sides of it, so most of it is very personal. It’s my observations of the world around me and the life that I live.”

G-Eazy has never shied away from personal subject matter. If we ever thought otherwise, his first multi-platinum-selling, trap-tinged single “I Mean It” — off 2013’s These Things Happen — set us straight with the line, “On my side it’s authentic / You try to stunt but it’s all rented.” 

The rapper is eager to showcase his new material, including his highest-charting track to date, New Orleans bounce banger “No Limit,” featuring fellow rappers A$AP Rocky and Cardi B, and the Bonnie and Clyde-inspired love song “Him & I,” with girlfriend and pop superstar Halsey, on his 42-date international “The Beautiful & Damned Tour,” which lands at Bill Graham Civic Auditorium on Wednesday, Feb. 28, and Oakland’s Fox Theater on Thursday, March 1.

“I’m excited to bring the concept of the album to life onstage,” he says. “It’s gonna be the most thought-out production and themed show. The album was all about duality and the light and dark side of the lifestyle, so I split the show in half, between Act 1 and Act 2, the Beautiful and the Damned, and with the visuals, I try to paint the picture of the mood of the songs.”

But psyching himself up for the rigors of large-scale touring isn’t always easy for the rapper. “Tired from the night before and the night before and the night before,” he laments on The Beautiful & Damned’s wish-I-could-tell-my-younger-self track “Eazy.” “Fuck it, tomorrow gotta fly some more.”

Incessant, back-to-back traveling is just one stressor. A typical tour date includes an hour-and-a-half performance, a bonus after-party show, fan meet-and-greets, radio station visits, and press interviews, all of which take their toll.

“I’ve been blessed to travel all around the world,” he says. “But at the same time I live in this hyper-fast reality where I’m in a different city every day, and I barely get time to breathe and go eat food. Normalcy, routine, being able to see family, being able to be low-key and just do normal stuff — that’s gone.”

If you take The Beautiful & Damned album at its words, there are also plenty of perks to this lifestyle, including the admiration of his fans, access to beautiful women and party favors, the coolest swag, and the money to fuel all of his whims. The style icon, a regular on best-dressed lists, can now afford the freshest threads and to “go fly to Japan / or Honolulu, get a tan.”

This is a level of success that G-Eazy, born Gerald Earl Gillum, could only dream about eight years ago, when he was getting turned down by labels and engineering other rappers’ music to pay the rent, according to album track “Eazy.”

But his notoriety soon grew with the release of his 2011 mixtape The Endless Summer, featuring a reinvention of the ’60s classic “Runaround Sue,” which achieved four million YouTube views and won him the opportunity to open for artists like Drake and Lil Wayne. 2012 saw the release of his first LP, the independent Must Be Nice, which hit No. 3 on the iTunes Hip-Hop Chart. Then, in quick succession, came two chart-topping major-label albums, These Things Happen and When It’s Dark Out. The latter included the quadruple-platinum-selling single “Me, Myself & I,” and fruitful collaborations with the likes of Britney Spears (“Make Me…”), DJ-producer Dillon Francis (“Say Less”), Snoop Dogg (“Get Mine”), and R&B singer Kehlani (“Get Mine”). In addition to Halsey, A$AP Rocky, and Cardi B, G-Eazy’s latest album finds him working with pop singer Charlie Puth and legendary Bay Area rapper E-40.

Now that he’s finally achieved the success he’s been seeking since his teens, he returns to the Bay Area as a major rapper, following in the footsteps of Too Short and E-40, with his name in big letters on the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium marquee.

“There’s a special feeling when I come home,” he says. “I remember emailing venues, myself, trying to get booked and being turned down. I remember going to shows as a fan, as a kid. So anytime I get to come home and play shows, it means the world to me. It feels like a homecoming. It feels like a victory lap.”

Now that G-Eazy’s achieved the fame and all the frills that go along with it, it’s balance that the almost 30-year-old is after, if The Beautiful & Damned tracks “Mama Always Told Me,” about trading large quantities of women for one of quality; “Love Is Gone,” about foregoing materialism for political involvement; and “Crash & Burn,” about slowing down, are indicators.

“That’s something I’m constantly trying to find,” he says. “It’s not easy. It’s a challenge every day.”

G-Eazy with Trippie Redd, Phora, and Anthony Russo, Wednesday, Feb. 28, 8 p.m., at Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, 99 Grove St. $54.50; billgrahamcivic.com and Thursday, March 1, 8 p.m., at the Fox Theater, 1807 Telegraph Ave., Oakland. $59.50; thefoxoakland.com

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