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To ensure that his tribute is taken seriously, Gil is hell-bent on keeping his mother's original vocals intact. (Kanye West sampled her 1969 tune "Save the Country" on his 2007 album Graduation, but sped her vocals up into chipmunk anonymity.) To make Nyro's presence all the more authentic, Gil ditched a producer from Atlanta keen on electronically morphing Nyro's voice in favor of New York–based veteran Fred "Catfish" Alias, who favors a more organic approach and live studio instrumentation.
So, in a downtown studio, Gil spit his most accessible fire to date: You hear real horns, flutes, whistles, and hand-claps as Nyro's catchy chorus snippets meld themselves harmoniously to her son's stream-of-consciousness flow. As Gil's baritone aims at seduction, his mother's soprano maintains the hooks, proving that her style and sound resonate in any decade. "I feel like the music will speak for itself," Gil says. "Honestly, it's done real good, but it sounds like she just laid it down yesterday, you know? In the booth right behind me or something."
With this mind-set, Gil is currently "playing the company game," waiting for representatives from Sony BMG to give him the go-ahead to use his mother's voice to promote his own. Being Laura Nyro's son does give him the advantage of getting record executives' attention; it's been an ongoing process, but Gil remains assured that when he sits down face-to-face with company execs, he'll have his time to shine.
"Sony's dealing with a lot of my mother's music, and I'm kind of bringing it back to life, and it's more personal for me and more business for them, but it all works out in the long run," he says. "I don't want to jump out the box with shit looped and speeded up, you know? We can build it into something real big and huge."
Learning that Laura Nyro's offspring is a gritty rapper is like discovering Barry Manilow fathered a punk rocker. Gil laughs at one specific teenage memory: His mother confiscated his Slick Rick cassette because she was offended by "Treat Her Like a Prostitute."
Gil has no siblings and never met his father. (Nyro gave him the last name "Bianchini" in honor of her husband, carpenter David Bianchini, though their marriage ended before Gil was born.) His mother was his best friend growing up. Despite their initially comfortable surroundings in Danbury, Connecticut, somewhere things took a turn. At 15, the same year he got serious about rap, the Fat Boys fan was busted for hustling drugs and received two years' probation in Danbury. Soon thereafter, he was sent to live with his godparents in Colorado, but because of a clash in music tastes, he was asked to leave and wound up back home. After violating probation several times, he was given a choice: jail or an alternative-to-incarceration program in upstate New York. Choosing the latter, Gil was kicked out after three months for fighting.
Despite being diagnosed with ovarian cancer at the time, Nyro fought for Gil, getting him placed in a group home in Queens. But when things were at an all-time low, the worst happened. On April 8, 1997, his mother died. "I don't know if you ever lost a parent or lost a son or a daughter, and you'll be able to imagine how I felt," he says.
Relocating to the Lower East Side with a girlfriend, Gil went through turmoil. Before he turned 21, he was serving time in Rikers Island, writing rhymes to maintain his sanity. "I was in a dorm, and it was like 23-hour lockdown," he says. "You locked down—you can go in your dorm or in the cell block, or you can go in the middle of the area where everybody's at or whatever, but you know you locked down."
But Gil never gave up the dream of making it. He eventually cleaned up his act, spent years as a barber in Harlem, sired a son, and started laying down joints and performing live. "I've been trying to really just build the right life for myself and make this music shit happen, like, make it official, let my presence be known through the streets," he says. "I'm wearing a lot of hats, you know what I mean? Sometimes, I got to stop myself and be like, you know, gotta get more back into writing, recording, man. I'm so busy promoting and networking."
Being Laura Nyro's son has not left Gil independently wealthy. Getting by on booking studio time for others and sporadic gigs, he says he's continually discussing financial matters with the executors of his mother's estate. "Everything was designed and built a certain way, where it's not like everything is just mine, you know? That's just the way it's stipulated, being that I was kind of, like, you know, wild when I was younger. There was a point in time when we wasn't really in contact with each other and, you know, a lot of people kind of tried to count me out of the equation. . . . Now, I'm in better communications, and we're more organized."
Fortunately, Gil does have a couple of important supporters in his corner. First, his godmother, former Nyro collaborator and soul icon Patti LaBelle, who brought him onstage during a solo concert at the Capital One Bank Theatre in Long Island to show off his stuff nine months ago. In appreciation, Gil composed "Good Looking," the kind of "clean shit" he wants people to appreciate: "I remember not too long ago I was down on my luck/Like a crab in the bucket, it was like I was stuck/Trying to think to myself, 'Damn, what should I do?'/It's when I got that phone call telling me to come through . . . So you always have a place in my heart/Anything you can need, if I can help/I'll be there from the start."