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G-Eazy is the most famous rapper you’ve probably never heard of. The 26-year-old Oakland native has opened for Drake, traded verses with E-40 and Too $hort, and notched two Top 10 albums — 2015’s When It’s Dark Out even eclipsed Rick Ross, selling 135,000 units in its first week. G-Eazy has three upcoming dates at Terminal 5 — two of which are sold out — and is the face of fashion line William Rast. Yet, somehow, fame remains elusive. “My Uber driver is an old guy. I don’t think he knows who I am,” he laughs, calling the Voice from inside an UberX in Kansas City. “He said, ‘Damn. That’s Justin Bieber.’ ”
It’s not a bad comparison. As a handsome, six-foot-four white guy with slicked-back hair and a female-driven internet fan base, G-Eazy has a lot in common with Justin Bieber. And like with Bieber, hip-hop has been slow to embrace Gerald Gillum as a credible artist. When I mention G-Eazy to friends, he often gets confused for Atlanta’s Young Jeezy or dismissed as “some whiteboy rapper,” often with such additional commentary as: “I don’t get him. He makes music for a different audience.” The latter, of course, is a euphemism — he’s not real hip-hop.
But G-Eazy isn’t some overnight pop tart. Since 2007, he’s steadily built his career from the ground up, releasing mixtapes such as The Tipping Point on MySpace. While working on his music industry studies degree at Loyola University, his self-releases started gathering steam. The playful ode “Candy Girl” went viral and nearly led to a record deal. After graduation, G hit the road hard, independently. He created a signature style — a retro-cool persona he’s referred to as “rap game James Dean” — and began touring maniacally, making stops on 2012’s Warped Tour and at the America’s Most Wanted Music Festival (with Lil Wayne, T.I., and 2 Chainz) and opening for A$AP Rocky at Irving Plaza.
“I had no idea what to expect. I was getting ready to get booed off stage,” he remembers of that first New York City show. “I had to win the crowd over. It was a crazy experience.”
After signing to RCA Records and releasing his major-label debut, These Things Happen, in 2014, G sold out Webster Hall. The city was finally starting to pay attention. “It was the first time I sold out a New York show. We were selling out shows everywhere but New York. It’s been a step-by-step process.” For a Bay Area rapper without a recognizable radio hit or local cosign, it’s a formidable accomplishment. “Growing up 2,000 miles away on the opposite coast, it felt like it was a million miles away, but, you know, it’s an epicenter of the culture. It was really rare for artists from the Bay, for their music to travel that far. It almost felt out of reach.”
Twenty-sixteen could finally be the year that G-Eazy arrives — in hip-hop and in New York City. His single, “Me, Myself & I” (featuring Bebe Rexha) is a legit hit, with 17 million views on YouTube and counting, and he’s sold out Terminal 5, his biggest venue in the city to date. “I think the whole world is still learning [about me],” he admits. “New York’s always had a special place in my heart. If people in New York were familiar with my music, that would be crazy.”
G-Eazy plays Terminal 5 January 23–25. For tickets to his January 25 performance, click here.