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GUNPLAY: GOING AGAINST THE GRAIN (INTERVIEW)

Words and Interview by Jake Paine

Gunplay and Jay Electronica have more in common than one might think.

Both artists, well into their thirties are newly privy to major label record contracts, following respective decades of paying dues. Each rapper commanded the spotlight, independent of their high-profile friendships and backers, through simply going against the grain, and studying the masters.

As for Gunplay, born Richard Morales, Jr., the road taken was far from a straight path. Even newfound fans and listeners know that the longtime Florida makes no secret of his combined source of income or inspiration. A gangsta’s gangsta rapper, Gunplay’s lyrics, his visuals, his live-show and even his interviews break the mold. Whether we’re watching or not, Gunplay just is.

However, like Eazy-E donning one lens in his locs, Ol’ Dirty Bastard collecting his state-issued check with a limousine idling outside, or 2Pac spitting on cameras, spectacle adds to the presentation. There are no label puppeteers, but rather somebody who learned that entertainment is at the heart of music. To tell listeners about the world he lives in, Gunplay had to come to theirs.

In an interview with Crazy Hood, the Triple C’s member opens up about how he earned the spotlight within Maybach Music Group. The former fugitive points to several records that changed his life, releasing his speckled past into a promising future. Lastly, the nondescript b-boy at heart discusses his upcoming album, and makes some powerful reactions to the death of Michael Brown and ongoing Ferguson protests.

Crazy Hood: I mean this respectfully, but you’re a character. Your songs, your videos, your persona…it’s bigger than life. You look at a Slick Rick, Chuck D, or a KRS-One—Hip-Hop giants, they all had that. How important is it, for your music, to be fully dimensional?

Gunplay: I think that’s the only way that I can get my point across. ‘Cause I rap it all day, but when I show it to you—most people understand what they see. They feel what they hear, but they really feel what they see and hear. It’s like telling you, “I’m rich.” But when I show you the money, “Oh shit, that nigga’s rich, for real!” So when I talk about that gangsta shit? I can talk that shit. But when I walk that shit, I show you way better than I can tell you. Also, I have a lot of penned up energy, and I get to release shit in my shows, my videos—the studio is just one-tenth of that.

Crazy Hood: This is not blowing smoke, but I think my favorite verse of the last year is the second verse of “Bible On The Dash.” It’s not just what you’re saying, but how you said it. It applies to everybody…everybody’s “got a problem and a plan.” If you can, tell me what inspired it…

Gunplay: Actually, I thought [“Bible On The Dash”] was gonna be the last song I was ever gonna put out. Because, I thought I was going to jail for the rest of my life. So I said, “If this is the last thing I’ma do, the last song they get to hear, I’m pleading to God at the same time, I’m lettin’ y’all into my life. At the same time, I’m lettin’ y’all feel what I’m feelin’ at the time.” I got a problem. I got a plan. [I’m] tryin’ to keep my pistol cold, whateva-whateva. They might not understand. Maybe after I was to be sentenced, y’all would get it. Then I could just live through that. [I was thinking], “This is my last hurrah.”

Crazy Hood: It’s wild that you say that. In history, you hear of these stories of all of the music 2Pac made in the final year of his life, or how prison sentences have affected T.I. making some of his best music. Do you think those circumstances—that sense of being against all odds makes people make better art?

Gunplay: I definitely do. I wrote that song, I wrote [“Cartoon & Cereal”], there’s a few others too, that I wrote. I knew my back was against the wall. I knew that I didn’t have long. So I had to make it short and simple and to the point, with my feelings on the records.

Crazy Hood: I meet a lot of people who don’t buy Rap albums, who say they don’t like new Hip-Hop, but they like you. I meet a lot of people who have little in common with your story, but embrace it even if they can’t relate to it. As an artist who has risen through the streets, how do you react to little white girls in Lilly dresses who are Gunplay fans?

Gunplay: I think it’s a blessing. I never made music for that [crowd]. I never made music to fit in. I made music of what I like to hear. ‘Cause I really…shout out to the new artists that’s comin’ out now with their own style of music. More powers to them, as long as they ain’t gotta go out there and rob, steal, and sell dope for they money, that’s a plus. But I’m not sayin’ I rock with that shit or play that shit in my [Mercedes] Benz. But at the same time, it’s a blessing for me—instead of me catering to them, they came to me. I think that’s just the work I’ve put in that’s been unnoticed for the last decade, behind the scenes, in the streets. I think it’s coming back in spades now. It starts with the new [crowd] appreciating what I do now. Even if they don’t know my past, they appreciate my now. That’s dues that’s payin’ me now.

Crazy Hood: We live in a cool era in that 15 years ago, a video had to be censored or packaged for MTV, BET and The Box. You really challenge that medium, and whether it’s YouTube, Vimeo, or WorldStar, you go above and beyond to exercise your freedoms in the visuals. How important is that liberty?

Gunplay: YouTube has been a great help, WorldStar has definitely been a great supporter and a great help to get my videos across to the masses. I feel like I’m showin’ you me, who I am, through the videos. ‘Cause I know that if they censor me too much, I’m not gonna get my point across and it’s gonna be a dead song in the water. So they’ve definitely played a big part in my success.

Crazy Hood: On Custom Cars & Cycles, it was cool when Triple C’s extended a hand to Warren G and Mack 10 on “Chicken Talkin’.” Five years later, what does a record like that mean to you?

Gunplay: It’s dope. It was the foundation for Triple C’s. It was a springboard, even though [Custom Cars & Cycles] didn’t sell to its potential. It was a springboard for artists such as myself that were still hungry, to just take it a lil’ further. “At least they know we are alive, we are here, and we are rappers. And we are trill with this shit!”

Listening to that song now…I don’t really like listening to my old stuff because I be like, “Oh my God! Look how I sounded!” [Laughs] But it just shows the growth, when I do listen to it.

Crazy Hood: Listening to your music, the beats, the dialect, the cadence never just flat-out said Miami. That being said, with a style as original as yours, who were your major musical influences when you were a teenager?

Gunplay: Right, right. I grew up on Nas’ first album, Illmatic, Jay-Z’s Reasonable Doubt, Big L, Onyx—for they hypeness, of course Busta Rhymes, UGK, Ice Cube, Trick Daddy. So when you do hear my shit, I got a little bit of each of those artists just gumbo’d up in my shit. Like, the lyrics…I pride myself on lyrics and not just sayin’ stupid shit. I want to make sure my lyrics is on point; I get that from Jay-Z. The real feelings and shit that I bring out on a record; I get that from 2Pac. Ol’ Dirty Bastard [inspired] the “I don’t a fuck. This is me. I get high,” that’s where I get that from. Nas, his flow: when you he used to just not even breathe between the records. [mimics Nas] My southern swag on the record, if it calls for it, is Pimp C. When I gotta get real gangsta—Ice Cube, Eazy-E, N.W.A. It’s all intertwined together. I got an East, West, North, South kinda thing goin’ on with my music. You really [could not tell] where the fuck I was from, really, if I ain’t tell you.

Crazy Hood: Everybody is curious about Living Legend. With “Krazy” being the single with the new video, how does that fit into the bigger context of the album?

Gunplay: [“Krazy”], I recorded that record a long time ago. I just like to stay relevant; it’s not gonna be on [Living Legend]. I just like to keep records out there, and hold videos. I held that video for two or three months. When it’s time, I release ‘em. But it’s not really in the story that I’m tellin’ in Living Legend. But it’ll keep me out there in the public, it’ll keep my name on peoples’ tongues, and keep me relevant until I’m ready to unload the mother-load on these mothafuckas. I like savin’ money, and I like savin’ records and videos. I got like 10 videos already, that I shot, and I’m holdin’—that’s for my album. When it’s time, all I got to do is just press send.

Crazy Hood: People talk about Black Hippy, how steel sharpens steel within that collective. I know people in the media, and fans I talked to dismissed you and Triple C’s once Wale, Meek Mill, Pill, Stalley, and the rest of the Maybach Music Group additions were signed. How much did the crowded house force you to step up to prove you were deserving of the attention and the recognition?

Gunplay: When the new artists came aboard, I knew I had to make my own lane. [Pop] I just popped a bottle—gotta pop that black bottle. [Laughs] But I don’t really see it as a competition, ‘cause nobody on my label can do what I do, and entertain the way that I do, from videos, to music—I’m not takin’ nothin’ from them, but I go above and beyond the call of duty. When they came aboard, I was just not really in a competitive mode, but “Okay, I gotta make my stamp. I gotta claim my stake. I gotta let these niggas know—not the artists—but the world know, okay, I’m still here.”

If you really go back, in 2012, when Meek Mill, Wale and the whole [Maybach Music Group] was bum-rushin’ the industry, I still was puttin’ out videos. I still was doin’ my thing, mixtapes. I was on the run, and I was doin’ that. I was puttin’ out my blogs: fishin’, going to Six Flags…shit like that. I knew I couldn’t compete with the mainstream machine that was behind them. But I can tell you what I can do: I bet you that I can go fishin’, and make these mothafuckas laugh, and make them look at me—I just went a different route other than make a thousand records to try and compete with a mainstream machine that I’m not a part of. But with their success, also came mine. “Gunplay’s on MMG [Self-Made Vol. 2] too. Yeah, we fuck with that. Did you see that shit where that nigga was in Six Flags, ridin’ rollercoaster’s?” I knew that God willing, if I beat the case, I could go on doing what I started. And that’s what I did.

Crazy Hood: You mention that major machine, you mentioned Onyx. It’s not Russell Simmons’ label anymore, but Def Jam Records’ history is about putting out those raw, loud, in-your-face artists like Onyx, like The Beastie Boys, like DMX, Method Man. Their history is that. There is a lot to be done before Living Legend comes, but what does it feel like to potentially revive or restore that reputation?

Gunplay: I don’t really think about it because it’s gonna put unnecessary pressure on my back, to re-claim the Def Jam throne in being that boisterous artist. I just try concentrate on making a classic album, which is non-existent nowadays, due to the fact that a lot of the artists and producers make music for the now: the trendy music. I don’t do that. I don’t follow trends, people; I’m a leader in my own mind. If it happens, it’s a blessing. That means my dues are paying me now, since I’ve been paying them for so long.

Crazy Hood: Your music has always had an honest depiction of mistreatment from law enforcement, something I’m sure that bleeds into your life and history. Given that—and you’re the first artist I’m asking this to, do you have any reaction to the murder of Michael Brown and what’s been going on in Ferguson, Missouri?

Gunplay: I’m just glad to see [people] steppin’ up, and lettin’ they voice be heard. [Police brutality] happens all the time. Niggas die; police kill niggas all the time. It’s nothin’ new. They call unarmed niggas all the time. In my hood. In your hood. In every else’s hood. But this particular unfortunate situation prompted the people to really stand up and say, “We’re tired of this shit.” I salute to them. But I don’t know if that’s going to bring any justice to the situation. But more power to them.

My condolences go out to the parents, the friends, and family of Mike Brown. Me, [Rick] Ross and Game just did a record touchin’ on that subject, the Ferguson incident and Mike Brown. We’ll be releasing it pretty soon; I just [recorded] it today. You know me, I’m gonna let you know what the fuck I feel like—and I definitely got my point across.

Gunplay: I probably want to say that “Cartoons & Cereal.” Not only the fact that I spilled my heart out on a record, it really changed my consumer, my fan. It went from strictly urban to sub-urban. At the same time, I didn’t sell out and talk about my spandex jeans or no corny shit like that. I ain’t talk about no sweet-nigga-suck-a-dick-Smucker’s-ass-shit, you know what I’m sayin’? I talked about the real nigga shit, some shit that I was goin’ through at the time. Just me. “No camera, no lights, just pain / Mama, how much trauma can I sustain?” Shit like that. They felt that. Thanks to Kendrick Lamar for even thinkin’ about gettin’ me on that record, which in turn, just changed my whole fan-base, and expanded it crazy-like.

Jake Paine has been a music industry professional since 2002. In addition to five years as HipHopDX.com’s Editor-in-Chief, Paine spent five years as AllHipHop’s Features Editor. He has written for Forbes, XXL, The Source, Mass Appeal, among others. He currently resides in Pittsburgh.

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