A strong work ethic has never been a problem for G-Eazy, so maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise that in less than 18 months, he has followed up his breakthrough 2014 album, “These Things Happen,” with the newly released “When It’s Dark Out.”
The new album – his first under a deal with RCA Records – has arrived despite the fact that G-Eazy toured into the early months of 2015 behind “These Things Happen” and needed to include time for the manufacture and promotional set-up of the new album – a process that can take a few months for a major label release.
“I don’t know how we did it,” G-Eazy said in a phone interview just days after the Dec. 4 release of “When It’s Dark Out.” “I guess just by not taking any days off. I went from the end of the last tour for the last album (straight) to the studio, just set up shop, locked the doors and put my phone on airplane mode and made the album.
“We just really set out to do it,” he said. “The sophomore album’s tough, because there’s a lot going on and it’s harder to find the time. Your schedule gets so crazy. But I wanted to do it right and I wanted to make it great, so I just worked my ass off.”
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G-Eazy had good reason to push himself to make “When It’s Dark Out.” He had started to get nationwide notice with his 2011 mixtape “The Endless Summer,” and saw his momentum build with “Must Be Nice,” a follow-up mixtape released a year later.
Then, when he released “These Things Happen” in June 2014, it debuted at No. 3 on Billboard magazine’s all-genre album chart and topped the magazine’s hip-hop and rap album charts – an impressive showing for an album that was independently released (although it was distributed by RED, one of the industry’s leading distributors).
Now G-Eazy (real name Gerald Gillum) is being touted as a candidate to be hip-hop’s next superstar, having seen his single “Me, Myself & I” (featuring Bebe Rexha) reach No. 7 on Billboard’s rap singles chart (and 13 on the R&B singles chart) and a major world tour rolling out in January. It takes him to Boise’s CenturyLink Arena on Friday, Jan. 8.
G-Eazy’s ascension didn’t happen by magic. That aforementioned work ethic played a key role in getting him to the cusp of stardom.
Raised by a single mother in the San Francisco bay area, G-Eazy in high school joined a local hip-hop group, the Bay Boyz, who posted songs on Myspace and tried to develop a presence nationally.
But after getting his diploma, G-Eazy chose to go to college, enrolling at Loyola University in New Orleans, where he majored in music industry studies. It was during college that G-Eazy, now 26, began releasing a steady stream of mixtapes, beginning with the 2008 release, “The Tipping Point.”
One of his early tracks, “Candy Girl,” became a MySpace hit and attracted the interest of RCA. The flirtation did not lead to a record deal at that point, and an undeterred G-Eazy returned to college, putting out four more mixtapes before he released “The Endless Summer.”
That was when he really started to make waves nationally. His updated version of Dion’s 1961 hit, “Runaround Sue,” generated more than 4 million YouTube views, and “The Endless Summer” mixtape gained widespread acclaim for the way G-Eazy built his tracks and his raps around ‘50s/early ‘60s-era doo-wop and early rock and roll samples – a unique blending of retro and modern.
“I like to bridge gaps, bring different worlds together,”G-Eazy said. “So for me, sampling ‘50s music, half time on the drums and rapping over it, it was a crazy contrast.”
The exposure from “The Endless Summer” enabled Gillum to start what became a relentless touring schedule. In addition to headlining shows, he also landed a spot on the 2012 Warped tour and snagged opening slots on tours by Lil Wayne, Drake, Shwayze and others.
The success of “Runaround Sue,” coupled with the grassroots following he built on touring, played a key role in the impact “These Things Happen” made upon his release. He also started to get considerable attention for his race (he’s white), his looks (he’s often compared to film idol James Dean) and his sharp sense of style.
But his music remains G-Eazy’s biggest selling point. With “These Things Happen,” he started to move away from the retro element of “The Endless Summer,” and now on “When It’s Dark Out,” any traces of that style are pretty much gone. To G-Eazy, though, it only made sense to evolve his sound.
“I think it was important as a creative (artist), with every project or body of work you set out to put together to push yourself and move forward, take risks,” he said. “You can’t reheat the same soup forever.”
“When It’s Dark Out,” stands out for several reasons. For one thing, “When It’s Dark Out” is an unusually musical and melodic hip-hop album. For instance, “Me, Myself & I” is built around Rexha’s strikingly pretty guest vocal, while “Drifting” (featuring Chris Brown) and “Nothing To Me”(with Keyshia Cole and E-40) are silky ballads with mostly sung vocals.
G-Eazy said he didn’t necessarily set out to give “When It’s Dark Out” such a melodic dimension, but he feels it’s a valuable component in songs.
Music makes you feel something. Like a melody can convey emotion. It’s just the way I hear music, the way I make music.
G-Eazy also steps up his game lyrically, showing a personal and vulnerable side in a several songs that is rare in today’s hip-hop, where it’s common for artists to use their words to brag about their success, money, women and ability to party like a pro.
“When It’s Dark Out” has some lyrics (“One of Them” or “Order More”) about living the big life of a hip-hop star, but the songs “Drifting” and “Sad Boy” find G-Eazy contemplating the downsides and insecurities of fame, such as being separated from friends and family and questioning whether friends like him only because of his success. On “Everything Will Be Okay,” he recalls real-life difficulties, including weathering times when his mother was unemployed, dealing with his mother leaving his father, understanding his mother’s sexuality and discovering the body of her girlfriend, who had suffered a fatal overdose.
G-Eazy said the latter event was a story he had rarely shared.
“It’s tough to open up,” he said. “Like I told a story on ‘Everything Will Be OK’ that I hadn’t even told some of my closest friends, something I never really talk about. So to talk about it on an actual song and then release it to the whole world, it was kind of scary.
“The thing is, it’s like when you’re honest with yourself and when you’re honest (in lyrics), it can be therapeutic, I think, to open up.”
G-Eazy is proud of what he’s created on “When It’s Dark Out” to the point that the new songs will be the focus of his live show this winter.
“I kind of put the album together in a similar way I would put a show together, like in terms of a set list, just energy wise, keeping the dynamic,” he said. “So I’ll play most of the new album and of course I’ll do some of the favorites off of the last one.”
7:30 p.m. Jan. 8, CenturyLink Arena, 233 S. Capitol Blvd., Boise. $35. Ticketfly. $40 at the door. Opening: A$ap Ferg, Nef The Pharaoh, Marc E. Bassy.