Nº18: Genuinely G4SHI
Photos by: Tommy Thomas
For those unaware of G4SHI, he’s a comprehensive soul – wholesome in both his artistry and his persona. In the days leading up to my conversation with the New York rapper, I found myself binging on his music, finding each of his songs appealing from the very beginning.
His realness is overwhelming, especially on songs like “ALONE.” G4SHI is the kind of artist that your friends please you to listen to, telling you he's unlike anybody out there right now. Indeed, not many people are as intense in their raps as G4SHI is. Forget for a moment the J. Coles, Logics or Kendricks of the game: G4SHI is the real deal. I eagerly anticipated getting to know him better.
Born Labinot Gashi, G4SHI was born in 1989 to Albanian refugees escaping from the civil war happening in the country at the time of his birth. His last name means “health and happiness,” which is the core of what his music is all about. The “4” in his stage name stands for the day of October in which he was born. Looking at how much meaning his stage name embodies, it’s no wonder that he believes that his songs are his “children.”
Just before we chatted, a newborn of his entered the world earlier that day: “Armor4Sync.” It’s a sequel to the song “Pretending,” which vividly tells the story about how a girl G4SHI dated wouldn’t tell her friends about their shared love, driving him into a pool of water. “Armor4Sync” is about his feelings while being underwater, still in love with the girl despite all that happened. It’s an excellent display of G4SHI’s lyricism, his ear for production and the gift he’s been blessed with to tell stories.
With the uniqueness that G4SHI possesses on his tracks, his background has much to do with how his music turns out. His style of singing - being born in Libya to Albanian parents - has been influenced by sounds from that region, specifically Arabic. One artist in particular that has impacted him is Cheb Khaled (now known just as Khaled), a Moroccan singer known for the song “Didi.” When analyzing G4SHI’s catalog, his vocals resonate well with artists from that area of the world.
Besides his cultural heritage, he obtained many of the traits fans see in him today directly from his family. “Both of my parents have an artsy-ness to them,” he said. “My singing voice, my dancing I get from my mom and my wittiness I get from my dad.” His wittiness is a key attribute of his as he has stacks of funny and self-aware lines. Referring to the advertisement where someone would eat a Fruit Gusher and their head would explode, G4SHI's favorite bar is: "She used to give me crazy head, like she ate a Gusher." Lines like these reveal his ability to twist what could be a nostalgia trip to some into a relevant, adult subject that listeners are bound to chuckle at.
Like many who cross paths with the cultural and musical aspects that hip-hop provides, G4SHI found rap at just the right time and began rapping himself at a young age. “I wrote my first 16 at the age of 15, my first rap name was LG which at the time stood for ‘Life’s Good,’” he voiced. Even at the age of 15, G4SHI knew the power of positive messages. He listened to a lot of rap back then, not just because it was enjoyable, but it would teach him English.
he said. He mentioned other musical heroes, from Lauryn Hill to Marvin Gaye, Alicia Keys to The Doors, as well as Eminem and his monumental album Marshall Mathers LP. The artist he spoke of most highly? The late, great Michael Jackson. “It doesn’t really matter the genre, people all over would be my inspiration. All of music, really.”
G4SHI’s taste in music growing up speaks to his fan base as well; it’s very diverse. His music, much like his background, is big time and has transcended borders. “My fan base is global,” he proudly states. With a simple glance at his Twitter profile, you can find fans showing G4SHI love anywhere from Russia to Germany to France and beyond.
“My favorite places that I’ve played are probably London and Switzerland,” he said.
“Wow! So in Switzerland, they know your songs?” I inquired.
“Every single word.”
His fans have proven to be a dedicated bunch who stick by him, through thick and thin. Recently, he’s released a dual set of visuals for his popular songs, “Switch Up” and “Day Ones.” With the release came an explosion of tweets directed to him from around the world, a testament to how powerful and expansive his music is.
G4SHI’s fan base is purely organic too, it wasn’t purchased like other rappers who would claim that they “made it on their own,” despite that not being the case.
“You should know that I didn’t buy my fan base,” he indicated. “Most guys out today have paid for their fans, I haven’t. Most of the artists that have made it ‘on their own’ haven’t really came from nothing.”
“No affluence than,” I interjected.
“Yeah. Even Chance - as much as I love Chance - his Uncle is Spike Lee,” he said, referring to Chance the Rapper. “Travis Scott’s dad was a drummer who helped DJ Premier. Everyone has connections but me.”
Similarly, he lets his music speak for itself when critics doubt his abilities on the mic because of his skin color. I brought up his song “Bitch Up” where G4SHI asks why people are “so concerned of why my ass ain’t Black?” It’s a discussion that seems to come to light whenever a non-Black rapper makes big time moves in hip-hop. “Judge off of the art,” G4SHI said on the issue.
Proving a point that some people are too engaged with the appearance of the artists they listen to, he scrolled through the comments on the YouTube video for “Bitch Up”. The video’s top comment read “This the Blackest voice on a White person ever bruh”.
Comments like these don’t seem to concern G4SHI. G4SHI expects for people to comment on the color of his skin. Seeing someone that looks like him in a culture that’s dominated by Black artists, it’s a given that his musical abilities will be doubted by some. This kind of talk, however, doesn’t concern him one bit.
“You should enjoy the music, not how I look,” he told me. Like JAY-Z once put it, “numbers don’t lie.” Many people have enjoyed “Bitch Up,” which has amassed 1,481,000 plays on platforms across the internet. G4SHI has nothing to be concerned about and is letting his success do the talking for him. He also understands his position in rap very clearly.
“Me being a White artist, to the hip-hop culture, I feel like I could easily say I’m a visitor to the culture, because I’m not Black - but at the same time I’m not a visitor because I am a product of my environment,” he said. “I do come from the hood, I was raised with nothing but Black kids around me, so I feel like this is how I am. I’m not a visitor. Hip-hop is my home.”
It’s a powerful statement coming from an artist who chooses not to fit the traditional mold that the music industry provides for him as a White artist in hip-hop. G4SHI is well aware of where he has been and where he wants to be - he’s different and he embraces it.
“I’m a little confused, because I’m in the middle, but when I see other people like me, I see that I am home. When I see other White MC’s or whatever, I see the difference between them and I.” His fans embrace his difference which includes one of his most noteworthy of traits: his alpha presence, both on the stage and off.
“I do have a lot of African-American fans and me being born in Africa, I feel like the water’s just different. I just feel like that’s what made me, and that’s what made me alpha. [The] Black male is an alpha. They control the room and that’s what makes me, me,” he said.
Considering all the success coming his way, I asked G4SHI if he has ever thought about the annual XXL Freshmen issue as a goal for him in the near future. He replied with another line off of his song “Bitch Up.” “On the song I said, ‘Tell XXL that I’m too big to be sharing the cover.’” he told me, breaking down the line’s metaphorical usage that compares him sharing the magazine cover to sharing a blanket with someone.
“I’m XXL, I want my own cover,” he nobly stated.
G4SHI has been around for a while now, and in his opinion, he deserves love that other cats have been getting in the industry. He’s recently been shown love by West Coast great, Snoop Dogg. In a video response tweeted out to former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, the rap legend airs things out with Schwarzenegger as G4SHI’s music is heard blasting in the background.
He talked about retweeting the video and its importance to him. “I can’t not act like a fan, but on the other hand, I know I’m that good and need to stop acting surprised.”
One of his most noteworthy fans is fashion killa and big time rapper A$AP Rocky, who has hailed G4SHI, “the dopest White guy since the Beastie Boys.” “We’re not the best of friends because we’re not that close, but he’s influenced me and every time we see each other, it’s always love,” G4SHI noted. “I have so much love for Rocky because he’s never ever acted too Hollywood.”
G4SHI shared multiple stories regarding Rocky, who would go out of his way to get to him at events and always has spoken highly of him. “I saw him [when] Drake was at ALIFE and I couldn’t get in so Rocky goes ‘Yo, fuck this shit’ and Rocky brings me into ALIFE and introduces me to everyone.” A head as big as Rocky giving it up to G4SHI speaks a lot to his effects on those around him, which means the world to him. “Every time we see him it’s always great.”
Another high profile name in rap that has gotten down with G4SHI’s music is radio giant Peter Rosenberg, whose support couldn’t have come at a better time. Taking a big risk, G4SHI invested in his music before all else. “I was working at Billabong and I ended up getting fired. I took my last check and instead of buying Jordans, I ended up recording the song Who Made Me.’”
His song “Who Made Me” - which had been released three months before Big Sean’s 2012 song “Control” came out - winded up getting the attention of Rosenberg because it predicted the controversial “Control” line where Kendrick Lamar regarded himself as the “king of New York.”
“I had my fans tweet Rosenberg and the Kendrick shit was going on at the moment and he killed everybody on the “Control” verse. I recorded ‘Who Made Me’ and the shit didn’t take off. “On my ‘Who Made Me’ song I said, ‘New York been soft since Kendrick came through and crushed the fucking building,’” he said.
“It’s like I prophesized that, that he was going to come and kill it,” he continued. G4SHI’s forecast was not
far off, hitting the nail on the head with his prediction. “I remember telling Kendrick Lamar how to go to a certain spot when I saw him in Times Square once. So I knew what was going to happen.”
He brought himself back to the moment “Who Made Me” was played on Hot 97. Earnestly, his gamble had paid off in the greatest of ways and put him in the center of New York’s hip-hop stage. “Rosenberg played it on the radio and I remember just crying,” he emotionally recalled. “So many things go wrong in this industry, that one time it does go right, it’s a feeling you can’t control, but you just cry of happiness and that’s what happened.”
Four years later and on the dawn of another release, G4SHI’s career is in a much different context. Since the day he heard himself on the radio, it’s been more of an ascension than ever before. “It’s harder and harder,” he revealed. “It never gets easier. Your grind depends on your attitude, you got to take all your energy and run with it.”
There’s no question that G4SHI has put a lot of time into his craft, but he’s done a lot more for other artists who’ve never really took the time to thank him for what he’s done. He considers himself a “low-key A&R” due to his ability to scout out talented artists in the game. “I feel like I’ve discovered a lot of artists before many people did,” said G4SHI. “I’ve helped a lot of people blow up, you know what I’m saying. Sad part is they’ve never returned the favor.”
While it is wrong that he’s been forgotten, as others got hot off his help, he considers his role as a “low-key A&R” important to him. “It’s normal by now ‘cause I’ve had so many people do it to me, but yeah I guess I am a low-key A+R. The best are. The Drakes, the JAY-Zs, the Kanyes, Kanye discovered Kid Cudi. The best A&R is low-key.” Though his legend is yet to be determined, G4SHI has the same sort of passion that the greats have when it comes to keeping hip-hop alive and well – making his comparison undeniable.
Besides his underground work discovering artists, he has a lot of songs he’s ready to let fans hear. Recent releases have kept fans talking, garnering thousands and thousands of plays on songs such as “Day Ones,” “Rose Gold” and “Jean Claude Van Damme.” He talked about his upcoming records, one which is soon to drop, STAIRS.
The artwork for STAIRS features G4SHI lying down on a set of stairs wearing a ski-mask - in what has become a signature look for him. The artwork alludes to his career, which has been an uphill battle for the rapper who gives everything he has day in and day out. “I call it STAIRS because my life has been stairs”
he insisted. “It’s so motherfucking hard to go up and it’s so easy to come down.” His drive isn’t going to let up, even if naysayers may want to see him fall. “You don’t bitch about going down the stairs, you bitch about going up because it’s so motherfucking hard. It’s hard to stay on top.”
While life has been a set of stairs for G4SHI, he’s going to continue climbing many more flights as he embarks on the challenge of changing the direction of his music. “As far as the EP goes, I have a lot of the new style, which is like singing and rapping. I’ve always been singing, but in this one, the verses are singing as well.”
With every upcoming project – like STAIRS – he hopes to incorporate pieces of his older work into his newer songs. One song which this tactic will be heard on is, “Nowhere Dreaming” off STAIRS. “What I did, I took the song called “Nowhere Dreaming,” I took the ‘I’ll Be Fine’ song that I had with Vinny Cha$e, I took [the part of the] verse ‘out in Dubai’ and I put it as the hook.”
Whether he’s making fans nostalgic of his past songs or getting them pumped for his future work, G4SHI is a star, even if he isn’t a huge fan of admitting to it. “I feel like it sounds stupid for me to say it, but it’s something that I’ve heard from everyone that I’ve met. From the DJ Snakes, the Mustards, to everyone that I’ve ever had an encounter with,” he expressed.
Much like his music, G4SHI’s personality is grandiose. His aura is all that imposing on those who are otherwise grandiose themselves. “I guess stars are not made, they’re born” he declared.
You can love or hate G4SHI, but it won’t phase him in any which way. Anyone that has been in the same room as him, spoken to him or listened to his music can vouch that his presence is an undeniable, unstoppable storm. G4SHI is truly, as he put it, an “alpha.” His flight is not going to be grounded any time in the near future.
G4SHI’s journey has experienced some complications, but considering how far he has come, he has the power to do big things in hip-hop. There’s no telling what mark G4SHI will leave once he reaches the top, but judging off what he’s accomplished thus far, he will grind for as long as it takes to get there.