G Herbo is a survivor. At just 24 years old, the American rapper and songwriter from Chicago raised himself up through both his art and his business, keeping his eyes on Plan A, because there is no Plan B in his world.
Since he was a child, G Herbo experienced violence, death and pain to such a degree that it caused him to be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. His struggle became the impetus for his third solo studio album, “PTSD,” which dropped in February. After kicking off his tour in Brooklyn, G Herbo stopped by the Inked offices to share his perspective on hip-hop, hardship, and the evolution of his career.
As a pioneer in the “SoundCloud” rapper movement, G Herbo transitioned from churning out tunes to running a full-fledged business. He admits he made some mistakes early on, citing a reliance on prescription drugs and lean as self-medication, but has since left the distractions behind to focus on the big picture. “You have to have a strategy,” G Herbo says. “You can’t just do fly-by-night stuff in this business. You can’t just put music out and think it’s gonna have the same result as other artists who you think may just put music out. Even if it looks like that from the outside, successful artists have a plan, a blueprint, a strategy, a release schedule, or all of the above.”
For G Herbo, there is a strong connection between his love of art, his music and the tattoos he chooses to put on his body. “Just like my music, all of my tattoos are significant and true to me. If you are a fan of my music you could understand my tattoos just by looking at them,” G Herbo says. “My first tattoo was ‘79th’ I’m from 79th and Essex, the east side of Chicago, and I got it surrounded by flames and fire because they call my block a red zone—it’s a lot of violence, a lot of crime, a lot of murders, a lot of drugs, a lot of police, a lot of heat.”
The young performer was diagnosed with PTSD just two years ago, and he bears memories of a tragic youth on his left forearm. “This kinda tells my story of being in the streets,” G Herbo explains in a somber tone, tracing the work and counting out 11 friends memorialized. “It’s like a brick wall mural. I have a grim reaper holding two pistols in his hand, and it says ‘L’s and M’s’ for ‘No Limit Muskegon Boys.’ It was a mural for me to pay homage to everybody I lost in the streets at that moment. At the very top is my best friend, who passed away in 2015. That was one of my biggest heartbreaks, and it was when I started to become who I am.”
Pushing past the pain, G Herbo has grown into a widely respected voice in hip-hop. He is convinced that other young people in difficult situations can find their way to success. “I was once them. I’m no different. I’m no more special than they are,” he says. “I feel I’m no more intelligent than they are, they just have to tap into that part of their brain and their hearts to really understand what they’re going through, and to have the heart to be brave enough to face their fears. I faced my fears. That’s the only reason why I’m able to speak about my PTSD in a way that seems like I’m over it.
“It strengthened my armor plate. It’s made me the man I am today,” he continues. “It’s important for me to just speak on it and embrace it and try to help every kid. If I help one, I did my job. If I help a million, I did a tremendous job.”
WEB EXCLUSIVE: Our interview with G Herbo was so engaging and fantastic that we wanted to share it with you in its entirety. Check it out!
Let’s start with right now… you are on the PTSD tour. You just released the “Still Swervin’” album at the top of February, but then you put a mixtape out…
Yes, and I just dropped Sessions, another project after Still Swervin, which was about November/December. Yea, something like that. My fans have been waiting for this project - PTSD specifically. It was a real highly anticipated album, and I’ve been working on that, like, tryin' to perfect that for so long, and I have so much music and so many songs and I’m blessed to be able to dictate my release schedule. So that’s kinda where Still Swervin’ and Sessions, and those projects came from. The motivation for me to really get on my fans to let them know that PTSD is coming and that I’m still working. Which they knew.
Everyone is dropping singles and singles, and you’ve been dropping projects and projects. Is there a reason why you’re doing it that way?
Yeah. To me, I’ve never been a single kind of artist. At least since streaming business came. I always just dropped full projects, full bodies of work because I never stop working. I always have 100 songs, 200, 300 songs. It’s gotta come out somewhere, somehow. I don’t really want to single my fans to death… I have music and I feel like I’m one of those artists where I can put a mixtape together, a body of work, where they can play these songs and have a few favorite songs off the project. But I do believe in singles when you’re getting ready for like these big projects. But I’m still independent, so I just wanna stay true to my fans how I’ve always been.
Well and at the rate that you’re dropping projects, you really are actually doing better than a lot of people who drop singles. It’s like, when you’re in the studio, you’re really in the studio.
Yeah, I lock in like 16-hour blocks. Sometimes 24 hours in the studio, so I take my craft very seriously. And there’s still that big pile of songs that never come out and it breaks my heart every time.
Maybe one day you can do the lost files thing, right?
Yeah, that’s crazy that you said that because I was just thinking like, I gotta put a project out that’s just lost files, leaks. ‘Cause like sometimes fans get ahold of my music and they leak it, because they’re scared that I’m never gonna put it out ‘cause they know I have so many songs.
You came up as one of the more premier artists under the “Soundcloud rapper” movement. What do you feel is the biggest thing you’ve learned about the business end that really changed your life?
One, that you gotta plan. You have to have a strategy. You can’t just do fly by night stuff in this business. And what I mean by that is you can’t just put music out and think it’s gonna have the same result as other artists who you think may just put music out. Even if it looks like from the outside, successful artists have a plan, a blueprint, a strategy or a release schedule, all of the above. I learned that. And also you have to be business-oriented in this business. Even as an artist, I know it was boring. It was boring for me. I’m 24, I’ve been rapping since I was 16/17 years old and I been with the same partners. It’s kinda boring to go over your numbers and spreadsheets and contracts, to make sure you're talking to your lawyer… but that’s very important because I feel every artist, even the biggest artists, run into those hiccups when you don’t focus on that or have someone that you absolutely trust focused on that from early on. I definitely learned that.
When I look at your imaging, the photos you take, the way you present what you do is a lot of real true art to it. You can tell that you enjoy the visual aspect. How does the art play into your expression, whether it’s through your images or through your tattoos?
Absolutely. Just like my music, all of my tattoos are significant and true to me like, even if you are a fan of my music you could understand my tattoos just by looking at them. I got my first tattoo I believe when I was 16 or 17 years old, and I always loved tattoos. I always wanted to get tattoos. I was always one of those guys “I don’t wanna get a tattoo if it’s not nothing I’m gonna love for the rest of my life.” I feel each tattoo is a piece of my journey, just like art. Just the same way like each song is one piece of the puzzle going on my journey, I feel like each tattoo of mine is the exact same thing. My first tattoo was 79th. I’m from 79th and Essence, the East side of Chicago, and I got it surrounded by flames and fire because they call my block a redzone where it’s a lot of violence, lotta crime, lotta murders, lotta drugs. Lotta police, a lotta heat.
What is your favorite piece and why?
My favorite piece is my son’s name. I got this across my chest, when my son was born. It’s my biggest tattoo. It was my most painful tattoo as well. I got that because I just wanted and I knew that I was always afraid, even though I got tattoos a lot, I was always afraid to get my chest done. Like, what could I possibly get on my chest that could be so important that I’m gonna take all of that pain… I felt so proud of myself when I did it. It wasn’t just the tattoo, it was just I know my son is gonna grow up and see his name across my chest and be like, my dad really loved me... That’s important for me. That’s my favorite tattoo.
A lot of people have at least one tattoo that they either wish they didn’t get, or didn’t come out the way they wanted. Do you have one?
I definitely do have one. It’s right here on my stomach. It’s one of my biggest tattoos. The reason why is ‘cause I was addicted to lean, Xanax, Percocet… self-medicating, I was clinically diagnosed with PTSD almost two years ago.
From what you went through as a child?
Yea, just as a kid, all the trauma I went endured. I thought self-medicating was the way out, and I was so high when I got this tattoo. It signifies the world covered in hundreds and blood, ‘cause money and evil rules the world. So I got that, and I put like my area code. I actually like the top of it though. I like the 773, just my city and me pouring out my emotions and everything that I been through for my city to understand and embrace. That was around the time that I dropped my mixtape Ballin’ Like I’m Kobe, one of my most vulnerable projects too, as a kid when I was just embracing being in the streets and losing so many of my homies. So I thought it was a significant tattoo, but I just didn’t think it came out as well because I was high and literally one of my close friend’s father did it. I was comfortable with him, so I was high and when it hurt, I would smack his hand or somethin’ like that. I was moving his hand and all kinda crazy shit.
Do you have open places that you have planned for new tats?
Yea, absolutely. I do wanna have more kids so I wanna leave my back open for my kids that I have in the future. I have spaces on my arm where I did a mural for my grandmother. This is my second favorite tattoo. I actually want to get my grandmother, and my aunt who passed away. They were best friends.
So are you going to keep it black-and-grey, that whole sleeve?
Yeah, this whole sleeve and this one is mostly color. This is kinda like my street arm. This kinda tells my story of being in the streets. I have one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven… eleven of my deceased friends on that arm that I got when I was 17-years-old. It’s like a brick wall mural. I have a grim reaper holding two pistols in his hand and it said L’s and M’s for No Limit Muskeegon boys. It was a mural for me to pay homage to everybody I lost in the streets at that moment. At the very top is my best friend, one of my very best friends that passed away in 2015. He used to hang with Chief Keef, he was a part of Glogang and they had their own characters, their own animations, and when he passed away they did his with wings and a halo. So I got a tattoo at the very top ‘cause that was like one of my biggest heartbreaks when I started to become who I was.
Speaking of heartbreaks, you did Ballin’ Like I’m Kobe. How did Kobe Bryant’s passing affect you? Would you ever do a tribute?
I actually would. I was thinking about it. To be honest, I definitely was thinking some small tribute to Kobe somewhere on this arm. I have “Kobe Squad” already with purple on me. It’s for my homie Jacobie who passed away while inspiring me to make the "Ballin’ Like I’m Kobe" project, and Kobe’s my favorite player growing up. I just loved Kobe for his tenacity on the court, and his skill, but when I grew up, as a man I understood why he had that and what it took to get that. He was determined the same way. He believed he was the greatest thing under Mike [Jordan]. He believed he could get ring after ring and ring. He believed he could get rings without Shaq and he did just that. Shaq never won any more rings without Kobe. And that was because of his will to achieve. That’s definitely a heartbreak for me, and everyone across the world. Of course, we love, we admire Kobe and I do actually have this Kobe right-hand purple, so I might just get a yellow 24 right next to my homie. and I think that would be perfect actually.
You seem to have been moving yourself in a way to get over PTSD, in a way to grow past it and evolve, so do you think that for kids who grew up like you did, is it possible to really overcome it?
Absolutely. ‘Cause I was once them. I’m no different, I’m no more special than they are. I feel I’m no more intelligent than they are, they just have to tap into that part of their brain and their hearts to really understand what they’re going through to have the heart to be brave enough to face your fears. I faced my fears. That’s the only reason why I’m able to speak about my PTSD in a way that seems like I’m over it. I’m still healing. It’s a day to day process. I’m never over my trauma. Every day I think about it. Every day I move a certain way because of it. So I think I’m just brave enough to face my fears and understand this is what I went through, this is what I need to do to get out of it, and this is what I need to do on a day to day basis to make sure it’s not affected my mental. And to make sure I’m helping the next person to understand that nothing in life is by coincidence. We go through a lot of hurtful stuff, that’s sad to say, but nothing is by coincidence. It’s strengthened my armor plate, it’s made me the man I am today. Coming where I come from, you can learn how to heal, you can learn how to do business, you can learn how to play sports, you can learn how to be better. Coming from somewhere else that doesn’t have that, you can’t learn how to deal with hurt on a level that I have. So I mean, I feel like I’m blessed to be able to say I come from that and I am here, and I wear my scars proudly. Any kid out there, every kid out here in these poverty-stricken neighborhoods, they can do the same thing. I’m a product of that. And there’s people who’s done it before me and there’s people who are gonna do it after me. So it’s important for me to just speak on it and embrace it and try to help every kid. If I help one, I did my job. If I help a million, I did a tremendous job.
What do you want people to know most about you right now in your career, as an artist, and as a man?
I’m probably the most focused I’ve ever been in life. I’m taking everything that comes with life, I’m taking everything that comes in my career, everything that comes with me being a father comes with me being a man in general. I have to embrace that next step. I didn’t get here feeling everything’s gonna be a breeze and be easy. I’m gonna bump into more problems, more bumps in the road, and I’m prepared for that. I feel me saying that can get the next kid, the next person, the next man prepared to deal with what life has in store for them so they can get to their greater destiny. That’s all I’m on right now.