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by clarissa brooks

photos by cam kirk

styling by bobby wesley

The measure of a man holds a lot of mythology. From ideas of character to valor and all methods of thinking around purpose, it can mean everything and nothing all at once. For Gunna, a man with the leading rap album in the country, his mythology begins and ends with the promises he has made to himself and the people he holds close.

We meet Gunna, dressed head-to-toe in cream knit cashmere alongside a small entourage, wrapping up a day-long photoshoot with famed photographer Cam Kirk. The 28-year-old’s demeanor is disarming in a way that feels familial. Gunna, a brother and a very proud son, is at the top of his career and beginning to think about the next chapter. His latest release, “DS4EVER,” serves as the beginning of that reflection.

Gunna unleashed “DS4EVER,” the fourth and final edition of his Drip Season series, on the heels of 2020’s “WUNNA” and 2021’s collaborative release with Young Thug, “Slime Language 2.” This release has been the rapper’s most successful to date and has grabbed the national conversation on what it really means to be “pushin P,” the phrasing from the album that has taken over Instagram and TikTok.

Photos by Cam Kirk

Photos by Cam Kirk

However, any and all conversations about the man should begin with how Gunna adorns himself. From his clothes to his tattoos, he is a man who takes how he presents himself to the world very seriously. Named Sergio Kitchens by his mother, Gunna illustrates how he’s been Mr. Put It On all of his life. “I wasn’t trying to be nobody,” he says before describing his outfit for the first day of middle school, a pink-and-white ensemble that he can recount with precision.

High school was where the son of College Park, Georgia, sharpened his love for luxury brands and styling. “High school was fun because I was wearing a lot of the brands I’m wearing today before I could really afford them,” he says. “Like, somehow I got Prada shoes in the 11th grade. I wore them to prom—they were double-strap Prada shoes—and I got the pictures to prove it.”

His knack for fashion was birthed from his role as the youngest of four older brothers and his sharp awareness of how clothes make him the man he wants to be. It is clear that Gunna has been blazing a trail of his own well before the public knew his name.

With this in mind, it makes perfect sense to learn that Gunna is developing his own clothing brand—Sergio Giovanni, after his own name—when he isn’t working on music. “It’s an experience to be just working on my own thing, my own brand,” Gunna says. “I’ve been passionate about clothes, so I’m having fun with this. Like, I’m really having fun with this shit. Getting samples and going back and forth. It’s frustrating. But it’s a process.” While things are still in the development phase, Gunna has a world around him eager to nurture his creative spirit and focused vision.

Photos by Cam Kirk

Photos by Cam Kirk

The rapper mentions his love for the curation of his tattoos, specifically the Black power tattoo on his left leg that resembles Foxy Brown in a wicker chair. He boasts about having a collection of over 20 tattoos and hopes to add more symbols of his success in the coming years. Gunna, of course, only gets inked by the best, specifically Randy of Riverdale, GA. Not long after this interview, he added some permanent album promotion to his collection with a “pushin P” tattoo.

Gunna lights up the most when discussing family and all the iterations of the term that make up his internal life. “This brand is built off of love and family,” he says of his music’s roots. An anchor in Gunna’s world is Ebonie Ward, the manager who is the secret sauce to the excellence of not only Gunna but also Future and Flo Milli. An industry veteran, she is the Virgo counterbalance to Gunna’s airy Gemini demeanor.

“Of course me and Eb are not related, but blood couldn’t make us any closer,” Gunna explains, “and not just because of the business. Business is second, our friendship is first.” Their origin story is similar to many of Gunna’s retellings: an energetic 23-year-old Gunna made a promise to himself that Ebonie would manage him. She was, of course, busy managing Future at the height of his career. But Gunna stayed true to his promise and eventually, as their trust in each other grew, the two developed a business partnership and friendship that remains unstoppable. “Our families spend holidays together,” Ward tells us. “That’s how important family is to this work. They sharpen me and I keep them on their toes because I know that there is no ceiling when it comes to his success.”

Photos by Cam Kirk

Photos by Cam Kirk

2020 was the year that shifted things for the rap star. As the world was in upheaval, Gunna was in the studio, making new music and thinking critically about his legacy. He began working on “DS4EVER” the day “WUNNA” was released. “I was on a quarantine vibe,” he recalls. “Then I was like, let me just get started on putting together DS4 because I knew it was wanted. I knew my fan base was looking forward to it.”

What is unseen by many is the work ethic Gunna has had from the very beginning. Going from various photoshoots and, at the time of conversation, having just wrapped a three-week press run for DS4, the focus of making the work first was never lost. “It don’t stop,” he says. “When I leave here I’m gonna go to the studio. I don’t go into the studio thinking I’ll make a hit song every night, I just go to work to go to work.”

“DS4EVER” serves as a final chapter. Gunna began his career with his acclaimed 2016 “Drip Season,” and that moved him into a critical spotlight. His “Drip Season 3” became a point of major acclaim and remains one of his most canonical albums in the series. When considering “DS4EVER,” Gunna himself is still shocked by the songs that have made the album special to him. “The feature I didn’t see coming was Kodak Black,” he says. “We’ve never bumped paths but I know we can make great songs together and I’m happy we got more coming down the line.”

“Drake was unexpected too,” Gunna says about the secondary single “P power” that features the Canadian rapper. “Because I had ‘power’ already and when he said he wanted to get on it, I just never pictured it but we got it. Execution has been everything for this project.”

Photos by Cam Kirk

Photos by Cam Kirk

The project begins with gems we’ve come to know best, high-energy collaborations with Young Thug and 21 Savage that pull us into the nostalgia of 2016’s golden trap era. A few soft lyrical moments on songs such as “alotta cake” and “south to west” mellow out the energy of the top half, but this time around “DS4EVER” takes a slower dive towards the end of the project.

Songs such as “life of sin” and “die alone” work as biographical ballads about how Gunna is starting to understand himself as more than just a golden child of rap, taking a hard look at his future.

“I’m starting to think about things long term,” he reflects shyly. “About being a father, a family man, and all those [things] are starting to show up for me as I get older.”

This album, outside of its place in Gunna’s discography, has shifted language. The social media craze led to a media frenzy fixed on defining what “pushin P” really means. “P doesn’t just mean player. P means paper, too. You can be pushing this P with paper,” Gunna explained to Complex. “If you’re in this shit and it’s rented, then you’re kicking P. But if you buy this shit and you own it, then you’re really pushing P. You’re spending your hard-earned money. Like, you’re pushing it. You’re standing on this shit. You’re spending millions on it. You’re pushing it.”

Photos by Cam Kirk

Photos by Cam Kirk

The place that birthed Gunna is always central to the community work he involves himself in. Gunna worked alongside GoodrCo., a Black-owned company helmed by Jasmine Crow, to open a school store that provides food and clothing to the students of Ronald McNair Middle School in College Park. McNair is the same middle school young Sergio Kitchens attended in a pink ensemble on the first day of sixth grade. The students at McNair are mostly Black and hispanic children who are deeply impacted by food insecurities and poverty that makes access to basic needs a point of survival for many students.

“The idea for this store is understanding that a lot of these kids are the adults, they are the secondary adults in the households,” Crowe told the Atlanta Black Star upon the store’s launch. “They’re going home, their parents are still at work, and they are often cooking meals for their little brothers or sisters, that’s why there’s Stouffer’s lasagna in there. A kid can say, this can go in the oven for 45 minutes and me and my little brothers can have food tonight.”

Gunna’s worldview is clear. He knows who he wants to be, the world he wants to explore, and the past he’s lived that keeps him motivated. “I will never forget what it took for me to get here,” he says, “so that’s what keeps me hungry.” The Atlanta Golden Boy has grown into a man who understands the importance of family, both the family he was born with and the one he has built around him. The future is wide open ahead of him and he’s unafraid to walk that path at his own pace. 

Photos by Cam Kirk

Photos by Cam Kirk