I was first introduced to New York City rapper G4SHI in 2012. Not by his stage name or even by his music, but completely unknowingly, actually. It was at the now defunct Dekalb Market in Downtown Brooklyn. Although the venue was more known for organic produce than “organic” hip-hop per se, on this particular day it had booked a small music festival featuring a collage of up-and-coming acts to entertain market goers. Unfortunately, they got more than what they bargained for when performers kept things a little too raw for the “family-friendly” clientele. No more than a few acts in and officials flew onto the stage to announce what first seemed like a warning. Minutes later they proceeded to literally pull the plug and cancel the day’s remaining lineup – but not before one particular six-foot-plus performer could let off a bit of steam about the situation. His defiance, verbal exchange, and intention to perform was the last thing heard over the speakers. I remember taking notice of how passionate the artist was about expressing his backlash to the audience and officials. After it all transpired, I vowed to research who the fellow was. Eventually I did.
Fast forward to a few years later and I’m actually assigned to link up with G4SHI for an interview opportunity with The Hundreds that feels full circle on multiple levels. For one, he’s still as passionate about his music (if not more) as from that market day. Another thing that I observe when officially meeting him for the first time is that he’s also as polite and respectful as he is confident. He looks at me directly in the eyes for all of his words and responses. He’s also noticeably excited about the interview, revealing to me everything from what led him to seriously pursue rapping, to joking about how a younger him would excessively tweet and retweet brands like The Hundreds just so they would out his music. It’s a candid and intimate sit-down with an artist that’s come a long way from his local performance roots. Rightfully so.
A lot has transpired since the start of Labinot “Larry” Gashi’s music career, back when he used to go by The Kid Gashi. Even the name has evolved. So has his attitude and body of work, including recent collaborations with the likes of rap titans like French Montana and Nipsey Hussle. The features are proof that the Brooklyn-based artist has been steady grinding. Anyone with a slight understanding of music industry operations knows that co-signs like that aren’t luck. It’s clear that since my first encounter with G4SHI, there’s been continued groundwork surrounding his buzz. The combination of consistency and content, including the release of his latest album/project 4Play this past October, has launched the Brooklynite into a storm of solicitations from multiple industry labels, he discloses to me. How ironic, I think. Only three years ago, the mic was being pulled away from him and he was being forced off stage. Now it sounds like the industry is ready to plug him in and turn him way up.
According to G4SHI, this is the first time that he’s felt right and deserving of really diving into his full story. I believe him. His revelations about everything from his artistic influences, refugee travels, to music industry politics in the age of social media, read as genuine as they feel compelling. It’s still the unreserved G4SHI from the market day, except that now his name’s made some very important rounds – a creative coming of age that’s hard not to root for.
RAINEY CRUZ: I remember first seeing you at an outdoor market in Brooklyn and the officials were shutting you down. What happened?
G4SHI: That was a long time ago! They said there was no cursing, but I still went up there and think I told everyone to suck my dick. [Laughs]
But things are very different for you in 2015, right? Tell me about the change.
Now I have every label in the industry throwing me offers.
You also dropped a project named 4Play. Can you explain the significance of the title and spelling?
I named it that because [for me] everything is about the 4. It’s the “a” in my name and my birthday’s on October 4th. I also played college football in Massachusetts and during the 4th quarter of games, everyone would throw their 4’s up as a symbol of still being in the game. I throw them up and incorporate them into my work to let people know I’m still in it. So when anyone asks me if I’m still rapping I throw my 4’s up.
For me, it’s symbolic of whatever you’re doing, whether you’re interviewing or making sandwiches, if people ask you, instead of answering them you just throw your 4’s up. I also called the album 4Play, like foreplay, because on the next one you’re going to get fucked. I feel like people have been sleeping on me, but now I’m going to literally fuck shit up.
When did you start using “4’s” in your name?
When I started rapping, I used to be The Kid Gashi. When I got kicked out of my house for dropping out of school to pursue music, I knew I wasn’t a “kid” anymore. And everywhere I would go it would be 4th floor, or the 4th menu special when ordering food. The number would just follow me everywhere. So I added it to the change in my name.
How would you describe your music to someone that’s never heard it before?
My music is mood music. I can’t categorize it as one thing. It’s rapping, singing, rock, pop, everything it wants to be. I’m not just a rapper.
What are your musical influences?
I’m influenced by The Doors, Jim Morrison, and Led Zeppelin. Michael Jackson also really changed my life!
I also get influenced by a lot of the style from the ‘80s. I get emotional about it even though I never grew up in that era. At times I really feel like I belong there but can’t even explain why. I read a piece about Rick Rubin saying that people that can’t control their emotionality are artists and they don’t even know it. That’s when I realized that I’m this way too. I’m very sensitive and very emotional. That’s what an artist is and that’s why you feel my music the way you do, because I put that into it. When I say sensitive I don’t mean “soft,” I mean it like in tune. You feel it. All those things into one is what makes my work what it is.
You’ve said that former U.S. President, Bill Clinton is your favorite person. Is he a musical influence too?
Even non-musical influences are important to me. Bill Clinton is one of my favorite people in the world! If it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t be here doing this interview. He freed my people. When Albania was having its war with Serbia, if it wasn’t for him we’d still be killing each other. He helped us out. He’s the reason why I’m in America. There’s a lot of reasons behind why I make my music. I’m not only representing for the American brand. I also represent Albania because I come from nothing. You’re not from here either. My camera guy isn’t from here either. He’s from Jamaica. I’m always saying that because your roots are what make you.
Your birthplace and Albanian background is a very unique story. How have those roots played a part in your journey?
I did an interview once where I mentioned not knowing whether I was born in Libya or not because I didn’t want people to confuse it with politics. I didn’t want to talk about it. I was born there and I’ve travelled Africa. But there’s a lot going on in those places and cultures that I don’t want to get misquoted. I’m not from there, I was born there.
My family and I were refugees. My mother was actually a singer. The top singer from her town. I didn’t know that until now. And now that I sing on my hooks and songs I’m realizing that this is where it comes from, my mother. That’s why it’s connecting to me.
I was also poor when I was growing up and traveling with my family, so my brother and I would make our money by being street performers in places like Germany. We would dance and put a hat out then use that money to buy our mom groceries. That’s how I learned to perform – singing and dancing, really. We would also rake leaves for more well-off neighbors too.
So you’ve kind of always been an entertainer.
People don’t know, but I’ve been an entertainer all my life. I’ve been on top of the table at parks and wherever I’d go. Weddings or whatever, my mom would put us out and we would dance our asses off. It’s been like that since forever, but I just never talked about it because it was always felt too early in my professional career. This is my first time mentioning it.
When did you know that you wanted to pursue music professionally here in America?
I started getting into rap when I first came to New York City at the age of 10 and met my friend Melvin and his twin brother. They would freestyle and one day he dissed me and I couldn’t really retaliate because I didn’t speak English well enough at the time. But I had gone home to write a verse and spit it when it was time. Everyone went crazy for it and I loved that feeling. I started doing it in every school after that, junior high school, high school, just cutting people up, straight up dissing them during lunch breaks and recess. I really liked doing it because of its entertainment value.
Then in college, I would cut full-scholarship football practice to go to the hood in Springfield, Massachusetts, for studio time. I would walk for 45 minutes to an hour just to record one session. I was risking my life, but that’s when I knew, this is it, I’m done with school, football, I’m chasing this!
I also knew that people were taking me serious when my roommate would ask me to play my record. I would [also] have girls come to my dorm and ask me to play my music. Hearing my voice over the speakers was always interesting for me, the fact that you can record yourself and your thoughts in the past and still hear it in that fashion in the future.
What was it like when growing up in Brooklyn? How did that inspire or affect you and your music?
Yes, I’m a product of my environment and travels, but Brooklyn did make me as well. That’s why I’m not your average guy. Flatbush reggae parties heavily influenced me. That Caribbean culture, the bonding with everyone, the curry chicken, that underground lifestyle and food.
How important is diversity to you?
We are all human, but we’re all different. We’re all rare and it’s awesome. That’s what I love about the world. You have to separate yourself from others and let them know where you’re from. I wouldn’t want my kids or people to forget that.
I dated an Indian girl and it was so cool to learn about her culture. In college I dated an African girl. I was born there and still learning more about it through her at the time.
All these things and to listening to diverse rappers like Kanye West to Jay Z to Coldplay, influence me.
I’ve heard that you’re very outspoken about music industry politics, particularly co-signing among your peers. Why do you think there’s not enough of it?
In one of my songs, I say, “I’m your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper on the low / They text me my shit is dope but they will never post / They support me from a distance like some fucking hoes / But when they need a hit they be so quick to hit my phone.“
That’s because I’ve been a ghostwriter for so long. I’ve written for a lot of these rappers. And a lot of them DM me about me being their favorite rapper artist, but they won’t “@“ me so that their fans can see it. I don’t want to name them and put them on the spot because that’s not my style. But they know who they are. Some of these kids’ favorite artists. Why don’t you show your fans? Spread the love? If you really feel that way why don’t you follow me or “@“ me. It’s wack and so corny. I always pay respect when it’s due. A lot of artists are coming in game and making the right moves and getting the right plugs, but I’m not going to focus my energy on what I don’t like anymore because that’s too easy to do.
Apart from the music, what are your other sources of creative inspiration?
I really enjoy directing videos with my longtime friend and brother Quest. He shoots all of my videos. Together we’re called Fourey Tsunami. I’m Fourey, he’s Tsunami. Because he’s Johnny Quest and I’m G4SHI. This is the first time I’ve told anyone because it’s a new project that we’re working on.
He knows how to shoot me well. The camera has become like his hand. He also has his own influences. For me, many of my influences derive from what I’ve liked as a kid like Tim Burton and Martin Scorsese. Those two directors influence my videos. I would describe my aesthetic as Edwards Scissorhands meets Batman meets Home Alone meets Nightmare Before Christmas meets Goodfellas slash Big Daddy with Adam Sandler because of the New York City lifestyle. I love that. Back To The Future is another influence.
That explains a lot about your videos and their cinematic look.
It’s funny because a lot of people have been afraid to reach out in terms of video budgets or numbers because they assume that my videos are so costly. But really it’s because Quest and I make them look that way. It looks like a million dollar budget, but it isn’t. So you can only imagine how people are going to react when the real budgets come through. It’s over, in the most humble way! We’re just trying to stay focused.
What drives you the most lately?
Family. My mother and my dad. I love my parents so much and I know that one day, I’m going to have to bury them. They are the only people I really care about along with my sister and brother. I’m the youngest, but I care about my family so much that it’s ridiculous. Just the thought of them needing me is all that matters to me. Not materialism, money, none of that. They are everything. I don’t have friends really, because real ones are family too.
What’s the story behind you getting blocked by the The Hundreds Twitter account?
I had been trying to get at the Hundreds so much that I was actually blocked on Twitter for it. I would Tweet them everyday. I laugh about it now because if a kid tweeted me every day I’d probably do the same exact thing and block them. It’s about patience. You have to keep going. It’s gone full circle now.
It’s interesting because I’ve been wearing the brand for so long that it’s kind of weird to be on this side of the lens. What I’ve always liked about them is that they make stuff in my size. I’m a big guy. I’m 6’4 and 245 pounds. I’m not your average-sized rapper. When I’d wear it and you’d go to my shows you’d see all of my fans wearing their stuff too. It literally fit me right.
What do you foresee for this upcoming year?
For 2015, I just pray that things go well. I lost a friend a few weeks back and it left me heartbroken. I just pray for my health and my family’s health. I’ve always talked about my future and for the first time ever, I just want to let it be and not say much more. I just pray for it all to go the way its supposed to go. Like they say, everything is already written and it’s just unfolding.
Follow G4SHI on Soundcloud, Twitter @G4SHI, and Instagram @G4SHI.
Photos by @SDJ. G4SHI is wearing The Hundreds’ “Mash” jacket and “Woodruff” jacket.