Gunna: Atlanta's Next-Up Wants You to Go out and Get It

By Kochhar, Nazuk | The Fader, Fall 2017 | Go to article overview

Gunna: Atlanta's Next-Up Wants You to Go out and Get It


Kochhar, Nazuk, The Fader


Atlanta's Club Crucial was alive and roaring. On a humid Monday night in July, the flyest coupes and boldest SUVs sat bumper-to-bumper on a forest-flanked two-way street, all waiting to be funneled into the club's already popping parking lot. Inside the club, a sea of turnt-up attendees were rapping and rocking along to the DJ's set of high-energy hits by hometown royalty like Migos, Young Thug, and Future, when, suddenly, the room's energy shifted. A slow and wistful piano melody wafted through the air, piquing the crowd's attention. By the time the track's pained opening bars came in ("Call me insane / Imma pour up a pint / Try to take away the pain / I've been going through some things"), the club was full-on gripped. The song was "Phase," and it belonged to a rising Atlanta rapper called Gunna.

I recount this story to Gunna himself when we meet in New York a month later. Sitting next to me on a stoop in Harlem, the 24-year-old artist, born Sergio Kitchens, is visibly touched, but not surprised. "I'm telling you, they can feel that motherfucker," he says of his breakout track, the opener on May's Drip Season 2, his most recent mixtape. "Sometimes it might not even be the song, it could just be the shit you saying," he says. "They could just feel that one line, like, He's talking to me. This shit for me." Produced by Tuscaloosa beatmaker Smoke, "Phase" is a heart-wrenching deliberation on a particularly trying time in Gunna's life, and the self-reflection and resilience he needed to overcome it.

Gunna has a slightly raspy, sing-rap sound, which he describes as "hood melody." Paired with production from the likes of Wheezy, Playmakers, and TM88, his two solo projects to date consist of emotive Atlanta rap designed to carry you through darker times, to push you to go out and get it. "If you outta sight, you out-ta mind / You gotta stack, you gotta grind," he raps on the first bars of Drip Season Vs opening track. "You can't relax, and keep wasting time / I want them racks, I gotta get mine."

This motivator mentality was instilled early on by his mother, who raised Gunna and his four brothers (one of whom passed away in 2006) in neighboring College Park. She works for a local school and has always been his rock. "That's the shit that my mom taught me: don't give up on what you like," he says. …

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