Everything I Am
Since coming on the scene as a 16-year-old drill rapper,G Herbo has experienced hip-hop in quite a few forms. Eight years later, he’s embracing the trials and tribulations that come with it all.
Interview: Robby Seabrook III
Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the Spring 2020 issue of XXL Magazine, on stands now.
It’s hard to stay relevant in hip-hop, especially when you start out as a teenager. Luckily for G Herbo, his start in the game as a 16-year-old Chicago drill rapper named Lil Herb proved he was no ordinary kid. Herbo was a fresh-faced rapper with talent and imagery beyond his years, proven by the fiery Lil Bibby collaborative track “Kill Shit” in 2012. Not one to rest on his laurels, he dropped his debut tape, Welcome to Fazoland, in 2014, followed by 2015’s Ballin Like I’m Kobe and changed his name to G Herbo soon after. He dropped his debut album, Humble Beast, in 2017, and opted to show off a more traditional rap style instead of drill and received mediocre reviews. The following year, Herb set the internet on fire with his “Who Run It” freestyle, leading rappers like 21 Savage, Young M.A and more to create their own versions. The Chi-Town spitter then dropped two well-received collabo projects, Swervo and Still Swervin, with producer Southside.
These last two years were solid for Herbo creatively, but he ran into some legal trouble, which put a bit of a hold on his career. He was locked up for carrying a loaded gun in 2018, and charged with a felony count of aggravated unlawful use of a loaded weapon in a vehicle with no Firearm Owners’ Identification card. He received probation for the incident. Then last year, Herb was arrested and charged with battery after a physical fight with the mother of his 2-year-old son, Yosohn. This past January, Herbo entered a guilty plea in the battery case and was sentenced to 12 months of probation and 150 hours of community service.
Now, G Herbo is onto the next step in his life. He’s dealt with his legal problems, and is finding a way to face other issues that have created hurdles for him along the way. On a cold mid-February evening in New York City, Herb spoke to XXL about a litany of topics such as generational trauma, the guilty plea in his battery case, mental illness and more.
XXL: What’s the difference between working on PTSD and your previous releases?
G Herbo: I think the difference in working on this particular project versus the other ones is, I think how important it is to me in my head space. I feel right now, it’s now or never. I came into the music industry with aspirations of being a top 10 artist, to be mentioned in the conversation with the best of the best. I went through some of the toughest situations of my life and career. PTSD, I think I spent about over a year just going through legal situations and can’t travel nowhere else but Chicago for nine months, probably. Not doing no shows, not making no money. I’m just trying to better me and myself and my situation. I feel that alone is just a separation in the projects and the music.
You basically grew up in front of hip-hop.
I was 16 when I introduced myself to the world. But I was on some grown man shit. I had a car. I had money. There was days when I was a sophomore in high school, [my mom] ain’t see me for three or four days. My environment was full of kids like that. I’ve been in the streets for more than half of my life, and I really had to go through some grown man shit.
It’s commendable that you don’t shy away from your past in drill, while moving on to other styles and still continuing to step your bars up.
I always been an artist, a hip-hop rapper. I always knew I could do that. My favorite artists was [Lil] Wayne, [and Jada]kiss. I grew up on that, I ain’t really grow up on… not knocking it, I never grew up on southern rap or nothing like that. It was more simple rap. Drill is a Midwest, East Coast version of southern rap. It’s people who know how to rap like me, who know how to rap like hip-hop niggas, but only did drill because they thought it was cool.
With PTSD, you made it clear the album would focus on mental health months before it even dropped. What led to that?
Everybody say, “Oh, the hood crazy. It’s this, it’s that,” but it’s like, you’re standing from the outside looking. What people don’t really realize why we’re crazy, in a sense. Why do you got to carry a gun or why do you feel like you can’t trust nobody? Or a nigga got to be around you a whole two months before you can even let him in? Why do we think that way? Because these events that’s happened for the past 50 years. That’s because we’re suffering this mental illness where it’s getting carried over from generation to generation.
So, you were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder? When?
My firearms case that I was fighting in Chicago. I was talking to [my lawyer]; it’s not a matter of you got a gun, it’s why do you have this gun? I explained to my lawyer some of the shit that I’ve been through, and just talking to the judge. They both agreed, “He should just go seek counseling.” I was kind of opposed to it at first because I’m not big on talking to nobody about my personal issues, but it helped. “Maybe you should hire 24-hour security, where you don’t got to carry a gun.”
She telling me, “You got post-traumatic stress disorder. It’s not what you do, it’s how you do it.”
Did you think you had a mental illness before your diagnosis?
Fuck no. I thought I was normal. I seen so many people let these situations break them, take them in dark spaces where they never came from under. I never went through that, so, this shit normal to me. It’s cool. I’m going to just keep on going through it.
What do you want to contribute to the conversation about mental health in general?
I really want to give back to mental health awareness… because I’m a poster child. Everybody don’t really have the willpower to come from under losing so many people, or come from under all your life trying to be something that you haven’t become, you know what I’m saying? A city of losers or just a world of losers. People don’t have hope. I literally didn’t mind dying or going to jail behind the streets, that’s what I loved.
Did the losses of people close to you, like fellow Chicago rapper Juice Wrld, or even your friends growing up, change your perspective on time and how much you have left?
Absolutely. You got to really do what makes you happy. Life’s so short, you got to really live for you, and people around you that want you to live for you. You’re born with a legacy, you’re going to fulfill your shit or you’re not.
Are you impressed by your own career, namely your longevity?
I am. I do get proud of myself because it’s like, I know what music was, what it is now and what it’s probably going to end up being. I’m in the studio every day. I’m planning and you might not see progress on the outside, but I know I’m seeing progress on the inside because I’m getting closer to what it’s time to do. I’ve been extremely proud of myself just for staying down and not trying to do no sucker shit to get noticed or no publicity stunts.
You show your son off on Instagram a lot. How do you juggle being a famous dad and putting yourself out there while maintaining control of your career?
I balance it just by trying to do the right thing. Just because somebody threw a rock at me, I ain’t going to throw a rock back. The people who know me in real life going to appreciate that. I live a regular life every day. I would feel a way if the world felt like I was a piece of shit, and the people who I’m around every day feel like I’m a piece of shit. To this day, even when all the shit going on with my son’s mom, I don’t have nothing bad to say about her. I love my kid to death. I would never disrespect his mother.
You and the mother of your child got into a physical incident back in April of 2019, and you eventually pleaded guilty to battery. How has that affected you and how did you move forward? What did you learn? Were you worried about what people would think about you?
Just stepping up to those situations and just saying I’m really just trying to better myself for me and be the best parent I can to my son and establish a great co-parenting relationship with my son’s mom. So, it’s like, I didn’t feel a way at all. I wasn’t really worried about any backlash because nobody really understands the situation. Nobody knows what’s going on besides me and my son’s mom. Everything else is just allegations. I know I’m a good dude. I know I would never, ever do anything to hurt my son’s mom, do anything to hurt any woman, period. So, I’m going to step up to a situation and be that forefront for guys who, like me, may have been in my situation and say, “Damn, I like how Herb handled that. I should’ve handled it this way, even when I am mad or a certain way. I should just behave this way. Just step up to your responsibilities and be held accountable for shit.”
How do you feel about the direction of hip-hop now?
At this very moment, hip-hop is shape-shifting back to what it was or what it needs to be. Over the past years, I think social media was an outlet for so many people who probably wasn’t cool or wanted to be cool. I think people who always wanted that lifestyle were able to do that now. You could watch somebody for a whole year straight, their lifestyle, how they talk, how they think and be that way. But what about the unique guys, the ones who rap? It’s not about music, it’s the imagery.
What artists do you like now?
I listen to a lot of YoungBoy [Never Broke Again]. I listen to Rod Wave. I be on Fivio [Foreign]. I fuck with Pop Smoke. I fuck with all that. I fuck with [YNW] Melly. Melly was one of my favorites. I listen to [Lil] Durk, of course. Durk finna drop some crazy shit, too, soon.
What are some things you want to get involved in outside of rap?
I’m doing a lot of humanitarian shit. Me and my partner, we own a school. We opened it and turned it into a multimedia facility on the South Side of Chicago. I come from youth centers, so that was big in the community. Was just keeping us together, keeping us out of trouble. A lot of my homies, when we didn’t have the youth center no more, [they] passed away in the streets, went to jail and shit like that. So, I’m trying to bring that culture back to Chicago and bring that sense of love.
How do you want to be remembered by your fans? What legacy do you want?
I want to reach legendary status. I really want people to look at me like a legend. I’m not only trying to help my community, I really want to build millionaires. I want everybody around me to have they own separate empire. I’m building a foundation for that, I’m laying out the groundwork for that. Just seeing the blueprint, seeing what Jay-Z did for his homies and seeing what Meek doing, and seeing what Nip did and all these people doing, where it’s like, I could do it, too.
Check out more from XXL’s Spring 2020 issue including our Future cover story, in which he speaks on his Life Is Good album, Lil Yachty discusses his new album, Lil Boat 3, and the respect he deserves, Van Jones talks about his love for hip-hop, the brewing, new hip-hop scene in New York, Show & Proves with Jack Harlow and Key Glock, YBN Cordae in What's Happenin, Rapsody talks about getting her flowers in an exclusive interview and more.
See Photos From G Herbo's XXL Magazine Spring 2020 Interview