In late 2010, rapper Gerald Gillum, better known as G-Eazy, was faced with a difficult dilemma — either go back to Loyola University in New Orleans and finish up his music industry studies degree or stay on tour with rising Canadian hip-hop star Drake and be forced to drop out.
“One of my teachers emailed me and said he had reached his tolerance level, and that if I were to miss any more classes, I would fail,” G-Eazy said from Manhattan, in between meetings and rehearsals on a day off from Lil Wayne’s America’s Most Wanted Music Festival. “I was already on academic probation, so if I failed I would have lost my scholarship.”
G-Eazy dropped out of the tour right before the Los Angeles date — “the biggest show of the tour.” The show was close to G-Eazy’s childhood home of Oakland, Calif.
G-Eazy, opening for Lil Wayne
WITH: T.I., 2 Chainz, Future
WHEN: 7 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Saratoga Spa State Park, Saratoga Springs
HOW MUCH: $99.75. $79.75, $59.75, $29.75 (lawn)
“I was kind of upset because Sway, a rapper I was looking up to a lot — he grew up in Oakland also — if I had been there, I could have met Sway,” G-Eazy said. “But I actually just did an interview with him on ‘Shade 45,’ and I got to meet him and tell him that story. It’s funny how things work out — sometimes that’s just the way things work, and it gave me time as an artist for me to build everything.”
In 2011, G-Eazy graduated from college, the same year his “The Endless Summer” mix tape dropped. The record’s mix of doo-wop samples and swaggering rhymes typified on the song “Runaround Sue,” which samples the 1961 No. 1 Dion single of the same name, earned the rapper attention from mainstream critics and audiences.
A subsequent video for “Runaround Sue” became a viral hit on YouTube with more than two million views so far, earning the rapper slots on tours with Snoop Dogg, Shwayze and Lil Wayne.
The current tour is G-Eazy’s second time opening for Wayne — and this time he has no reluctant professors or unfinished assignments to contend with. A sequel to Wayne’s 2009 tour of the same name, the America’s Most Wanted Music Festival, which this year also features 2 Chainz, T.I. and Future, heads to Saratoga Performing Arts Center on Saturday night.
Earlier this year, G-Eazy embarked on his first major headlining tour of the U.S. Going back to being an opener on this tour has been an interesting challenge for the rapper who has come to be known as the James Dean of hip-hop.
“It’s fun to finally be done with school and not have to have that hanging over my head all the time when I’m on the road,” G-Eazy said. “But more than anything, it’s been a big difference touring with Lil Wayne now, from the previous tours I’ve done to this last year as a headliner.
“I spent most of this year headlining my own tour, and it’s a completely different experience going out in front of a crowd that’s excited to see you perform, versus being on the bottom of the bill and having to win everyone over. It’s just a challenge, something you embrace and try to make the most of.”
Inspired by Wayne
Wayne, who is supporting his 10th studio album “I Am Not a Human Being II,” the sequel to his similarly named 2010 album, was a big inspiration for G-Eazy’s own headlining tour. He first opened for Wayne on a handful of spot dates about two years ago.
“It was an especially really good experience for me back then,” he said. “More than anything else, I was getting to watch Wayne for a few nights in a row and getting to study his live show and notice what makes him so great. He’s basically one of the biggest touring acts in hip-hop, so it was a chance to kind of study that.”
G-Eazy’s obsession with ’50s and ’60s pop music samples has helped him tap into territory not normally explored by most modern hip-hop artists. After cutting “Runaround Sue,” he quickly realized that doo-wop and hip-hop are a natural fit.
“Kanye West’s ‘Power’ single was really big at that time, and it had those claps at the beginning,” he said. “ ‘Runaround Sue’ has the same rhythmic claps in the beginning. A lot of pop in the last couple hundred years has fit relatively similar formats of rhythm and tempo, so that was one of the things that clicked — you can take this melody and this music, put it behind a slightly different rhythm, take out the double-time doo-wop drums and put on half-time contemporary rap drums, and it fits it like a glove. That just became a template for sampling records from that point on.”
Writing from scratch
However, G-Eazy has branched out into original productions on his latest album, 2012’s “Must Be Nice.” The record features no samples, but retains the pop song structure and melodies of his older material.
“Whenever you sample records, it’s kind of like using a crutch when you’re making your track — you’re starting with something that people already know,” G-Eazy said.
“Not that I don’t still love sampling records, but nowadays I kind of see it as cheating a little bit. This was something I wanted to challenge myself with. I wanted to prove I am capable of taking what I learned from sampling, and apply it to writing music from scratch.”
Writing from scratch seems to suit G-Eazy well. His next album, which is almost complete (“I’m probably like 80 percent done with it,” he said), is once again mostly original. This time, he worked with Christoph Andersson, a friend from his college days in New Orleans.
“In lieu of sampling, I’m working with somebody else who really understands that music, traditional music like chord structure and stuff, more than I do,” he said.