Did you ever think this is how you would be doing press for your first major-label release, from prison?
My status right now, with my album out, is that I’m very grateful, very thankful. I had been out of jail for eight months, and in that time, I’ve gotten to work with a lot of artists I’ve always wanted to work with. I put my record label together; my new situation with Warner went well. I built a lot of anticipation, I worked hard in those eight months, and I’m pleased with the recognition I’m getting. I’m at the height of my career so far. It’s a blessing just to have people who would want to buy your stuff and to be anticipated. But in the little time I got here, I really can handle it. It’s just a small, little stepping-stone of where I’ve got to go.
After your most-recent arrest, your lawyer said that you had tested positive for cocaine and marijuana. But when I visited you, you said you have had clean tests for months and those charges were old.
My urinalysis was from, like, six months ago. I think it was for marijuana. But it definitely wasn’t from cocaine. I have never used cocaine. That’s just not true. Then I stopped smoking and stopped drinking. For the last six months, I haven’t used any drugs, and I will continue to claim sobriety. That’s why I said that at the BET Awards and made that PSA. Because that’s something I took to and made a part of my life. So even when I do get out of here, I plan on continuing that, and I’m proud of myself for that. That gave me peace, even in the situation I’m in now. I know you have to be optimistic. Even if you’re going through something that you expect to be good and it turns out bad, you know it will get well.
What do you think it was, during those eight months, that built up the anticipation for this album?
I think, over the years, when I first started my career, a lot of situations that I was in made people kind of shy away from me. It kind of made people have a curiosity about me but a slight fear to work with me. So as people have gotten to know me and spread word around the industry that I was a stand-up guy…that I was a great businessman and I always hold my word in every business transaction I do—that made people open to wanna work with me. And once they got in the studio with me or we handled some business together, that went well. But compared to what they were hearing, because people were kind of blackballing me. So it took years and years just for that to die down. But once people opened the door for me to work with them, it just took off from there. I did have the talent. And that whole time, while they were scared to mess with me or work with me, I’ve been getting better. So I guess things just happen… Can’t never question how things happen. Even though it was hard to struggle all the time, doing it on my own independently, once I did break through that door, I just came straight through there.
Why do you think they were scared of you? Why were you blackballed? What gave you that impression?
Why? Just my history. Nothing that specifically I want to go into. Just the history of me.
Backstory has become such an important part of rap artists’ appeal. Fans are very familiar with the life stories of people like Eminem, 50 Cent and Jay-Z. Do you think your story is well known? Do you want it to be?
I don’t think my story is as known as those artists’. But I feel like, in a way, people know me better than they know these people that you named. Because a lot of my fans, they feel like they know me. They feel like they can hang with me. I’m more touchable than a lot of those artists. I’m, like, an around-the-way boy—a dude that you can relate to. And a lot of those guys, they can’t relate to them. Even though they know their stories in and out, they can’t relate to them. And with me being from the streets—honestly, with the life I’ve lived, some things I can’t even share—and they respect that. But for some of the people who are just now learning about me, there is kind of a mystique to me, a curiosity that I think attracts them to me, to want to get to know me. And I give them bits and pieces of it. When it comes to me and God puts it on my heart to share something with somebody, I do it, but that’s not something that I feel compelled to do. I don’t think that’s a requirement of being an artist—to air out everything in your closet of everything that you done went through. I don’t feel you have to do that. That’s all if you want to. If you feel you can help someone by doing that, that’s a good reason to do it. But to do it to show that I’m harder than this other artist or that I’m more real, I don’t feel I have to do that, because I know where I stand in my community.
There have been long-standing problems between you and Young Jeezy. The public perception is that it all stems from the dispute over the “Icy” song. And then from the shooting incident, in May of 2005, because the man who was killed, Henry Lee Clark III, was said to be an associate of Jeezy’s. Some have speculated that Jeezy’s recent problems with DJ Drama are because Drama collaborated on mixtapes with you. What are your thoughts on the situation with Jeezy?
That situation with me and homie, that just happened. I definitely didn’t expect that it would work out like that when we first got in the studio and made those records, and I don’t think he did, either. So it’s either like we can keep that going on forever or we can agree to disagree, and push on. With me, I’ve already pushed on. And a lot of people on my team, they follow the leader, what I got going on. So if I don’t speak on it, they’re not going to speak on it. And can’t nobody push my buttons to make me do anything. So regardless of whether anybody disses me or doesn’t like me, that doesn’t make me dislike them. Instead, they don’t like me.
Me and him are in two different places right now. There was a time where, honestly, I was angry, and I was upset, and I dissed him a lot. But now I don’t feel like that. I dissed him and a lot of other people. But right now I’m not even there no more. I’m so focused on trying to keep my record label tight and keep my family tight, keep everything going on the up and allow God to keep blessing me. So I don’t like to get into a lot of negative things. And that’s just negative. Even though it may sell a trillion records, it’s just not the lane that I want to go. I want to show people that Gucci is a talented songwriter, that he’s a hell of a performer, and that he’s a stand-up guy, and he made something out of literally nothing. And I feel like that’s a story that can help a lot of people. A lot of Black brothers need to hear that. A lot of all [different] colored brothers need to hear that—and sisters—that you can do it. So that’s the song that I like to sing. It’s so easy to be angry and negative, and it’s hard to say that you was hurt. And people don’t do that. So I’d like to be the first person to say I’ll do it, and maybe people will follow my lead.
Even though the murder charges against you were dropped, your lawyer spoke about the difficulty you’re having with your role in Henry Lee Clark’s death.
I never glorified that situation, you know what I’m saying? I rarely ever rap about it, if I ever rap about it. But, at the same time, you know, it always will bother me that someone had lost their life. You know, even if I don’t say anything about it or speak about it, it always bothers me and will bother me until I die. That was a situation I didn’t want to be put in, and it was also a situation I wouldn’t wish on nobody to be in. But some things happen for a reason. And the past, I can’t go back and… I can’t edit the past. I can only try to use that situation to help me help someone else, so they don’t be in that situation, ’cause who wants to be locked up? And for a murder charge, and probably face the death penalty for a charge, ’cause that could go either which way. The law said I was right, but I still hold that with me. And I still have to take that to the grave with me. Some people are gonna see that and think that’s tough-guy shit. But the tough guy is the person to say, Shit, man, I wouldn’t wish that on you. Don’t go down that road, lil’ shawty. Try to stay in school. Try and make something out yourself. You can be a rapper. You can be a producer. Kids, you can be an executive. You can be whatever. You can own XXL magazine. Do something positive with your life. Raise your family, be a good brother, be a good father, be a good son to your mother. That’s tough-guy shit to me.
But you are seen as being a “street” artist. Mainstream hip-hop has gone in a different direction over the past year or so. It’s gotten away from the streets and become more clean-cut—the Kanyes, the Drakes, Wales, Kid Cudi. Do you see yourself representing the other side, bringing it back around to the street element again?
I would like to just tell you that I agree with you a lot on that. To be honest, I’m a fan of all music. I like Wale, I like Kanye, I like Kid Cudi. But, at the same time…I feel like music mirrors life. What Kanye, Kid Cudi and whoever you just named, the life they led made them make the music that they make, know what I’m saying? And the life that I’ve led made me make the music that I make. I don’t think that you’ve got to kill nobody or sell dope to be street. When I think about being hood, I think about being resourceful. That’s what being hood is to me. You can be hood and be the richest man in the world. You don’t gotta be broke to be hood. It’s, like, taking something and making it into more than what it is. Like, your mother taking scraps and making Thanksgiving dinner out of that, when you all did have nothing. But now you’ve got a million dollars, and you’re trying to turn that into $500 million. It’s that same attitude of, I’ve
got to work with what I’ve got, and I’ve got to make that into something. That’s how I feel when I do my music.