Sticks & Stones
People often have to leave the past behind in order to go on to the next chapter. Gunna's learned that the hard way.
Interview: Vanessa Satten
Editor’s Note: This story will appear in the Spring 2024 issue of XXL Magazine, on stands now.

It's been almost two years since Gunna's life changed forever. On May 11, 2022, the Atlanta rapper turned himself in to authorities in Fulton County, Ga. as one of 28 men affiliated with Young Thug’s YSL or Young Slime Life collective who were charged in a 56-count RICO case. Authorities alleged that Thug cofounded a violent gang that ran for over a decade and was guilty of racketeering and an assortment of violent crimes, including murders, shootings and carjackings.

Hip-hop enthusiasts were taken aback by the news of Gunna’s involvement in a legal case. A prominent artist associated with Thug’s YSL Records since 2016, Gunna was charged with one count of conspiracy to violate Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. Gunna, whose real name is Sergio Kitchens, spent seven months in Fulton County Jail before pleading guilty and invoking the Alford plea, where he maintained his innocence, but acknowledged that the State had enough evidence to convict him.

He was initially sentenced to five years in prison, but that was commuted to time served, and he was given 500 hours of community service. A video of the plea leaked online showing Gunna admitting to certain illegal activities involving YSL. During the plea, a prosecutor stated, "YSL is a music label and a gang, and you have personal knowledge that members or associates of YSL have committed crimes in furtherance of the gang." In response, Gunna said, "Yes, ma’am." The prosecutor then said: "You were present, along with Jeffery Williams [Young Thug], when hydrocodone, methamphetamines and a firearm were recovered. These items did not belong to you." Gunna again replied, "Yes, ma’am." The prosecutor concluded: "I recognize, accept and deeply regret that my talent and music indirectly furthered YSL the gang to the detriment of my community." Once again, Gunna answered, "Yes."

That same day, Gunna released a statement saying: "While I have agreed to always be truthful, I want to make it perfectly clear that I have NOT made any statements, have NOT been interviewed, have NOT cooperated, have NOT agreed to testify or be a witness for or against any party in the case and have absolutely NO intention of being involved in the trial process in any way... I love and cherish my association with YSL music and always will. I look at this as an opportunity to give back to my community and educate young men and women that 'gangs' and violence only lead to destruction."

Many rappers and hip-hop fans have expressed conflicting views over Gunna’s decision to take a plea deal. Despite several members of the indictment also accepting deals—including Thug’s brother—some artists and fans have accused Gunna of being a snitch. Following the video leak, a few rappers close to Young Thug reportedly unfollowed Gunna on Instagram. In an interview with DJ Akademiks, Lil Durk referred to Gunna as a snitch. Additionally, 21 Savage and Lil Baby have released songs containing alleged subliminal lyrics that take shots at Gunna and point to their belief that he is a rat. Gunna appeared to respond to his old peers-turned-potential adversaries in subsequent released records "Bread & Butter" and "Bittersweet," but did not mention anyone specifically by name.

Gunna continues to enjoy a significant fan base. His fourth solo album, A Gift & A Curse, was released via YSL/300 Entertainment six months after the embattled artist was discharged from jail. The LP received positive reviews and peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 chart. One of the singles, "F*kumean," was a huge hit, hitting No. 4 on the Billboard 100 chart. Three months after the album’s release, Gunna performed two sold-out shows at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn and the YouTube Theater in Los Angeles. Videos posted online of the performances, showing an enthusiastic audience rapping along to Gunna’s every word.

Since then, Gunna has been relatively quiet and dedicated his time to self-improvement. After he was released from jail, photos of a slimmer version of the rapper leaked online, making him almost unrecognizable to some. The weight loss has allowed Gunna to focus more on his health. He has also been prepping the release of his upcoming album, One of Wun, via YSL/300, and getting ready for an 18-show tour. Additionally, Gunna is excited about the launch of his clothing line, P Star, with boohooMan. He has a new office in Los Angeles and wants to enter the fitness market. The MC has also been actively involved in philanthropy work.

On a sunny afternoon in mid-March, Gunna, looking stylish, rides around Los Angeles in a matte black Escalade with a personal driver. Clad in black Rick Owens boots, brown custom LaRopa leather pants, a cream top by Rugh, a bunch of expensive bracelets and a gold Presidential Rolex, Gunna is somewhat tight-lipped. He can’t talk much about what he’s been through since Young Thug and several other defendants are currently on trial, and the overall case is still going. But Gunna did share some of what he’s been through, how he’s changed and what he’s got in the works.

XXL: Your photo shoot just wrapped, and you seemed very into it. Are you big into fashion? New body, new you? Do more clothes fit you and you feel better in the clothes, and have more access to different things or does that not play a role at all?

Gunna: I mean, have you seen me lately? They say I look good. I feel good. I feel healthy.

How much weight did you lose?

Maybe about 30-40 pounds.

And how did that happen?

Less eating. Especially when I went to jail. I lost a lot of weight. Just like, cleansing. Detoxing. And when I got home, I started working out and just keeping it fit. And now, I’m on a year straight of all working out.

Were you doing it before you got locked up, or did that happen while you were in jail as  a way to change yourself?

I tried to work out for a second, but then I stopped for a minute. I just wasn’t committed.

The first images that leaked of you after you got out of jail, everyone saw your new body and was shocked it was you. That must have felt good.

It was cool. I can’t control…Well, I can control how my body looks. You know, when getting out of jail, you can’t. So, it was just like going with the motion.

How are you maintaining your physical physique right now? Photos of you in the gym have leaked online. Is working out a regular part of your life now?

Yes. I got a trainer. I work out six days a week. I eat better. I eat clean. And that’s something I’m disciplining myself to do every day. It’s something that I’m liking, though. I feel better when I work out.

So, there’s a new you, new music, new body, new everything. Is it about putting the past behind you and making this whole fresh version of you? Is it just your physical or your mind state also?

I think it’s more like it speaks for yourself. It’s self-explanatory. You see the growth. You see me evolving as an artist. And that’s what I’m doing, just evolving as an artist.

What does it mean to evolve as an artist?

As I evolve, my music evolves, too. I’m not the same 24-year-old that was putting out Drip Season 3, you know what I’m sayin'? Now I’m 30, and I’m dropping "Bittersweet" and A Gift & A Curse. That resonates with how I’m living. Back then, it did, too. But that was for that time. So, this time, I’m just evolving differently, but it transpired over to the music, too.

Have you had a lot of life lessons since getting into the music industry that’s changed who that person is?

I’m getting life lessons anyway. Whether if I was in the music or if I was cutting hair, I feel like I would be getting life lessons regardless.

You’ve had a lot going on. The case you are involved with currently has a trial going on and you can’t really talk about much because it’s ongoing, but to touch on the whole thing and a bit of what happened with you, how did your legal problems and the jail bid throw off your career?

It did a lot. It had a real big effect on my career. As far as like shows, schedules, impact of like, everything we had planned for rollouts, for albums. It had a lot of effect on that just because everything being so high-profile. But it’s like, it’s still going, you know? So, I’m like, in the motion of everything currently.

So, you get locked up, deal with that and get out. You lose deals, lose business, lose people? You lost support.


So, you’re fighting on one side, and fighting for your business and your livelihood on the other. What did that do to you?

Still fighting. Still fighting. Still fighting. We got to live in the moment of it. I can’t stop and I’m not stopping.

What’s your relationship with Young Thug now?

It’s the same. It’s love, always. Our relationship is our relationship.

People like Lil Durk, 21 Savage and Lil Baby, among others, have either commented about you being a snitch or alluded to it in songs or on social media posts. Many people and media outlets have speculated that you aren’t cool with those people anymore. What’s your response to that? Are you cool with them or not anymore?

None of those rappers, they’re not on the case. They don’t know legally what’s going on.

Have you spoken to those guys at all?

I talked to like, maybe like, two or three of those guys. I talked to them on the phone.

Peacefully? On good terms?

Yeah, peacefully.

A lot of people have opinions and comments on your situation. Have you felt that you’ve gotten a fair shake from people or have you gotten a bad reputation you didn’t deserve?

I definitely feel like everybody’s been misled. And like, you know, when you’re being misled, you got a choice to follow or make your own decisions. And that’s what is being shown right now. You’re being a follower or you’re being neutral to be like, "I don’t know what their business is or what they really got goin' on."

Some of those rappers put out songs with lyrics people think are directed toward you. Do you think they were about you?

I honestly didn’t hear the lyrics.

You didn’t even listen?

Honestly, I didn’t. But I don’t listen to other rappers as much unless something catch my attention.

Even before?

Just even before because of my recording process. If I might like a song, I might f**k around and be making a bad b***h song because I was just hearing that. So, like, I try to not listen to so many rappers so I can kind of make my own sound.

You grew up listening to hip-hop and listening to rap, and now you don’t as much?

Yes. Because I’ve been tapping into me so much it’s just been like that. It’s been like that.

Are you listening to any music, and if so, what genre?

I do listen to like, R&B a lot sometimes, I ain’t gon’ lie. I might have me a little rendezvous going. I’m just having some time to myself, you know what I mean? Or me and a young lady.

You did big return shows in New York and L.A. that had huge turnouts. A Gift & A Curse was a big success, and so was “F*kumean.” How much of that was vindication for you?

It’s more or less just me tryin’ to just get back in that space of creating and being the best artist that my fans know of. That’s why it happened, because of them. They came through. Those were the fans before I put out A Gift & A Curse. The fans that went to the New York show and the L.A. show were day-one fans. Those are core Gunna fan base. I couldn’t have done it without them. So, I feel like the music comes after. The foundation has been set. I just gotta follow up to keep giving them what they want.

“Bittersweet” was the most recent song you released. People thought you sent some subliminals on there to people who haven’t supported you. Anyone you were talking to on that song?

Um, yeah and no because sometimes I talk to myself in my songs. Like, you gon' resonate with songs where I might be like, "Don’t stop it. Keep pushing it, P." Like, I’m talking to myself. So, you just got to pay attention and just listen to my words. And, you know, it’s easy to be misled from certain things ’til you listen from the horse’s mouth.

Sometimes, people will listen so much they are over-listening and making their own theories about things?


So, it goes both ways?

And it’s easy to ’cause they’re words. They could be like, translated wrong. I might have said something loud, and you thought I was mad, but I’m not really mad. I just had a high voice.

The internet can be pretty crazy. Do you look at comments and what people say about you? Do you avoid the internet?

I think the way I live, I be on the internet just enough. I’m not on there too much. I’m not on there, not enough to be aware of things. And that’s kind of like, how I’ve been balancing it. I’m busy. We just left from a shoot and now we in a car, like, I haven’t been on the phone all day, you know what I mean?

What are the biggest life lessons you’ve learned over the past two years?

I would say one life lesson is…it’s common sense, but it’s hard to mind the business that mines yours. And staying focused. Those are two key things I feel people should remember to do. It’ll help us. And when you make yourself better, everybody else like you.

What are you worried about? What concerns you? What are you comfortable talking about that hangs over your head a bit or don’t have control over?

I don’t care to speak on worries or things of that nature. I can’t be worried about that. And if I’m worried about it, it doesn’t matter. Nobody wants to hear you complain, you know what I’m sayin'? Complaining doesn’t make it better. You just got to get through it. Whatever you’re going through, I promise you, you’ll get through it. God makes no mistakes. It’ll work out.

You have been focused on giving back lately. You’re doing Gunna’s Great Giveaway Guaranteed Income Program. You’ve just been more involved in that side of things. Can you talk about what you’ve done, and are doing and why?

It’s just something more. I’m just tryna keep what I’ve already started going, and even more of just giving back and just tryna to lead us. People who could do it, or in position that could make a change and get it noticed, and kinda get everybody on the same page of, like, giving back. I don’t feel like when you give back, you supposed to get something back for it.

Sometimes it just gives you the feeling of doing good. Being proud of yourself for doing good, though, no?

Yeah, I feel like, the fact of like, OK, if I can do it and you look out for someone that can’t have it—they don’t gotta know you or nothing—you could just do it for ’em. It just keeps you going in the space of, like, Aight, now go work hard and get it back. It’ll come back whenever, you know what I’m sayin'? You’ll get it back, don’t worry about it.

If one is you starting in hip-hop and your career, and 10 is you being as big as you possibly could be, where do you think you’re at right now?

Maybe like, six, seven. One of them.

What haven’t you done that you want to do? Want to achieve? Anybody you haven’t collaborated with? What are your dream goals?

I just want to keep being more creative. Keep doing things that feels good and that you didn’t know that Gunna could do, or you wouldn’t expect this sound from Gunna. Or, "Damn, Gunna came back with this signature sound," and just showing you, like, this longevity.

Do you think there’s anything any new artist could learn from watching your career? From seeing the recent struggle you went through, and how you reinvented yourself? What advice would you give to somebody based on what you’ve gone through?

Walk by faith and not by sight. Go off of how you really feel.

With your transition from A Gift & A Curse album to your new album, One of Wun, what’s the difference between the two projects? Can you explain?

This album is still showing growth. Showing me growing into a man because I’ve been more disciplined. I’ve been tapping into different things. I’ve been living in a different space. I feel like you’ll hear that in the music. Me being creative and tapping with my voice, doing sounds, doing different melodies. I just feel like you’re gon’ feel me evolve.

What are some of the topics you talk about on the album?

One of the topics is one-of-one and how everything’s one-of-one with me.

Which means there’s nobody like you? You are the one and the only.

You know how you get a car, and it’s one out of 10. It’s 10 of them cars. If I was a car, it would be only one of me. There wouldn’t be no other car ever riding in L.A., in Atlanta, in Miami. It’s only one car. It can’t be duplicated. It can’t be replicated. You can’t. That’s me.

Watch Gunna perform "Back at It" and "Bittersweet" During Tour Rehearsal

gunna xxl magazine cover spring 2024 issue
Travis Shinn/XXL

See Photos of Gunna's XXL Magazine Spring 2024 Issue Cover Story

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