Last month Gunplay paused his major label debut, which was playing loudly off his iPhone in a Def Jam corner office, to consider what could have been. "Who knows—hot head, high, couple of people might have died, I might have died," he considered, running quickly down the choose-your-own-adventure endings he has so far avoided before landing on what once seemed to be the most inevitable conclusion to his career: "I might have really got convicted."
In 2012, the live-wire Carol City MC narrowly avoided a life sentence when the tax accountant he had held up at gunpoint skipped his day in court. That same year, he caught up in trouble again backstage at the BET Hip-Hop Awards. His mixtape and guest verse releases tapered off, and the question became: will Gunplay be able to stay out of trouble long enough put out an actual album?
In the three years since, Gunplay has "made himself boring" in an effort to win back the trust of his longtime champion Rick Ross and his label Def Jam, which will release his hard-fought-for debut Living Legend this Friday. Here is how he achieved that.
In your mind, how likely was it that this album would ever come out?
I didn’t think this day would ever come. I hope for the best and prepare for the worst. Fight for the best—fuck hoping. I signed my first solo advance on the run, my advance was spent on a lawyer, bail, and a gun. Talk about against all odds. Jeez.
What was your best case scenario and what would have been the worst?
This is what I really want. I never thought I was going to be here. That was the worst and lowest time of my life, and I said, watch this—you not just going to do me like that. Have me on the run for nine months, in a jail cell for three months, on house arrest for five months awaiting trial. I'm finna turn this into a plus and tell the world about it. Just turn a negative into a positive where people can really feel my struggle.
What was the first thing you did when you found out you were not going to be convicted?
I put out the video for “Bible On The Dash.” I already did the song when I was under that pressure [of the 2012 armed robbery case]. That's what gave me that energy to do that particular song. So when I got off of house arrest, two weeks later I shot the video. I was hearing so much about the song, that everybody was loving it. To this day, it's the only record everybody talks about.
Did that reception of "Bible On The Dash" impact the way you approach your music?
Yeah. I'm thinking, why do you love that song so much? I must have struck a chord right here [points to his chest]. I want to stick to your ribs. Where you hear my music, I want you to walk out with a full belly. I don't want it to go in one ear and out the other, leave with something. I don't care if it's one line, and you're like, “Damn, I'm going to use that in my life.” That made me really figure out my strong points, musically. I can turn up with the best of them, but not everybody can tell a story and touch somebody's heart.
Also, not everybody can pop bottles in the club. Not everybody rides in a Benz and lives like a video everyday. The percent who do is nil. Since that's the case, the rest of us, I'm going to cater to them. I've never been a flashy, flamboyant type of dude. I'm not gonna say, “I got money, you don't, look at me.” I'ma talk about where I came from, and you can relate to me. I talk about Bentley's all day and I'm giving you hope, it sounds good, but it's not going to last.
Rick Ross is pretty flamboyant—
But you got to understand what he does. He gives the street's hope. If you listen to Hood Billionaire, he's talking about some old legend Miami niggas. He's talking about the struggles, because he's been there. He didn't start being flashy. He's been put in both worlds and it's the perfect mesh. But me? I'd rather stick to what I know good. Evolve with me. If I do start getting money and I start talking about a few hundred dollar bills, you see where I came from. I didn't come out the gate like, "I'm rich!" Where you going to go from there?
You’ve stayed mostly out of the media and out of the spotlight for the past few years. What were you up to?
The two, three years that I was quiet, it was a lot of personal rehabilitation that I had to do myself. Not in a rehab, but in myself, spiritually. It doesn't happen overnight. I was patient, and as long as I just kept to the task at hand and kept my eyes on the prize and stayed prayed up, I knew what was going to happen. There was a lot of politics in the game and I maneuvered through it. I said, “God, I physically can't do enough anymore so here, alley-oop to you, bro.”
I've got my ups and my downs. I still had a couple little legal issues—I caught another case in Atlanta, I guess I ain't learned my lesson. My life was turned upside down, so I had to rebuild my whole life, everything from scratch again. Not only do I have people looking at me waiting for the next time I'm going to go to jail, I have to rebuild my brand from when I stopped doing music. I had the label looking at you like, ”Nigga, when you going back to jail? You got to focus and show us that you really gonna stay out of jail and do your music.” And, a lot of the time I was soul searching, plotting on my next move, because it's got to be my best move.
What kind of soul searching were you doing?
Changing things within myself. Like, what can I do different today that I didn't do yesterday? What am I going to do better today that I didn't do yesterday. Minor things, and it ended up being a major movement within myself to change to be the person that I needed to be to finish an album, to think different.
What sacrifices did you have to make to get the album done?
I made myself boring. I like to be boring now. I like to play video games, fish, hang out with my son and step daughter, go to movies. Do normal, square shit. Once I got too much time on my hands, money in my pocket, who knows what I'll do. So I have to condition myself: What do you like to do, Gunplay? I like to play video games and I like to go fishing. But was I doing that? No! I want to go turn up. I want to come up on the lick. I want to go knock down some hoes. But then you find yourself in certain situations, and now you are back in trouble. If only your ass would have been home playing Call of Duty or Fight Night being a lame and writing music!
I had to get rid of a few friends that weren’t like-minded—they still wanted to be in the street and turn up and rob. I was like, “Please, I'm done. I'm tired.” I don't want to go to jail. Also, drugs. I had to lay off the drugs. When you're getting high all the time, you're not thinking straight. Once I got sober and I looked back at my high self, I'm like, that was crazy. You can't conduct business like that. It's not healthy, you won't live long. And it's not cool—people don't want to be around no drug addict that's unpredictable and I might just pop up because he's on dope and shit like that.
Are you clean now?
I'm on probation. I caught another charge in Atlanta because I got comfortable, and that's what put me on probation. So no smoking, no more drogas—no más! I can drink a little bit, not in excess, but that's my turn up.
Has being mostly sober changed the way you work?
It has. But you know what? I'm gonna make it do what it do. Motivation—a couple of shots of Ciroc, pretty girls sitting there in the studio with me—I come up with it. But it wasn't easy. I been smoking weed all my life, I don't miss a day. I smoke a quarter or half ounce. I mean, I over smoke. You pass me the joint and I'm already passed out but I'll still hit it. When I get off probation, I might not even smoke weed. If I do, I'll smoke a doobie after I'm done working. 'Cause when you high, you're all tired and lazy, lackadaisical.
Now that you have made yourself "boring," will your music be more subdued, too?
When you listen to the music, it's not tamed. Gunplay is the wild one, and I left him in the county jail and on records. Don Logan, we talking business, we talking progression, we talking positivity. He's normal, he's subdued, and I love it.
Sometimes the devil gonna try you. Sometimes he gon' throw something on your plate that you don't like. But life is ten percent of what happens to you and ninety percent of what you do. You not gon’ blow my vibe right now. You not gon' knock me off my pivot. You're not, no. I have a hot head, I have zero tolerance–negative 100 zero tolerance. Now I have to deal with my anger issues and it's two options I have when something upsets me: am I going to handle it right now? Or I'll get to it later? In the past it would be right now. It has to happen right now. That's when I get in trouble. That's when I burn bridges. That's when everything just spirals off to the left. It might be a problem that you have to confront now, but if I confront this problem now, it's not going to turn out good. So let's, I'm going to leave it right there for a second and the next thing you know it works itself out. Patience—I never had that.
Who has supported you through these changes?
I got encouraging words from my mom, but that's it. It's just me. Because at this point, [everyone else is] like, “We did all we can for you, man. At this point you got to do it yourself.” There's only so much somebody can do, if you keep jeopardizing your own career. You can't jeopardize your career and then [ask someone else to] save it.
My manager at the time, he went off and he did something else—he's still my partner, but he just couldn't do this music thing anymore. I was forced to pick up the slack. I'm my manager, I'm my booking agent. When people hit my booking info, I act like I'm somebody else. "He'll, uh, take $75 hundred." And I'll transfer the call to somebody else, so that when they'll call, it's just a confirmation call.
At what point did people start stepping back in to offer support? When did Def Jam officially sign off on the album?
I would say a couple of months before I got the okay to release Living Legend and the building was behind it. Nobody actually ever said, “I see what you're doing, keep up the good work.” I just kept recording songs, putting out videos. Finally it was like, “We haven't seen him in the media or on TMZ in forever. He's doing something right. We might have a chance here.” Then I came with a full album, which was a mock album, to show Def Jam like, look, I got this. Ross gave the okay. Then I had to meet in LA with No I.D. He was a fan already—I didn't know that. He was like, ”You look focused, you look ready to go, and I know what you can do. We don't have to sit here and listen to records and you don't have to perform for me,” he said, "all I need to do is open the doors for you."
Has it been hard watching other MMG rappers, like Meek Mill and Wale, shine all this while?
You know how many people I've watched get rich in front of my face? I mean, I know Pitbull. I know Trick Daddy. I know Trina. I know DJ Khaled. I know everybody. I never said, “Hey, Rick Ross man, put me on!” He got a lot of money, and I never asked him for a dollar. I don't want to do that. I want to put myself on. It's not even a mindset, it's my fabric, a pattern, it's who I am. I think, what am I doing wrong? Let me just try to figure out what they're doing right and imitate it and put my twist to it.
I'm not into what anybody else is doing, because once you are concerned about what somebody else is doing, your eyes is not on the prize. You're not watching the road and you gonna crash. Maneuver through the traffic, hills, valleys, peaks—boom, boom, boom. Now we here!