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G Herbo on the neglect and courage that inspired his new album PTSD

On his new album, the Chicago rapper grapples with the impact of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, staying true to the experiences that shaped him.

March 04, 2020
G Herbo on the neglect and courage that inspired his new album <i>PTSD</i> Photo: Haley Scott  

Having been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder — a condition that affects millions of Black Americans — after tragically losing 20 of his close friends to gun violence as he grew up, G Herbo is no stranger to the symptoms of the condition and the structures that perpetuate it. On his new album PTSD (out now via Machine/Epic) he remains as authentic to himself and his experiences as he has been throughout his career. Coming out of Chicago at a time when the public expected Chicago artists to only make drill music, Herb was determined to carve out his own space, full of personal versatility and experimentation. His stark delivery and flow allow him to bulldoze bars over beats, bolstered by his talent for remixing classic records and turning them into his own viral hits. His lyrics capture his surroundings, each track painting clear images of dark and harsh realities.

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On tracks like “Gangsta’s Cry” he’s more vulnerable than before, reflecting on his own coping mechanisms over a slow guitar: “I stayed up the longest when my nigga died / I poured up some more so I can stop from cryin’ / Relapsed after quittin' like my second time / But I know I just wanna numb the pain that's inside I know I just wanna clear the rage in my mind.” On “Intuition,” he takes an introspective approach to feelings of paranoia: “When some shit ain't right, I swear I feel it in my soul.” He is reflective and intentional with each bar, making sure all his lyrics hit the various symptoms and stages of PTSD. Having been on both sides of the coin as both a survivor and a viewer of trauma, Herb is able to meld an analytical birds-eye perspective on how PTSD affects those closest to him, with his own personal experiences. “Feelings” is rooted in self-analysis, touching on the misdemeanor battery charge he pleaded guilty to earlier this year: “I was in a lot of dark / I don't never make excuses for myself / But how I came up was kind of hard / I was having battle scars.”

For those of us who have been affected by PTSD, Herb’s project feels like a nod of assurance and offers a source of relatability. For those unaffected, it offers front-row look into the day-to-day realities of the condition. Put together, the album helps to open up an essential cultural discussion that has remained a subtext in many households.

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Having first met Herb last May during the early creation stages of his project, I could sense a new energy when I met up with him after its completion. The night before the album dropped, he’d just run through soundcheck before kicking off his PTSD world tour. He was excited and anxious for the midnight release, but had a calmness and stillness about him.

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The FADER: What has been your own personal experience with PTSD, and what sparked you to create a body of work surrounding the topic?
G Herbo: What inspired me to make it was trying to bring awareness to a situation that people are desensitized by. We don't really know that we suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. We don't notice a mental illness. It's normalized. Stuff that we endure on a day-to-day basis. And I think that this project could really help people address their problems. That's the first step to getting over a healing or just bettering yourself to address the issue. Not self-medicating, not running from it. I was once that person too. It's important to me, it's about my lifestyle. It's not just music. It's me addressing behavior on a day-to-day, and [helping] others with how they behave.

Yes, it becomes normalized. I think that’s when we start to self-medicate to ease the pain, and lately, we've been losing a lot of legends to it. You spoke openly about this on the album.
Yeah, exactly. It's always cause and effect. A lot of times it's escape. I've been addicted to drugs since I was 15 years old. I was taking lean, I was taking pills, Xanax, all of that. I was a kid, basically. You don’t have a therapist right there, so where do you go? You know, at eight years old kids are going to therapy for their parents splitting up. Where I come from kids get shot at eight years old and they don't have therapy or [an] outlet or anything to do. They do start to self-medicate. They do start to take drugs, because they want that feeling to go away — that feeling of that harsh reality. Of course, that's not the actual solution to the problem. Of course your pain, the trauma, is going to always be there when the high gone. So, I think the first step is really just addressing it head on.

I think a lot of that self-medicating comes from governmental resources being stripped away. You see a lot of old youth centers and recreational centers being shut down across the country and schools losing more and more funding. So it leaves a lot of kids with nowhere to go or no escape for their pain. I know you were vocal about wanting to do philanthropic work to change this.
These kids need an outlet somewhere to go to escape that trauma, to escape the things that they go through. And I was one of those kids that had something, somewhere to go. I went to a youth center where we had a place to be outside of school that was safe. And it was taken away.

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That’s when a lot of my friends started to lose their life. And you don't even know what the next person is going through. A lot of us don't have a home. A lot of us don't really feel that sense of love and unity until they go to school or go to a youth center. So, if you take that away from them, all they got is the street. Sometimes people lean towards the streets because that's their only sense of brotherhood, unity, family. A lot of people don't have it and we take that for granted. But everybody don't have it.

You always stay true to your Chicago roots, especially in tracks like “Lawyer Fees” and “Party In Heaven.” You paint a picture of what’s going on in the city.
Right, “Lawyer Fees” with Polo G, and “Party in Heaven” with Durk are real Chicago-based. We talk about the stuff that we endured in Chicago and our neighborhood. Me and Durk's song, we address losing friends, losing homies. We're saying, “Niggas in Heaven having a gangsta party,” because when you haven't seen your friends in so long you link up. Nowadays niggas linking up in heaven. Everybody gone, one day in heaven you really excited when you see your homie. And then even with “Lawyer Fees” with Polo G, just being in that position and coming from where we come from, we want to give back in a sense. And a lot of times people don't have the resources. Well you can't really ask nobody to get off of the corner if you don't have an alternative for them. So being in that, a lot of times our brothers, our sisters, our close friends, family members, they end up in crazy situations where you'd have to reach out, pay a bond, pay for a funeral, stuff like that. And that's everyday life for us. That record is special.

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Would you say that is the most personal track for you?
No, the most personal track is “Feelings.” I did a cover over Jadakiss’s “Feel Me” and in that track he’s basically addressing shit in his life but he says, “still feel me though.” Whatever it is just try and get where I'm coming from. So that was definitely my most personal, vulnerable track while I'm addressing real shit that I'm going through. Real shit that everybody going through, we just don't talk about it.

“High Speed” also, that's another record that's real personal to me. While I'm talking about one of the moments that really made me want to leave the streets. Being in a high-speed chase when I was rich already. Really being in these situations where I can risk my life and my freedom. Just living the street life, living fast. It was really a life-changing experience. I've been in a million high speeds. It was just that one that made me feel that way. A million situations, hard public situations, and I didn't panic. I talked to God. God told me, “I forreal gave you a lot of chances, but you better tighten the fuck up.”

Outside of the content surrounding PTSD, what does the body of work symbolize to you?
Growth, elevation. Me growing as a man, not only an artist. I feel like this is the album that's going to set the tone for the rest of my career. I'm 24, I been going through this since I was 16. I been having fans since I was 16, 17 years old. Having to deal with that coming from where I come from, this different. I feel like if I would have probably had too much power, I'd be dead or in jail.

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I want people to take away that we're all the same at the end of the day. Believe in yourself and believe in what's going on with your feelings, how you feel. Don't block it out. Don't hide it. You got aspirations for a reason. You want to be something. You want to be somewhere for a reason. So get up everyday and work towards that.

G Herbo on the neglect and courage that inspired his new album PTSD