Drip or Drown: Gunna on His Breakout 2018
Gunna had a meteoric rise in 2018, due in large part to the high volume of features he churned out. He spoke with us about how he made it happen.
Gunna's voice is all over some of 2018’s biggest records, but he's a quiet guy. After the year he’s had, though, his sheer presence speaks volumes. When he came into the Complex office in New York City, he was dressed down in diamonds and Chanel, and accompanied by an understandable entourage, including a barber.
After setting (and stealing) the scene with a memorable hook on Travis Scott’s “Yosemite,” tag-teaming with Lil Baby on the Hot 100 Top 10 single “Drip Too Hard,” and floating all over the newly released, but already beloved Metro Boomin collab “Space Cadet,” Gunna doesn't need to speak much to get his point across. His work speaks on his behalf, and his delivery—melodic, light and nimble—is unlike anyone else’s at the moment, which is something he says came naturally.
“It wasn’t forced or nothing,” he explained, just hours before he was set to take the stage at Madison Square Garden for Travis Scott’s Astroworld tour. “It just came from working. The latest music that I just dropped, it ain’t no different than the music earlier. It’s just better production, you know what I’m saying? I took it a little more serious. I don’t feel like my sound is different: It’s just enhanced more.”
In addition to breaking down his signature style, Gunna spoke with us about his busy year as a featured artist, what makes his bond with Lil Baby unshakeable, how his unexpected collaboration with Mariah Carey came together, and what to expect from his soon-to-be-releasedDrip Or Drown II.
How would you describe your 2018?
It's a dream come true.
How did "drip" become a part of your life and your vocabulary?
I think it's always been in my life. I always like to dress up, you know what I'm saying? Put on nice, expensive clothes. But before it was even "drip," I used to be like, "swag." That's what we used to call it back then. It's just a lifestyle.
How much credit do you think you should have for popularizing the word "drip"?
A lot of credit. Even artists who make songs now with "drip," they'll hit me up like, "Oh, I got a song for you, it's gonna say something about 'drip.'" So they just putting me to the word anyway, just because I came with Drip Season.
You blew up this year, but we all know that that doesn't just happen overnight. Can you talk about the work that you were putting in before everything exploded for you?
There was a lot of work that I did before I blew up this year. Obviously, Drip Season 3 was my album that really got everybody's attention, but [it was the third]. So, there was [Drip Season] 2 and 1 that I had already previously put out. Plus, I had put out Drip Or Drown, executive produced by Wheezy. Then even before that, I had put out an underground project. So, I've been working, I've been rapping since I was a child.
What do you think was your breakout moment?
I feel like my breakout moment had to have been when I dropped Drip Season 3. I feel like it was just a real good body of music. After all the work I had put in, I had gathered enough fans to where the impact of this new project was going to be bigger than my last project. So with that and the music being as good as it needed to be, that's what got me to where I'm at.
What do you think should have been your breakout moment this year? Or, before?
Exactly how it happened. I'm happy how it happened.
The latest music that I just dropped, it ain't no different than the music earlier. It's just better production.
You have a recognizable sound. I feel like everybody knows Gunna when they hear you. Was there a moment when you realized, "Oh shit, this is my sound, this is my style"?
It wasn't forced or nothing. It just came from working. The latest music that I just dropped, it ain't no different than the music earlier. It's just better production, you know what I'm saying? I took it a little more serious. I don't feel like my sound is different: It's just enhanced more.
How did you get connected with Young Thug?
I met Thug on the South side. He was shooting a video. He was with an OG from my neighborhood in the South side, where I grew up in Atlanta. He was with Troup, that's his name. God bless the dead—he died. But he had introduced us that day. We didn't hang then, but we was cool, we knew each other's faces. But when [Troup] died, it kind of just brought us closer. Because when he died, we all went to the funeral together. That's how we met.
Would you consider him as a mentor figure at this point?
Of course, yeah. He's like a big brother. He played the big brother role. He tried to just coach me and let me know stuff that he had been through.
What's your favorite part about working with Thug?
Just being in his studio, vibing. Our sounds and the music that we make, it's cool. It's real great music. I can't wait to put it out. We've got a lotta, lotta, lotta hits.
Another artist that you've been working closely with is Lil Baby. You encouraged him to really get after it in the beginning of his career. What did you see in him that made you want to support him like that?
It wasn't nothing like, "Oh, I see him just being the biggest artist in the world." It was like, I just like the way he rap. Like, how I rap. I don't really like a lot of people's music. So when I heard him flowing, I'm like, "Oh nah, you cool. Like, you can keep going." So all I did was just encourage him to keep going. Because when people first do anything, not even just music, they don't be all the way confident about it, because it's their first time doing it. You don't know how people are gonna look at it or judge you. So, you just need some type of encouragement to keep going.
I don't just get on any song just because they're paying me.
You two have a very strong chemistry, but why specifically do you like working with Lil Baby?
We're similar. We're both young, from Atlanta, we're cool, we both got drip. It's just connection—there was just a vibe. It's just something, like, how friends just start to become friends, you know?
Your name has been popping up a lot this year and it seems like you've become the go-to guy for features. Can you give me a ballpark of how many requests come through for you in a week?
You've got to ask management. [Laughs]. They told me just chill for '18. Start off with the new features in '19. But I done did a lot of features this year. Not even features just with bigger artists. There were a lot of underground features with hard artists, too.
Do you have any hand in picking which features you end up doing?
Yeah. At first, when I first started getting a name and people hit me up for features, of course I would do a lot of features for money. But at the end of the day, I want to listen to the music, too. So I just can't get on anything, because it's my name on it. I definitely like listening to the features. I don't just get on any song just because they're paying me.
How were you approached for the Mariah Carey feature?
By my manager. She's like, "I got something to tell you." I was like, "What's up?" She like, "Somebody wanna do a song with you." And I'm like, "Who?" She like, "Mariah Carey." And I'm like, "Stop playin.'" She like, "For real!" And I'm like, "Alright, let's do it!" She like, "You gonna do it?" I'm like, "Yeah!" And then, [Mariah Carey] sent her manager or her assistant because she was doing something. I think she was in Vegas or something, but she was working on her album to get it done. So she had them bring the song to me. I did the song, I sent it back, and she probably hit me back like two, three days later. Like, "It's hard."
Who's your favorite artist who you've worked with so far?
How did you find out that you broke the Billboard Hot 100 Top 10 with "Drip Too Hard"?
Honestly, I ain't even know. Because you know, this my first time climbing the charts and being on Billboard. So, people gotta inform me and let me know like, "Aye, your song's doing good." So that's when I would just start paying attention more and more. And getting more like, "Oh yeah, these charts, Billboard, that's where we need to be." So it feels good now knowing like, you done been on the charts, Top 10, for like seven, eight weeks right now. And keep going, we still going. It's good.
So, I'm going to the Travis Scott performance later tonight. But I already saw you perform at the Astroworld Festival in Houston and...
You liked it?
Yeah! I saw you. Specifically, I'm talking about the performance of "Drip Too Hard." I was like, "Is Lil Baby gonna come out?" But he didn't. And the thing is, it didn't matter, because the song is so huge. What has that been like, in terms of crowd response, as you've gone from under the radar to now having a Top 10 song?
Man, the crowds have changed. Like, I did a whole tour with Playboi Carti and I had a few fans. So I know, like I still got day one fans right now, to this day. I remember when nobody was singing my songs like that. And we were still there, singing. This is a blessing to see the crowd now. I came out quick, too, it ain't take long.
You have the Drip Or Drown series that is now coming up with part two, and you have Drip Season. So, what makes this upcoming project a part of Drip Or Drown, and not Drip Season?
Because that's what I made it. It's how it's presented. If I wanted to put out Drip Season 4 right now, I could do that. But I want to put out Drip Or Drown 2 right now.
What does the Drip Or Drown series represent to you?
It's just another phrase. Like, is you gonna get fly or die? You know? Another saying is, trap or die? It's like, drip or drown: You gonna drip? Or you gonna drown? Which one you gonna do?
I know you said that it's coming before the end of the year. But can you be any more specific?
I can't put a date yet. But, soon, soon. Like soon, soon.
What can we expect from this project?
A lot of different type of songs. I'm not just gonna have one flow. The title is Drip Or Drown II, but the songs are way deeper than just the title. On God.
What was your favorite moment of 2018?
I had a lot a favorite moments in 2018, I can't even pick one.
Talk about a few of them.
One of my shows I just finished—one of them sold-out shows—this girl, she had a big, big painting for me. Hard, like, hard. It just felt good. She told me she had drove like eight hours just to bring me the picture. And I'm like, "What?!" Then, she ain't want no money or nothing. It just felt good to inspire somebody to just paint a picture of me. That's one of the things I can just remember offhand. But it has been too many things in 2018. Hell of a year.