Gunna Saw It Coming

Gunna surprised the industry by outselling a pop superstar to earn another No. 1 album on the charts, but he says everything is simply going as planned.

Gunna poses for his Complex interview
Complex Original

Photo by David Cabrera

Gunna poses for his Complex interview

Gunna is at ease. The Atlanta rapper is reclined on a beige loveseat in Complex’s Manhattan photo studio, preparing to spark his first blunt of the shoot. He’s dripped down in a cropped blazer that reveals a peek at his tattoo-covered torso and stack of diamond chains. On his feet are a pair of blinding white Air Force 1s. The look is relatively toned down compared to some of the flashy Gunna outfits that have stirred up so much conversation on the internet over the past few years, but it’s still “very P,” as he puts it.

Exactly one week before his visit, Gunna dropped his third studio album, DS4EVER—the fourth and final edition of his Drip Season series—and his team booked back-to-back-to-back obligations all around New York City. His packed itinerary hardly allotted for travel time, causing him to show up several hours late to the shoot today, and there’s no time for breaks between interviews, so this smoke break is his only chance to recharge. 

As he runs around the city promoting DS4EVER, the album is in a tug of war with the Weeknd’s Dawn FM for the No. 1 slot on the Billboard 200. On the day of our interview, sales projections say Gunna is only a few thousand behind the Weeknd in a race for the top spot.

“I expect the unexpected,” Gunna tells me with a grin, foreshadowing what will transpire in the days to come. The 28-year-old rapper doesn’t have any psychic abilities that I’m aware of, but after more than five years in the game, he’s learning that anything can happen. His career trajectory has been on a steady rise over the last few years, and when he talks about this current chapter of his journey, he sounds poised and prepared. 

“I’m definitely cherishing it, because it’s a moment,” he says of his battle with Dawn FM for the top spot. “The Weeknd is a very, very big artist. I mean, he’s done the Super Bowl and everything. Just to be fighting with him—good sportsmanship fighting, because I’m cool with him—it’s love. You feel like a big dog, since you’re going against a big dog. And it’s on its way to passing it.”

Gunna poses for Complex interview

The success is particularly sweet, considering what it took to get here. Gunna was introduced to Young Thug by a mutual friend back in the mid-2010s. After landing on Thug’s 2016 project Jeffery, Gunna released his debut mixtape Drip Season, beginning a series that he would add to each consecutive year. Along the way, he grew his fan base with standout features on songs by everyone from Travis Scott to Chris Brown to Roddy Ricch (including an excellent collaborative tape with Lil Baby called Drip Harder). In 2019, he dropped his debut studio album, Drip or Drown 2, which peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard 200. And the following year, Gunna outperformed his debut, earning his first solo No. 1 with Wunna. Now, his brand—the music, fashion, and lifestyle—is more impactful than ever.

Gunn didn’t waste any time cooking up DS4EVER. He recalls going to the studio the winter after he dropped Wunna, escaping the cold to Saint Martin, an island in the Caribbean Sea, to record some of the project. He always intended for DS4EVER to raise the bar on his creativity. “It was a challenge,” he concedes. “I actually challenged myself to elevate. I dissected the songs. I made sure that I was clear and you can hear me on every song. I just really put my all in this one and I did exactly what I wanted to do.”

“I’m happy, and ready to keep delivering. This is the year to release a lot of music. It’s going to be release, release, release, release.”

He’s carrying the torch of a melodic rap style that artists like Young Thug and Lil Wayne have used before him. Gunna doesn’t write any of his lyrics down, and he says he freestyled the whole album, letting each song come together organically. Freestyling isn’t as easy as it may seem, though. “You’ve still got to think and take time,” he points out. “When you freestyle, sometimes you think too much. You’re trying to go bar for bar, and you want everything to hit. But sometimes the simplest shit hit. That’s why I like freestyling and just being in that mode right then and there, because you’re going to get how I feel right then and there in that song, not me writing, then recording the song another day.” 

Gunna’s in-the-moment recording style is what gave way to his popular new motto. “Pushin P,” or simply, “P.” It’s a phrase that he cryptically introduced on social media shortly before releasing DS4EVER, filling timelines with the blue letter emoji. After hinting at it on Twitter, the motto came to life on Gunna’s slick single “Pushin P,” featuring frequent collaborators Young Thug and Future. 

Gunna poses for Complex interview

Ever since, Gunna has been letting everyone know what is and isn’t P. When he and Young Thug were kicked off of a private jet by a pilot named Alex a few days after the album dropped, he had everyone, including Future, saying “Alex ain’t P.” Since then, the motto has been everywhere—taking over Instagram captions, comments sections, and TikTok videos. (Even Kim Kardashian used it to caption a bikini pic.)

The world is just now catching up, but Gunna says the phrase has been around for a while. “I’ve actually been keeping it P and pushing P,” he explains. “The world is just now catching on because of the song, but Atlanta and LA people who know me know. That’s why it hit hard, too, because I really been kicking P outside of music. So when I bring it to music, it’s like, yeah, that’s really him. He ain’t lying.”

“Pushin P” essentially means keeping it real or player, and it’s a motto that Gunna holds dear. “[I] always keep it cool,” he says. “I don’t really like all that chaos. I’m more calm, more playa. That’s where the P started.” As its popularity grew, though, the P has evolved into a number of meanings. Whenever Gunna is asked about what “P” means, he rarely gives a concrete definition. Sure, he might throw in words like “playa” or “cool,” but he usually dances around giving a clear definition. He knows that keeping some mystery will only add to the intrigue. After spending a few hours with him, though, it becomes easier to pick up on the lingo. 

“When people come to my shows, there’s no fighting. It’s no violent sh*t. My fans worry about a motherf*cker stepping on their shoes. They ain’t fixin’ to try to bump you.”

Topping charts is P, and having romantic ties to Chloe Bailey is P. Gunna is adamant that they are just good friends at the moment, but the singer is interestingly present during his photo shoot today. She’s tucked away in the dressing room, only popping out for the restroom.  

Rihanna dressing as him for Halloween last year? That is definitely P. The Bajan singer shocked fans when she uploaded a photo of herself impersonating Gunna. In the pic, she wore the same outfit Gunna wore (and went viral for) a month earlier: a sheer black Dior turtleneck, black shorts, Rick Owens boots, wide-brimmed sunglasses, and a cluster of chains. She also used his exact caption: “DS4.” 

“I might have been like, ‘Oh shit,’ like, ‘What the fuck,’” he says when I ask about his first reaction to her post. “Now, I’m showing it [to everyone] because now I’m showing game. ‘She’s just like me. Come on man. I’ve been telling you.’ Now, I’m backing this up 100 percent, as if she told me she was fixin’ to do this shit.” 

Gunna had no clue he was a muse for Rihanna—the two still haven’t even had a conversation to this day. “She GOATed. How are you going to dress like a motherfucker and then never talk to him?” he says with a laugh. “You just too GOATed.” Still, he isn’t dismissing the idea of a collaboration: “We’re going to make some goddamned tropical shit.”

Gunna poses for his Complex interview

Some things aren’t very P, though, like his issues with Freddie Gibbs. Gunna and Freddie Gibbs’ feud goes back to 2020 when a rival of Young Thug circulated an old video and claimed it was Gunna on Crime Stoppers, which led to snitching rumors. Gunna later cleared up the rumors, explaining that the clip was taken out of context and it wasn’t really an episode of Crime Stoppers. (He says his cousin had been wrongly accused of a crime, so he was appearing on the news program to defend his cousin). That didn’t stop Gibbs from accusing him of being a snitch on Twitter, though. And for the next two years, Gunna patiently bided his time until the right time to respond.

He initially fired a few warning shots on Jan. 5, tweeting, “When my album drop Freddie Gibbs will [have] the biggest moment of his career.” A couple of days later, the album dropped, including the song “poochie gown,” where Gunna raps, “Hang above the rim, I can’t fuck with Freddie Gibbs, niggas tellin’ fibs.” Asked why he waited so long to confront Gibbs, Gunna replies, “At the time, when he was trying to do that, I ain’t had time right then. This time I had time. So that’s what that was.” But he insists it isn’t a diss track like some people are suggesting. “It’s not even a real diss,” he argues. “It’s me stating how I feel. Like, I can’t fuck with you after that. I ain’t say your career dry. I ain’t say nothing. I just said I can’t fuck with you, and I’m standing on that.”

The whole situation incited a back and forth between the two online, but Gunna asserts he isn’t checking for what Gibbs has to say. As for where Gunna stands with Freddie Gibbs today, he says, “I stand with God.” And in regards to the Crime Stoppers controversy, Gunna isn’t trippin’ about that either. “My fans know what’s up.” 

His drama with Freddie Gibbs aside, Gunna comes across as a very personable guy. His Southern charm works its magic on the staff in the studio today, and despite the late start, Gunna is polite as he greets everyone in the room and he has a way of dropping comedic punchlines at the perfect time. 

Gunna poses for his Complex shoot

His social skills come in handy when it’s time to make music. “I think I could do a song with anybody,” he proclaims. And he has the catalog to back it up. DS4EVER features a number of collaborations, including tracks with Lil Baby, Roddy Ricch, 21 Savage, Chloe Bailey, Chris Brown, and more. Many of the artists on this project have already collaborated on previous records, but his personality and versatility as an artist open the door to more unique collaborations. “I could do a song with Adele or Ariana Grande,” he predicts. “I could do a song with Mary J. Blige, John Legend, Swizz Beatz, Alicia Keys. The list goes on, for real.” 

One collaboration that didn’t make the initial album release is his new song with Drake. Many fans were dismayed when “P Power,” originally titled “Pussy Power,” didn’t drop with the original album, but Gunna attributes the mishap to clearance issues. “I originally sampled Donna Summer,” he explains. “I don’t even know her, because I’m so young. But she was a legend and her estate couldn’t get back in time for my album.” Luckily, the clearance came through eventually, and the song was released with the deluxe edition of DS4EVER, just in time for the final day of his first week sales window. 

Gunna has the capacity to work with a diverse range of artists (his 2018 Mariah Carey collab is just one example of his pop potential) but whenever he gets on songs with Young Thug and Future, good things always seem to happen. Their latest collab, “Pushin P,” debuted at No. 7 on the Hot 100 chart. Gunna says “realistically, we got about 50, 60 songs” in the vault, but don’t plan on hearing a joint album anytime soon. 

He’s considered putting out a tape with Thug and Future “too many times,” he says, but there’s “timing for everything.” And at this time, he has a little more work to do first. “We are locked in. We’ve got songs together that we could just put out if we wanted to, but I would want to at least have been in this shit half as long as them,” he explains. “I got respect. That’s what’s going to take me the long way. I’ve got respect for Future and I’ve got respect for Thug, because of what they did for my generation. I want to set the tone for the next generation. We’re probably a year away. So yeah, we’re almost there.”

He’s well on his way. As for his influence on the game so far, Gunna points to his fashion sense and says he is responsible for “putting shit on, getting fly, coming out, and dripping it to the roof.” With a nod, he adds, “Drip until you ain’t got no drip left in the world.” When I ask who he thinks is the best-dressed artist in the game, he says firmly, “Hello? You’re looking at him. Me! When I look in the mirror, this shit be on. It don’t be off. I put the shit on. It could be anything, too… I always loved clothes. I was the best-dressed in high school, too.”

Gunna poses for his Complex interview

He’s also making sure to spread positivity. “I’m here right now, making sure niggas come around with good vibes,” he notes. “When people come to my shows, there’s no fighting. It’s no violent shit. It’s cool. My fans worry about a motherfucker stepping on their shoes. They ain’t fixin to try to bump you. None of that. They Ps, and Ps ain’t really give you too much pressure.” 

Gunna has carved out his own unique lane, but he suggests a lot of his energy comes from his hometown of Atlanta. I ask him what he thinks the top five cities in rap are right now, and he says, “Atlanta,” followed by “New York, LA, Miami, and Texas,” in that order. 

Days after our first conversation at Complex’s studio, Billboard announces that DS4EVER has officially become the No. 1 album in the country. All of the early projections were incorrect, and Gunna actually moved 150,300 equivalent album units, surpassing the Weeknd’s 148,000 equivalent album units. 

I hop on the phone with Gunna after the new breaks to congratulate him and see how he’s feeling. “I feel great,” he says, speaking in a calm, easygoing tone. “I’m happy, and ready to keep delivering.” Though he sounds nonchalant over the phone, Gunna says he’s been celebrating since the news broke. The day the numbers came in, he went to the club. Later, his label threw a party for him with the YSL crew and family members in attendance. He says this win will affect his career “tremendously,” but to him, it isn’t all about charts. 

“It’s not just about me going No. 1,” he says. “I think it’s a really good project. I put my all in it, me and the producers. I think people are understanding that I’m an artist, and I really put my passion into this music.” 

He’s not about to slow down quite yet, though. Gunna is working on a clothing line as well as a live concert stage and schedule, but more importantly, he says he has more heat on the way. “This is the year to release a lot of music,” he reveals. “It’s going to be release, release, release, release. I don’t care about nothing else but catering to my fans and giving them me.” 

Gunna is prepared to grow old in this business, only tapping out when it’s time to “sell some of my catalog for a lot, a lot of millions.” As he says it, “That’s what all the rappers and billionaires and millionaires do. They get old and they’re able to sell their catalog, because they ain’t doing nothing with it no more.” By now, Gunna has learned that any goal he dreams up is achievable, and he has a lot more he wants to accomplish. 

“I’m still not done,” he says. “I gotta do everything. Everything. I’m scratching things off my list. We’re on the right track, though. Everything is aligned.”

Gunna poses for his Complex interview

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