Sheff G Is Ready to Reinvent New York Rap Again

We talked to Sheff G about his upcoming summer project, his thoughts on diss tracks, favorite memory with Pop Smoke, and his latest single, “Everything is Lit.”

Complex

“Everything is lit! Everything is antics!”

Sheff G bellows from across the hall of Complex’s New York studio as he bullrushes the set with his puppy micro-bully, Breesh, tucked safely under his arms. This is my first time meeting the Brooklyn rapper, and his “emotional press dog,” but he greets me like we’ve known each other for years. His enthusiasm is contagious. 

Sheff has had a tumultuous last few years, but he’s all smiles right now as he’s finally able to traverse around the town again and release new music. A myriad of recent legal battles, including Sheff’s 2021 arrest for weapons possession and a 2023 indictment for alleged gang activity connected to 12 shootings, has limited the Brooklyn rapper from releasing music at a consistent cadence. But at least for the time being, Sheff G is back outside.

Sheff G is a pioneer of the Brooklyn drill movement, with his song “No Suburban” becoming one of the first tracks to help put the scene on the map in 2017. (A budding Pop Smoke can be seen in the background of some of Sheff’s earliest DIY music videos.) Sheff G, alongside his childhood friend Sleepy Hallow, helped revolutionize the sound of New York City rap—even if he doesn’t want to take the credit.

“The actions are going to speak louder than the words,” Sheff G tells Complex. “I can sit here and be like, ‘Yo, I'm this, I'm that,’ but then they can prove it. I'm going to prove it through everything I'm doing.”

However, he’s not letting these incidents or the criminalization of his rap lyrics—which were used in the indictment for his current RICO case—stop him from expressing himself through his music, starting with his latest single “Everything Lit.”

“You ever watch Scarface? Do you feel like that got any effect on your life? Anything he said make you want to do things? [If not], it's the same shit with the music then,” Sheff said. “It shouldn't be looked at as [reality], the same way the movie's not looked at as [reality].” 

Despite being away for 14 months, Sheff G hasn’t lost any of his electric energy that he used to spark the pulse of the New York rap scene half a decade ago. And he still plans to put all of the feelings and “pain” into his new project coming this summer, where Sheff will also be “[tapping] into everything” and experimenting with new sounds, like sexy drill alongside Cash Cobain. 

In one of his first interviews since being released from Otis Bantum Correctional Center in the Bronx, Sheff G talked to Complex about his latest single, his favorite memory with Pop Smoke, the criminalization of rap lyrics, and more.

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Is it true that you didn't have a phone until you were 16? Do you think that helped you not have to be chronically on social media like some other artists in our generation?
Yeah, officially. I think it was a Blackberry. I ain't really have a phone growing up, so we had to really be outside. We all used to just link up. I used to wake up and find all my friends at a specific store after school. So we all would just pull up and that's how we used to link up. It wasn't like how now you can hit everybody up. It was good because then I got to tune in with everyday life shit. I got to really get to experience shit with my friends and shit. So it built a bond closer to us, but social media still helped people get closer to people that's not here. So it goes hand in hand.

Were you able to listen to any new music while were you locked up? 
Yeah, when I was upstate, I had JPay. So with JPay, you’re still able to listen to all the new music that's dropping. I was still in tune with all the music. And then when I had the radio, I still was listening to all the songs I was dropping from New York and shit. I still was tuning in. I never lost the tune-in for nothing.

Was there any specific sound that caught your attention?
R&B music, bro. It really was hitting me in the can, bro. I was listening to Mad SZA, PartyNextDoor, you feel me? It was hitting me different [fake cries]. 

Would you say you listen to R&B the most outside of rap?
Yeah, it would be R&B. You'd be surprised though, a lot of rappers really listen to both, because a lot of people be mad emotional. Mad rappers are emotional. They just don't know how to express it. so they express it through music. That's why you hear a lot of music and you hear the sad music and you hear the mood type of music. You hear it going in and out. It's because we be emotional. But as a man, you know we taught to be like, “Don't show your emotions.” So niggas don't really know how to express it. 

I was listening to your On The Radar freestyle, and I really liked the line where you called back your bars from “Tip Toe.” What do you think of when you think about the Proud of Me Now era?
It was me wanting to ask everybody, “Yo, are y'all proud of me now?” All the shit I've been through, all the pain, look what I did with it. Look what I did with the pain. Y’all proud of me now? That was that whole era, so that's why the music was like that.

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Do you prefer those obscure samples, like using the Willy Wonka sample on “Tip Toe?”
[I like when] the samples really make people think about wherever we got the sample from. But really I like the type of instrument. That's what I look for, the instrument. So it be like guitar, anything that be like dark, because my voice is deep. So when I rap on beats like that, it really catches a lot of people's attention. It's all about the emotions, the type of song you want to hear when you in a different type of mood.

Will we ever get a joint tape from you and Sleepy Hallow?
That's a must, you know that's definitely coming real soon. 

You just dropped your single “Everything Lit,” how did that track come together?
I'm in jail at the time, so I'm about to come back. I'm like, “Yeah the boy back. Everything lit.” I never forgot that one quote right there. So now I'm actually home. I get in the booth and shit. I'm like, “I'm back, everything lit.” There’s no time for being sad. I don't want remorse about anything. It's just straight lit antics. Everything lit, man. That's it. That's why I got to push, so that's the mood I had. Everything is lit right now. There's nothing to be sad about. When you listen to that song, you got to feel that, like, “Yes, I did that. Yeah, I'm back. I'm sturdy.” If you ever took a loss and came back, it's lit. Anything that you ever did, and it was not where it was supposed to be or you getting to where you're supposed to be, it's lit. So that's what the whole track is about. 

How do you maintain that mentality?
You got to feel the vibe. Don't focus on the other negativity. You got to put that shit past you and use it for motivation to do better. So that's all I did, that's all I was practicing. Anything bad that happened on anything that was negative, I use it for motivation to create positivity. I keep it going, keep it pushing, and feel better like that instead of sulking in your sorrows. I don't want to be sad. There's nothing to be sad about. Everything is lit.

Are we getting a Sheff G project this summer?
Listen, the summer is not going to miss the antics. I promise that. I guarantee that for a fact. I'm making sure that the summer gets the antics for a fact. So it's not going to be after summer, it's definitely going to be during summer.

What’s been inspiring you lately?
Everybody around me, my team, Winner’s Circle, my family. That'd be all the inspiration. That shit never left me when I was in jail to coming back. It was just mad motivation like, “Yeah, I'm going to make it back. I'm going to do good for them. I'm going to do good for the team.” You’re only as strong as your team, you got to remember that. And that's for everything. So once your foundation is good, you always going to be sturdy. 

What do you think your biggest impact on drill and New York rap has been?
I be humble with certain shit. I like the people to say it themself. I'll be reading the comments, I see certain shit, and I watch how they say the shit about me. I like it like that, let them say it. Let them tune in. Let them argue in the shit and let them know what's really going on with your boy. The actions are going to speak louder than the words. I can sit here and be like, “Yo, I'm this, I'm that,” but then they can prove it. I'm going to prove it through everything I'm doing. They know what's going on. They got to know what's going on.

I feel like I'm leaving stepping stones for everybody that's coming up and I'm just motivating the crowd. So if you standing with me, you know you're sturdy, and that's how everybody else should feel. And whether you around me, whether you not around me yet, or you try getting next to me, you should know Sheff G’s  the type of nigga right there that’s sturdy. And you can watch what I did to see how I got where I got.

Are there any aspects of normal life that you miss, since you blew up pretty early in your career?
You know what's crazy? I got famous before I got rich. While I was famous, I still was going to school. I was still getting on the train, the bus. It wasn't until I got fans pulling up on me and taking pictures that I realized, “Oh shit, I got to really move differently.” The whole process was just unbelievable. I couldn’t even believe it was going on. I'm hearing my music playing in cars. I didn't even have a car yet, so it was just different.

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And you made “No Suburban” while you were still living in a shelter.
Yeah, that's a fact. “4 Them Racks,” “No Suburban,” “Panic.” All those songs that made everything what it was—when we was making them, I was still broke. I was still down, I was still coming up. So what I wanted to do was show everybody like, “Look, you don't got to just start off with gold chains and jewelry and money and all that.” We started with nothing. We was wearing $100 Puma suits. And everybody else was trying to wear shit. Nah, we not doing none of that. We wearing what we wearing, we in the hood, we shooting the videos in the hood. We showing y'all what we have and what we don't got yet and what we trying to get. So that's the biggest motivation you could do. We never faked it. We kept it real until we got to where we got to. Now you see the antics, so it's motivational instead of just on some neck shit.

Do you think the confidence you had in yourself and not having to fake flex in videos translated to being vulnerable in your music?
You know who helped me with that? It really was Sleepy [Hallow]. He would tell me, “Yo bro, you could express this type of feeling too. You don't only got to be on some hardcore gangsta shit all the time. Nah, they want to hear it.” So once I'm seeing that like, “Oh yeah, they want to hear this. They want to hear that.” I'm going to give it to 'em, I'm going to let them hear it. And then everybody around me too let me know, “Yo listen, you don't got to stick to one sound.” To see if they was jacking it first, I used to post videos in the car and play the beat and just rap to it. That's what I did first to see if they was going to jack it, and once they started jacking it I'm like, “Oh, they do want to hear this.” So that's how I found out. I'm learning from the fans, because that's who I want to feed. I'm feeding the fans. Right. 

Drill has expanded since you and Sleepy pioneered the Brooklyn wave. What are your thoughts on how much the genre has changed?
You got to remember that this type of music is really [about] the emotion. That's what it's really about. Drill music stands for your adrenaline. That's what it's short for, the adrenaline that you get when you hear the music. Most people hear drill music and they get hyper. That's what it's for. That's why a lot of people listen to it in the gym. So now you see all the new types of drill music going on, it's the antics, you see the feeling you get. The new dances they doing, you see all the shit going on. It's just the feeling. So that's why it's always going to be lit. This is why a lot of new rappers is tuning in. That's why all they shit going crazy, because it's just the emotion you get. So shout out to all the new drill music and all that. All that shit is lit. 

Do you see yourself tapping into the sexy drill movement?
I'm going to tap into everything. It's not going to be a lane that I'm not going to get in there real quick. I got to show you that I'm on time with everything. 

So there’s a chance we could get a Sheff G x Cash Cobain song in the future?
Yeah, for a fact. Shout out to Cash Cobain, that's my dog. He knows what's going on. 

We’re coming up on five years since Pop Smoke’s death. Do you remember the day you shot “Welcome Home” and he was in the background for it?
Bro, I ain't go front, that day we was just all wilding. We was just outside. Those days when we were shooting the videos, it's not like we had a director. We were just shooting the video. We just running and doing everything. We outside here, we over there, we all following each other in the whips. It was just a lit day.

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Do you have a favorite memory with Pop?
It was the day we were in Quads [Studio]. It’s me, him, Sleep, we all in Quads. I think Polo [G] had pulled up too. We was chopping up on some shit, right. So he had took his hair out and all that.He about to get his hair done. Boom, we started recording the song. Mans started wilding [Laughs]. I'll never forget the way he was jumping on the engineer. I'm telling him, “Yo bro, there's mad people here right now bro. I'm scared to record in the actual booth.” He took the mic and put it in the room. I'm like, “Yo bro, you dumb.” Shit was antics that day.

You have a unique rapping style, similar to Pop, especially with how you whisper in your verses.
That's one of the things that people do now. So now everybody got their own type of whisper or everybody got their own type of ad-lib, but that's good. That's motivating. You know what's crazy, New York got to do better at supporting each other. Everywhere else, if you see people doing similar type of shit, it's considered, “Yeah, they sturdy.” But in New York, if you see people doing similar shit, they call it dick-riding. Why? We all winning, right? So we not pushing that, “Oh he dick-riding,” because nah, none of that bro. He trying to get where he trying to get. And that's lit. 

What do you think it'll take to stop that mentality in the city?
People like me, like all the artists who have a voice. You got to be the ones that push that narrative because if you don't push that narrative, they always going to run with the other shit. You got to be the one to be like, “Nah bro, let me stomp on that real quick. That shit is that. And this is what it is.” Everybody got to be on that timing. None of that negativity bullshit that doesn't get you paid.. We not jacking none of that. 

Do you think the old version of drill that was predicated on dissing is dead?
Talking about diss tracks, that's music period. If you think about it even way back, it is just part of the music. Even sometimes it would be subliminally, and only certain people know what's going on. It's really a competition between you and another artist to see where y'all at musically. Everybody else going to run with different shit, but if you are an artist, and somebody disses you, obviously you going to have to come back in with music. What else you going to do? It's music. If you are in sports, a nigga cross you playing basketball, you got to get them back. It's the same shit. You can't be scared to make songs and do your thing. 

But I think that what's been so challenging with drill is that it's gotten outside of the music.
I think it's just the perception. It's just what people think or people try to push the negative narratives. It be bullshit.

How are you going to navigate these next few years with trying to drop music while also dealing with other things?
I mean my music and my life go together. So whatever I go through, I put my pain through the music anyway, so everything I'm going through, I'm going to put it in songs regardless. If I'm tight today, I just going to make a song. If I'm sad, going to make a song. Especially if you are heartbroken, might make a good ass track when you heartbroken. So all your emotions you go through, you're going to put up the music anyway when you artist. 

Were you able to capture any of those emotions you were feeling when you were locked up that you can now express in the music?
Yeah, definitely. Because you got certain days when you really felt down, then you got certain days when you was happy about certain shit. So all the emotions, I’m definitely going to put it in one [song] and they definitely going to hear it through the album. 

What’s the smartest thing you’ve ever done?
The smartest thing I have ever done is build a team. Like I told you earlier, you only as strong as your team. So before you jump into everything, make sure your team is sturdy and solidified because then in the end that's what's going to help you. A lot of people be on some, “Oh, I'm the big bro, I don't need nobody else. He can't tell me what to do.” That's where you fuck up, especially coming up from when you young doing that. You need big bros in place. You need somebody to tell you when you wrong sometimes. A lot of niggas can't handle that. A lot of people just want yes men. You can't have yes men around you building a strong foundation. It's not going to work. So I feel like that was one of the smartest things I ever did, linking up with certain people who made what it is today. Shout out to the whole Winners Circle.

That’s a really mature mentality, how did you develop that?
Before I really jumped into the rap scene, I paid attention. I sat back, everybody else was going first. I sat back and I was just watching. I watched as soon as I was coming out, I watched the artists, I watched their interviews, and I paid attention to what they were saying—what they was going through and shit. So I'm like, “Bet, when I jump in it, I know exactly what to do. I know what type of time I'm going to be on.” And I use that till today. 

Did you have a favorite artist who’s interviews you would study?
It changes every era of my life. So in the beginning growing up, I'm listening to the music that my cousins and all the cousins was listening to, which is Biggie [Smalls] and that whole era. Then around 2012 and 2013, I was listening to Chicago music, Chief Keef, G Herbo, and all them. So it's like each era was just different for me, and it just hit different. Certain music hit me more. Certain music don't hit me how it used to. I feel like it's just what's going on with you right now that dictates the type of music you going to really love and type of artist you going to fuck with. 

What does success look like to you?
I never really understood the plaque game. Now I'm on some plaque shit. We trying to go diamond. That's the type of antics we on right now. My son Sleepy went four times platinum. I was in jail. My son went two times, three times platinum. You know how much motivation that gave me, bro? That shit was crazy. And we both went platinum together, made a nigga cry. That's the type of time I'm right now. That's what makes me feel like I'm really doing what I got to do and shit. Taking care of the family, taking care of everything.

Do you think you or any other rappers in your generation care about the King of New York title anymore?
I don't think nobody really cares about the title or anything because everybody going to still do they thing. But then again, New York is just New York, so you know how New Yorkers are. Everybody feel like they everything, so it's always going to be a back-and-forth argument. But I think time will tell, time is going to show what's really going on, and you going to see who everybody gravitates to. And not a lot of people can pull a crowd and everybody feel the same way about that person. When the person could do that and you see nothing but love going on, and there's not no snake shit, then you can probably say like, “Bet, he's who he say he is.”

What are your thoughts on rap lyrics being used in court against rappers in general?
You ever watch Scarface? Do you feel like that got any effect on your life? Anything he said make you want to do things? [If not], it's the same shit with the music then. It shouldn't be looked at as [reality], the same way the movie's not looked at as [reality]. What's the difference? It's the same type of shit. It's entertainment.

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