Fame and fortune might change some people, but not EST Gee. The bigger stage and brighter lights don’t faze him. In fact, rarely anything seems to affect him. Growing up in the Clarksdale projects in Louisville, Kentucky, turmoil was always nearby, but those early challenges helped make him impervious to the pressures of the music industry. At 26 years old, EST Gee has the poise and composure of a seasoned veteran.
“My general principles and my morals haven’t changed,” he says, explaining how he’s adapted to fame. “I act the same, feel the same, move the same. I got a lot of discipline. A lot of people aren’t disciplined enough to just be on one thing and keep it that way.”
As he’s found success, EST Gee has not only retained his principles, but his sense of honor as well. Before officially signing to Yo Gotti’s label CMG Records earlier this year, Gee met Lil Baby, who asked if he wanted to join Quality Control after being impressed by his raps. Gee declined, saying that he already gave Gotti his word and couldn’t go back on it.
“We linked up one day and he [Lil Baby] was trying to do business with me, but I was already planning on doing business with Gotti,” he tells Complex. “I’m not one of those people who can go back on my word, so that’s what it was.” Even though he didn’t team up with Baby on the label side, EST Gee did connect with him on their song “Real as it Gets,” earning him his first Billboard Hot 100 hit as the song reached No. 34 on the charts. Baby initially wanted to work with Gee after hearing some of his songs 42 Dugg played for him.
Fellow Louisville native Jack Harlow discovered Gee in a similar way, reaching out to him after his song “New Number” took the city by storm in 2019. From there, EST Gee ended up on Harlow’s track “Route 66” off his 2020 album, That’s What They All Say. Speaking about how the two became so close, Gee explains that Harlow has always been the same, ever since they met.
“I just got more comfortable with him,” Gee said. “Jack has been the same way ever since I met him. He’s really 100 percent genuine and trying to keep me focused and keep going. Jack wants me to shit on everybody. I don’t know why, but he wants me to shit on everybody.”
The common denominator in all these new opportunities for Gee has always been the galvanizing properties of his music. Louisville is a complex city that isn’t talked about enough, so EST Gee makes it a point to have his raps reflect the grit and struggle of the area. Gee takes pride in being a vessel for the streets he’s from, and he uses his music to reflect on the struggles he’s experienced. He doesn’t exist in a paradigm, making a living off of illustrating the gray areas of the legal system, streets, and lateral climb to success in his music. And for every trial he’s faced, Gee raps about his triumphs just as clearly, like how he’s able to care for his family and son and maintain his values.
In September 2019, Gee was shot five times, four bullets hitting his stomach and one hitting his eye, almost making him blind. He began writing his 2020 album Ion Feel Nun while recovering, then his mother passed away after battling leukemia. Shortly after, his brother was shot and killed in Louisville. These tragedies didn’t deter Gee, and he went on to produce a masterful sequel to Ion Feel Nun, called I Still Don’t Feel Nun, where he flushed his pain onto wax, like on the title track.
Those close encounters with human mortality didn’t change Gee’s outlook on life, but they might have inspired the name of his upcoming project, Bigger Than Life or Death. “My run-ins with death changed death,” he clarifies with a chuckle. While remaining quiet about many of the project’s details, Gee does reveal that his single, “Lick Back,” has an extended version that features Young Thug. “That’s not even a top five song on the project,” he boasts.
Complex caught up with EST Gee to talk about his upcoming project Bigger Than Life or Death, what he’s learned from Yo Gotti, and almost going to the Super Bowl with Jay-Z. The interview, lightly edited for clarity, is below.
Congratulations on landing a spot at Rolling Loud. How does that feel?
Like I’m supposed to be here, if you ask me. I think my name should’ve been up higher.
What is the biggest concert you’ve done before this?
I don’t know. All my concerts get sold out. I don’t know what you’d classify as a concert. Every city is different, but every one of my concerts is packed. They all be A1.
Your new song “Lick Back” is short and feels like a trailer for your next project. Was that intentional?
I don’t even think about it like that. I just had one down, and there’s going to be a longer version on my tape. We got [Young] Thug on there.
How did you connect with Thug for that?
It just came together. You’ll have to tune in to find out. When Bigger Than Life or Death drops, you’ll see what’s going on with that.
You started this year signing with CMG. How has it been being signed under Yo Gotti?
Same as it was, still handling business. I just got a bigger magnifying glass on everything I do. I’m still doing the same shit. The stakes are just higher now.
“You asked if my run-ins with death changed me, and I think they might have changed death. If you asked the devil, ‘Did Gee change you?’ he’d probably be like, ‘Hell yeah.’”
How did you and Yo Gotti meet?
My man Nigel helped put it all together. He worked for Alamo [Records], and they were trying to sign me, but they weren’t trying to put it together the way it needed to be put together. There wasn’t enough cheese. He still wanted to do business with me so he put the play together. He knew [Yo] Gotti, and he knew I fucked with Gotti, so he put it together like that.
What was his pitch for you to join CMG?
He didn’t even pitch me. We just had a conversation, man to man. He wanted to know what I wanted. Gotti is a street nigga, so he understands what’s going on. It wasn’t really any recruiting. He was going to make a decision if I was a man of my word. I didn’t go in trying to be recruited. I came in trying to hear what he had to say, and I liked what he had to say.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned in the industry thus far?
I don’t think I’ve learned any big lessons yet. I don’t think it’s been long enough. I still have the same rules I was following when I was in the streets. They’re the same things I’m following right now. Niggas are just faker now. This industry shit is like wrestling. It’s like RAW and Smackdown.
Does that ever bother you?
Hell no, that has nothing to do with me. I’m going to be me. Nothing that anyone else has going on has anything to do with me.
Has Yo Gotti helped you navigate the industry at all?
Honestly, I figured it out myself. I’m not a kid. I don’t need to be babysat. He gives me advice, like, to not take anything personally because people are fake.
Has your writing and recording process changed since you’ve gained more success?
Not really. I’m the same way wherever I’m at. Whatever is going on at the time, if I need to record, I record. It’s the same process. Everything I’ve been doing has worked for me, so I’m not trying to change anything.
You and Lil Baby have a big record together, “Real as it Gets.” How did you two connect?
 Dugg was playing my shit for Baby, and I guess he liked it, and he wrote me. That’s all it was. He reached out to me after Dugg played my shit for him.
What would be a significant accomplishment in your rap career?
I really don’t know. Maybe win a Grammy or something. I really don’t know what a big accomplishment is for a rapper.
What would mean a lot for you to accomplish, then, in general?
Shit that would mean a lot to me can’t happen.
Why do you say that?
It’s just not available. It’s not available for it to happen.
How did you and Jack Harlow meet in the first place?
He just wrote me. He fucked with my song. I had a song out called “New Number,” and it was one of the biggest songs in the city. He said he was a fan of that song. Ever since then, we’ve just been cool.
Have you ever thought about connecting with Bryson Tiller, since you’re both from Louisville?
Yeah, me and Bryson are going to put something together. We’re going to put a whole project together. We just haven’t had time to do it. We talked about it when I was in LA and said we’d work on it as soon as we get time.
What should fans expect from your upcoming project, Bigger Than Life or Death?
Everything’s going to be bigger. From the production to what I’m talking about, everything is going to be more explicit. It’s going to, all together, be more than it’s ever been. It’s not going to be the same thing.
You’ve had a few run-ins with death before. Have they changed your perspective on life and rapping?
You asked if my run-ins with death changed me, and I think they might have changed death. If you asked the devil, “Did Gee change you?” he’d probably be like, “Hell yeah.”
You mentioned on No Jumper that you had a phone conversation with Jay-Z. What was that conversation like?
My man Nigel talked to one of Jay-Z’s best friends, his name is OG Juan [Perez]. OG Juan let Nigel know Jay wanted to get on the phone with me. They had sent him some of my music, and an hour after they sent it to him, he wanted to holler at me on the phone. We chopped it up, and he was like, “You that nigga. You’re hard.” Then he was like, “Come on, man, we have to get him out here right now.” We were supposed to go to the Super Bowl, but I don’t think he ended up going. He tried taking me to the Super Bowl in Tampa.
How much did that conversation mean to you, especially since you aspire to achieve a legacy like his?
It just let me know I’m going in the right direction.