Gunna: Drip for life

Mar 28, 2019 - Artist Stories

"When I first put a video out on YouTube, I was looking at them views and them comments to see what type of feedback there was—that was my main thing," explains Atlanta-bred rapper Gunna. "I didn't know it could be so big. I’m thinking 1 million views is a lot—and it is. But it turns out you can get out a lot more than one million!"

For Gunna, that’s hardly an understatement. Over the past 12 months alone, the rapper has earned over 880 million views on YouTube, with tracks like “Oh Okay,” “Sold Out Dates” and “Drip Too Hard” scorching up the YouTube charts and establishing him as one of hip-hop’s most promising voices. His recently dropped full-length debut “Drip or Drown 2” has only further cemented Gunna’s place amongst rap’s elite, debuting at #1 on the Billboard Rap Album chart and driving Gunna to #5 on the U.S. Top Artists chart. The ongoing success has made the 25-year-old rapper an obvious choice for YouTube’s Artist on the Rise. “It feels good and it’s a blessing,” Gunna says of the selection. "I’m honored that YouTube is acknowledging me as one of the next hot rappers coming up. That's big!"

To hear Gunna tell it, he was destined for stardom by virtue of his zip code. Born Sergio Kitchens, Gunna grew up in Atlanta’s College Park neighborhood, where from a young age he was drawn to the flashy fashions and streetwise swagger of the city’s world-famous rap scene. “Atlanta got a lot of people who got style, and style goes with music,” he explains. “I feel like that’s why we’ve got a lot of music that come out of Atlanta. It’s not just because everybody can rap—it’s because we just have a lot of people who are cool.”

Inspired by Southern rap royalty like Lil Wayne and the Cash Money empire, Gunna began developing his signature chilled rhyme style before he was in his teens. His early efforts earned him the nickname Yung'un among the older neighborhood MCs, an appellation that gradually evolved into his current moniker. Gunna was also earning a reputation for his unmistakable style, winning the Best Dressed title at his high school and displaying early signs of a love for fashion that would become the foundation of the Gunna brand.

Foreshadowing his future success on the platform, Gunna’s big break came from a music video uploaded to YouTube — though not his own. In 2015, Gunna was invited to be an extra in the video for Young Thug’s “With That,” filmed on the streets near Gunna’s then home. After the shoot was done, the two ended up hanging out and hitting it off. The famously flamboyant rap star took Gunna under his wing, inviting him to guest alongside Travis Scott and Gucci Mane on the 2016 track “Floyd Mayweather.”

“When I was introduced to Thug, I never mentioned to him that I made music,” Gunna recalls. “We were just vibing. Thug just took a liking to me. But ‘Floyd Mayweather’ was an eye-opener for me—it was like, ‘Bro, you can really do this. You got Gucci, Travis Scott—these folks don't know you, and they’re jumping on the song just because they like it. God was showing me: you can be in this, too. You just have to buckle down and focus.”

After signing on with Thug’s YSL label, Gunna released his first mixtape, “Drip Season,” in October 2016, introducing listeners to the fashion philosophy that’s graced every subsequent release. “Drip is a word for our generation—that’s our ‘swag,’” Gunna explains."It’s a lifestyle for me—I live and die by it."

A sequel followed six months later -- and by the time he released the third installment in 2018, Gunna was attracting features from A-list MCs like Lil Uzi Vert and Lil Yachty and beats from in-demand producers like Metro Boomin and Weezy.

But while “Drip Season 3” proved Gunna could hold his own among some of the biggest names in hip-hop, it was a collaboration with a lesser-known MC that pushed his YouTube clicks into the high nine digits. After dropping their “Sold Out Dates” single in early 2018 — a tropical-trap jam that’s garnered over 66 million YouTube views to date — Gunna and fellow rising Atlanta rapper Lil Baby joined forces again on “Oh Okay,” which has earned over 80 million views to date. They followed it up with their “Drip Harder” mixtape, where the duo traded rapid-fire triplets with Drake on “Never Recover.”

In essence, Gunna is doing for Lil Baby what Young Thug did for Gunna back in the day, parlaying a friendship and mentorship into an ongoing creative partnership, instilling the young rapper with the confidence to rhyme alongside the world’s top MCs while building the foundation for the next generation of Atlanta hip-hop.

“My relationship with Lil Baby is genuine. It’s love — it’s like a real brother from another mother,” Gunna explains. “I heard his music before anybody, and I was honest: ‘You can do it, but you’ve got to keep going.’”

The support is part of community-focused spirit that goes beyond helping out local rappers. This past holiday season, for example,  the rapper held the first Gunna's Great Giveaway, treating dozens of shoppers to gifts in his hometown. Gestures like these help keep him grounded in the face of jet-setting stardom. Even if he’s fond of rapping about his latest luxury-brand acquisition, Gunna’s greatest asset remains his relatability.

“When I started making music, I was making music just for myself,” he explains. “But when I started realizing that other people can relate to what I say, I started making music for us, rather than just me. You feel inspired when you see you inspire others—it feels like you got a job to fulfill.”