The first time I caught wind of Gunplay was back in 2010. I was at a house party and a drunk friend of mine was raving about the manic Florida rapper with the wild dreaded mane—not for his deft and aggressive rhymes, but for his cavalier approach to snorting cocaine. Because I only vaguely recognized the MC as one of Rick Ross’s Maybach Music Group hangers-on, my friend took it upon himself to drag me away from the party and give me a crash course in videos of the light-skinned MC getting knocked the fuck out, snorting heaps of blow in front of cops in Colombia, and generally acting like a some kind of ghetto Steve-O hopped up on coke and wreaking havoc. I was pretty impressed, probably because I have an affinity for maniacs. But what in the world did all of that have to do with rapping?
It wasn’t until this February, almost two years later, that I began to understand Gunplay as an artist rather than a sideshow. It was his closing verse on Kendrick Lamar’s superb track “Cartoon and Cereal” that grabbed me by the neck and pulled me into his world. When I heard him spit the lines, “No cameras, no lights, just pain/ Mama how much trauma can I sustain?” I knew there was more to Gunplay than just wilding out, even though his raucous and frenzied charisma is big part of his appeal.
Gunplay’s combination of craziness and consciousness has made him one of the most engaging figures to emerge in hip-hop. The unabashed junky has continued to up the ante on both fronts, dropping the stellar mixtape 601 & Snort while falling into even more controversy by doing things like brawling with five thugs from 50 Cent’s entourage at this fall’s BET Music Awards.
Right now, things are coming to a head for Gunplay. As he readies Medellin—his highly anticipated major-label debut for Def Jam, due out next spring—he also faces serious jail time for a laundry lists of criminal charges. This reality check makes me wonder whether the fire that has helped put him at the precipice of superstardom could also destroy him. Not only would a stint in prison likely derail his ascent to the heights of the hip-hop game, it would also leave his eight-year-old son without a father.
I called the rapper, whose real name is Richard Morales Jr., last week while he was on house arrest in Florida for allegedly attacking and robbing his accountant back in April. We ended up talking a lot about death, because with all the drug abuse and violent incidents, he’s been banging on heaven’s door lately. I really hope he can get himself together, slow down on the white girl, and fulfill his musical potential—even if that means we get fewer funny World Star Hip-Hop videos.
VICE: Hey man. Is everything all right? How's house arrest?
Gunplay: Yeah, I'm making it do what it do. I'm still working and I'm on that Black Ops 2, perfecting my skills. It's cool, but I can't wait to test the turf on the road again.
So, what is it like being Gunplay? Do you feel like you have to act crazy all the time because that is your persona?
Gunplay is really me, but it's one facet. I've got my chill days and I've got my turned-up days. But I’m mostly chill. You all just catch me when I'm wilding out.
So, the way you acted at Six Flags is how you are around your son?
Well, you have to separate Gunplay from Richard Morales. That's what I've been doing, lately. I'm trying to make a separation between my music and my real life, because you can get caught up in character.
How did having a son impact the way you look at the world?
Once you know you've got a mouth to feed and someone to take care of who is depending on you, you go a little harder to try and get the money. Sometimes you do the wrong things to get it. I’ve been trying to balance my career, get the money, and not go to jail in the meantime.
I know your son is pretty important to you. So, I was wondering what your relationship with your father was like?
I have a good relationship with my father. My mom and my dad divorced, so I saw him on the weekends growing up. He'd take me fishing and stuff like that to give me experiences outside of the 'hood. That was back when I was young and living in New York. Then I moved to Miami with my mother when I was ten, while my father moved to Puerto Rico. But I still have a good relationship with the old man.
What does your dad think about your music?
He's behind me 100 percent in whatever I do. He's in the church a lot, so he doesn't agree with my lyrics so much. But he still gives me his best wishes.
Do your parents realize how famous you are yet?
They don't really know. They’ve heard of Rick Ross, Lil Wayne, Jay-Z… But they don't really know how far I have come doing this music. But soon they'll see.
It’s dope that you have such a strong family behind you. I know you also have your Bilderberg Group. Like many rappers, a lot of people are probably eating off of you these days. Is that a stressful burden or an honor?
It feels really good. But I'm the type of person that likes to bring my homies along for the ride, especially if they deserve it. There are a lot of phony folks out here, so when you have those real people around, you want them to bask in the glory too—especially if they've been there since day one.
Many dead rappers talked about dying in their music: Tupac, Biggie, and other great MCs… You do the same and you call yourself Gunplay. At the pace you're going, do you ever worry about making it to 40?
Most definitely, I think about that quite a bit. But I don't let it consume my everyday life. I try not to think about it all the time and just make best of the time I have now and get as much work done as I can and try to solidify a future for my son. If it happens, it happens.
How do you think it would happen?
Who's to say? I don't want to even think about it. I just want to go hard and get this music out and get my son straight and make sure my family is good.
Have you ever done any real time in jail before?
No. A couple days here and there, but nothing serious.
What were those short stints like?
Time wasted. And it’s time that you can't ever get back.
If it comes to that, have you thought about how that would impact things?
When I pray, there is no possibility of anything happening to me. That possibility is not even in the air. I will be exonerated; I will be at home with my family. It's not even a possibility. My faith is going to get me through. I don't need to think about it.
So, you’re a religious man?
I practice Santeria, from Africa. Some call it Voodoo, which is not a bad name, it's just what society has labeled it. Whatever you want to call it, it's all God. It’s just different and deeper than what Americans are teaching and practicing. Since I've been a devotee, a lot of things have become clear. It makes you think differently. I pray and try to do and think right. You can't do it if you can't think it, first.
What drew you to Santeria?
I just felt a deeper connection to God when I started practicing it. That's something you can't teach.
I’ve heard you mention Ol’ Dirty Bastard as one of your primary influences. Do you ever worry that—like him—the controversy of your life will overshadow your art?
No, because buying my music is buying me. You're buying my lifestyle. Controversy is my life. If you're listening to my records, you're buying the controversy that goes with it. It's a good thing to me. I don't have to come with a marketing scheme. I just do what I do.
When did you start saying, “I'm going to start filming myself doing crazy shit”?
When I got tired of watching other rappers’ boring-ass videos. Yeah, they have a lot of money, but they just do the same shit normal people with money do. I have fun. I really like to have fun.
Is there anybody who can actually hang with you in terms of the partying? Can Rick Ross drink and kick it with you or are you on another level?
[Laughs] We just usually chill, but they know I go hard, really hard.
I love that your music mixes the drugs and partying stuff with more personal elements.
My music reflects who I am. When you hear records like “Cartoon and Cereal,” that's a part of me you don't always see, but you can hear. It represents one aspect of Gunplay as a character. But Gunplay also likes to have fun. Gunplay is serious, Gunplay is not a pushover, Gunplay is fair, Gunplay is loyal. Gunplay is not selfish. You can hear all of those elements in my different songs.
Are you into politics? What’d you think of the election?
I know what's going on and I can't stand to watch it. It's all WWF and it feels like they're insulting my intelligence. It’s bullshit. They’re all the same motherfuckers and they all work for Wall Street. I do my homework and I've seen some shit and I don't like it.
Do you think things have gotten better since you were a young man kicking it in Carol City and Marimar, Florida, or worse?
Everything’s gotten worse. I have nothing against Obama, but the people that put him in power have interests other than making sure the ghettos of America are good and I can't ride with that. Unfortunately, he is part of the of the problem, too.
A lot of eyes have been on your part of the Florida because of the Trayvon Martin shooting. What does that say to you?
This has been going on forever. It just finally got the media attention it deserves. Trayvon’s death let the world know what's happening down here. But the world doesn’t give a fuck. They don't even talk about Trayvon anymore. The world's fucked up, man. It's really fucked up.
You're on house arrest, so you can't really smoke weed or party. Has not being able to do drugs impacted your creativity?
I still have to pay bills. My fans don't want to hear that I’m not writing raps because I’m not smoking weed. My inspiration isn’t drugs, it’s my bills. I have bills so I have to rap.
Do you think you can you hustle raps indefinitely? Or do you think you’ll take the route that Ross did and try to be a mogul?
Definitely. I have a passion for music. But I know I won't be doing this for the rest of my life. Since my passion for music will never die down, I want to continue to give other people an opportunity to achieve their dreams.
I love your passion. Your music is so intense. Where does that aggression come from?
I've seen a lot of injustice—some done to other people, some done to myself. There are a lot of things that I’m not happy with. But you have to deal with it and music is my way of venting that anger and energy. Good or bad, I just stick all of it into my songs.
What would you be doing if you didn't have that outlet?
Shit, I don't know. Thank God for hip-hop.
Word. Hip-hop has given you a voice. But could this music, this industry also be the death of you?
Hip-hop won't be the death of me. It'll be the life of me because my music will carry on once I'm dead. It'll always be here. And it's never going to go anywhere.
What will be here after you’re gone? What are you trying to achieve with your debut, Medellin?
My main focal point is to let the world know who Gunplay was. It’s like writing, “Gunplay was here,” on a lunchroom table in school. When it’s all said and done, my music will bring the world into my world.
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