As Gunna walks into the Noisey office, he isn’t sporting the drip I was expecting. The 25-year-old rapper is dressed in fluorescent green from head-to-toe—a perhaps unintentional nod to his slimy predecessor, Young Thug, who signed him to his Young Stoner Life label in 2016. For a rapper who calls himself “Mr. Drip,” his outfit is oddly relaxed—well, as relaxed as sweatpants and a floor-length mink jacket can be. But who could blame him for prioritizing comfort over style on a frigid January morning in New York?
The Atlanta rapper’s ascent following the 2018 release of Drip Season 3, his last solo project, is well-documented, including 11 entries on Billboard’s Hot 100. “Sold Out Dates,” a guitar-laden collaboration with Lil Baby, leaked in April, prompting fans to recognize the chemistry between two of Atlanta’s rising stars. In August, Gunna appeared on ASTROWORLD’s “YOSEMITE,” with Nav and Travis Scott, and on Slime Language’s “Chanel,” alongside Lil Baby and Young Thug. On both songs, Gunna’s melodies cut through the clutter of the posse cuts, with a buttery smooth delivery.
But with each successive entry in his catalog, Gunna proved he was more than a straight-laced rapper. He could harmonize pretty well, too. Drip Harder, a joint mixtape released in October, put the best parts of him and Lil Baby (Gunna’s drip, and Baby’s street raps) on display. A month later, he switched up his flow on Metro Boomin’s “Space Cadet,” a song that’s equally gaudy and galactic—and stark opposition to his charm on Mariah Carey’s “Stay Long Love You.” His most recent feature, however, is more than a collaboration. It’s a cosign from the Atlanta native whose fingerprints are all over trap music. A spot on Future’s The Wizrd, along with fellow collaborators Young Thug and Travis Scott, is a big fucking deal.
Before fans knew him as Gunna, he was Sergio Kitchens, a product of Atlanta’s College Park neighborhood. Gunna played around with rapping as a preteen and stumbled through high school before facing legal issues prior to graduation. In 2015, Atlanta local Keith Troup, his mentor, brought him to a video shoot for Young Thug, which was the prelude to the friendship between the two rappers. “But when [Troup] died, it kind of just brought us closer,” Gunna said in an interview with Complex last year. “Because when he died, we all went to the funeral together. That's how we met.” The following year, Gunna appeared on Thug’s “Floyd Mayweather” alongside Travis Scott and Gucci Mane, and signed to Thug’s YSL Records, an imprint of 300 Entertainment. Last August, Gunna was announced as an opener for Scott’s ASTROWORLD tour. With Friday’s release of Drip or Drown 2, which is billed as his debut album, he’s poised to become a leader of Atlanta’s new class of trap musicians.
“I’ve been working on [the album] ever since Drip Season 3,” he says. At the time of our interview, there isn’t much information about the album that he’s willing to divulge, except that the album’s 48-minute runtime (twice as long than the original) was fully intentional. “I should’ve put more music on [the first Drip or Drown] because if you’re not already recognized, you should just keep putting out music,” he says. “You shouldn’t feel like, ‘I need to hold back and wait.’ Just keep dropping.”
Gunna maneuvers through much of the album alone, but he brings his friends along for a few features, including Lil Baby (“Derek Fisher”), Young Thug (“3 Headed Snake”), and Playboi Carti (“Same Yung Nigga”). He recorded the hook of the record’s percussive lead single, “One Call,” well before his visit, but it describes what he’s wearing today perfectly. “I clean up like hands and soap / Get a mink let it drag on the floor,” he raps.
The album’s best moments, however, come to life in the chemistry between him and the album’s executive producers, Wheezy and Turbo, with the guitar licks on the Turbo-produced “Sold Out Dates” providing a template for much of Drip or Drown 2. On “Out the Hood” and “Who You Foolin,” they give his “hood melodies” a heartbeat. On “Speed it Up,” the follow-up single, Gunna’s voice fits into Turbo’s drum production like a puzzle piece.
Drip or Drown 2 finds Gunna contemplating the parameters of his newfound fame. He brags shamelessly, name-dropping another designer with each bar. For him, spending $2,000 on Balmain joggers (“Big Shot”) is as normal as recalling the day he hit his first million (“Outstanding”). But the album finds him contemplating not only the man he has become but how wealth will change life for his future kids. (According to him, they won’t have chores, and his future daughter will probably be sporting a “Baby Birkin.”)
Gunna sits across from me a few days before Travis Scott’s headlining appearance at the Super Bowl, not too far from where Gunna grew up. Talking to him is a bit dizzying: When a photographer joins us at the close of our interview, hoping to capture a few shots of the mink and neon green color combo, Gunna reluctantly agrees, then declines a few minutes later. “I don’t really like my outfit today,” he says. The man loves to drip—what more is there to say?
Noisey: You’ve had a great year since Drip Season 3 came out last February. What would you consider the greatest lesson you’ve learned in that time?
Gunna: I’m coming in with the same hunger. It feels like 2018 was the beginning of a new life, as far as levels.
You said when “Sold Out Dates” leaked it caused you to see your own potential. What was it about that moment that helped you?
When the song got leaked, that’s when I started paying attention to the song too. That’s when I was like, “I need to just go ahead and put this song out because it’s doing so well.” None of the people who follow my music every day even caught that song. It was just those people who were searching the web. They caught it, quick—them hackers.
How would you describe the fundamental differences between the Drip Season releases and Drip or Drown?
Drip Season is more like, I’m letting you know what I’m putting down for today’s style, right then. Drip or Drown is more like, I really do this for real—all year around. That’s why I’m taking it to a whole ‘nother level with this one. I’m going to make it more where people can see it instead of just hearing the music. I’m going to visualize everything. I want you to see what I see when I’m making the music.
You once said your sound never changes; you just enhance it. How do you measure when it’s time to level up?
I feel like Turbo helped me grow. It’s the way we just lock in. His mind is set to where he’ll start making beats to my flow and my sound. He’s not an engineer, but he knows how to record.
When we first started cooking up, it wasn’t no money there. There wasn’t no engineer I was paying for so he really sucked it up and locked in with me. But with doing that, he started knowing how I’m gonna come on in the beats he makes. We’ve done damn-near developed how I rap. I guess that’s how it enhances. There’s a bond there. He’s trying to help improve, and I’m trying to improve on his beats. When you’re both putting all the work in, it just grows.
Everybody wants a feature from Gunna now. How do you translate that if you’re working with someone you don’t have a bond with?
You gotta be the GOAT. You gotta be able to adapt. Now, some artists who are hip and know, “Put him on the hook.” They’ll send me a song and be like, “I need you on this song.” They’re like, “If I can just get him on the hook, or if I can hit Turbo up and get him on one of them vibes, that’s a key thing to do.” That’s how I ended up on “YOSEMITE.”
You just called yourself “the GOAT.” Future also called you “the GOAT,” so it has to be true, right?
You know that’s true if he said it.
How’d you feel when you caught wind that Future said you and Baby are now the GOATs of trap?
It felt good coming from the real-deal GOAT himself. Shoutout! I don’t wanna hear about it no mo.’
Tell me about being on The Wizrd. What was the recording process like?
Easy. He hit me up like, “Yo!” Me and Thug was at his studio in Atlanta, matter fact. He was in LA. Bro, we got so many songs together—us three. That’s really an album there.
That could be another album?
No cap. [Future] hit me up and said, “I’m on this Wizrd now. I got this wave for y’all. I’m finna send it over.” It was just like any other day. We always got crack like that. Always. If we ain’t locked in, he’ll be somewhere or we’ll be somewhere—especially, like, Thug. He’ll be like, “Boy, we gotta send that to Future.”
You tweeted you don’t care who coined the term “drip” because you make hits. Will we see you deviating from “drip” soon?
I’m gon’ drip forever, but I’m not going to just focus on that. That’s not going to be the title of all my albums. Drip is me. That’s my signature. I could never act like I’m going to steer away from that, but it’s more in store as far as what I can give to music that’s not just about drip.
Let’s take it back to Drip Season 2. What “Phase” would you say you’re in now?
I’m in like an underdog…
You can’t be the underdog and the GOAT. That’s not how it works.
Why you can’t? How you think the underdog get noticed? You gotta be the GOAT. They damn near put me in the top with a lot of people, but I don’t feel it yet. I feel like I’m really just getting started. But there’s a lot of people who feel like I done already did it.
What do you think it would take for you to feel like the GOAT?
I think this next project might do it.
A lot of people classify you as a motivator —for example, with the messaging is in your songs and how you encouraged Lil Baby to rap. If you’re the motivator, who motivates you?
I’m motivating myself right now, man—with all the achievements and all the fans I’m gaining and the legacy we building. It motivates me to keep going. It’s inside myself right now.
Kristin Corry is a staff writer for Noisey. Follow her on Twitter.