“This shit just sounds deluxe.”

GUNNA
Digital Cover #1 August 2020

Text: Octavia Bürgel 

“This water?” Gunna teases, toying the strings of diamonds draped around his neck. “Or, like, this water?” He is grinning, holding a bottle of Poland Spring up to the camera before taking a sip. We are meeting for the first time over Zoom – the 2020 standard – and the 27 year old has just succinctly diffused a run-on question about liquid and metaphor. “Drip Too Hard,” the lead single on Drip Harder, 2018’s collaborative album with protégé Lil Baby, spent 35 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, and by June 2020 Gunna had surfaced as number one on the chart’s Artist 100 list.  

Over beats that are as sonically polished as chrome plating, Gunna’s voice sounds sateen and assured on his latest album, WUNNA. The Atlanta native’s second full-length release is the first of his seven projects to omit the word “drip” from it’s title. But WUNNA doesn’t mean the end of the Drip Season or Drip or Drown mixtapes. If anything, Gunna’s only getting more liquid. 

“Now it’s like: Who made this beat? What you talkin’ about? How’s that production? What are we going to follow up with? You’re thinking more, followin’ through,” he says. In this case, the question of a follow-up found its answer in the form of a deluxe album – increasingly popular in the Covid era, when revenue from live events has evaporated. Released last week, WUNNA (Deluxe) inserts eight additional tracks into the lineup, with features from Lil Uzi Vert and Future, and the album’s third collaboration with Young Thug, “One Watch.”   

The video for “Dollaz On My Head,” another Thug-embellished track, is directed by Spike Jordan, Gunna’s right hand when it comes to his visual output. When we started talking to Jordan back in May, the photographer suggested we double up and shoot our digital exclusive on set, behind the scenes. “I wanted to create the reverse Get Out,” Jordan says. “Instead of the white people owning us, we hypnotize them with our shit. ‘Dollaz’ is symbolic of how we transcended everything against us to make a world for ourselves. You step into Wunna’s world and forget your own.” 

Wunna’s world is one of many in the Gunna galaxy. The album takes its name from the artist’s Gemini twin persona – his Mr. Hyde. The cover features a puppet doll rendering of Gunna as Vitruvian Man hovering over a natal chart – on the deluxe version the doll has traded a placid expression for a toothy grin – and promotion for the release included several rounds of “Wunnascopes”: predictions produced in collaboration with social media sensation @TheHoodHealer.

When Gunna appears on my computer screen, smoking a blunt in his Los Angeles studio, subdued after a day on set with Spike, I know exactly what I’d like to ask about first: 

Geminis are very successful people, especially, it seems, as rappers: Biggie, Tupac, Andre 3000 – the list goes on and on. In what ways do Gunna and Wunna embody the Gemini twins, and what do you make of the astrological company you’re in?

The first thing that comes to my mind is probably talent. Good for gabbin’, people who can speak, who can talk. We got a gift. A lot of them who we know today, all those names you just said, it was different how they went about it – even if they died for it. Biggie and Tupac died for music, damn near. Y’all was the voices and then y’all left, know what I’m saying? So y’all music gon’ always stand. I feel like it’s a lot of legends, Geminis. 

I found out the difference just through being. Being Wunna and being Gunna, that’s how I found out. I feel like Gunna is more chill, and Wunna is a bit more spontaneous, a little bit outgoing. 

I had been thinking about it as, like, the part of you that ‘wunna’ do something. The part of you that’s manifesting. 

It is, though! That’s so crazy, it is. 

Do you know about your Saturn return in astrology? It feels really applicable to the theme of this album. 

Nah. I started really tapping in with astrology when I started doing the album. I knew what my zodiac sign was, but I didn’t really know the tactics. 

Your Saturn return is supposedly when the planets are realigned in the same way that they were when you were born. It represents a personal transformation that happens in your late 20s, early 30s. It seems really timely, especially with you being 27, and that age being really cosmic, especially for musicians. 

That’s hard. When you be reading, like – stuff kinda makes sense though! I really do be feeling like a different person sometimes. 

I want to ask you about the Justice for George Floyd benefit show that you live streamed from LA at the end of May. It was originally planned as a remote show to support the album, but you pivoted to a fundraising event after the extrajudicial murder of George Floyd. How have the events of the last months affected you?

A lot, a lot. When I drop an album, I come with shit. It comes with a strategy. It’s not just an album; I got shit that follow up, that follow up, that follow up. I couldn’t follow up how I wanted to, because my world was upside down. You know, with what’s been going on in our community, you gotta stop everything right then and there, especially me, with the position I’m in, this shit new. I ain’t never been here. We was fighting, it was going big, and the police was really killin’ us, but we ain’t had no worth and no voice. Shit, you don’t know how you’re gonna really speak on it, or what you’re gonna say, or how you gon’ do it, know what I mean? That was different, so you gotta go about it different. We had to transition. We got the number one album though, so it worked out for us. But it’s a lot more work to be done.

You performed with a live band for that show, which I thought was really exciting to see from a trap artist. Do you plan to do that more going forward?

From now on, damn near. More when we go on tour though. But if you was hip, I was already goin’ with the guitar. I signed a guitarist who actually did different loops that we performed, so I was bringing him on the road with me anyway. But now I’m tapping in more with my vocals, taking out the vocals in the song. We’re gettin’ better and better, so I see myself doing this a lot. And my voice – it really sounds good! I really feel like it sounds like me and like the songs, so I wanna keep it going like that.

I couldn’t follow up how I wanted to, because my world was upside down. You know, with what’s been going on in our community, you gotta stop everything right then and there…

I also noticed during that live show that you were wearing a leather jacket with Mick Jagger on it, and you have a song called “Rockstar Bikers & Chains” –  

You sayin’ I’ve been giving you “rockstar”?

You’re definitely giving me “rockstar.”

That’s dope.

It feels like you’re stepping into that role though, with this album. Understandably, you seem pretty guarded about your personal life, but on “Do Better,” “Far,” and “Don’t Play Around,” you get a little more open about your experiences. Is that something we should expect more from you in the future?

Yeah. But it ain’t guarded; it’s just I ain’t always been no known rapper. When you start being known, all your shit just be known, know what I’m saying? I’m not a private person, but I’m like, “I’ll show you shit when I wanna show it.” Shit, that’s just how I’ve been. But you want your fans to know you, so I feel like that’s what I’m doing more now. I’m trying to tap in more, let my fans really know who I am and what I’ve really been through.

What can you tell me about WUNNA (Deluxe)

Shit, Deluxe is damn near another album. We got damn near 10 songs on that shit. Great songs though. That’s why it’s not even on no rushed shit, ‘cause I already know it’s gon’ hit different. I knew I wanted to do a deluxe [album] before though – I know I ain’t put out a lot of music. I had some spaced out time where I was doing a lot of shows and I ain’t have time to really focus. I felt like there was a time span where my fans needed more music – to this day y’all really need more music. A lot, a lot, ‘cause I got, like, years and years of it. 

Were the songs that you published on the deluxe album finished at the time of the initial roll out, or are they more recent? 

I had maybe three or four finalized, and then the rest of them started coming right after the album. We were in the studio earlier today – every day – but sometimes I might go home and come back. Shit. I’m rapping, so I might come up with some new stuff and put that on the album. I did come up with new songs after the album that I was just like, “I know this is going on the deluxe. This shit just sounds deluxe.”

Gunna wears Dries Van Noten shirt and pants.

“Skybox,” the album’s first single, has a claymation element in the video. What was some of your visual inspiration?

It was basically Spike Jordan and my manager’s idea. I just wanted to be in a hot balloon. That’s all I told them. I wanted to be smoking in the hot balloon, like, getting high, in a skybox. So they were like, “Aight, let’s see if we can do that.” We wound up finding the hot balloon; it was just there in that lil’ village, off the grid. It was all right there. And then I guess they went off of that and made the movie. It just made sense. Their idea was the doll, and it’s legendary, so we moved on with it. It wasn’t no, “Imma use the doll for this thing,” but more like, “damn, the doll is so cool. Shit, let’s just use it.”

You were shooting the “Dollaz on my Head” video yesterday – how did it go? 

We drippy in that motherfucker. It’s saucy, like, real deal, like, nasty. It’s fly. Hype for you to see it.

Yeah, I’ll learn something from somebody. That’s what I feel like I’m here to do. Just think about our elders. If they don’t learn how to use no iPhone, they ain’t gon’ be up at eight.

What’s it like having Young Thug as a mentor? What’s the process when you’re deciding what sounds good – is he meticulous? 

Man, Thug. Goddamn. This nigga. He just enhances shit. You just saw him – he walked in and walked off. I thought that was funny. I feel like when we check out other artists’ shit, he’s giving that pure ear. We gon’ give it a really pure ear to see if it can sell. I feel like that’s how we go about everything: we’re gon’ really try to give it a shot if you believe. With everything – if niggas make clothes, Black designers, bro, we on all that. Especially now – bring all that shit. That’s how I feel like we are when it comes to judging or giving niggas our opinions. People want our outlook. 

I’m just a positive vibe playa. I’m giving vibes off top if you’re around me. As long as you ain’t no judgmental person when you look at somebody. ‘Cause some people look at me like I look so goddamn mean or some shit. So I don’t go by none of that. Looks will be deceiving, you know? 

You seem like someone who is open to learning from other people.

Yeah, I’ll learn something from somebody. That’s what I feel like I’m here to do. Just think about our elders. If they don’t learn how to use no iPhone, they ain’t gon’ be up at eight.

That moment when: "Man, [Young] Thug. Goddamn. This nigga. He just enhances shit. You just saw him – he walked in and walked off. I thought that was funny."

How do you feel about technology? Are you skeptical, or would you say these are the tools of the future?

I’m widdit. I wanna live like the Jetsons, where everything flies and we don’t even drive cars. We’re gonna get to that time. This shit be real life. I feel like we create for a reason; we build off of something that we already started. iPhone 20 done built off the iPhone 19, know what I’m saying?

Kids around the world are making variations of the trap sound, reconfiguring the building blocks of production to their environments or cultural backgrounds. In the past, it would have taken way longer for a style of music to spread around the world like that.

For sure. Generation Technology. Apps. People might have thought that it was quick for me to blow up, but I’ve been rapping for a long time. At the same time, it’s not that I got big fast; it’s that the level I got to was fast. People may get a couple hit songs, but it don’t go all the way to that worldwide international level. 

I feel like we create for a reason; we build off of something that we already started.

It seems like travel is something that’s important to you, and I feel like I could even hear it in the texture of WUNNA. Some of the instrumentation really sounds like it was inspired by music from all over the world.

For sure. I’m traveling, doing music. These are places I’m really touching. I ain’t just booking these places and going out there and shooting no video. I’m really active out here, so I’m giving you the real deal lifestyle shit. And I want people to see it. You want to look back like, “Damn bro, we was in Australia.” I did Australia last New Year’s – I came in the year early. Of course I didn’t see any of this coming. Now it’s time for a whole ‘nother one.

Have you spent any time in Berlin? 

Yeah! You prolly don’t know but there’s an artist from there named, uh, Ufo! His name Ufo. I linked with him when I was in Berlin and shit – did you know I did an overseas tour? And then I did a bigger overseas tour. That nigga cool as hell. He’s the goddamn Berlin me. Playa, know what I’m saying? Yeah, I remember linking with him, and then I had a show out there and I brought him out. Folks was goin’ crazy for him. We ended up going to the studio after the show, did two or three songs. One of ‘em came out. And he ‘bout to put out another song that he just sent to me. That shit cool too. 

That’s dope, I love that you had that international connection. 

It’s a vibe over there. I feel like in certain spots it feels like you’re somewhere else, but you still can do what you wanna do. Not everybody knows you, know what I’m saying? It’s gotta be a certain spot where they know you gon’ be there, and that’s when you might see your fans. But you could be somewhere and you’re just there, enjoying the area, walkin’ down the street. Shit a vibe overseas. 

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