It ought to be plenty dark out by the time G-Eazy takes the stage at the Santa Barbara Bowl on Tuesday, April 19, and that’s just the way this rapper from the Bay Area likes it. From the beginning, when he started making music as a young teen in Berkeley, the world that matters to him has been the one that comes together at night. Whether he’s hanging with friends and getting hyphy or, as is more often the case in recent years, he’s performing in front of sold-out crowds at venues such as New York’s Terminal 5 alongside such rap idols as Lil Wayne, A$AP Ferg, and DMX, G-Eazy’s ambitions have consistently involved what goes on when lights go out.
The title of this tour, When It’s Dark Out, is also the title of his 2015 album, which debuted at number two on the iTunes pop chart when it dropped in November. With relatively little mainstream media attention, G-Eazy has nevertheless reached a huge audience, and it’s still growing. When he arrives at the Santa Barbara Bowl, he will be in between performing at the two weekends of Coachella, and on his way to many more major dates in the United States and Europe.
His appearance is the first sign that G-Eazy offers something that differs from the standard hip-hop approach. The short, slicked-back haircut that has become his signature is a big part of it, but so are the leather jacket and the white tee, along with an absence of visible tattoos. It adds up to an image of someone who’s not afraid to defy expectations, even as he studies the great rappers who have come before him for ideas and inspiration. At a toned 6’4”, and stomping around a stage set that includes a sleazy motel and a strip club while spitting lyrics about sex, drugs, and earning bank, there’s no mistaking G-Eazy for a former Disney star, even if he has captured some of the same audience that thrilled to the Justins and Britneys as recently as a year ago.
When I spoke to G-Eazy by phone last week, he was sitting backstage in Milwaukee, doing press while waiting to follow his Dark Out openers Nef the Pharaoh, Marty Grimes, and Daghe. The impression he gave was an interesting one, mixing the swagger that’s a prerequisite of the rap game with notes of pride in his own determination and persistence that sounded more like the self-image of a hard-working entrepreneur than that of a flaky performer. “Touring all the time, you end up living like a pirate,” he said in response to a question about his lifestyle, adding that “there’s a dark side to it, but it also takes a high level of commitment to make it work.” Asked about the dueling personas he portrays in the video of “I Mean It,” G-Eazy said “in that one, there’s me the rapper and there’s also me the news anchor character. I’m a Gemini, so splitting myself in two is natural for me — I’ve been this way my whole life.”
As we prepare to end the interview, G-Eazy, between sips on his ever-present pre-concert bottle of Pedialyte, reflects on how far he has come in just a few years. “Last year I was at Coachella as a fan, and this year I’ll be onstage. The last time I was in Santa Barbara was three years ago when we played Velvet Jones, and it wasn’t even sold out.” Now that’s progress.
G-Eazy plays Tuesday, April 19, at 7 p.m. at the Santa Barbara Bowl. For tickets and information, see sbbowl.com.