It's safe to say that 2012 was G-Eazy's year: The Oakland native went on three tours and released a new album. And soon he'll embark on another tour — his first time headlining — with fellow rapper Skizzy Mars. All the VIP tickets for his 33-city tour have already sold out, and so have many of the individual shows.
That's fairly impressive for a rapper who just graduated from college and was playing community centers as recently as two years ago. But despite how simple G-Eazy (né Gerald Earl Gillum) has made his success look, he has precisely calculated his career thus far.
"At the end of the day, it's a fun job, but it's still a job," said the young emcee on the eve of his recent homecoming show at The New Parish. "The first tour I ever went on, I was the one who wanted to party and go hard every single night. After a week of that, your voice is gone and you're putting on a shitty show because you're exhausted."
For G-Eazy, 2012 was the year things had to come together. After graduating from Loyola University in New Orleans in June of 2011, he decided he needed to make his music career happen. He set a lot of goals for himself, but reached them guardedly, as he never wanted to achieve success too quickly.
In general, musicians tend to achieve two kinds of acclaim: One is the spectacular, but temporary, kind — the kind you can't necessarily make a living off of. And while G-Eazy clinched this type by opening for acts like Lil Wayne and Drake, he still longed for the second kind of fame — the kind that can turn his passion into a long-lasting career, not just an extracurricular activity.
So he supplemented his degree in music industry studies with alternative forms of education: He studied other up-and-coming rappers who were a little further along in their careers than him. "For kids graduating college these days, teachers aren't necessarily telling you how to set yourself up," G-Eazy said. "I wanted to figure out what steps I could take to close my performance gaps — what were the missing pieces they had that I didn't have."
He figured out a rough, but by no means foolproof, formula: Build a fanbase and then make money from touring, selling merch, and from iTunes sales. He knew that creating a fanbase would require him to release a free mixtape that everyone would talk about, and put out some good videos. "At the end of the day, if you put out a body of work that's worth talking about, then you see it finally start to grow legs on its own," he said.
As a model for doing it right, he looked to LA rapper Dom Kennedy, whose mixtapes helped build momentum for the release of his 2012 albums Yellow Album and Young Nation. Kennedy's song "My Type of Party" was popular enough that he was able to tour on the strength of that track alone, G-Eazy explained. G-Eazy also took notes on how the Seattle rapper Macklemore slowly stoked the fire for his 2012 debut album, The Heist, which was released to explosive hype.
"It's an interesting ballpark that we play in," he said. "Back in the day, if you were signed to a major label, you'd have to sell a million records to make any money. If you're an independent artist, you can sell a couple thousand records and be set. You can do it all yourself, and market them online for free."
All of G-Eazy's note-taking paid off: After playing every date of the 2012 Vans Warped Tour, he and his crew looked at the books and raised their eyebrows at what they found: They had actually made money. Without pause, they jumped on Hoodie Allen's Excellent Adventure Tour and spent another five months on the road. Then his team took all the money it earned from that tour and poured it into its Plastic Dreams Tour.
"The light at the end of the tunnel was coming, but it was still ahead of us," G-Eazy said. When he and his team finally got home from the road, they received the iTunes sales reports for G-Eazy's album Must Be Nice, which was released in late September. The rapper said the numbers allowed everyone to "breathe a big sigh of relief."
"This is not to say that we made it or that it all panned out, but we hit a coasting point," G-Eazy said. "We had gotten the plane off the ground so to speak." When he says "we," he's referring to his six-person team: him, his two managers, his drummer, his merch guy (who is his best friend from childhood), and his video director.
Even G-Eazy's mom, Oakland artist Suzanne Olmsted, is in on the act. She uses her Twitter account (@olmstedsuz) to retweet tweets from her son's fans and to promote his shows, most recently: "G-EAZY's show sold out at The New Parish in Oakland — a full 7 weeks b/fore the show! S/0 to G comin back to The Bay!"
Luckily, mom works for free.