Blackbear on new EP, Mental Health & Fatherhood

At 25 and probably at his own pace during his career spanning nearly a decade, G Herbo looks at his life with gratitude and pride. Over the past year, the Chicago native celebrated his silver anniversary, got engaged to Taina Williams, welcomed his second son and recently released his fourth studio album, 25.

However, speaking by phone with GRAMMY.com a day before the project’s release, Herbo reflected on a time in his life when this was not the case.

“I wouldn’t say I didn’t enjoy life, but I wasn’t afraid to die,” he said of his childhood in Chicago’s Terror Town neighborhood. “It’s crazy, but when I was 25… I just enjoyed life a lot more.”

PTSD, Herbo’s third album released last year, was largely affected by her mental health journey after being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. On 25, Herbo continues his gritty, visceral story about his past, but with a new sense of fulfillment and hope as he reflects on who he is at 25: a successful artist, fiancé and father of two.

Here, Herbo talks about the impact of his associates and his family on 25, his long-awaited joint album with Lil bibby, upcoming mental health initiatives and more. Read the full interview below.

Your album is called 25 and you turned 25 last year. What does this age mean to you?

This is a special number for me because turning 25, where I come from, is a milestone. Many of my closest friends didn’t live to be 25; some of them didn’t live to be 18 or 21. My little brother [Lil Greg] passed away before his 25th birthday, so nothing in life is promised.

It’s crazy, but when I turned 25, I instantly felt more mature. I just enjoyed life a lot more. I’ve been making music for about 10 years now, I started doing stuff when I was 16, and all the trials and tribulations I went through shaped me to be the man I am today. ‘hui. I experienced a lot of emotions while making this album and I hope my fans will enjoy it. I want to motivate everyone who listens to me to think about life a little differently and to make plans, because I didn’t get there by chance. It was a lot of work, a lot of adversity. 25 is kind of like an OG in a way, but I’m still young. I have so much ahead of me to accomplish. So that’s why name my album [25] was important.

You have taken several steps over the past year; you are engaged, you are now the father of two children. How did being engaged and daddy influence this album?

It inspired me a lot, especially as a father. I wake up every day and it’s not just about me. You can’t be selfish when you have kids, they depend so much on you, and I have to sacrifice and take a lot of time away from my family. So it’s about creating balance and understanding. It’s no longer about what I want to do or what to do. I am inspired and completely motivated [by them] in all aspects of my life.

Your son Yosohn’s voice is heard on “Cold World”. What made you want to do this?

This song is actually one of my favorites on the album and my son, you know, he’s growing up. I just asked him questions and he was able to do it right off the bat, it wasn’t scripted. He’s still in the studio with me. We were just relaxing, and I wanted people to have this rawness of: I have a son. I have a life that depends on me. Hearing his voice over there around the stuff I’m talking about gives you that surrealism.

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You have a lot of dope features on this album. You and Polo G still have great chemistry, how does it feel to be together in the booth or to send verses back and forth?

Most of the time, we’re in the studio together. He’s my boy, so it comes out naturally. We’re both great at the lyrics, so I feel like we feed off each other’s energy and talent when we’re in the studio. Even though we send records back and forth, we still do our best because we know we’re two of those artists who are going to fight every time.

We have a real friendship and I think that’s the beauty of our working relationship – we’re nice to each other. We go into the studio, we chop it up, it’s not always music with us. When we rap together, it’s always Chicago. We are aiming for what we know the people back home are going to like.

How did you bond with Rowdy Rebel?

Me and Rowdy have been locked up for a while. He’s a good guy. We used to cut him before he left to do his time and I always supported his music. I did a “Computer [Freestyle]”in 2015, and we have a lot of mutual friends. As soon as I registered [“Drill”], he’s the first person I thought of, like, “I have to put Rowdy on this record.” So I reached out and he came to the studio. He was literally out of prison by then.

Do you see yourself collaborating with Bobby Shmurda?

Oh sure, that’s a given. I play with Bobby too, so we’re locked in. I think it’s more about all of us getting into the studio at the same time. We are both very busy at the moment. But I really want to do something with both on the same track. It would be crazy.

“I Don’t Wanna Die” is such a punchy way to start the album. How did you feel when you were doing this song?

Southside, he kind of challenged me to do stuff like that. He produced it and when he sent it to me he said, “You must be going crazy about this.” I think the sample and the kids singing “I don’t wanna die” on the beat kind of got me talking about the raw harshness of being on the streets and getting through that.

There was a time in my life when I put my life on the line over and over again. I wouldn’t say I didn’t enjoy life, but I wasn’t afraid to die. Feeling this and feeling what I’m feeling now, I must have hit these two brains because I’m not the same person I was when I was 15, 16, 17, 18. So I just wanted to put it all on one track and make people realize that life is real here, people are really losing their lives day to day.

On “Demands”, you rap about racism, having to grow up young, trauma. This is another powerful lead.

It certainly is. Normally, I don’t really rap on trendy stuff, I just go into the studio and say what I think. I think that’s why my music is the way it is. I speak from the heart every time. So I didn’t go into the studio thinking I was going to make one of these records. It also had a lot to do with production, Southside did too. Much of the production of this album made me talk about different things.

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Earlier this year, Lil Bibby hinted that your long-awaited common project No limitation is on the way. Can you give us details on that?

You know, Bibby is really indecisive when it comes to music. He’s one of my favorite rappers, he’ll always be one of my favorite rappers. This is another person where our friendship is so strong, we haven’t really had to establish a working relationship. We grew up together, he’s my brother.

We will be in the studio cutting it out, remembering it. So we really have to shut ourselves up and say, “Let’s record this project.” Lock in for 30 days, or as long as it takes. It’s one of those projects that I have to do, for the fans, for the culture. Bibby has a lot to do, he’s in CEO mode. So I have to drag him to the studio.

It’s true he always talks about WRLD juicethe next album of, too.

Yes, he’s doing what he needs to do with the label. There is definitely a Juice WRLD project coming up. Next time you hear Bibby on a real album or project, it’ll probably be the two of us. I think our project will be the first thing he publishes.

At the same time as the launch of your Swervin ‘through the stress initiative last year, you also bought your old primary school to transform it into a youth center. How’s it going?

Yeah, we bought one of the 50 [Chicago Public] The schools have been closed and we are in the second phase of [transitioning] that now. Once it’s all up and running, we’ll have psychiatrists, therapists, someone these kids can talk to every day. After I started Swervin ‘Through Stress, I wanted to put these resources back into the community where these kids feel comfortable, to have someone every day who will actually listen and help find solutions to improve your situation. I’m very excited. I can’t wait for the installation to be completed and for us to actually be able to welcome these kids there.

When you first started in therapy, was it a foreign experience for you?

Absolutely, it was something new. As kids, we didn’t really feel like there was someone we could open up to. There were people in the community who cared and lent a helping hand, but it was not something that was normalized. It was foreign to me, I didn’t grow up like this, and when I started therapy I had to get used to it.

In addition to connecting with mental health resources, is music therapeutic for you?

Yes, that was always my first form of therapy. Honestly, making music has helped me get through so many different dark times. When I started making music, I wrote raps for myself and for people who understood me and could relate to. I didn’t really think it was going to resonate with the world like it did. This has been my biggest blessing as I have been able to take care of my family with something that has really helped me. I started going to the studio with stuff that I wanted to get out of my chest, but couldn’t communicate verbally, and it turned into something beautiful.

Chicago hip hop has suffered several tragedies in the past year; the city lost King Von, FBG Duck, Lil Greg. Are such losses one of the reasons you stand up for sanity?

Absoutely. Von, it really touched me. All the trauma and generational trauma that we go through in Chicago, it’s normalized. It’s so normal to lose people and for people to die at such a young age. My music has always been the product of it. When we are children or teenagers and take to the streets nine times out of 10, it’s because that’s all we know. We were taught as children that this was all we had.

Last year you were indicted on charges relating to a suspected wire fraud scheme. In “No Jail Time” and “Statement” you talk about the affair and the rumors on social media, would you like to talk more about it?

Of course I am innocent. I have a feeling on the internet when you feed that stuff and try to prove your point, it just makes it worse. And 90% of internet users don’t really understand the situation. So like I said, music is my way of expressing myself, and with social media, I just take the good with the bad.

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