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Louisville Rapper EST Gee Lets the Music do the Talking

It’s a sunny day in New York City, but the lights are dim inside the restaurant Jue Lan in Manhattan, a go-to for industry dinners and celebrations, which may explain the casino lighting that permeates certain corners of the establishment. EST Gee and his two-person team aren’t celebrating in the upstairs suite they’ve booked, though the table’s platter of shrimp, oxtail tacos, and fruity-looking drinks looks like a Rick Ross lyric. 

The room is windowless, which I didn’t realize was a symbol of what’s about to take place over the course of the interview. The premise of the album release interview is to get a peek inside an artist’s world since their last project. But EST Gee, whose album I Never Felt Nun dropped Friday, is remarkably discerning about how much he reveals about himself. He’s not rude, but measured in a way that affirms his comments to me that, “you’ll never regret being quiet.” 

What he refrains from expressing in conversation spills into a growing catalog that’s bolstered his reputation as one of the rap game’s most dependable sources for steely street stories over ominous, trap-based production. I Never Felt Nun is the successor to March 2020’s Ion Feel Nun and December 2020’s Still Don’t Feel Nun. Those two albums, buoyed by songs like, “Rotimi,” “Young Shiners,” and “Ball Forever” sparked a bidding war that ended when he signed to Yo Gotti’s CMG records, becoming a key figure of a crew that now includes noteworthy acts like Gotti, Moneybagg Yo, 42 Dugg, Mozzy, and fast-rising “FNF” star GloRilla. Last year, EST Gee dropped Bigger Than Life Or Death and a December deluxe version, with “Lick Back,” “5500 Degrees,” and “Real As It Gets” with Lil Baby becoming his first Billboard top 100 charters. 

The 28-year-old rapper released his first project as Big Gee in 2017, before switching his name to represent his EST crew, which stands for Everybody Shines Together. His rise to rap stardom was almost halted in 2019 when he was shot five times while driving from a video shoot. He’s said that he thought he was going to die, and was prepared to roll out of the car before it veered off the highway — and his body was too mangled for an open casket funeral. But luckily, his brother assured him he’d be fine, prayed for him on the way to the hospital, and he’s since recovered from his injuries, though with a slight visual impairment from being shot in the left eye.

Despite his brush with death, he doesn’t see his experiences as anything unique. “Regular niggas is targeted every day,” he calmly says, as I feel his eyes peering at me through his Black shades. “Regular niggas get robbed for their jewelry every day. That shit don’t be on Instagram…Is it still sad? The shit ain’t [perceived as] sad, it’s only sad when it’s a rapper.”

He’d rather have fans meet the music where they’re at instead of telling them what the major themes are. But he did offer one message he wanted listeners to take away from the project: “Just keep going. ‘It get better. It’s hard, but it get better.’“ He’s a personal testimonial to that truth. 

EST Gee talked to Rolling Stone about his new album, his creativity, and how he’s been consistent throughout his career.

I saw a Tweet like, “EST Gee is one of the only rappers I would listen to a 30-track record from.” How does it feel to be recognized as one of the most consistent artists out there right now?
Just doing what I’m doing, doing what I’m supposed to do, I think.

What do you think drives your creativity?
Just more to do, more to speak on, more stories that need to be told.

What do you think are some of those stories that need to be told on this project?
Just keep going, like, “It get better. It’s hard, but it get better.“ I think that’s the thing throughout the whole project, you got to stay focused.

Do you think there are any other major themes that are present on the project?
I don’t know, because what I put in, it might not be what the listener get out, so I don’t want to just tag it. That’s why I like just rapping whole bodies of works so you can see what I’m on, not just one way. People get it how they get it. I don’t want to say what’s for who because you might get something different than somebody else.

It seems like this is one of your longest projects since El Toro in 2019, so I was wondering, what made you decide to go with 21 tracks for this project?
It just happened like just recording. I feel like it’s what needed to be on there. It was the same thing back then. It was like the same position I was in back then, and the city’s like same position. I’m in right now, like deja vu.

What was the creative process like for you? I know some artists create a lot of songs, dozens of songs, and choose. What was that like for you with this one?
I just try to… I don’t know, whenever I feel like it’s done, it’s done, so I just be recording. Kind of stack the songs up and I listen to it a couple times, I might throw it out, give it to somebody, anything. But whenever I feel like it was done, it was done, and I felt like it was done at 21.

I know you referenced feeling like you have more stories to tell. What do you think are some of the other things that separated this project from your previous work?
It’s way more stuff that went on, so it’s just the next chapter. It’s kind of like the summary of that feeling, like them other two projects, those them kind of stories, it’s the end of it. Whatever that was bothering me and I’m letting that go. It’s [me] coming to the realization this is what it is and this is how it’s going to be.

When you say coming to that realization of “this is what it is,” do you mean that in the context of being an artist, your everyday life, or both?
Both. I’ve been accepting myself for who I was, but I think the world accepting it, or maybe not, but coming to the realization that it is what it is, you can’t do nothing about it. You can’t undo nothing I done did, and it’s going to be hard to redo shit I done did, so just coming to the realization this is what it is.

How did “The Realest” with Jeezy come together?
Jeezy wanted to do something with me and everybody knows Jeezy’s Jeezy, so just it’s time to put something [with] me and him. I think it was the right time. I came to the studio and played the song for him and then he sent it back to me.

When I heard the beat, it sounded like classic Jeezy. When he asked for a song, did you have “The Realest” in mind already?
It was already outro. I was already set on what songs I wanted on there. I wasn’t planning on having too many features. That song had a little bit of a more open beat on it, and I feel like he was going to sound good on it. 

How did you feel when you first heard his verse?
[Like] it’s just hard. 

You and Future collaborated on “Shoot It Myself.” Can you speak to the musical chemistry y’all have together?
He just understand me. I grew up listening to Future. The way he is [on the mic], he’s exactly like that in real life. I respect that and he respects me. That’s one of the people I could sit in the studio with. I don’t be sitting in the studio with niggas, [but] I could sit around with Future. 

Have you talked about potentially doing a collaboration project or anything like that with him?
We got a lot of songs. We just… Yeah. I got to build myself. Future’s already legendary. I’m trying to get myself [to that level] to where it makes sense for him, I don’t know. I don’t talk about shit like that.

I feel you. I’ve seen where you said the same thing about Jack Harlow, about wanting to get to where he’s at before you felt comfortable with a collaboration project. 
Yeah, I just don’t want to make it like no chore for them or chore for whoever. 

Yeah, and I know you referenced having potentially a project down the line with Jack Harlow. Do you have any updates on that?
We got a lot of songs. I’m not tripping. He’s not tripping. We both got stuff we trying to do.

Do you feel like at this point, you’re where you want to be as an artist, and do you know what that point is for you?
I don’t feel no difference. I don’t know. I don’t think about where I wanna be as an artist just in general.

So you really don’t feel any different than when you first started in your career?
No, I feel the same. I do the same shit. 

With this title, I Never Felt Nun, will this be the end of the Felt Nun trilogy, or do you think there could be more projects playing off of that theme?
It’s the last one for that series.

And so I read another previous piece a while back, you were talking about carrying mystery. I was wondering why you feel like having mystery is important for an artist?
I don’t even know if it’s [just] for an artist, [or moreso] in general. Just don’t let everybody know your business, they’ll use it against you. Say as least amount as you need to. Don’t say too much. You’ll never regret being quiet.

Yeah, is that something you ever had to learn the hard way, or you just learned it yourself and never really had to?
I have always been observant, like when I was a kid I didn’t talk a lot.

Do you feel like your success has motivated or changed the way the Louisville rap scene is operating?
Yeah, it just lets you see you can do it. They know me. So, where I was standing at, a lot of people standing at [now], so they know they can get on. That was important to see. Because Jack, yeah, he from Louisville, but he from a different place, different demographic. So people just like me, [my success] motivates them. They created a scene where there wasn’t no scene before and there’s a scene now.

You always hear the adage of “don’t sign with an artist,” but I feel like Yo Gotti is an exception to that. Can you speak to what you feel like makes him a great leader?
If you from where you from, then you know that it’s rare to get that far. So, you lead by example, so like what it is now. If you one of them type of people who need’s a nigga to rile you up, get you going, then…[gestures]. But if you just need to see how it look, or see what you need to do, or what you should have did, [Gotti is someone you can look at] like the ultimate version of a street nigga — or an impoverished person period. A person that don’t come from too much, this is a perfect example of staying with your friends, with your people, lifting your people up. They get their own thing going. He lead by example.

So do you feel like being that self-starter is a common trait amongst all the other artists on CMG?
We all do our shit how we do it. I don’t really trying to get in nobody’s business. Everybody respect each other in this. It’s CMG, but I don’t be trying to get in anybody’s business. I know everybody’s doing good, so shit, whatever they doin’, it’s working.

I wanted to ask about a line that I heard on “Shoot It Myself” with Future. You reference, “I’ve never been this up before. I’m paranoid as ever.” How does that paranoia affect how you move and the decisions you make on a daily basis?
I made that song last year. March ‘21. So everything was a little new. We made four or five songs that night.

How do you reconcile with that feeling now? Do you feel that less or more so now?
I thought it was paranoia before, but it’s just being on point. I’m more on point than I’ve ever been. 

A lot of people say that rappers are a bigger target than ever. Do you agree with the notion that rap is an inherently violent profession?
No, I don’t think so.

What do you think are some of the factors behind some of the violent, unfortunate headlines we’ve been seeing lately?
Shit, people die every day. It’s the world. I don’t think it’s as much people as you think. How many people die every day? There’s a lot of people that die every day. So one of them being a rapper every now and then?

Yeah, but then there are the stories you hear where an artist might be targeted or somebody’s trying to — 
Regular niggas is targeted every day. Regular niggas get robbed for their jewelry every day. That shit don’t be on Instagram or no… Is it still sad? The shit ain’t [perceived as] sad, it’s only sad when it’s a rapper. It’s the circle of life.

With feeling like you have to be on point, do you feel like that’s just an extension of your previous experience in the streets?
If you’re a man, you supposed to be focused and sharp. I don’t think it got nothin to do with street shit or nothin’. If I worked at wherever, I’d be on point wherever.

Have you been able to speak to 42 Dugg at all during his incarceration? If so, what were those conversations like?
Jail is jail. I talk to Dugg all the time. We don’t talk about no jail shit. It’s “when you get out, [do] what do you got to do. Make sure you’re ready, when you get out, hit the ground running. Get it back going.”

What do you want your musical legacy to be?
That it wasn’t never nobody like me. It can seem like it, but it ain’t. And I think the further we go, the more we’re going to see that.

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