True success does not come without a journey, and Albanian hip-hop artist Gashi is a true exemplification of this. Having grown up with nothing, not to mention travelling and living in several countries across the world at such a young age, Gashi knows what it means to work hard for what you want in life. So it should come as no surprise that he is signed to Roc Nation, a label whose owner, Jay Z, is the epitome of what it means to grind every day to achieve your dreams.
The 28 year old’s upbringing has caused him to move locations frequently, and live in various countries and cities. So, it was interesting to hear how his experiences moulded him as an individual. “I feel like me travelling a lot has helped me, because I don’t have culture shock. I understand more now, and it’s like when you come from nothing you want everything. I don’t take things for granted because I’ve lived at the bottom and I’m still not where I want to be, but thank God I’m not where I used to be. Sometimes I have bad days, then I’ll think of the memories I have from when I was a kid in places like Libya, where my mother had to heat up the house with a stove, and we had to heat water up on the stove just to take baths, and when I think about that, I stop complaining.”
It seemed to have a subsequent influence on his sound also, as he’s most certainly one of the most versatile artists I’ve come across. “There’s nothing I can’t do. There’s not one style I can’t do, I just do whatever I want. I’m heavily influenced by Arabic music, Jamaican music, pop music, and rock music. All types of music influence my sound. So, I try to take all of that and make me, I call it gumbo music.”
Whilst doing my research I came across a recent video of his titled ‘1134’ and was confused as to why there was an abundance of baby goats in the video. He laughed and explained it was a metaphor, and that there’s also a message in the title also. “I had like 20 baby goats in the video. So, ‘1134’ backwards spells ‘hell’ and I feel that numbers are bigger than words, so when I die you’ll be able to look at that and know that I had a message. That’s why I called it ‘1134’, because I didn’t just want to write ‘hell’ and as far as the song goes, it represents my relationship with the industry, as I feel like I’ve wasted a lot of my younger years chasing this dream and sometimes I don’t appreciate enough for the things that I’ve done. GOAT stands for greatest of all time, so the reason I used baby goats is that people don’t like calling somebody great until they die at a very young age, so at the end of the video I kill myself and I become a goat.”
It kind of led me to ask about an ironic, yet seemingly embarrassing situation for G4shi during his first encounter with the man who is now his boss, Jay-Z. I had heard about a story where Jay threw his album in the trash at a book signing after he tried to cheekily sneak the disc into the book he gave Jay to sign, which I thought must have broken his spirits at the time. “So, I waited in line and I finally get to see Jay-Z. He greets me, shook my hand and asks me my name, then he opens the book and takes my CD out and throws it in the trash, then he signs the book and gives it back to me. Initially, I felt hurt, but at the same time I lwas still happy that he shook my hand, so I wasn’t upset about it at all because realistically I was expecting that to happen.
The other day I was with him, we had brunch and I got nervous so I said “It’s nice to see… I mean meet you again”, and he said, “You can only meet me once, it’s nice to see you.” So, he still makes me nervous, he’s still somebody I look up to, I’m so happy to be doing business with him, and from the first time I met him til’ now it’s been crazy. I could’ve been salty and said something crazy and gave up, but I just kept going.”
There’s a lot of emotion embedded in several of G4shi’s songs, particularly in songs like ‘Avni’. “The reason I called that song Avni is because out of all the songs I’ve made, it’s the only song my dad has liked. My music is like my child, I make it, I name it and then I send it to the world, and after all the songs I’ve made, that’s the only track he’s ever liked. So, we were on a roof top in Brooklyn getting tanned, and we’re laying there, just me and my dad, so I play the song and my dad goes “Can you play that song again?” And I’m thinking, what? That’s literally the only song he’s ever asked me to play again.
The song is basically me saying that I keep falling in and out of love whilst chasing my dreams. At the time I’d just signed a shitty deal, and my girlfriend wasn’t loving me as much as she used to because I was focused on my music and my grind, so that’s what Avni was about as a whole.”
G4shi made it clear that he likes where his brand is at now and doesn’t want to become too famous. But, I couldn’t help but wonder how he was going to control that if he keeps on improving musically, especially when being signed to a label as big a Roc Nation. “The thing with me is that I don’t like showing my face and I don’t like showing too much of me. I feel like because the world is so overly exposed, the best thing to do is be mysterious. I feel that the fans I have now are good enough for me to make a living and that’s all I care about because I never did it for money anyway, I did it for respect, I did it for the art, I did it for my family and my mum and dad.
“I don’t give a f*** about all that other stuff and I feel like the only way for me to stay relevant is by not doing wack shit, making sure I don’t sell myself, making sure I don’t just hop on anything, making sure I don’t just do any cover of a magazine, do the right one! So, after this magazine you won’t see me do every other magazine, I’m only going to do the fly shit that I think is dope and that’s it. I kind of want to be like Frank Ocean in a way, where you don’t see him a lot, but you appreciate his art and that’s all that matters.”
It led me to question what he wants from all of this, does he aspire to be the best hip-hop artist? It’s inevitable that if he gets to the stage where he’s regularly being called one of the best, his brand is going to have grown massively. “First of all, my goal is deeper than hip-hop. Hip-hop made me, it’s culture and no matter what, hip-hop will always be number one. Hip-hop moves everything, without hip-hop there’s no pop, there’s no rock, there’s no nothing. So, I love hip-hop, but what I’m saying is, the reason it’s deeper than that with me is because I am everything, and the thing is, I’m not trying to be the best hip-hop artist, I’m trying to be the best artist. Being the best artist does not mean number one because there’s m***********s on Spotify right now that have hundreds of millions of plays, but are f*****g garbage.”
He has a point too, in this day and age, when factoring in the rise and importance of digital streaming, so many variables attribute to the success of a song, it’s not solely the music. “There are so many artists that might currently be number one in their country, and when you ask people why, it’ll be for reasons like, they’ve just come out of jail, so it doesn’t mean anything to me. I’m focused on the music, and as long as I stay focused on the art, I don’t care about being the best, because I want my music to be timeless, I want people to listen to my music in 40 years and say it’s a great song. There’s not a lot of timeless s*** out there anymore and that’s the problem.”
G4shi wears his heart on his sleeve, which is a quality that is most certainly reflected in his music, particularly in his project STAIRS. He spoke on what he was going through when creating that project, and what we can expect from the follow-up, STAIRS2. “When I made STAIRS I was homeless in LA. I saw every single friend I had take off, all my friends were successful and famous, I see people that I know on billboards, yet I have no money. But I realised life is like stairs because it’s so hard going up, but it’s so easy coming down. So, when I made STAIRS, I just did a bunch of stuff that I liked, but with STAIRS2 it’s actual storytelling, it’s about a rapper who gets stuck in a time machine and is forced to make 80s music, that’s what STAIRS2 is about. If you don’t understand music, then STAIRS2 is not for you.”
Photography: Niklas Haze
Stylist: Kirubel Belay
Hair & makeup: Alena Steinbrink
Production: Lilian Büechner
Interview Via House of Solo