Hip-hop’s lineage in the Southern United States is nothing short of immaculate. Atlanta, Houston, New Orleans, Memphis, and Miami have all rightfully attained legendary status as places known to be hot breeding grounds for numerous trends and cutting edge movements within the genre. But outside of these major locales, there are several less heralded southern cities that have long had talented rap artists working on the fringes of these larger waves. Nashville, Dallas, Washington D.C., and Jackson are just some of the notable areas where outsider hip-hop is thriving in the hands of a wide scope of MCs and home producers.
For roughly the past half decade, Jackson, Mississippi-based rapper and producer Gios4ma (pronounced “Gio-sama”) has quietly been crafting an eclectic sound of his own. As a young teen, he plugged into the world of hip-hop and the culture surrounding it largely through internet, following artists through their online presence as much as their music. His first raps surfaced within the confines of a Rap Genius chat room, where he and a group of increasingly close online friends swapped home-recorded freestyles and conversed over their favorite songs and mixtapes. In the years since, not much has changed.
Gios4ma, who commonly goes by “Gio,” is reserved in nature. Hence, it’s no surprise that much of his output to this point has been recorded at home with selective input from any outside sources save a handful of collaborations with close peers. On the surface, his music brings to mind both the introspective style of prominent abstract spitters like Navy Blue and the unabashed abrasiveness of experimental rappers like Zelooperz. The lush, lo-fi feel of his production, which is often a grab bag of manipulated samples, disparate synth progressions, big basslines, and other unique soundbites, offers a wide range of moods and textures. As a compliment, Gio’s rapping is equally mercurial. He has a solid grasp on delivering his lyrics with a casual, laid back cadence, while also being able to manipulate his verses into more dissonant vocal arrangements.
The evolution of Gios4ma’s artistry can be seen over the course of his first few releases, which cover a vast terrain of sounds, experimenting with everything from more subdued rap styles to glitchier electronic sound palettes. His latest album, the newly released Go Live, is an amalgamation of all these styles and then some. Written and recorded predominantly during the pandemic, Go Live isn’t only the most realized Gios4ma album to date, it’s completely unlike any project the young rapper-producer has ever made. Despite a run time of just 20 minutes, the album fits a whopping 23 MCs, producers, and additional vocalists into the tracklist, which includes notable names like Chi-town phenom Supa Bwe and rising DMV rapper Ciscero, as well as a slew of Mississippi-based artists from within Gio’s orbit.
Go Live clearly marks a diversion from the introverted experimentalism of previous Gios4ma projects, but the album’s flashy features and extensive guest list are by no means at the expense of the music’s quality. If anything, the bold tracklist signifies that, at this point in time, not only is Gio more than capable of branching out into more spontaneous collaborations, but his skills have blossomed to where they translate well outside of his own artistic vision. Just listen to the glitzy Flywalker-produced jam “sunstaring,” which recalls the sultry soul sound of Slum Village era Jay Dee, or the NAYR-assisted banger “hitstick,” where Gio and Ciscero trade bars over an irreparably fun, bass-heavy beat. Both tracks offer a fresh glimpse of Gio adapting to unfamiliar sounds, while also meshing seamlessly with his featured acts.
Elsewhere on the album, the vibrant backdrop of “goodscents” has echoes of a Madvillain deep cut, with Vitamin Cea and Dré Dys each lending a smooth verse in support of Gio’s cool and collected sermon. Unsurprisingly, the King $ly and Supa Bwe-assisted “intheface” has all the makings of a viral earworm. Considering the added attention that comes with securing a Supa Bwe feature, it speaks volumes that, in that moment, Gio would choose to share the spotlight with his closest peers.
Perhaps the album’s most notable attribute, however, is how its loose and free-willed nature spotlights its central theme. Contrived as a simple response to the life stoppage that resulted from COVID, the phrase “Go Live” serves as a testament to the fulfillment found in pursuing your happiness, in upholding your values, and in chasing your dreams – a sentiment reflected in the record’s final moments, where a number of Gio’s peers and comrades offer personal anecdotes on what it means to feel alive. Beyond that, Go Live is an album that celebrates the power of collaboration while also being a major showcase for some of Jackson’s brightest up and comers. Its run time remains short but its impact, in particular on those who were a part of its creation, will be undoubtedly long-lasting.
Editor Roberto Johnson caught up with Gios4ma to chat about the inspiration for his new album, putting Jackson on the map, and the importance of online community. Check out their full conversation below.
For those who don’t know you, what was your upbringing like in Mississippi? When did you start to see music as something you were interested in pursuing?
Gio: I had to move around a lot. I was born in Mississippi, lived in New Orleans for a time, came back to Mississippi, and kind of moved all over the metro area in coastal Louisiana schools. I always had to go out of town for family things. I feel like that got me used to traveling a lot and I just kind of caught the bug. I knew I was interested in music for a long time. I joined the concert band in middle school and I was there all the way up until college. As far as making music, one huge factor was the composer Yoko Kanno. She’s done a lot of soundtracks for anime and things like that. Prior to watching Cowboy Bebop, I had no idea that you could just mix and match all different types of styles and influences. What really inspired me was Curren$y had this blog series on YouTube back in like 2010-2011. I would watch those all the time and see him driving on the road, doing features, doing shows. That was the one time I saw someone doing a job where I was like, ‘Yeah, I could do this forever.’
This past year and a half has been a strange time to be a creative. How would you describe your year in COVID?
Gio: Prior to COVID, I would constantly be trying to make music. For the longest time I had three or four projects I’d be working on at a time. Ironically, once everything shut down, that was my least busy time in terms of making stuff. It was weird. I was like, ‘Wow, I finally have all this time’ and when I sat down, it was just blank. I couldn’t come up with anything. I ended up spending that time cleaning up things that were on the backlog for release and that’s pretty much where Go Live came from. The “intheface” song I was sitting on for probably a year or two. Everything else was just ideas I had on paper but hadn’t really written out or tried executing in any kind of way.
How did the concept for Go Live start to take shape? When did you realize you had the makings of an album?
Gio: It all started when I made the beat for “intheface.” That was prior to COVID. Right when things were getting crazy, Supa Bwe had tweeted out that he was doing discounts on features. Me and Tyler [Tyler Blankinship, Gio’s manager and Go Live’s Executive Producer] just took a stab in the dark and it ended up working. We had this song and it already sounded so good. It was like, ‘What are we doing?.’ There was kind of a lot of pressure. By the time things opened up, I loosened up and thought ‘Okay, don’t try to make something. Let’s just fiddle around, go hang out with friends, go hang out at this studio and that studio.’ I typically only make music at home alone. Sometimes, I’ll have a few friends over and we’ll make stuff from scratch together, but for the most part it all starts in seclusion. This was the first time I went to other people’s houses and studios and things like that. Instead of intentionally building around the same thing, I just let loose. That was the idea behind the title: no pressure, just go live, experience life and write about the things you experience. I definitely didn’t expect it to be the way it ended up.
What was your reaction to the Supa Bwe feature and how did it feel hearing him rapping on a beat you made?
Gio: It was super surreal. I was at work when I got the text from Tyler. When I heard it, it was unbelievable considering one of the earliest discussions I remember in the CQCX group chat was everyone talking about the Hurt Everybody EP.
The first thing that grabbed me when listening to the album was how raw and sticky the production sounded. It’s a cohesive listening experience that’s rich and colorful while also being this minimalist and stripped back fusion of hip-hop and electronic music. When did you start gravitating towards the sounds your music so prominently features?
Gio: My first three albums were JELLYFISH_, ANEMONE_, and OCTOPI_. I intended for those to be a three-piece set. That was pretty much me trying to come up with my own sound, just looking in the nooks and crevices of different sound effects and things. By the time I got to the second one, it was, ‘Let me learn how to make sounds from scratch; how to use a synthesizer; and create drum sounds out of random things around the house.’ By the time I got to OCTOPI_, it was a perfect balance. Like, ‘Okay, I guess this is what my music sounds like. When people hear this beat, they know it’s me, before they even see the credits.’ Once OCTOPI_ was out, I was basically done trying to reinvent the wheel. With Go Live, it was more, ‘Let me try to polish this and mix this with other peoples’ sounds while still having these same patterns and techniques I learned with the previous three albums.’
You’ve always produced a lot of your own material but this project has quite a few contributors on the instrumental side. Considering the spontaneous nature of how the album was recorded, how did those outside beats come into the picture?
Gio: With the intro, Flu had sent me that song with everything except the vocal synth and the string synths on top of that. It was just him playing the guitar with some drums on it. I put some synths on it and sent it back and he was like, ‘This is amazing.’ It kind of left him in a dilemma because he didn’t really have any plans for that beat and I ended up using it for the album.
For “sunstaring”…this album is the one time where I had written the lyrics for every song before I had the beats. I had texted Flywalker saying, ‘I need a beat that sounds like driving down some beach strip in Miami or California while drinking orange juice with the top down.’ I’ve never done that, but that’s what the beat felt like in my head when I was writing the lyrics. Everything about that beat was exactly what I imagined before I even told him. It might’ve been maybe two things we ended up going back and changing. Everything else was just so intuitive.
For the beat switch on “hitstick,” it was looking like we might not be able to get the Ciscero feature because of some technical difficulties but this was before the album was all the way finalized. I was hanging out with Ryan [NAYR]. He was shuffling through beats and everybody else had left the room to get some food. When that beat came on, I was like, ‘Okay, stop. Let me try something on this.’ I actually have a verse on that beat switch that’s going to be some sort of extended track. We ended up getting the Ciscero feature at the very last minute, but I liked that song so much, so we’re working on a deluxe that will have the full version.
You managed to fit contributions from 23 different people on 20 minutes worth of material. Was it a conscious decision to incorporate so many people into this project?
Gio: Once I got the Supa Bwe feature, I was like, ‘Okay, I don’t know what this is going to do, but it’s going to be significant.’ I wanted to share that attention with as many of my friends as I could. At first it was going to be maybe three or four songs where we planned to have features. We didn’t expect it to explode the way it did, but it was like, the more the merrier. Whatever this song was going to do, I wanted it to draw attention. I wanted to expand its significance to other people as much as possible. There aren’t really too many times when we can get attention on the whole city.
All the guest spots are really solid and add a lot to the album. Outside of Supa Bwe, was there one feature you were particularly excited about?
Gio: Yeah, “goodscents” – there’s probably never been another song I’ve made that was so exactly what I had in my mind. I had hung out with Vitamin Cea and seen Dré Dys around town a lot, but we had never really made anything together. I was familiar with what their music sounded like, so when I was making that beat, I knew I specifically wanted Vitamin Cea and Dré Dys on this one. I sent it to them and they immediately knew what kind of song I was going for. Their content was so cohesive, it was perfect. It’s still my favorite song [from the project]. I had met Cea almost two years ago, so that was my most anticipated collaboration.
The instrumental loop between the last track and the intro, along with the vocal sound bites that end the album, helps contextualize the concept of the EP and bring the main theme into focus. How did that come together?
Gio: Flu had a guitar piece with some drums that he was kind of stuck on. He asked if I thought I could add anything to it, so I played a couple synths and sent it back. He liked it a lot but didn’t have any plans for it. Some time passed and I realized it was the perfect backdrop to the verse I wrote for the intro. That was when we were starting to put together the idea of the album and I felt like the phrase “Go Live” matched how my life was going (fresh “out” of a pandemic). I worked backwards from that phrase to write the intro and when I showed Tyler the beat, he figured out a cool way to get people involved would be to have different people answer that phrase because it’s vague and open to interpretation.
We knew we wanted to have this song peppered through the album but we ended up cutting it down a bit since we were removing tracks. I remember tweeting about how some Rico Nasty songs perfectly looped back to the start of the song and I wanted to do something like that but just not the same. I decided to put all the CQCX ones together and have them serve as an intro back to the start of the album, thus, “grandentrance” even though that song was named after what the beat felt like before I knew I wanted it on the album.
Tell me more about CQCX, how that collective was formulated, and how it’s grown since.
Gio: We had all met on that Rap Genius forum. We had all gotten to an “editor” role, which once you got that, you got into the editor’s chat. That’s kind of how we all got to know each other, just in this IRC chat, sharing music with each other, talking about what happened that day and eventually, we just formed a group of friends. Every day, we all got on around the same time and talked about the same stuff. There used to be a game, what was it? It was a browser-based game where people would sign it and when it got to your turn, you’d select a song and the music video would play for everybody. Those were the closest friends I had. Like I said, I moved around a lot, so I could only ever get so close with people because I was probably going to end up moving, you know what I’m saying? With CQCX, it didn’t matter where I moved. I was always going to have access to this friend group.
Over time, we all started realizing that we had these creative talents. We started saying, ‘Let’s do stuff together.’ That slowly turned into CQCX. The thing is, nobody seems to know what CQCX means or where it came from (laughs). That was just the name of the group chat for some reason and it looked really cool, so it kind of stood.
Hip-hop in particular has such a strong online presence. In a world of DMs, chat rooms, and playlists, our generation associates the internet with finding music and the comradery that comes with being so invested in that. Do you see online community as essential to your art?
Gio: Yes, definitely. I wouldn’t have ever even learned how to make music without an online community of musicians on YouTube just making tutorials and things like that. Also, I’ve always been kind of timid. I don’t have the best social skills. If it wasn’t for having all my own spaces to post this and say, ‘Hey guys, what do you think?’ and then just disappear and not have to face that social anxiety, I probably would’ve never showed my music to anyone if I didn’t have a faceless crowd to get feedback from.
As far as your online community, I think it makes it easier to support each other. A retweet can go such a long way. It’s almost like “paying it forward.” Maybe this person doesn’t know me and maybe I’ll never meet them, but this thing that they posted, I want other people to see it. Over time, it’s created this municipal burn on social media where I have a lot of people that I haven’t gotten a chance to meet, but we’re fans of each other’s work. And every time we do something, we try to drop a comment or a retweet. Everybody’s just leapfrogging with each other.