Chi Town duo Gzus Piece and Blanco Caine have summoned Stackin and Mackin 4 for those unafraid to stunt in silk shirts. The Midwest messiahs flit between styles, sounding comfortable on velvet samples and contemporary joints. Witness them shining on smoked-out convertible raps during last year’s “Foe The Summer,” reimagining Big Mike’s classic on “Burbans and Impalas” and covering Chicago’s bloodlust via “State of the Black Union.”
As solo artists, their divine partnership arose during a chance studio session in 2013. Mutual friends and fans recognized the pair’s organic chemistry and they’ve been linked since. Gzus’ buttery flow compliments Blanco’s rawer delivery and they comfortably sound like lifelong friends on wax.
Last year, the group confronted extinction as news circulated of Gzus Piece’s arrest on drug trafficking charges. Police claimed they witnessed him speeding in a 2015 Buick with New York registration on the Ohio Turnpike. They reported “criminal indicators” before asserting a bag was discovered containing 103 grams of heroin with a street value of over $15,000. Gzus Piece, real name Gerik Raglin, was exonerated on all charges this year.
We discussed the case as well as Chicago’s murderous reputation. What struck me most was the pair’s ready acceptance of metropolitan violence and how Gzus would have dealt with a potentially lengthy jail sentence with nothing more than a shrug. Their blasé attitudes don’t seem like bravado, but a reflection of those already dulled to violence. Blanco also covers being shot, Chicago slang and why neither liked Spike Lee’s Chiraq film. – Jimmy Ness
Tell us about Mr. E. He often directs videos, records, produces and mixes your music.
Blanco Caine:Mr. E is basically like the ear to the street in Chicago. He does Mr E. Videos, he’s got DVDs that branch across, not just Chicago, but the Midwest, and he probably sells more units than your favorite rapper at this point. All of the outlets that we’ve gained success and momentum through, he’s about the most referred. People come up to me and say “I’ve seen your music on Mr. E Videos.”
Gzus Piece:Agreed. People don’t know that he’s a dope producer though, so they know him off of the DVDs. I’ve got to credit Blanco Caine with being the one that actually brought Mr. E into the fold because we didn’t know, we were doing a tape just for the sake of the hip-hop. I’m a good rapper, you’re a good rapper, let’s make good rap, type of shit.
You have your own sound, a lot of which is sample based.
Gzus Piece:We purposely try to not play to trends. I’m glad you said that. Our music sounds cool, but I’m a producer so I’m into digging and finding those records and being like “yo, let’s sample this.” A lot of times, I’ll hit Mr. E up like “yo let’s flip this, this will sound cool” or Blanco will do the same thing. We just get in the studio and cook.
Blanco Caine:I think a lot of people don’t realize that music has done that forever. There’s so many examples of people coming up and just taking what they grew up with, we grew up with this. We do us every time. We don’t want to take it and try to do what they do, we want to take it and do what White Gzus do.
Chicago has several successful artists in a tight community, you must see a lot of people constantly asking for favors. You’ve got Grammy Award winner Million $ Mano or Chuck Inglish in Treated Crew, which you’re also a part of.
Gzus Piece:I’m not trying to rub shoulders with anyone. We rock with who we rock with.
Blanco Caine:They respect it more that we don’t ask, we play something that’s extra dope and they want to get on it. We can have ten or fifteen features on every tape, but we like to do what we like to do. I don’t need to send them nothing like “hey, put this on your IG for me” or do this. I want everything organic. I know a lot of people do it and I don’t knock them for doing that, but I want you to do it because you fuck with me.
Growing up in Chicago, do you have memories of seeing local legends around town?
Blanco Caine:When we were younger, this wasn’t really the place to come. If you came out here, you would have to be in a certain area that wasn’t near to us. Downtown Chicago or something like that, only way I would see them is at a concert. I would see Puff Daddy perform and people like that.
Gzus Piece:Except for Kellz [R Kelly]. Kellz would be in the hood, Kellz be hooping and shit. Kellz stay in the neighborhood for real though. But that’s about the only one that would come outside when we were shorties. Like Blanco said, unless you were in the area that they were from, and most of ’em from the West side and we were from the South. We ain’t really run into nobody like that.
Blanco Caine:Crucial Conflict, I used to see them all the time, but like I said it’s all West side.
When Gzus Piece was charged with drug trafficking and possession, I noticed you guys stepped up your productivity in terms of releasing music.
Gzus Piece:Yeah man, because I really didn’t know what was going to happen. I knew that I had to go back to court in March to start trial. We really had two months to finish up the tape that we were just beginning.
Blanco Caine:We record so fast though, it doesn’t take long for us to put a tape together.
Blanco, I read that you own a store.
Blanco Caine:Ah huh, yep. I own a cleaners/flower shop that I’ve had for eight years. I’m not really motivated by a lot of other things that people are, I’ve been able to take care of myself financially for so long that not too many people can really sell me a dream. It has to be something concrete, something that I can touch. I don’t really move for a lot of things.
You’re self-employed and make money through music?
Blanco Caine:Yeah, I make money both ways. I read somewhere that every billionaire has six incomes. I’m striving to get my sixth because when one thing blows up you’ve got another thing working for you.
We chatted briefly on Twitter about the death of Bankroll Fre$h, the other week. How were you familiar with him?
Blanco Caine:Oh, from being in Atlanta. Me and Gzus were out there, that “Hot Boy” song was playing in the clubs and I just searched it. I searched it on Twitter and figured out who it was, and I actually tweeted him. This was when it first came out, so he responded to me like “man, that’s dope.” I think from there, we came back down there and his next tape had came out. I was a pretty big fan, I almost felt like I knew him. Like I lost one of mine.
Gzus Piece:I was a fan of Bankroll. I was rocking with his music. It’s crazy because we did a show with him last time we were in Atlanta together.
Blanco Caine:I forgot to mention that.
Gzus Piece:It was teed up man. It was quite an event, it was cracking to say the least.
How do you feel about the way Chicago is represented in the media?
Blanco Caine:I don’t think they show how diverse we actually are. They just talk about one section. Everything that they’re talking about, majority of it is connected, not a lot of this shit is random. I see a lot of reports where it’s like, the mother is, you know I feel sorry for anyone who passes, but the mother is like “oh my baby this…”
But your baby was into something, you know what I’m saying? I know that’s hard to take and regardless you’re going to feel a loss, but it’s just not as random as they try to make it seem. It can happen anywhere, but I haven’t had a problem. It’s just all about the way you move.
Gzus Piece:It’s actually worse than it is, but not as bad as it seems. If that makes any sense [laughs]. What I’m saying is that it’s not as bad as it seems because if you’re from out of town then you’re like “oh man, everybody is just murdering everybody in the streets.” It’s like, “oh man, I can’t go anywhere past 35th.” But the thing about it is that it’s the character [of people].
It’s just that there are so many fucked up people outside, it leads to a lot of fucked up situations. The climate of the people is more fucked up than ever, but the fact that shit is what it is, is not the problem. It’s the mind state of motherfuckers that is the problem. It’s not like this shit just be happening for no reason, it’s the people.
Blanco Caine:I live on the low end. I live in the neighborhood. Somebody just got shot in front of the house. The feds come knocking on my door “did you see anything?” “No I was asleep.” My store is in Englewood. You can look out front right now and there’s niggas around running back and forth, but it is what it is. Someone get laid down in the front, it ain’t like it’s nothing I’ve never seen before.
You’re focusing on music and staying away from that lifestyle.
Blanco Caine:Exactly, but some people don’t have the way out and they get sucked up into it. But even in that, it’s all about the way you do it. I’ve seen so many people come from nothing. I had an opportunity because of the way my father moved.
Was your father an entrepreneur?
Blanco Caine:Oh yeah, I never even really saw him. He lived with me, but I’m saying in the sense of, Monday through Sunday, he was going all day. When I’d go to bed, he’d be asleep. He had property. He had businesses as well. Everybody, his brothers, everybody had their own business and their own revenue stream. So I was just taught entrepreneurship the whole time, I sucked that up from going to school selling shoes, selling candy, doing whatever I could do.
It sounds like because you’ve both grown up in Chicago, you’re used to seeing shootouts, bodies and things of that nature.
Blanco Caine:I’ve been shot before. You kind of get numb to it in a sense, until it hits somebody you know, then it’s like “damn.” I don’t even watch the news, until you see something like a baby get hit. When a baby was targeted, then you see some shit like that and it’s like “woah, they’re crossing the line.”
When were you shot?
Blanco Caine:I think I was 20, I was in Humboldt Park area. I had a cousin that was living over there. It wasn’t random because my cousin was living in the neighborhood. I actually grew up like four blocks from there, but that part of the city is so small yet so big, because each block is something different. A different gang on each block. We all stayed on the same block.
He moved to Michigan then he came back and when he came back, his brother came out there with him and had just got out of jail. It wasn’t random, long story short, but it didn’t call for all of that. It just kind of spiraled out of control. I got hit in the back, kind of like the side. It went through one side and out of the other, it went in between the spine and the organs. The doctor was in there like “damn, I ain’t never seen that before.”
How did you feel about Spike Lee’s Chiraq film?
Blanco Caine:That shit was weak.
Gzus Piece:I’d have to watch it to get a better judgement of it, but I feel like it should have been a Chicago director. Even if they were a co-producer or something like that. For the sake of the crib, it just don’t seem right. But that’s pretty much the end of my thoughts on it. I didn’t see that shit because I felt like it wasn’t authentic to where the name comes from. You should call that, “A story about Chicago,” not just Chiraq. It’s not representative.
Blanco Caine:He could have had someone write it with him. He’s a genius so we can’t take that from him, but he just went and talked to a pastor. A pastor is not out here. He’s doing what he do and I can’t discredit him, because he does do what he can for the community, but how he gon’ tell you? Then [Spike] mentioned that he talked to some older cats, they too old. You gotta talk to the shorties.
Gzus Piece:To be totally honest anyway, he ain’t put out nothing good since Bamboozled. So whatever.
Run me through some Chicago slang. What is a “mog?”
Blanco Caine:A mog is a person, it doesn’t have to be negative, it’s like saying “motherfucker.” He a mog. This mog, he owe me 20 dollars.
How about “sawbuck?”
Blanco Caine:That’s ten dollars. I don’t know, that’s been around since I was a kid.
Blanco Caine:Bodene is like “wow.” Something you hear that’s wild, that’s crazy. Like “that dude is bodene, he ran off with the money. He ain’t come back and get right.”
Blanco Caine:That’s like super goofy. Therm is like some wild shit, something you’ve just seen. I don’t know how to explain it, therm is like a super goofy, super dirty person.
Blanco Caine:It’s just a way of saying something has been going on, like “the whole time.” Like “Blanco been had that store, wholetime.”
Gzus Piece, I can’t imagine how it feels to be exonerated on such heavy charges. How was experiencing freedom after facing prison time?
Gzus Piece:What’s crazy is I didn’t even really get a chance to feel whatever that feeling feels like. The same day that I got probation, my mum was in the hospital during my case, my mum died like two days later. I didn’t even really get a chance to be like “oh man, I’m free. I could have been locked up.” It was just like a real fucked up time for me.
Blanco Caine:Then he right back to the studio and when he told me I’m like “Damn? For real?”
I guess you wanted to keep moving and focus on the positive.
Gzus Piece:Without a doubt. My moms told me she was feeling that “Hallelujah” joint, so it was like, oh man this has got to be a sign or something like that. Let’s just go hard, we were already going hard, but let’s just go harder.
Did facing that much time change your view on the world?
Gzus Piece:Nah, not really. It’s really the same, it’s just I’ve got a more fucked up record. You know what I’ve realized is when you’re from Chicago, everybody I know that is my age has been locked up several times, for misdemeanors or felonies or whatever. What you don’t realize is that even if you don’t go to the county and they take you to booking, because they found some weed on you, which happens damn near every couple of weeks, they gon’ ride down on you where they know you’re at and they know you’re smoking in your car or whatever.
Even if they just take you down to 111th and let you out, that’s a strike against your record. You’ll be like “I ain’t been locked up for nothing.” Whole time, every time, they took your ass in for that blunt, that counts bro, you’ll look up and you’ve been locked up like 20 something times and you’ll be like “What? But I ain’t never been to the county, how I have been locked up 20 times?” For pettiness, for being in the neighborhood, that’s why.
Blanco Caine:If they ask you if you’ve been in a gang, obviously you’re supposed to say no, because they add that to your record too and that gives them the right to search you, just automatically.
Being Chicagoans, you guys must be experts on your rights and the law. You must share a lot knowledge with friends, like what to say and what not to say. Learning from other people’s experiences.
Blanco Caine:Everybody you’re going to run into is a certified paralegal in their mind. I guarantee you that everybody in jail was telling Gzus what to say, what to do, because they all figured they knew just as good as a lawyer.
Gzus Piece:Without a doubt and they’re sitting there with the law book right there in the joint, to go to the case and be like “Ok, well this happened? Well this is what they’re going to try to hit you with.” Even though it might be the old version, they’ve got the book right there to tell you what’s [going on].
Kind of like being surrounded by incarcerated lawyers.
Blanco Caine: That’s what it is.
How much time were you facing?
Gzus Piece:It would have been 3-9 [years].
That’s a lot.
Gzus Piece:It could have been worse.
What do you remember about the day of your arrest? Were you thinking your life was over?
Gzus Piece:Hell nah. I was thinking “shit, I guess I’ll see ya’ll niggas in a few years” [laughs]. It was just like “ok!”
Blanco Caine: When he called me from the joint and I’d just heard about it, I was like “man, what the fuck?” That nigga’s like “they filled in the record? Alright, that’s what’s up.”
Gzus Piece:[Laughs] Damn, bro. Without a doubt, that’s just how it works out here man.
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