Only a few years ago, Sheff G was fighting a gun charge while living in a homeless shelter. But as he awaited sentencing, a song that he randomly released started to command the attention of his Flatbush neighborhood and the other four boroughs beyond. He expected to receive hate and beef from the viral hit, but instead gained thousands of followers and felt a love that he was yet unprepared for. The torch of a new sound, Brooklyn drill was suddenly passed to him, along with millions of YouTube views and his newfound believe that this “rap shit” could be real. He received five years of probation.
Since the release of the drill anthem, “No Suburban,” Sheff, as people call him, dropped what could be considered as a project’s worth of loosies—each adding momentum and legend to the backstory that preceded the 20-year old MC. The guttural, blunt-scarred texture and tone of his voice attacked each track, wielding an aggression incubated in the blocks that raised him. His grimy pronunciation and versatile flows showed a precision and treacherousness that validated his position as a leader of his new sub-genre, while also eliciting comparisons to grime artists across the pond.
For Sheff though, the comparisons and coronations aren’t something he’s really worried about. “You ever see in warrior movies where they give them the King’s crown and they don’t want it? It’s like that,” he says.
It’s this cinematic sensibility and his ability to look around and read situations that he credits to his older cousin Caesar’s influence—who can be heard on “Feel a Way” talking through a jail phone—Caesar’s influence. He’s noticeably observant in conversation, but in his music it manifests as endless paranoia — a constant reminder of the eventful life he’s lived in such a short amount of time. He answers questions emphatically. When he wanted to explain something further he leads with, “Ait. So, Boom…” When he wants to get a point across he ends with, “You feel me?” And a consistent flurry of, “Facts!”, whenever he was nodding in agreement.
As an artist who practically lives in the studio, he’s recently discovered the ability to slow down, look at the world around him, and focus on where he wants to go. He’s realized an appreciation not only for where he is, but where he could have gone.
“Growing up where we from anything could have happened,” Sheff says. “Shit always goes bad where we from. You don’t really expect a lot of good. But it’s good that this is the path I chose and I’m really doing it.”
With the release of his first full project, The Unluccy Luccy Kid, Sheff is possibly in the best place he’s been since his childhood days going to block parties on Clarkson Avenue. The project at times feels like the fastest, most cluttered and violent haunted house that you could ever enter. The themes of betrayal, retaliation, and loss are nothing new, but Sheff utilizes his ruthless swagger to guide the listener through the hectic streets that he has sacrificed so much in but also gained a career as a rapper from.
Life for Sheff has been a constant rollercoaster of unlucky, lucky events—hence the title. But it’s all brought him to this point. Even though there are instances where being who he is now can be difficult — as many of the things he did for survival in the streets resurface in the most trivial of interactions with fans – he’s proud of what he’s done. And his Moms is proud of him too. —TE P.
Let’s start at the beginning. You are from Brooklyn and I’ve seen you call Flatbush the capital of the city. Flatbush is very West Indian. What is it like growing up in a West Indian family?
Sheff G: It was lit. You know like, my family we all grew up together. Everybody was in one crib. So, it was a lot of us. My cousins and all that. It was a lit thing. And my Grandmother used to cook a lot. We used to eat good. Everything was lit. it was fun.
What were you like as a kid?
Sheff G: Shit, as a kid, I don’t know. Used to sit around, watch TV, cartoons, play games. I was playing Zelda and shit. Gamecube and Nintendo 64.
What was it like being a kid in Brooklyn at that time?
Sheff G: It was lit. When you go outside as a kid, when I was growing up, I never really had a phone until I was 15 or 16. I used be really outside with my friends and shit. [That’s] when I met everybody. People used to throw block parties on every block. In the summer time they would open up the fire hydrants and play in the water. The park was right around the corner from where I lived. The whole neighborhood would come outside because there wasn’t a lot of phones and shit. Everybody was literally outside. It was real lit.
What was your block like?
Sheff G: My block was the lit block! It was like, for me I thought it was the main block. I grew up on Clarkson and everybody from around the area always came to that block. When they threw block parties everyone would come to this block. Like after people would be at the park playing ball, people would come to the block. Clarkson was the block that was the litest I guess. We used to play football. It was always active. Even at night time we would play manhunt.
I saw in an interview that your family played a lot of soca when you were younger but you connected to rap. Can you speak to what that first piece music was, that you actively picked up and decided that you liked rap?
Sheff G: I would say it started like this, my cousin is older than me by like 4 to 5 years. He as always bumping Biggie and he was bumping 50 and shit. My other cousin, he’s like 2 years older than me. Me and him chilled with each other all the time. And he would bump Eminem and 50 back to back. He used to watch the movie 8 Mile and that’s how I started paying attention to it. That’s how I really got into it with the music. From there it just kept going.
Did you ever think you’d be a rapper or did you just like the music?
Sheff G: Hell no! Music ain’t really hit me until I like 7th grade or 8th grade. Cuz now, when I was travelling to school and after school, I’m really playing music in my ears. That’s when music really started hitting. I really started paying attention to what was going on. I ain’t never thought I was going to be a rapper—never. Even if it was a thought, I was like, “Ok. That’s never really going to happen for real for me.” It’s like a dream come true type shit.
Now that you are a rapper, I’ve heard a bond between you and your mom in your music. When you talk about her, you can tell ma dukes is everything to you. How does she feel about you being a rapper right now?
Sheff G: She love it! It’s a good feeling, you feel me? I get to help out my family. It’s a good feeling. I could have been something else. I could have been anywhere else. It came out good.
When was it that you know your mom was proud of you?
Sheff G: She would tell me. One day I came in the crib and she hugged me and told me she was proud of me. She told me that. That’s what motivated me.
Does she listen to you music?
Sheff G: Of course. [laughs] I don’t think she really be bumpin’ it but I know she plays it. She into it.
I also saw in an interview that your pop was in the street too. How does he feel about you doing music now?
Sheff G: He proud of me too. Like I said, growing up where we from anything could have happened. Shit always goes bad where we from. You don’t really expect a lot of good. But it’s good that this is the path I chose and I’m really doing it. He’s proud of me too.
You have mentioned before that when you went outside, there were some things that you just can’t avoid. Can you talk a little about that? Because I think there’s this misconception that cats are just running to it, but sometimes you can’t avoid it.
Sheff G: Some shit you can’t avoid. You could be in the park playing ball. Somebody gets bagged. Like, y’all fighting and a fight turns into something else. Now y’all marked. You a marked person now. Even if ya friend was to have a fight. Now you marked too because you had a fight with his mans. That’s shit you can’t avoid ‘cuz it’s going to happen regardless. Even going to school there’s Freshman Friday. That was a thing when I was going to school—Freshman Friday. I don’t know if that’s still going on. Freshman Friday, when you a Freshman and you new to the school, on Friday you supposed to get jumped. So, that was a big tradition in Flatbush. I guess it was everywhere. Everybody used to do Freshman Friday. That was my era. That happened to me too. [laughs] It was crazy. Some shit you can’t avoid. When you growing up in the situation, you start to feel like that’s normal. Like, you heard I said, “Freshman Fridays” like it’s normal. At the time I thought that was normal. Shit will change ya mind up.
Once that became part of your everyday life, who was the first person that you looked up to?
Sheff G: It was definitely my older cousin. My older cousin Ceaser. Everybody, all the younger ones wanted to be like Ceaser. We all wanted ot be like him growing up.
How did he help shape who you are or your sensibilities?
Sheff G: When we all be in the crib we would be hearing my grandmother or my aunt, they would all glorify him ‘cuz he was tough as shit. We all used to look up to that like, “Damn. I want my moms to talk about me like that.”[laughs] We was like, “Yeah. You gotta be like Cease.”
Is there one thing you can point to that stuck with you because of your cousin Ceaser?
Sheff G: I guess it’s the way I move. Everything that I decide to do. He taught me a lot. To move smart in certain situations. I still keep that with me.
Like you, I’m a guy doing something that I never thought I’d be doing. Like, I never saw myself writing. But my connection to my people, my homeboys, and my family, and what we are—is something I don’t think a lot of people wouldn’t understand. I say all of that to say, I don’t like labels. So, I’m not going to call y’all a “gang.” Instead, what is your connection to your people and your neighborhood that—in your words—a lot of people wouldn’t understand?
Sheff G: You know what’s crazy? I talk about this shit all the time. It’s the labels that separate people from what’s actually going on. A group of people is going to be labeled a “gang” that’s in the hood. A group of people that’s not in the hood is not going to be labeled a gang, you feel me? It’s more like a brotherhood. If you living on a block and you coming outside, this is people that you with everyday. It’s not like ya just met and clicked up for one or two days. No—this is people you living with. This is our neighbors, you feel me? You know each other’s moms. You eating together. Holidays celebrating. These are your brothers now. Now, y’all like family. Y’all built this relationship. Everybody loves each other. It’s not just a “gang” with everybody wildin’ recklessly. It’s more than that.
What’s something about your hood that you love? That a lot of people might never know about?
Sheff G: Going back to what I was saying earlier. All the older heads on the block used to put they money up together so we could get a road block for jumpy houses, barbecuing, grilling, and having these block parties. But people don’t know that. Everybody think of the hood as some bad shit going on but we giving out food to the hungry. There’s a lot of things that people don’t know about. It was like the whole Flatbush. There was time you walked down Flatbush Ave on the strip and you could see different blocks doing it. Everybody supporting each other like a big ass family.
There are a lot of MC’s that’ve come out of Brooklyn. There’s a swag and a cockiness but also a willingness to back up that comes with it. For you, when you say, “I’m from Brooklyn,” what comes with that? What do you mean?
Sheff G: [laughs] I ain’t gonna front. When I say, “I’m from Brooklyn,” [laughs} that has a real strong feeling behind that. New York is where it’s at. Brooklyn is where it’s at. You gotta know that. When you say that. That’s what it comes with. I know for us, it’s a “This is where it’s at,” type of feeling. To everybody else it could be good, bad, or whatever. They know Brooklyn niggas is ignorant. Brooklyn niggas is saucy. All of that comes to mind.
What does it mean for you to be from Flatbush in particular?
Sheff G: First of all, a real Brooklyn nigga can never say that he from Brooklyn if he hasn’t been in every part of Brooklyn. I’m a Brooklyn nigga. So I’ve been in each part of Brooklyn. Everyone knows me from everywhere. So, Flatbush is where I’m from. I’ve been in Canarsie, Crown Heights, but the whole Brooklyn is together at the end of the day. That’s how I put it. If you a real Brooklyn nigga you gotta be able to go to every spot in Brooklyn. [laughs]
Do you ever think of people just thinking you’re a ignorant dude? And I ask that because I deal with a lot of people and I tell them, “A lot of these cats, you don’t make it into these situations by being dumb.” Is that ever in the back of your mind that people might be thinking this of you?
Sheff G: At this time, I don’t give a fuck. I always say, the fans and how they look at me that’s what should matter—regardless. You can’t label yourself nowadays because everyone else is going to put a label on you. But growing up in school that’s what they used to do. They used to think I was the kid that was dub or a bug out, or whatever. But I always used to pass. I always got high grades. Besides the bullshit. Besides the other shit I used to get shit done. That’s just how shit is.
Do you feel any type of way—with Brooklyn changing—about people claiming Brooklyn that aren’t really from there?
Sheff G: You know, because of the internet they glorify the fakes now. So, it’s just real different. You got REAL life and you got the internet people. You just gotta learn how to separate that. That’s how you don’t feel a way.
“No Suburban” was definitely one of the first songs to be considered part of this drill, grime New York scene. As it started to blow up, what was that like for you?
Sheff G: It was real confusing. The response I thought I was going to get was not the response I got. The response I got was a rapper response. I got fans off of that. I got people that wanted picture off of that. It was different. At the time I did not think that at all. I was expecting street shit. It just blew up for me. I couldn’t take the train no more. I couldn’t take the bus. I was like, “What the FUCK?!” I had to learn how to move different ASAP.
So you was expecting static off of that and instead, you got love?
Sheff G: [laughs] I was just expecting something else. I got a different response. I got a lot of love off of that and fans and shit. They were taking pictures of me everywhere. And mind you, I was broke and shit. I’m like, “How am I supposed to start moving?” This shit was different overnight.
After that happens, what was that level of pressure like? I could only imagine there was an amount of pressure that comes with doing a song that gets that kind of attention.
Sheff G:Picture this. I’m going to put you my shoes real quick…
You living in a shelter. You got a million views on YouTube so everyone knows who you are, right? And you broke. And you fighting a gun charge. And you a kid that’s known by everyone in the hood. You don’t have a car. So how you gonna travel? But you gotta travel ‘cuz you gotta make your court dates. That was a lot. I don’t know how I did it to be honest. I was dealing with all of that when that song came out.