An Interview With Lefty Gunplay

Diego Tapia speaks to the San Gabriel Valley rapper about signing his first independent deal, the psychological toll of growing up as a young man stuck in the system, his latest project Rookie Of The...
By    June 24, 2024

Image via Lefty Gunplay/Instagram

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The moon shines bright as a string of clouds drift over a quiet street in Orange County. It’s just before 3 a.m. when Lefty Gunplay bursts out of the Holiday Gentlemen’s Club with a bottle of Hennessy in hand. His energy is palpable as makes his way into the early hours of the morning, his neck adorned with gold chains. The lights outside the club shine brightly, illuminating the “Roll Bounce” tattoo above his right eye— an ode to the late Drakeo. Twenty four hours prior, he was in a marathon studio session that lasted until 5 a.m., where he recorded and finished three new songs.

“If it is to be, it’s up to me,” Lefty says, manifesting a triumphant future. Fans of the L.A. underground cannot overlook the relentless work ethic of San Gabriel Valley’s most famous gangbanger. After serving a nine-year stint for discharging a firearm at a party at the age of 18, Lefty Gunplay is determined to not waste any more time.

Before going to jail, Lefty was in high school at the height of the blog era. At the time, L.A.’s rap scene was dominated by TDE, Nipsey Hussle, and Dom Kennedy. By the time he was freed in late 2023 at the age of 27, much had changed. The Stinc Team had the city in a chokehold with their slippery cadences and unique lingo that revolutionized the sound of L.A. street rap.

During that same time, Shoreline Mafia embarked on a legendary run, producing anthems that laid the blueprint for a new era of West Coast party music. 03 Greedo took the game by storm, showcasing his unique talent on modern classics like “Trap House” and “Run For Yo Life,” putting Watts back on the map. But the rise of this prominent new West Coast renaissance soon experienced tragedy.

Drakeo was murdered, Shoreline broke up, 03 spent five years in prison, and the streets were quiet. Despite the spotlight shifting away from Southern California, the underground continued to strive. Stinc Team affiliates continue to keep Drakeo’s legacy alive, G-Perico became the first L.A. street rapper with a Gangsta Grillz tape since Nipsey, Greedo was released after serving only a quarter of his 20-year sentence, and a new wave of young rappers began to blow up out of Orange County and the San Gabriel Valley. With the SGV drawing attention to itself in 2023 off the success of Drummer Boy and Rowdy Racks, Lefty’s release couldn’t have been more timely.

In less than a year, the Baldwin Park rapper, born Franklin Holladay, has dropped two full length projects. He’s selling out shows across LA County, and just signed his first independent deal. Behind the stardom is a man dedicated to transforming his life by seizing every opportunity that comes his way. For Lefty, it’s about more than just rap; it’s about putting himself and his people in positions to succeed. He boasts, “I’m really like that, and people like me usually don’t make it, but I’m still doing it.”

In December 2023, his singles “Certified Stepper” and “Spin The Block” gained the attention of OTR Records, an L.A.-based label that’s home to Chito Rana$, TopRankGang, BeatboyTaughtMe, and Tye Beats. In February, he dropped his debut project Rookie Of The Year, featuring the standout track “Blvd Babies.” For two minutes, Lefty goes in over the “Why We Thugs” instrumental, cutting aggressively through each downstroke of the violin with a hyper focused, drunken flow, reminding everyone he is everything he claims to be. He raps, “When I was 27 I was locked up in the cage/ Politicking, it benefited myself and my gang/ I’m way too deep in this lifestyle to change.” Since its release, the song has surpassed a million streams on Spotify making it his most streamed song to date.

I sat down with Lefty at his downtown apartment to discuss his love for the city of Angels, his rapid ascent, and the psychological toll of growing up as a young man in the system. – Diego Tapia

​​(This interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.)

Describe your experience growing up in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Baldwin Park?

Lefty Gunplay: It was a big Latino community. I grew up with my mom and my grandma, no father figure. My mom was struggling, and we were broke as fuck living in this mobile home park. When I was a kid, I used to be embarrassed to bring my homies over to sleepover because my house was small. I was always in trouble and in and out of juvenile hall. That’s when I started gang banging. I was looking for that father figure, that role model. I found it in my hood.

What were you like as a child?

Lefty Gunplay: The same. Very energetic, turnt up, outspoken, and annoying probably. I played sports all through high school. I was on varsity football, baseball and basketball. I played receiver and scored 17 touchdowns my senior year.

Where is your family from?

Lefty Gunplay: My mom is Guatemalan, but they have Mexican in them too. They’re from Guatemala City. My dad is white, from Mississippi.

What is your first memory associated with music?

Lefty Gunplay: I did a talent show in elementary school. It was around the time when Kanye West came out with College Dropout and 50 Cent was big. I did a 50 Cent song and a Kanye West song like in the fifth or fourth grade. I won the talent show. I went up there and rapped in front of everybody at the assembly in the morning. It was a good high, a natural high. I don’t get that same high from anything, but when I perform, it’s the only time I’m really happy. I’ve always had the girls, I’ve always been popular in school, I’ve always played sports, and I was gang banging. I just liked the attention and being the shit. I like being the center of attention always. That’s probably my downfall, but that’s why. Really, the rapping was just a hobby of mine. I wrote my first rap song in the third grade. I remember, I rapped it in the third grade, and everybody was rapping my song. I remember I got mad at some kid because he stole my song and started rapping my shit.

Are you the first person in your family to do music?

Lefty Gunplay: I’m the first one. They’re all proud now. I look out for all of them. I look out for my mom. I bought her a car. I bought my grandma a refrigerator, stove, and a microwave. The food was going bad because the fridge didn’t work. So I’m like, fuck, I got to get signed. So when I knew we didn’t have the money to buy a fridge, and my family was trying to get a loan to buy a refrigerator, I really hit the gas with the rapping. I signed with OTR and the first thing I did was buy my grandma a fridge and gave all the money to my mom.

You recently made the move out to Downtown LA. What is it you love most about living in the heart of the city?

Lefty Gunplay: I love that I’m not in the neighborhood, that I don’t have to worry about my enemies. I don’t gotta worry about the cops or gang unit. LA embraces me. Now, especially since I’m famous, I can’t go to certain spots because everybody wants pictures. I can’t walk to the mall. Everywhere I go, it’s crazy. I love LA. But mainly, my enemies and not having to worry about the gang unit and just having that PTSD in the hood. I got like five dead homies. Dead cousin, a dead homie, dead homie, dead homie, dead homegirl, all within six months. I was about to quit rapping. I was in jail and I was gonna quit rapping, and my mom told me to give it till December, this is November last year. I gave it till December and I made it like within a month so fast. Everything’s just happening so fast right now.

When did you figure out that you wanted to make a career out of rapping?

Lefty Gunplay: I really figured it out when I was sitting in prison this last time. I was having dreams about it. I’ll dream about it and the dreams felt so real. I’ll wake up and I’ll see it in my head. I can see myself in my head doing what I’m doing right now. Probably about a year ago, I really sat there and said I’m gonna be a rapper, but I’ve always felt I had a little bit of flow and I was always telling people I’m gonna be a rapper. People always told me I was a superstar, and that I should be doing something else. So I just always knew that I was different. And then my story, people fuck with it more because of my story. They’re rooting for me. They want to see me win.

Were you a big fan of music growing up?

Lefty Gunplay: I was.

Who do you enjoy listening to?

Lefty Gunplay: Juvenile. Lil Yada, YG, Nipsey Hussle, ConradFromTheAve, RJ. Mexican wise, DrummerBoy, Little Weirdo, Ohgeesy.

You already have music with RJ, Drummer Boy, and Little Weirdo. Have you been in the studio with Shoreline yet?

Lefty Gunplay: I already got a song with both of them. I got on Ohgheesy’s album and he’s on my album. We got like three songs.

How did you all meet?

Lefty Gunplay: Ohgheesy reached out and sent his love to me. He invited me to a couple shows. Whenever he has a show he’ll invite me. We linked up a couple times in the studio. Just real genuine, him fucking with me and my music. Fenix was the first one to reach out. I was sitting there before signing with OTR, and Fenix sent me a message, I just dropped the song called ‘Spin The Block’ and Fenix was like, ‘no disrespect, or anything, but you hard as fuck.’ He embraced me.

Is there anything specific about another artist that you look for when seeking out collaborators for new music?

Lefty Gunplay: Nah. If I fuck with them, I fuck with their music, and they fuck with me, lets do it. If I don’t know you and you want a feature you gotta pay because everything I’m doing is hitting a million views. I’m not just gonna give a feature away for free to some random guy. It makes no sense because now I’m decreasing my value by having a song of some random ass dude. It’s not doing nothing for me. So yeah, they got to pay 7k for a feature and 10k for a show. It’s about protecting the brand, protecting my name, and keeping my value. By me doing so many features, I’m not worth as much money. I’m accessible to everybody, but if the money ain’t right then I ain’t gonna do it. But if I fuck with them and they fuck with me, and I’m benefiting off them and they’re benefiting off me, then I’ll do it.

You’ve credited Hoover rapper Jap5 as a key influence in taking your rapping more seriously. How did the two of you develop a relationship?

Lefty Gunplay: We were in jail together. He just told me that I knew how to rap and that I had flow, so I should pursue it. Also to do it by myself when I get out, so that nobody can say that they gave it to me. So that’s what I did. I went home and I dropped like five songs by myself and they all hit. One of them was ‘Blvd. Baby’ and ‘Spin The Block.’ The rest is history.

How would you describe the impact he’s had on you as an artist?

Lefty Gunplay: He taught me that people under our circumstances can do it. He just showed me that if he can do it, I could too. He made me believe in myself first, so that I could really go home and do this. He really did play a big role because he was right there when it first started. He planted the seed in my head from when I was in jail before any of this. So he kind of gave
me that motivation, that push, to do it. I imitate a lot from him. I fuck with him, free him. Free Jap5.

How did you become involved with OTR?

Lefty Gunplay: I actually hit up OTR to sign me before they actually did and they didn’t look at the message. They came knocking on my door once I started popping. It’s like what Gucci Mane says, “Don’t tell me that your cousin is hot, or that your cousin knows how to rap. If your cousin knows how to rap I would have been heard about him.” He would have had something popping in the sheets and people would have been talking about him. When I started having a couple songs, making noise in the streets, like “Blvd Baby,” OTR hit me up, saying they wanted to talk to me and were interested in signing me. My mom and everybody was telling me to stay independent, but my gut told me to go with OTR, and I did. The rest is history.

What’s been your experience working with them?

Lefty Gunplay: Life changing. It’s a good team, they’re like family to me now. They made me a superstar. I’m a superstar, but they really made me a superstar. Pressure makes diamonds. So they really took a leap of faith in signing me and they’ve invested a lot of money into me and they’re getting their money back. They changed my life, so I’m gonna change theirs.

You announced in a previous interview that you’re going to be starring in your first movie. What details can you reveal about this project?

Lefty Gunplay: I got a Hulu film coming up directed by Richard Cabral. I’m the head star and leading role. Jon Bernthal’s in it, that’s the ‘Punisher,’ Jenna Ortega from ‘Wednesday’ is in it, RJ, DrummerBoy, Chinto Rana$.

What’s the story behind how it all came to be?

Lefty Gunplay: I just met with Baby Jokes one day, we were in the studio and we were just chopping it up, and I told him we should make a fucking movie. He’s like, are you serious? He wrote a script, went to town, and put a story together. He wrote a book, and he read it to me, and I said that’s hard. Right now we’re in the process of recording it and I’m in acting classes every Tuesday.

Did you ever see yourself becoming an actor?

Lefty Gunplay: I actually did. Before I was like, I could do that. I see myself becoming a superstar. I see it in my head. I’ve been trying to be an actor. Before the rap I was going to sign up for LA Casting. I just wasn’t ready yet at the time. I was still gang banging, but now I’m ready.

How do you think your personal experiences have shaped your artistry?

Lefty Gunplay: I think there would be no Lefty Gunplay if there wasn’t all the heartbreak and the prison time. It wouldn’t hit the same. It gives me something to write about. I never had shit. I’m pretty sure a lot of people can relate to it.

What is it that makes you stand out amongst the new wave of Latino rappers coming out of LA?

Lefty Gunplay: My tattoos, my background, and the authenticity of my story. Everything I say is true. I’m really like that, and people like me usually don’t make it, but I’m still doing it. The main thing was just staying out of jail, but I figured that out now. I had to move out the hood, and ever since I’ve been staying out of trouble. But yeah, just the authenticity of my story. I really gang bang. I’m really from a gang in Los Angeles County. I’ve really been in prison. I’ve really been in Pelican Bay and Corcoran. I’ve been in all those spots. I really was broke. I’m really from out here.

How do you think your time away has shaped the person you are now?

Lefty Gunplay: I think it made me better. If I could start from scratch, I wouldn’t change shit. I grew up in there. I learned how to be a man in there. I learned a lot of basic things. I learned how to shave, how to shake a hand properly, how to speak with older people, eye contact, body language. I would read philosophy. I’m learning every day.

What do you think when you look back on that time of your life?

Lefty Gunplay: I don’t really like to look back at it, but when I do it just reminds me that I don’t want to go back there ever again. A lot of wasted time in there. I trip out. There’s still people in there right now that aren’t getting out. I’ve got an opportunity, so I’m trying to make the most out of it.

Considering you spent much of your young adulthood behind bars, have you faced any challenges adjusting to life after your release?

Lefty Gunplay: No, I really adapted well into it. I just got to not take everything for granted and make sure that I appreciate everything that’s happening right now. I have to take this opportunity and make the most out of it, instead of just half-assing it. I’m pretty good at it. When it’s time to go, I’m ready.

How do you think incarceration shapes the minds of kids who go through the system at a young age?

Lefty Gunplay: I think that now there are a lot of kids that think it’s cool, but it’s not. I think it fucks people up in there. I think it doesn’t necessarily help them because when you get arrested gang banging don’t stop, it gets ten times worse, so you just become worse in there. Have appreciation towards life, but it takes a couple tries. It takes a couple times failing and going back, and back. Once you’re in the system I feel like you’re just constantly recycled. It’s like a revolving door. Once you’re in jail, and always going back, it’s hard to get out of that.

What’s the most impactful lesson you’ve learned through this experience?

Lefty Gunplay: Some do, some don’t. If it is to be, it’s up to me. I could do whatever I want. Life is short, enjoy the moment. Sometimes I forget to enjoy the moment. That’d be the main one. Learning how to enjoy the moment.

Who are the kind people who make it out of your neighborhood?

Lefty Gunplay: Nobody. Nobody makes it out of Baldwin Park huh?

Lefty’s Friend: Hell nah!

Lefty Gunplay: The girls end up having kids and staying there. People are always in and out of jail. I’m the first person that actually did it.

How does that feel?

Lefty Gunplay: Real good. I trip out on it. I’m putting Baldwin Park on the map. I’m trying to shine a light on the city. There is a lot of positivity and there’s a lot of good people there. That city just feels like the hands are always dealt against you. It’s like that city is designed for you to get killed or go to jail.

Lefty’s Friend: For us growing up, there are only two routes: prison for the rest of your life, or a box. Everyone we grew up with is either doing life in prison or dead. Growing up, that’s practically all we know. In our reality, all it was is running around and gang banging and getting in trouble. Let’s see who’s the one that can make the most name, especially since our neighborhood started from nothing. We were the ones that made it. It’s a trip to see Lefty actually come out of all that. Anything is possible. He’s the one that actually showed everybody that anything really is possible. If he could do it, as long as you put dedication into it, and your hearts there, then it can happen. Everybody tells us that our homeboy opened their eyes. He actually showed us that there’s something else to it. We don’t gotta be out there be stupid all the time, we could actually make something of ourselves.

Is there pressure that comes with being idolized in this way?

Lefty Gunplay: Yeah, because I got to put a smile on my face every day and give it everything I got. But that’s what I wanted, right? So I just snap out of it.

At any point, does your rapid rise to fame become overwhelming?

Lefty Gunplay: Hell yeah, it’s a lot. Rapping is a lot, but it’s what I wanted. It’s a lot of work. You think you’re gonna be a rapper and it’s gonna be easy but it never works that way. There’s way more to it than that. It’s a a lot, the interviews, the shows, the fans, the haters, the media. The fans make it all worthwhile. I fuck with my fans. I be selling shit out. I sold out my show in Utah and I think I’m selling out Arizona.

When’s your next show in town?

Lefty Gunplay: The Observatory on June 29th. I’m headlining in Santa Ana with Drummer Boy. I guess if you could sell out the Observatory and the Novo you’re doing it. I just did the Novo with G-Perico. That shit was packed. We did Utah and that was packed. The cops actually stopped it, there was a gang of people there.

What’s your favorite part about making music?

Lefty Gunplay: Seeing the effect that I have on others and telling my people’s story. I just get it all off my chest in my music. I like when I see people singing my songs. That’s always cool. The kids fuck with me. When I’m rapping and everybody’s yelling my lyrics like that’s cool. It’s a cool feeling.

In less than a year since your release from prison, you’ve obtained fame and great success, while completely turning your entire life around. How has your journey from release to your current achievements impacted you?

Lefty Gunplay: It feels good. Feels like I’m happy. God forbid I’m happy. Everybody knows my name. I did something and nobody can tell me shit now. I’m rich, I did it, I got money. I’m not a loser. I made it. It just feels good. It feels like I’m where I belong, and I haven’t even started yet. It’s just the beginning. I’m trying to be a superstar worldwide.

How does it feel to have your music be embraced by the people here in LA?

Lefty Gunplay: I’m blessed. I do it for them and I’m gonna keep doing it for them. This is a beautiful city, I wouldn’t want to be from nowhere else. Shout out to everywhere else, but LA is just LA. It’ll chew you up and spit you out, but it’s a beautiful struggle. You gotta make the most out of it. I love LA.

As a Latino artist, does it make you proud to be representing your culture to a mass audience?

Lefty Gunplay: Bien orgullosos. Real proud that they gave me that title, to the ones that do. I’m not going to disappoint them. It’s a lot of pressure but I’m not going to disappoint them. I’m gonna keep going up and show people of my skin color, and kids like me, that you could do it. If I could do it, they could do it too.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

Lefty Gunplay: Getting a Grammy or in a Lamborghini with Jenny 69.

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