In February of 2018, G Herbo was sentenced two years of house arrest after officers caught him with a firearm while riding in a limo in his hometown of Chicago. For the next two years, he would begin to grapple with why: “It was from post traumatic stress disorder,” G Herbo says. “Being nervous and having to carry a firearm everywhere. Any feeling that I got and came to my brain I let it out on wax. It brought me to PTSD, the album.” Released at the end of February, it’s the Chicago rapper’s most vulnerable album to date, and also his best; it peaked at Number 5 on the Rolling Stone Top 200 Albums Chart.
G Herbo burst onto the scene in 2012 (he was “Lil Herb” at the time), during the peak of Chicago’s drill music explosion. From the beginning, he’s sought to chronicle his city from his perspective — Herbo’s first mixtape, Welcome to Fazoland, was the first of a series of mixtapes paying homage to a close friend he lost to gun violence. On songs like “At The Light,” Herb brought you into his traumatic reality. “I know n**as out for my life, gotta look to my left and my right/I’ll be damned if I get left at the light, summertime, I remember them nights.” PTSD is an evolution of the themes that have always defined his work.
Just a day after ‘PTSD’ was released, one of Herbo’s younger sisters faced the same tragedy he’s been writing about. “One of my younger sisters suffers from post traumatic stress disorder,” he says. “One of her best friends was shot multiple times in a grocery store or a corner store literally the day after I dropped my project. So it’s a non-ending cycle rather you’re a male or female.”
Stuck at home after his tour was cancelled due to the COVID-19 outbreak, G Herbo talked via phone with Rolling Stone about PTSD, how Chicago shaped the album, and what it was like working with Juice WRLD.
Can you talk about the inspiration behind the album title, and how you came up with the concept?
I always made music based upon my life, and things I am going through. So PTSD just came from years and years of having post-traumatic stress disorder and not being able to deal with it, or even acknowledge the problem. I was clinically diagnosed after years and years of being in the streets and seeing my homies die and being paranoid, having to carry weapons, and having the survivor’s instinct. I have had [PTSD] for well over 10 years of my life.
I think it was important for me to share and shed light on it, not just because of my situation but to help people and other kids. Because a lot of times, they don’t know if they are suffering from it — the same way I didn’t. And you behave a certain way and live your life a certain way because of these obstacles you’ve been through, and we don’t really look at it as a mental illness or sickness. And it is. We are paranoid all the time and have to carry a weapon to go to the grocery store. Just reliving these traumatic events affects your day-to-day. I wanted to speak on a lot of the situations I’ve been through and how it shaped me to the man I am today, and how it helps people face their fears. I wouldn’t say get over the mental issue or the problem at hand, but at least address it so could make your situation better. So that was important for me to do, and that’s why I named the project PTSD. A lot of people associate post-traumatic stress disorder with the army, when a lot of us suffer just because the plate we were handed early.
How did living in Chicago affect you, growing up?
A lot of inner cities go through tough times, but Chicago is one of the most significant places that turn boys to men early on. A lot of the stuff I’ve been through in Chicago, seeing murders as a kid and really having to take care of myself in the streets. I come from a two-parent household, but when you’re out and faced with situations you have to think for yourself and make a lot of times and make adult decisions as a kid. Me being an artist and not really having to be in the streets anymore helps me be able to look at life differently. I was paranoid all the time. I never wanted to leave the house without a gun and when I did travel and go do shows in different states, I always wanted to have a gun on me because I am nervous all the time. I don’t really trust people as much because of the stuff that I’ve been through.
You said you were clinically diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder? When did you decide to start sharing about that?
So being clinically diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, which was well over a year ago, I didn’t know I was suffering from a mental health disorder. I thought I was normal and everything I went through was just normal life. But it is not normal life. Speaking to someone who has never been through any of this and can help you on a professional level will tell you that a lot of stuff that people like me go through does mold us a certain way. Speaking on that is important because I have a lot of family, 90% of the people I am around, suffer. My best friend, my brothers suffer. We put this brick wall up because we are afraid to be that next tragedy or that next victim. We are afraid to let anyone in that is going to hurt us or take advantage of us.
How do you start writing about that for an album?
I really sat down and was focused on writing this album. I recorded the majority of it in Chicago. I couldn’t travel for the firearms case. I was arrested in February of 2017 or 2018, I believe, and it was from post traumatic stress disorder, being nervous and having to carry a firearm everywhere. I just make the best of my situations. I couldn’t travel. I just stayed in the studio and rapped about my life. Any feeling that I got and came to my brain, I let it out on wax.
Songs like “Gangsta Cry” and “Party in Heaven” show your vulnerability as a songwriter on this album. Most people boxed a lot of Chicago rappers that came out the drill era, but now you’re getting a lot of respect among the rappers and in the rap community. Did you ever see yourself getting to this point?
I never boxed myself in as a drill rapper, I just came out in a drill era. If you go back and listen to Welcome to Fazoland [back in 2013-2014], that’s not drill music at all. Not even a little bit. I feel drill was a way of life, it wasn’t really music. It really was us growing up and — not really glorifying — but shedding light on what we go through. A lot of our friends were dying early, 14- and 15-years-old, and we use to have guns in our videos and stuff like that, but that was really us having to carry these guns every single place we went. It wasn’t just for the videos. After the video was over I couldn’t put the gun down because it would probably cost me my life. And it has cost my friends their lives, over and over again. To show a repeated cycle of where I come from, you have to protect yourself at all costs.
You don’t shy away from rapping over classic hip-hop beats. Your intro samples Jay-Z’s “Intro” from Dynasty, on “Feelings” you sample Jadakiss’ “Still Feel Me,” and then on “Intuition” you sampled Beanie Sigel’s “Feel It In The Air.” Why did you pick those tracks, and what do they mean to you?
I’m a student of hip-hop, so I grew up listening to these records. History repeats itself, so you can follow a blueprint that’s been successful. “Still Feel Me” was one of Jadakiss’ most vulnerable records, he was talking about real shit. “Feelings” is one of my most vulnerable records, where I am talking real shit. So I had a blueprint to follow, I just had to execute in my own way. The same with the Jay-Z beat and the Beanie Sigel beat. I wanted to pay homage to the legends I grew up listening to, but to still rap about my life and my situation.
You got Chance The Rapper, Lil Uzi Vert, and Juice WRLD on “PTSD.” How did that come together?
Naturally. Those are my brothers. I always was an artist who never focused too much on features, so connecting with Chance was like an alley-oop. Same with Uzi and the same with Juice. That’s my little brother, God rest his soul. What I took away from watching him the most was to naturally be yourself. Not just as an artist, but as a human being. That’s what I took the most from being around him and being a part of his legacy, which I am blessed to be a part of. I was hounding him — I had to make sure Juice recorded the hook. Once he recorded the hook, we knew we had a smash. Then Chance came naturally and Uzi as well. Everybody recorded their part right in front of me. Every feature on my album was natural, cause these are my friends.