Musicians on Musicians: Gunna & Ludacris
W elcome to Rolling Stone’s 2021 Musicians on Musicians package, the annual franchise where two great artists come together for a free, open conversation about life and music. Each story in this year’s series will appear in our November 2021 print issue, hitting stands on November 2nd.
Though separated in age by a decade and a half, Ludacris and Gunna have a lot in common: They share the same Southside Atlanta stomping grounds (they attended the same high school), and both are uniquely charismatic figures in Atlanta’s rap scene; they even recently starred in a slightly absurd peanut butter commercial that played on their distinctly different flows — Gunna’s cool and subdued, Luda’s animated and brash. Today, they are spending a muggy afternoon being photographed across a sprawling, rustic compound in West Midtown. Ludacris’ treasured 1993 Acura Legend makes a cameo, his favorite in his array of vehicles. “I just asked [Gunna] what his favorite car out of his collection was, and he could not answer the question,” Ludacris teases as the two of them settle on a couch to be filmed. Gunna — the prince of Young Thug’s YSL Records, who broke into the mainstream just three years ago — is about as old as Luda’s Acura, and soaks up his elder’s experienced perspective on cars, acting, and service.
Ludacris: I would love to hear about this man’s background. I know at some point we both went to Banneker High School. He has said he went only for a short stint because something happened. I’ll let you talk about what.
Gunna: They kicked me out. I really wasn’t no bad student. I really was just kind of active.
Ludacris: [Laughs.] All right …
Gunna: Active, just like, “Ay, don’t play with him.” I’m like, “Well you try me, I’m-a make a fool out of you.” I was a player. Always cool. Always knew how to dress. I always liked girls.
Ludacris: So not only was you active, you was reactive, because if anybody messed with you, they’re going to get a reaction from you the school system’s not particularly going to like.
Ludacris: That’s what it was. That’s the only reason. [To the room] He was misunderstood. That’s it.
Gunna: Aren’t we all?
How do you view the city’s legacy in hip-hop?
Gunna: It’s enormous how many diamonds we got that come out of Atlanta. I don’t care what side it’s from; we trending on every side. We do it as a whole for Atlanta, though. It’s all different, trendy ways of how players kick it.
Ludacris: And a testament to that: I love how when you look outside of Atlanta and you see what other cities say about our city, everybody — New York people, L.A. people — they’re always like, “I love how Atlanta artists just all work together.” Work together on businesses, inspire each other, people just getting on records. Not even nothing to think about. This city has it together in the music industry because they know there’s strength in numbers. It’s happening even more now. We were doing it at the time where there weren’t so many artists popping. Now it’s a gang of them, and everybody’s working together more. That’s what I love about it.
Gunna, what makes you a Luda fan?
Gunna: I already knew he was a Southside legend. He came in letting you know where he came from. I stand on that — never forgetting. That’s why I do a [charitable] giveback every year for my side. When I was in school, I remember him coming back to the Southside. I took heed of that: “OK, that’s what you do when you get your money.” Then … just hits. Like, he really could rap. He been giving you bar-for-bar-for-bar-for-bar. [Then] you went on then to acting, like, “Oh, hold on, he can’t be stopped.”
Ludacris: I love that, man. I can honestly say I admire him right back. Not only for the artist that he is, creating his own sound, but a lot of the reason I would do Luda Day Weekend [his annual philanthropic celebrity blowout in Atlanta] is because you want everyone to pay it forward — meaning if you out there giving somebody your heart and soul, you just want them to realize they want to make that type of emotional connection with somebody else. And that’s exactly what he did. So if the testament of me doing Luda Day Weekend was Gunna coming for four years in a row and giving back to his specific community, then my job has been rightfully done.
Gunna, you had mentioned admiring Luda’s work in Hollywood. What does it mean to you?
Gunna: It’s giving movie star. When he first jumped off Fast and Furious, I was like, “You gone.” When you started doing real-deal movies and you hard in it, like you don’t look corny in it, like these folks didn’t just put a costume on you, we really felt it. When you said the other day, “What you going to do with this acting?” I’m like, boy, I’m really tapping in, taking it serious. I ain’t really trying to just act. Can’t say the role. You got to just be the role.
Ludacris: You got to do what you love, man. For me, no matter where I’m at in life, I’m always using that as a stepping stone to where I want to go next. … Acting came from that because they saw my videos — John Singleton, may he rest in peace.
Gunna: Videos lit.
Ludacris: He was just like, “Man, this dude is a character. I would love to try and put him in a movie and see if he can act.” So we do that. Next thing you know, if I’m acting, I’m looking behind the scenes. Got into producing television, hosting television. And then from there, I’m like, “Oh, man, I wonder who created this? How does this start? How do you create something from scratch?”
Gunna: Where the root at? Give me the root.
Ludacris: Yeah. It’s about becoming a creator, so every single time, no matter where I’m at, I’m always looking at what’s next. … What was your favorite collaboration of all the artists you’ve done? And you can’t say no YSL members.
Gunna: I would say Mariah Carey and Usher. Because they legends, and then how it happened. Like, I didn’t even think Mariah Carey even knew a player. Then Usher, Zay[toven] made that happen. Usher, I met him and we vibed. A real player, just like you, giving me game. When was the turn that you knew, like, “I made it. I’m on”?
Ludacris: There were two instances. I was still working at this radio station.
Gunna: Lova Lova [part of Luda’s radio DJ name].
Ludacris: When I put out “What’s Your Fantasy,” I was still working there. I was on a radio station at night. This was that point, that fork in the road where it’s time to go one way or go the other. If it wasn’t for Greg Street, I probably wouldn’t even be sitting here. At the time, he was my competitor. So it was me at 6 to 10 at night on one station, and he’s 6 to 10 on the other station. Somebody texted me and said, “Greg Street is playing your record.” Do you know how crazy that is? As a disc jockey, as an on-air personality, you not supposed to do that.
Gunna: Of course not.
Ludacris: So when you ask me the moment I knew I made it, I’m sure that wasn’t necessarily Greg Street’s choice to play the record — but I feel like he didn’t have any other choice but to, because that’s how potent [it was].
Gunna: Shout-out Greg, for not being a hater and playing his song.
Ludacris: Probably about a week later, I signed my Def Jam contract at the radio station, while I was on air, and I had to go tell them I put my two weeks in. I was like, “I love you all. It’s been a great ride.”
Gunna: That’s a hell of a story.
Ludacris: And then the video came out right after that. It’s a true story, bro. I wanted there to be no gaps in any paychecks that I would’ve received. Let’s put it this way … it was a smooth transition to bigger and bigger checks.