INTERVIEW: El Paso's Evander Griiim shares his inspiring come-up story, talks learning from Gucci Mane, and gives us details on his upcoming debut project, "Raíces."
Evander Chantz, now known as the Gucci Mane and Lil Yachty-affiliated rapper Evander Griiim, wasn’t his usual partygoing self on graduation day. Before the ceremony, a few classmates asked him -- perhaps smugly -- what he planned on doing with his life. He didn’t have an answer; they struck a nerve. Now, two and half years later, he’s the biggest rapper El Paso has ever seen.
“It hit me,” says Evander, now 20, with hair that rivals the pre-Starboy mop of The Weeknd’s. “While I’m graduating high school -- the moment that’s supposed to be your biggest thing, you know -- they put me down. But that turned me into this, like, monster.”
That day, Evander decided to go all-in on a rap career -- once a pipe dream, now the only object in sight. He started working 40-hour weeks at Panda Express to fund his new pursuit. For his parents’ sake, he soon enrolled in community college. He dropped out a month later, a fact he would keep from them -- who continued to drive him to class -- for months to come. Once his mom drove away, he would hop in a friend’s car and speed off to the studio.
In early 2016, with a manager, a producer (Skritzy), and a few committed friends in tow, Evander started releasing some of the music he’d been toiling over since graduation. The songs showcased an artist capable of effortlessly blending trap and R&B. One song, fittingly titled “Right Now,” began to bubble. A hazy club anthem with a hint of rage, the track started picking up steam on SoundCloud. But before Evander had a serious online presence, the youth of El Paso banded behind him, eager to raise one of their own to rap stardom for the first time.
Thanks to the hometown support, Evander was granted a main stage appearance at the Neon Desert Music Festival, easily the biggest party to roll through El Paso (with headliners like Future and Tyler, The Creator). Despite having no experience on a comparable stage, he didn’t disappoint. In fact, footage of him crowd-surfing while rapping “Right Now” soon reached a couple of Atlanta promo heavyweights with ties to the powerhouse label Quality Control.
Evander was given a spot opening for Rich The Kid -- so long as he could arrange the travel. He and two friends drove state to state, living out of a Ford Focus. The hype around “Right Now” continued to spread, as Rich The Kid dropped off a remix while on tour. While driving back to El Paso, Evander’s phone started blowing up due to the revelation of another remix. “Right Now” had reached the very top of Atlanta, as Gucci Mane, the city’s most valuable cosign, heard the track and took it upon himself to add a verse -- one that finds him in top form. Within days, Evander was on a plane to Atlanta, on his way to meet Gucci to shoot the video for their surprise collaboration.
Evander’s “Right Now” moment didn't end with the Guwop remix. Months later, he met with another Atlanta superstar -- this one closer in age -- in Lil Yachty, whom he clicked with right away. Yachty brought Evander on tour, included him on “X Men” -- a frenzied banger off his debut album, Teenage Emotions -- and eventually contributed to the third and final “Right Now” remix, or “Teen Mix.”
This year has been good to him, but it’s not over yet. Later this month, Evander hopes to build on the success of “Right Now” with his debut project, Raíces (“Roots” in Spanish). Out November 24, Raíces will feature Lil Yachty and other ATL power players like 2 Chainz and Offset, as well a Texas OG in Trae Tha Truth. Evander also says his debut will delve into “the real love that teenagers go through” and be reflective of both sides of his Afro-Hispanic heritage.
Read Evander Griiim's first HNHH interview below.
HNHH: It sounds like it's been a crazy 2017 for you. Walk us through this year and tell us where your head's at these days.
Evander Griiim: It’s crazy getting discovered. It’s been a lot of work. It’s been so much work put into it, just getting my hands dirty this year. Just doing all the crazy tours. That’s what this year really consisted of, just touring and shows. I've probably done like 200 shows this year.
I know you haven't been doing music seriously for very long. Take me back to the moment when you decided to commit.
It was crazy. It was actually someone telling me I couldn’t do it. It was on my graduation day, I had my cap and gown on, right? You know, I never really had like a real group of friends, so I was kinda just like bouncin’ around here and there, like, “Hey, we did it!" ... And then this one group of guys, they came up to me and were like, “What are you really gonna do?” They said it like that -- bluntly, loud -- like, “You don’t do any sports, you’re not in any clubs, like what are you really gonna do?"
And it hit me. I was sitting, and while I’m graduating high school -- the moment that’s supposed to be like your biggest thing, you know what I mean -- they put me down. But that like turned me into this, like, monster. It just gave me this incredible work ethic.
The very moment I got outta high school I was like, “Alright, I’ma get a job.” Like 40 hours a week. I’m 18, working, going crazy as if I have three kids or some shit, but really I’m still livin’ at my parents' house. But I’m working with such a desire and fire. A lot of my friends who are still with me to this day, they really pushed me, like I have a real good support team and shit. I never asked for money from my parents or anything like that. It was always out of my pocket.
Where was your first job?
Panda Express. To this day, I could run a whole Panda Express. Swear to God, by myself.
I read that you did college for a month or so.
Yeah I was in college for a month.
During that time, were you trying to make music work so you could get out?
Lemme tell you what happened. I was in college for a month. And that one month, I had made my whole plan. Like I still have the piece of paper where I wrote down all my goals, said like, “Get a job, get a studio, get a team” -- and you see everything’s checked off.
What happened when you dropped out?
What had happened after that one month, I would get dropped off -- cause I didn’t have a car at the time. So my parents would drop me off, and I’d have my friend just pick me up right after. Like I would wave at my parents, say, “Alright, bye!” -- and they would leave, and he would just pull right in.
When did they find out?
Well they didn’t find out until recently, like I just told them. After everything was a success, and everything was like, “OK, we’re on the right path” -- that’s when they found out.
Tell me what it's like growing up in El Paso.
El Paso’s like 95% Hispanic. Like everybody there is Mexican. I call it kind of like a college town without the crazy college team. Every weekend, everybody’s tryna get fucked up. So every weekend you’re going to some bar, going to a house party. Cause n*ggas is bored. Cause there really isn’t shit do to, so everyone’s just tryna get fucked up. Everyone has done everything there like 10 times already -- the movies, the carnival. We’re like right next to Juarez. Like literally I could walk to Juarez. So we’ll go there sometimes and drink. Cause the legal age in Mexico is 18. So we would just go, drink in Mexico, cross right back drunk as fuck. There’s really nothin’ goin’ on. School, work out, get fucked up, do it again.
Did your music get big in El Paso before it blew up on the Internet?
Yeah, my shit blew up in my city, and it kind of just spilled over. It was like, “Yo, he’s actually dope, and he’s from here? Foreal?” Cause really El Paso be kind of late on the new artists. For instance, people are now just getting hip to, like, Lil Pump or any of the new artists. They’ll get hip to ‘em when they’re like dumb poppin’. But for them to fuck with me before anything’s goin’ on, they felt the feeling you get when you find a new artist. They were onto something. And they were like, “I really know him."
Was "Right Now" the first song that really popped off?
Yeah. And then it really popped off when Gucci Mane got it. Everybody liked it before, but when Gucci Mane got on it, everyone’s minds were blown.
How did the remix come about?
What happened was, I was on tour with Rich The Kid. It was me and two buddies, and we were driving around in my friend’s Ford Focus, and that’s how we were going around the whole tour. We went from El Paso to LA, LA to Seattle, Seattle, Chicago -- in a little Ford Focus, just us three, just driving, taking turns driving. So we were driving back when it was done. We were driving back, and my Twitter just started going crazy, like, “Yo! Gucci Mane, Gucci Mane, Gucci Mane!” and I had checked his Snapchat, and it was just there. And it turns out, he had just heard the song, and he was just fuckin’ with it, and he hopped on it.
Did you link with Gucci soon after that?
Yeah, probably a couple of days after. We had gone to Atlanta and shot the music video for it, and we’ve just hung out sporadically ever since.
He's someone who always seems invested in the young artists. What's some wisdom he passed on to you?
I gained how to move like a real artist. I’m not gonna like give his whole regimen out. But the way he moves -- he’ll be in and out quick. He just moves so professionally. He’s really about his business. I just loved the way he moved. He’s in and out like a blur.
After "Right Now," your next big one was "The Step."
Yeah, it's like a city anthem.
That's El Paso in the video?
Yeah, that video’s in El Paso. I almost got arrested for that video. Yeah, but it was great. That was one of my favorite days. It was like a holiday.
Tell me about how you met Lil Yachty.
Well the first time I ever, ever met him was at Coach K’s birthday party. Coach K had a birthday party in Atlanta, and we had walked in there, and I had met him there. But I was dumb starstruck, like, “Oh shit, Lil Yachty!” But I kept it cool and shit, like, “Yo, wassup man? My name’s Evander.” The second time I met him was at the BET Awards. I saw him on the red carpet, and he came up to me and he was like, “Yo bruh, your shit is dumb fye!" In my mind I was just goin’ crazy, like, “Bro, thank you.”
I know you have a project in store for us soon. What's the status on that [Raíces]?
Yeah, it's coming November 24th.
Give us some details about the project.
I feel like my manager really pushed me to like my breaking point in just recording. Really like push it. That was a big part of it, creating a whole new sound. Because I’m black and Mexican, and I kind of like merged it. And I feel like the Mexican fans, they’re gonna embrace it cause it’s gonna be like, “Damn, he’s puttin’ on for us." But it’s not too out there. It’s right down the middle. Like literally like me, black and Mexican right down the middle.
And I feel like the R&B, the R&B on there is really like a breath of fresh air. I feel like everybody’s the same sound in R&B -- mad auto-tune, same sound, different person -- but I feel like this shit is totally different. Like I have a bunch of stories about the real love that teenagers go through, not just the made up stuff, like shit people really go through.
What can we expect production-wise?
Skritzy ("Right Now") is on like the biggest records. Skritzy and Zaytoven made the “Vida Loca” record with me and Offset. Skritzy’s on the guitar really shredding on this shit. I got like Ayo -- he did a lot of shit with Bryson Tiller. I got some shit with Charlie Heat. That’s pretty much it. It’s a dope sound.
Any other features aside from Offset?
I got Yachty, 2 Chainz, Trae Tha Truth. That one’s for the culture right there.