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16GEECHI Is Bringing the Bay Area Street Sound Worldwide

By Grant Rindner on

Oakland’s 16GEECHI raps like a gifted running back in the middle of a 50-yard touchdown scamper. He’s constantly cycling between different deliveries, from gravelly and powerful to bright and melodic, shifting gears with the ease of Josh Jacobs making defenders fall over their own feet. Growing up on the same block as fellow Bay Area artists ALLBLACK and Offset Jim, GEECHI is a part of Play Runners Association, a talented crew who pair considerable song-crafting skills with honest, unflinching stories of street life.

His star was rising last spring when he and Prada Mack released Tag Team Champions, but a prison stint forced GEECHI to press pause on his career. Once free, GEECHI took a real step forward with Ghetto Success, which was expanded into Ghetto Success 1.5 this month, incorporating more sung flows and syrupy hooks as a counterweight to his natural baritone snarl. He stresses that he prefers to work solo, and with his expanding skill set, he’s able to anchor tracks like “Road Runnin” and “Dirty Money” with the kind of hooks other artists often shell out for.

On the phone, GEECHI is relaxed, candid, and quick to laugh, but he insists he’s no people’s person. “This music shit’s weird, man,” he says, skeptical about the industry and those he’s interacted with through it. But for better or worse, if he keeps building on his 2020 success, he’ll have to learn to navigate those mainstream waters sooner or later.

You and the rest of PRA grew up together around 22nd Ave and Foothill Blvd in Oakland, but what prompted you to come together and make music?

We was all raised together, brought up in the same hood. That’s just how it kicked off. We used to be called Otherside, before PRA was cracking. It started to get deeper with that, and we decided to run the PRA.

Before I went to jail, I was kinda popping the hardest out of everybody in the music area. By the time I got out of jail, [ALL]BLACK had dropped “Canadian Goose,” and he was on. It was crazy. When I’m getting out of jail, I’m like, “Man, this shit wild. This is what we dreamed of. We’re here.” That’s kinda how PRA got started. And then after that, we’re from the same hood, we’re all family. And we’re all our own bosses, don’t get me wrong.

Were you the first one who started rapping seriously?

Out of all of us, yes. I got BLACK in the studio. I begged him to get in the studio because he had so much game. When we first started, it was crazy, because he used to rap like Quavo and Takeoff. It was the funniest shit ever. He knew what he wanted to sound like, but he couldn’t quite find the sound. Before me, it was somebody that got me in the studio, though. That’s my brother, Rich. He got me in the studio, and it was like a domino effect. BLACK just applied the most pressure. He did something right, and it took off for us.

When you were first getting momentum as a rapper and then went to jail, were you worried you had maybe missed your moment?

Not the first time. The first time, I wasn’t expecting it. I never even thought I was gonna get out to what I got out to. I got out of jail, I’m going to shows, and I’m seeing hundreds of people with their lights out. The shit you dream of growing up. It’s what I got to see going to shows, Summer Jams, and all that shit I grew up with, but now we’re on stage. I never expected it.

But this last time—I just went to jail again, and this time I kinda felt like, “Man, going to jail fucked me up.” I was on the rise, this was right after me, and Prada’s tape dropped. Mind you, Ghetto Success was supposed to drop around New Year’s, which was around the time I went to jail, so it is like I missed out. But then I got out of jail, and I dropped Ghetto Success. I’m banned from Instagram, so I can’t promote it how I want to. That’s why we decided to come with the 1.5 because we could promote it a little bit better, you feel me?

What kind of writer are you?

I ain’t wrote no music in so long. I don’t write music; I go off the top of my dome. I go in there; I punch in. I don’t write too much, ever.

That writing shit, it ain’t for me. I feel like it’s better when you’re in that mode. It just comes out more authentic. That writing shit, you’ve got too much time to think about some fake shit. I don’t have time for that. We’re gonna speak the truth; we’re gonna do it right now like this.

But I ain’t gonna lie; if I wanna sit down and get a little deep, then I’ll probably go to that notepad or something. That’s if we’re getting deep.

The first time I heard you was on the tape with Prada Mack. You two obviously have some stylistic similarities, but you use your voices in complementary ways. Why do you think the two of you work well together?

Boy, I don’t know. Me and Prada, we’re kinda two of the same people in the music. We don’t sound alike, but we’re probably as versatile as each other. Where I would go with some music, he wouldn’t go. Where he would go, I wouldn’t go necessarily. But at the end of the day, whatever style I bring out to that man, he can match it. And whatever style he brings out to me, I can match it. I can adapt.

And when we’re in the studio, we make it comfortable enough for both of us. I ain’t finna go too off-topic on some shit he can’t talk about, and he ain’t finna go too off-topic on some shit I can’t talk about. It’s crazy in the studio with that man.

One of the big things I thought changed from Tag Team Champions to Ghetto Success was that you’re more focused on hooks and melodies. What do you think you got better at between the two projects?

It ain’t necessarily that. Let me tell you a thing about me: I make music better by myself than I do with other people. I don’t like doing features; I don’t like doing none of that because I like to think about me. I call it being a “stingy artist.”

I want the sound of the song to be how I want it to sound. So mainly, I like to do music by myself. The difference between Ghetto Success and Tag Team Champions is I didn’t have anybody to think about on Ghetto Success. I could go in there and try what I wanted to try. I could do what I wanted to do.

With Tag Team Champions, at the end of the day, we still had to account for each other. I can’t go in there just like, “Well, I wanna do this.” We’ve got to make sure that’s what we both wanted to do at the time. I could come up with this saucy-ass hook, but if Prada’s feeling a different type of bounce, then what we usually do is say, “You take half of that hook you’ve got, and I’ll take half of this hook I’ve got, and we’ll mix ‘em up.” That’s why the tape sounds two different ways, you feel me? And after Tag Team Champions, I kinda wanted a new style.

I expected you to be more of a sit-down-and-write type because of how you structure your records. When you look at other artists at similar points in their trajectory, do you think you’re approaching rap from a different place than many of them?

Truthfully, bro, I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m freestyling and just moving with the wind. I can’t put no name on that. I can’t speak on what the next man is doing. I don’t know what he’s doing to tell you if [I’m really doing it differently].

There’s not one lie I can be caught up in coming from my music. You can’t come to me and be like, “Well, Geechi, you said you’ve got this in your song, but you don’t got that.” I do got that. Everything I rap about, I do. A lot of this music nowadays, these n*ggas is characters, Daffy Duck and Goofy, you feel me? But there are some n*ggas that definitely need to be looked at more because they’re underrated and really be talking that shit: Tre Factor, shoutout to that guy. ROLLAGANG6 be talking his shit; that’s my brother.

You described it as people playing characters. In your music, is it important to make clear that you aren’t a character?

That’s the only way you’re gonna be able to get to know me or anything because I’m a closed book, bro. Even the shit I’m gonna show you on Instagram, it’s not gonna be too much to where you can just figure me out. The only way I’m letting people in is through my music. If you ain’t listening to my music, you don’t really know Geechi. You don’t know me.

Photos by Gino.

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