The studio can be a place of utter mystery for some rap fans.

For many, the idea of going to “the stu” is synonymous with going to the club. It’s a much more exclusive venue, though, directly related to who you know. An elusive cave of luxury, the studio in its most romantic form boasts a scene full of empty liquor bottles, ashtrays full of blunt guts and braggadocios Instagram posts not-so-subtly begging to be taken.

While having a good time is a part of what comes with the territory of being a buzzing musician working in hip-hop, for an artist like Gizzle, the studio is a sanctuary; a second home and a place to get down to work, ironically, in silence.

As a tried and true studio dweller, it’s a place she visits every single day, and quite often, her productive late nights turn into mornings without even a glance at the clock. Having spent the majority of her career sharpening her swords and lending her talents as a songwriter to a high caliber laundry list of industry mainstays, the studio represents sacred ground. However, while she has shined behind the scenes for years, working with the likes of Kanye West, Puff Daddy, Pharrell, Timbaland, Teddy Riley, Nicki Minaj, Snoop Dogg, YG, Travis Scott, Meek Mill, Trey Songz and more, she’s now ready to invite a different element of her artistry to step into the spotlight: her own career as a solo artist.

For those just becoming acquainted with Gizzle, it’s clear she prefers her work to speak for itself. She won’t casually namedrop any of the aforementioned artists into conversation just because she can. I know firsthand, considering we spoke for an hour and I had to drag out names at the tail end of the convo—prying to see if Diddy showed her love on her new project (he did) and ask who else she’s previously worked with encouraged her individual career (many, with Ty Dolla $ign offering her an “I told you so” moment once she finally took the leap). With over a decade in music under her belt and experiencing her favorite artists becoming her mentors, the next step organically presented itself in the form of an on-the-spot creative challenge that evolved into her first solo release.

Releasing her debut project 7 Days in Atlanta further proved for Gizzle that the studio is more closely related to a creative mindset than it is an opportunity to schmooze for social media street cred. That is part of why she’s been able to accomplish as much as she has. After years of making ripples, Gizzle is getting ready to make waves.

Born and bred in Los Angeles, the 28-year-old artist first got her footing living her artistry as a teenager, writing lyrics on her homework and wondering where exactly her pen game could take her next. Now that Gizzle’s long-awaited debut as a solo artist has finally arrived, she’s about to find out.

What made you want to finally release a solo project? Why now?

The anticipation was building for a while, and I didn’t really have a chance to get my message across. I wanted to be able to say the things that I feel can only be said from my voice. While working with so many people and having the blessing to be a part of so many different people’s careers, I’m still essentially helping other people tell their story.

Eventually, I got to the point where I was just going to have to speak for myself and put that same kind of effort and energy into my own product or projects; make my own legacy. I started off by rapping, and I’ve just been rediscovering my love and passion for that. From an artist’s standpoint, songwriting has been so good to me and is such an important part of who I am. I enjoy it so much and I love being able to speak from different perspectives and help people get out whatever their ideas are and their dreams are. But I think it’s very important for me to step in and say things that I always don’t get to say because you can’t always say or do what you want when it’s on someone else’s behalf, you know?

How did the idea come about to create 7 Days in Atlanta?

We know that a lot can happen in a week. A lot can happen in a day. I planted the seed for the idea last Summer, and the reason I was thinking about it and talking about it was because it was something I wanted to do with other artists. Like maybe we can just go somewhere dope and make a whole project out of the trip. I planted the seed and let it sit there for a while, but last December, I was in an interesting place creatively and personally. I was like, “You know what? I’m just going to go to Atlanta for a week and create.”

We literally locked in just seven days straight where we woke up and went straight to the studio. At the end of the week, I realized that this was the same idea I had from six months ago, and I did it without even really thinking about it.

Going through the material, I realized we really had something there and it was bigger than Atlanta. I’m very familiar with Atlanta and I’m comfortable there, so it’s like a second home to me in a lot of ways. Creatively, I just always find freedom there. Not to mention, the food and the people, too. I have a pretty bad addiction to lemon pepper shrimp, and it’s basically all I ate while I was there. I wanted to figure out which place has the best lemon pepper shrimp, and while I was waiting for my food one day I got the idea for “Single And Poppin’” because my friend and I were just joking and catching up. She asked me about my ex; I just answered, “I’m single and poppin’!” We started chanting it at the bar and making it snap. When we got back to the studio, the idea just stuck. It made a lot of sense too.

So, with the songs stemming from a specific experience, how did “Melanin” come together, for one example?

For “Melanin,” that song was a little bit more focused and less spontaneous than “Single and Poppin’.” We had some girls over to the studio, and we got into a little bit of a debate over the Black experience in America. They actually weren’t Black and they were saying the N-word, and I just wasn’t with that. So I told them, “I don’t know if you probably hang with other people where that may be cool, but I’m not into that.” They weren’t, but they were of Middle Eastern descent and I just felt like they didn’t identify with being Black, so I just didn’t understand why they felt the need to say the word so much, you know what I’m saying?

I didn’t want to discourage these girls or leave a bad taste in their mouths, but I never want to sit idly with something that’s not appropriate, especially if I have a chance to educate or help someone get a different perspective. Although I felt a little bit shitty over the situation, since they got mad and felt bad, I just wanted to make a song that could make all people—but specifically my people—feel good when they wake up. I wanted to let people know that it’s okay to be Black, and it’s okay to be proud. We see that dialogue more now, especially with movies like Get Out, but even though it’s more of a conversation, I just wanted to make something that would be a reminder to my people to feel good about being Black. You can feel how personal it is and that’s not just specific to being Black, it’s specific to being proud of who you are and where you come from and take into account your entire history. This song just kind of wrote itself.

For you, how does your environment relate to your creative process?

Because I’m a creative and I work on a lot of different things, in order to make myself a priority, I have to put my own pressure on myself and put that fire under me. I’ll be doing seven days in Denver next, and I’m so excited.

I feel like, of course, you always have to be in the right mind space, but just living life is very much a part of my creative process. If I’m not maxing out every day and doing everything I can to really be living—enjoying myself and having a full life—then it’s hard for me to be inspired. That’s why I’m able to be inspired when I’m traveling, because I love traveling. This will be my first time in Denver, but I know that things are going to come up and it’ll result in really good music. I’m making a conscious effort to create something special, and from that point on, I’ll always have an ongoing connection to that city. Denver and I will always have that little baby we created.

Why Denver?

I picked Denver because it’s a city that’s pioneering in a lot of ways socially, especially with the legalization of marijuana. I feel like it’s just an up-and-coming city. There’s culture there but nobody off the top is like, “Oh I’m going to go make my album there,” so I feel like that’s important. It’s also a place that called me. I’m excited to see whatever it has to offer.

Do you think that there is a pressure to create socially conscious music under Trump’s presidency?

I think if you’re an artist and you’re not making music that reflects the times then you’re doing yourself, your fans, and the culture in general an injustice. Every day that I wake up, my aim is to learn something, to widen my perspective, and to grow as a person. I’m not a conscious rapper, or a backpack rapper or an overly pop rapper. I’m not a preacher. But I do aim to covertly slip some consciousness into my music. If I experience happiness, sadness, love, or injustice, it’s going to be in my music.

Does anything change in your creative process when transitioning from making music for others versus yourself?

What has changed is that I am a bit more selective in the things that I decide to take on. I’m in an interesting place because I’ve been writing songs for so long—primarily in an R&B and a hip-hop space—so I’m trying to do things that challenge me as a writer. That’s easier to do on your own work. When people call me and say, “Hey, Gizzle, what you got for this?” if it’s not something that really excites me, I don’t want to do it. No matter what it does in terms of success or money, if I’m not growing as a person or if I’m feeling like I’m just doing the same thing I was doing last year or even yesterday, I just don’t want to do it. So for me, it’s about finding that balance of doing things that excite me, working with people that I really care for and if I can aide their career in any way, all while challenging myself. I want to grow and get better, so that hasn’t really changed. I have turned down a few things and that can feel really good. Personal legacy has always been number one for me. I want to feel proud of everything that I’m a part of. Doing the 7 Days project is exactly that. It’s something I am excited for and get passionate about every single time. As I grow, it’ll grow. That’s where I’m at.

Being a songwriter and having spent so much time behind the scenes, how is your live performance?

I’ve always been a natural performer, and I love it. The studio is my favorite part, but both are my safe havens. I go to the studio every single day, but putting on a live show is a lot of work in a different way. My live show has definitely gotten better over the past six months alone. I’m just trying to do something that people are going to remember.

I’m most comfortable having my live band, but am working on tailoring the experience the best I can with the resources I have, since you don’t always get to bring a live band with you. It takes conditioning. I have a deeper voice than most people too, so it takes me a little bit of extra time and care to prepare and recover. With 7 Days in Atlanta, I’m performing it in order so it’s been cool to see how it comes to life in the live setting and just coming with that energy. Slowing it down in the middle and then building back up the energy.

What did you learn from your time at SXSW this year?

It’s all about the importance of the live show. There are so many artists performing and every body has their own angle. It’s cool to get down with your peers, discover new talent and see where you fall into the fold. Make new fans along the way and take them on my journey with me. SXSW just fortifies the importance of getting out there, finding a demographic, reaching out to your fans, testing the people and it’s definitely a great investment for a new artist.

For myself, I say that loosely, that I’m a “new” artist. I definitely paid attention to some of the marketing things that newer artists are coming up with down there, so much of it is genius. Everybody doesn’t have a huge budget and you just see people making due with what they have and with a lot of passion. Some people, who didn’t have CDs or anything, would just come up to you and rap. I love that part of the culture. That part of hip-hop is how I first got into the game. I just decided I wanted to rap when I was 11 after a poetry reading I did had people asking for an encore. Whenever that happens in my live show now, it just takes me back and gives me a little confirmation that I am on the right path. So, yeah, that was a moment for me at South By.

With getting your start in music so young, when did you realize this was going to become your career and your life?

I had an aunt that was signed to Snoop Dogg’s [label] when I was like 12 years old, so I got to see that firsthand. I got to see my aunt go from writing raps in my grandma’s house to being on television. So I saw that, coupled with what I felt like was my natural ability and the work that I was willing to do. I always thought it was a plausible thing; seeing those experiences and seeing the growth that I was making just from writing everyday and the response I would get in school. I wrote raps on all my homework so I’d turn in my homework and I’d have to get it back from my teachers, like, ‘hey, my rap is on the back and I need that!’ [Laughs] I’ve always had that kind of encouragement since I was a kid, so it’s always been clear to me that I had a future in music. I’m really grateful for that.

I think because my family has seen that I’m not quitting and I’m not stopping, their respect level has grown for what I do. When I was younger, it’d be like, “So, what college are you going to?” I think as I’ve reached adulthood and accomplished a few things, saying that you’re a rapper at the family reunion isn’t a joke anymore. It’s now all, “that’s my cousin and she raps!”

Is remaining independent an important focus for you right now or would you consider signing with a record label if the fit was right?

I think ownership is important. I wouldn’t entertain a record deal, but I’d entertain a partnership. You can’t do everything by yourself. The goal is to get the music to as many people as possible and to share and spread the message—the love and the light. But owning what you create is very important. I’ve been offered a record deal every year since I was 16 years old, and I haven’t accepted one yet. At this point, I feel like it’s kind of too late, especially with everything that’s available to you now. I’ve been putting my blood, sweat, and tears into this since I was a teenager, so I feel like I should be able to make decisions and be in control of the message. There’s nothing wrong with signing a deal if you have a great label and a good relationship and partnership. For me, it’s always about making sure that I have the choice and the control to say the things that I want to say, and be conscious of the energy that I’m putting out there. The same thing goes with my songwriting. I’ve had chances to be on many different singles that went on to be successful, but for me, personal legacy is everything. I’m not ever going to compromise that. I just want to be able to look back at all of this and be proud of it. That’s why being independent is important for me at least: to be able to show all the business people, the higher ups, and the powers that be what I can do as a businesswoman.

At the end of the day, what’s your main goal?

At the end of this, the goal is always to just be a better human being; to be better than I was yesterday.

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