Almost twenty years have passed since the first interview I did with Gue Pequeno, at the time still known as Il Guercio and member of the trio Club Dogo (together with Jake La Furia and Don Joe), the group that more than any other has contributed to ferry rap in Italy from a fetish for a few carbonari to intragenerational language. I don’t know if at the time Guè believed he would never become a point of reference for the Italian music scene – certainly not, given how conservative the record environment of the time was and how difficult it was to get out of the usual underground laps.
But over the years, first by attending it, then working on it together, finally witnessing its growth from increasing distances, I was able to see how a 360 ° artistic vision, combined with a professional work ethic (which too many today forget to emphasize, almost as if success has fallen from heaven), he was breaking through the numerous cultural barriers that had hitherto allowed only few or more transitory successes to very few artists. And this from the beginning, when there was little money and a lot of improvisation: I remember the brainstorming for the Dogo logo, the ideas for the concepts of the first photographic sets (I call them that, but it is a compliment) and videos and above all, once the first successes arrived, I remember the stories of pilgrimages across the peninsula made to consolidate a success that was never taken for granted.
Here: for all these reasons I am not at all surprised to find Guè, almost ten years after the last time we met in person, no longer in a park or in a pub, but in a studio with all the trappings and assistants serving drinks, with the seventh solo album – Mr. Fini – released a few days ago, and with a Datejust on the wrist that marks the degrees of separation between our lives in twelve installments of the mortgage.
Here: if I didn’t know the effort behind that timepiece, maybe I would gnaw. Instead I’m curious to know what prompted him to embark on a new round of carousel record when, if you think about it, at this point in your career he only has to lose us.
The first impression I had after listening to Mr. Fini is that it is a dense album. Perhaps more than those currently in circulation, certainly more than your previous album, Sinatra. 17 tracks are many today …
When I conceived it I had in mind certain mid-zero classics like Lil ‘Wayne’s Tha Carter I and II. The contemporary trend – the ten-track disc of three minutes each – did not interest me, because I wanted to make a disc that on the one hand underlined my status, and on the other hand it contained all the influences that make up my artistic identity. In other words, I wasn’t interested in following the hype and competing directly with the last of the newcomers, but in doing something that sounded timeless. In fact, inside you can feel influences ranging from 80s pop to reggae, to dub, to pure rap and so on. But it’s not a compendium for nostalgics, understand me well, I like the current stuff a lot, I just didn’t replicate it 1: 1 but I reinterpreted it.
In fact, there is little autotune – at least compared to the average. But among all those influences you have mentioned, it seems to me that classic rap is missing, with which you also grew up, and that it has also been commercially back in sight for a few years now.
Instead there is, to the extent that some pieces are rapped from start to finish – like The guy – or where there is a guitar loop as it was done in the second half of the 90s, like Nas con The Message or AZ with S.O.S.A. If, on the other hand, you are referring to the vintage aesthetic of beat without drums and gloomy samples, I don’t follow it because I don’t care. I find it as manneristic as the most banal trap and, indeed, compared to the latter it is also a bit hypocritical. Because if on the one hand there is a queue to perculate the boy who copies everything from the Americans, from slang to gang signs – and there, eh, it is objectively ridiculous – on the other there is an aura of unmotivated respectability. What is it, just because in America there is stuff Virgil Abloh pushes it then is it legitimate to copy it? In the end, we always return to the topic of hype and endorsements: I guarantee you that if today I started to say on Instagram that you are the new Post Malone or that I deserve the Strega Prize, many people would believe it.
Wanting to see the glass half full, the good thing is that, unlike in the past, today it is easier to have a professional outlet.
But in fact I would not want to end in the generational diatribe, also because although I have never been a fan of Italian rap, today I find it better than it used to be, despite there being a general flattening on a specific sound and a specific style. Having said that, I find it unproductive to focus negatively on the thousand clones of an Ebbasta Sphere, because in this way the qualities of the latter are neglected and nothing is learned. In fact, look at the criticisms: for a slice of Italy the problem of Sphere would be that he uses thirty words in a song, perhaps even simple, and this does not make enough intellectual. But his thirty words are evocative! And anyone who has ever taken a pen in hand should know that being synthetic is much more difficult than prolonging – I myself do not always manage and compensate in other ways, but the fact is that I cannot be told that someone like him is not good just because others copy it badly, least of all an entire subgenre is crap.
Well that’s a critical issue. Once upon a time there was, for better or for worse, while now mediatically it no longer exists.
Well, we have gone from one extreme to another. Today everything is worth, while at the time of the Club Dogo there were those who made stories because we talked about making money or drugs, and for some it was copying. When we actually adapted a grammar – surely! – American, but what we described was 100% Italian.
An effective cultural translation is perhaps exactly what marked your entire artistic career, first in the Dogo and then as a soloist. And successfully, I would say. After 20 years of making music has something changed?
The only thing that has changed is that now, although I am still a ranking artist, I am calm enough to look beyond the more immediate competition. Mind you: I still want to have good results, and there is always performance anxiety, but I no longer feel I have to measure myself with anyone. Even in Italy, hip hop now has a pool of listeners ranging from 10 to 40 years and covers all walks of life – from the worker to the gallery owner to the criminal – therefore it is possible to develop individuality and paths that reflect age, experiences and different tastes. This is demonstrated in recent times by the success of Marracash, whose artistic maturation is undeniable. Here: I think the one I demonstrated in Mr. Fini is comparable to his, obviously moving on a parallel path.
Speaking of maturation: I noticed a certain bitterness in many of your pieces, even those formally more materialistic, as if you had a little fed up with certain things. It’s true?
Introspectively? Are you referring to Room 106? Well but I’ve always done that since the days of The ghost room…
No: those were limited episodes. Here, however, the heavy atmosphere envelops almost the entire album, with very few exceptions. Maybe it’s an abortion of my imagination, for heaven’s sake …
Okay, now I understand what you mean. The answers are many: trivially, the first is that however the life I lead is not a health walk. Of negative experiences on the front of friends, women, money and more I have had, therefore it is inevitable that in some way even the most sboroni pieces reflect these aspects. In the second place, as I am and for my musical and literary influences, I don’t give a damn about writing how happy and happy I am and, indeed, it is precisely when I report my darkest moments that I feel to be able to communicate better. In general I think it is the dark side of things that allows anyone to exercise and empathize with others. Finally, perhaps precisely because I write about many material things, I spontaneously dilute a little with a dose of realism and rebalance the narrative, otherwise it would become false. It’s like in American gangster movies and those well-rounded characters who inhabit them …
In fact, even the cover is a reference to the Godfather, as well as, if desired, to your 2015 album, True.
That’s right: you can consider Mr. Fini almost like the spiritual sequel to that album, which, incidentally, is my favorite work. And as for the Godfather, I wanted to use an explicit cinematographic reference because my record is structured like a film.
However, it is not a concept album.
Absolutely not, it is much more elastic, but the parable of the anti-hero is all right: in fact it opens with very swag pieces and, as it continues, it darkens up to close with the darkest introspection. This approach to cinema has always been my favorite element of hip hop, which, if you notice it, is the only genre that allows the artist to express a rhythmic and coherent narrative without having to stay in the background as only narrative voice. An example that comes to mind is that Clipse classic, Hell Hath No Fury, which begins with them who go to buy coca from the South American, and ends with Nightmares, a piece all about the paranoia of being betrayed and imprisoned. Here: in rap you can put a series of Netflix to music, and this stuff has always made me crazy. Not only because it is fun to do, but also because it allows you to be creative with writing and leave messages, without having to climb into the chair to explain to the listener how the world travels, which is something I hate.
You have it a bit ‘I’m terrified of being considered an engagé artist, huh?
Look, it makes me enjoy the stylistic research, the storytelling, the story, the musicality that is created between words … And beyond that I don’t feel I have anything to teach, let alone feel the duty to do it. This is why you will never see me writing pieces full of rhetoric or posting paraculo on Instagram on the latest topical event.
But rap, unlike other genres, has always been able to remain anchored even in current affairs. If it were only escapism it would have disappeared as a thousand other genres have disappeared in the last fifty years and, given the current situation, I would say that it would be the worst time for an escape into fantasy.
But in fact, let’s go back to the issue of entertainment, in a broad sense. I’ll give you an example: in Naples there is a Camorra, there are dead people on the street, and many people live with that stuff, regardless of whether or not, okay? Well, do you think they don’t watch Gomorrah there? If they do it is because that series speaks of a terrible situation but it does it with different facets, inserting small lessons in an overall speech that is still entertainment. And the same thing applies, as I know, to The Irishman, which beyond having stylistic tics that satisfy Scorsese fans – Joe Pesci who is crazy, or that myth of Bobby Cannavale that gives freshness to everything – still tells a story that goes beyond the plot itself.
However, if an artist has the personal depth and the right curriculum to expose himself on the front line on a topic, why shouldn’t he?
No reason, however, in fact, must have personal depth. In the end you always come back there: you have to talk about the things you do and know. Maybe I have a fixation with the fake busy, but if you want this talk we can extend it to the many self-styled criminals you hear around, from Tekashi 69 down, where anyone who has two eyes on his head and two life experiences should recognize them for what they are.
You have always been a somewhat controversial character, in this sense, because your connections have a certain criminal depth. And yet, you don’t come from that world there: how do you live this sort of double personality? And: how do you live the objective privilege of knowing that you, at any moment, could detach yourself from that environment, while your friends don’t?
I start from the end: it is a contradiction that I am aware of and with which I live, but it is precisely those people who get excited when they hear that I speak of their reality in my pieces, because I do it well and above all I do it in an authentic and respectful way, without pretend to be Al Capone but not even morally. And this authenticity and respect come naturally to me because I have always been, like many others, attracted to the underworld. Except mine is not just voyeuristic charm, but the desire to try experiences that – I am convinced – enrich the perception of reality, mine and those who listen to me. In this sense, I feel close to many Milanese writers of the past such as Scerbanenco or Pinketts, who have described certain realities so well precisely because they lived them personally, they did not just tell them. Not to mention Dino Buzzati’s A love. The privilege you say about is therefore there, but it goes hand in hand with having the means to tell about the realities that would otherwise remain confined to their world of origin, or that would also be told, but only for those who already belong to it. Mine is a virtuous circle: what I take from the street I always try to give it back, and I do it with respect and honesty, so much so that the first to appreciate me are those directly concerned. And receiving love from the street is fundamental for me.
This interview will be released in conjunction with Mr. Fini. It is your seventh solo album: after so long, are you left with any fear?
Left no, I have a new one …
That may happen to me in the future, as happened to some of my former idol rappers, who one day woke up and suddenly stopped being able to rap. That scares me.