Giftz is a rapper from Chicago who is making a name for himself as one of the best young emcees in the Windy City. A string of EP’s and mixtapes led Giftz to the release of a full-length project in 2013 titled Position of Power. The 17-track album displays Giftz versatility as an artist and his growth as a lyricist.
Giftz will be performing at the Special Delivery showcase as part of South by Southwest this weekend at the Old School Bar & Grill alongside Ab-Soul, Lil’ Bibby, Vince Staples, Tree, Dorrough, Boldy James, The Boy Illinois, Dreezy, Deniro Farrar, Bryant Dope, 360, Yung Nation, Buggs Tha Rocka, KD Young Cocky, 3Tre, and Pavy.
Examiner.com spoke to Giftz about the origins of his rap name, the Chicago rap scene, performing at South by Southwest, and his recent release, Position of Power.
SS: Explain the title of your latest album, Position of Power.
Giftz: I dropped three projects before I released Position of Power and I felt like it was kind of slept on. I titled it that to get people to pay attention to it. I felt like I was good enough to be in that position with mainstream artists and I wasn't just competing with Chicago artists, but the whole music industry.
SS: Tell me about the new single, ‘Game of Chess’.
Giftz: It features my homie Boldy James and is produced by Thelonious Martin. That song came about when I was in the studio cooking with Thelonious working on a project. He just so happened to have a good relationship with Boldy so he called him and he came through. We sat there and chopped it up and he came up with the hook. We went from there and it actually turned out to be one of the biggest singles on the project. I was kind of shocked by that because I didn’t think people were going to like me on that type of production.
SS: Why is that?
Giftz: It’s crazy ‘cause one day I’ll drop a joint over a Drill type beat and people will say, “I like him on that but I wanna hear him on something else.” Then I’ll do something over a Thelonious Martin beat and they’ll wanna hear me over the Drill beat so I never really know. It’s hit or miss with the fans if they’re going to like it or not.
SS: Who inspired you to want to be an emcee?
Giftz: I would have to say it was Jay-Z. I didn’t grow up listening to the Ghostface’s and Rakim’s and all of that. I think people name a lot of those rappers because they feel like that’s what they’re supposed to say [laughs]. I didn’t listen to that. I listened to Jay-Z, Beanie Sigel, and Lil’ Wayne. That was the era where I grew up with the music.
SS: I’m going to have to disagree with you on that. You just named two of my favorite rappers ever…
Giftz: I think the people that I named are always people’s favorite rappers. But a lot of people say, “I grew up listening to 2Pac, Biggie, Big L, and Pun,” the people that everybody say is great ‘cause that’s what everybody says. I honestly didn’t listen to that music.
SS: But everybody says Jay-Z is great too.
Giftz: That’s my era though. I’m 23. When Jay-Z came out with Volume 3 I really started listening to his music. Then I came back and did my history on the Purple Tape and Reasonable Doubt and all of the great projects that came out. But as far as growing up listening to it I had no idea what they were talking about, none at all.
SS: That’s interesting. I’m 37 so my era is late 80s, early 90s. Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, KRS-One, Kool G Rap, that’s the stuff I was raised on so I judge everything by that. But at the same time I go back and listen to Kool Moe Dee, I go forward and listen to Lil’ Wayne…
Giftz: That’s what I had to do. I had to go back and do my history on the Big Pun’s and Kool G’s and actually check it out once I was able to understand what they were truly talking about. You figure if I was born in ’90 their music was out years before I was even thought of so I really had no understanding of what they were even talking about.
SS: That’s very interesting. You know Jay-Z is... I don’t wanna say a clone, but Jay-Z is a take-off of Big Daddy Kane.
SS: Yeah. Big Daddy Kane took him out on the road as his hype man and taught him. So Jay sounds a lot like Kane. Jay has his own angle but he’s lyrically like Big Daddy Kane. In ’94 Kane had a record called ‘Show & Prove’ and he had Jay-Z, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, and Shyheim on the record with him. Jay was different back then. He was doing the fast Twista type of rap.
Giftz: See I never listened to Big Daddy Kane before.
SS: Oh my god!
Giftz: Yeah, I went and did a radio interview at WGCI and when I was telling them the people I listened to like Baby and BG, I was the biggest Hot Boys fan, and they said, “The way you rap and the people you’re influenced by it don’t make sense because you rap like the Big Daddy Kane’s and all them.” I never listened to their music.
SS: That’s crazy. Go back and study all those guys. Not everybody, but the great ones like Kane, Rakim, and LL Cool J. Study all that stuff because you’ll see where a lot of people today got their stuff from. Nas took a lot of his stuff from Rakim, and Rakim took his stuff from Kool Moe Dee. It’s like a cycle.
SS: How’d you get the name Giftz?
Giftz: It was this cat on Soundclick when I was like 13. He hit me like he wanted to sign me. Me being 13 I didn’t know he was sending me off. I’m telling my mother I’m gonna get a deal and all of this sh*t but I didn’t have a rap name. He said, “Im’ma call you Young Giftz ‘cause you’re so young and can rap. I think it’s a fitting name.” When I found out he sent me off I tried to think of another name but everything I was coming up with was so corny so I actually ended up keeping the dudes name. He actually hit me up about two years ago when I started buzzing and was like, “You’re really doing it now and it’s crazy how you kept the name.” It’s kind of weird how I came up with that.
SS: Wow, so just some random dude?
Giftz: A random dude off the internet who told me he was going to give me a record deal and I believed it.
Giftz: Louie is from right down the street from me. I’m from 93rd and Jeffrey and he’s from 63rd. We had the whole east side thing going so I was bumping into him in traffic on a regular basis. It was really nothing to get him in the studio. Me and Big Homie Doe got a real tight relationship so he had him come through for me. At the time I was recording my project at Rockie Fresh’s home studio. He had DM’d me and asked could he come to the studio and sit in. Rockie was like, “Yo, I wanna get on that.” Rockie Fresh was the homie before he popped but when people get to a certain level you expect them to act funny. So when he told me he was gonna do it I was like, “Yeah, ok, whatever.” He said, “I’ll send it to you in like a week.” I thought he was gassing me and when I checked my e-mail he had sent me the record back and went crazy on there for me.
SS: A lot of people have different opinions about the Chicago rap scene. Some people say it’s all haters, some people say it’s love. What has your experience been like?
Giftz: I think when you’re first starting off and trying to get a name it’s not necessarily haters but it’s the whole crabs in a barrel syndrome. When I was first starting I felt like nobody wanted to help me. nobody wanted to do a feature for me for free, everybody wanted money, no producers wanted to send beats, whatever. I grinded my way up and YP was one of the first people to reach out to me. He said, “Yo, I like your music,” and he came through and did 2-3 verses for me over a month’s span for free. Somebody else had a real nice buzz going and they did it for free. Once I started working with those artists it was like a fraternity. Once you get inside of it the opportunities are endless. You can work with whoever you want once people think your name has some type of clout to it. But at the same time you get so used to people telling you that you have to pay, when you get to that level and everybody is hitting you for verses, videos, and features you’re like, “Sh*t nobody helped me so this is how it goes.” This is what the Chicago industry is so you get to charging people and sh*t for it. It’s funny, bro. it’s a real crazy game.
SS: That’s a funny situation to be in because you’re trying to make a living too.
Giftz: I don’t have a job. Whatever I get for those verses and shows is what I pay my rent with. People don’t understand that. I didn’t understand that when people would tell me, “I want $250 for a verse.” And then when you get to where I’m at now and I’m talking to mainstream artists and they’re like, “Yeah, I want $18,000,” or “$15,000” and I’m like damn that $200 n*ggas was asking for wasn’t nothing ‘cause he asking me for $20,000 for a verse now!
SS: What do you have in-store for fans at SXSW?
Giftz: I have an official SXSW stage on Saturday with Ab-Soul, Dorrough, and Lil’ Bibby. It’s a dope show. It’s going to be a stupid lineup. I got a couple unofficial shows as well. I’m shooting a couple of videos and doing some interviews. I’m just going out there trying to get some work done.
SS: What’s next up for Giftz?
Giftz: I finally decided the title for my full-length project for this year. I’m going to call it ‘Mirrors’. I got a couple of EP’s I’m working on. I’m going to do Back 2 the Basics 2, which is produced entirely by LoKey so we’re going to do the sequel to that. I got another EP with an artist that I’m working on. I don’t wanna announce it. You know how stuff go, I’ll been done said it and it never comes to happen. We’re working on it right now and once I get it all put together we’ll go head an announce it. It’s going to be a big project though.
Download: Giftz – Position of Power