Gus made Hellboy in LA. Some people say Hellboy was Gus’s “breakthrough” mixtape. And certainly many of Gus’s fans became fans because of Hellboy. Hellboy is a gritty, raw, and very intense piece of work in which Gus expresses feelings of anger, sorrow, loneliness, and determination. It is passionate. It is daring. And it kicks. It showcases Gus’s love for the guitar. The songs Gus chose to make Hellboy arose from his work with a small group of producers. These young men sampled some great, classic guitar riffs and combined them with the signature 808s for Gus to lay his vocal on and really wobble your rear view mirror.
Hellboy, like Crybaby, was made using Garage Band on Gus’s laptop. Some producers were still emailing Gus beats but the core group worked right alongside Gus—Nedarb, Smokeasac, Cortex, Horsehead.
The first Hellboy track—Gucci Mane—was created at a big, open space known as “the loft,” located at 443 South San Pedro Street, in the heart of L.A.—smack dab in the middle of Los Angeles’s famous Skid Row. Gucci Mane was created on July 31—about a week or so after Gus, Nedarb, LeDerrick (who had produced Crybaby and all of Teen Romance two months before), and Tracy moved in. Gus was immensely proud and excited to move into the loft. He called me one night to tell me all about it. He told me all about Skid Row, about the hundreds of tents. He was amazed at it all. He told me how beautiful the space inside was—the big open floor plan, the big windows and the beautiful view. He told me how there was a neat roof that you could go up on and hang out. He was so excited to be moving into what he basically felt was an artists’ workshop—a sort of atelier where he could work and play with all of his friends and collaborators. It was like his dream come true.
Gus had been couch-surfing for nearly two months, making new friends, making music, carrying most of what he had with him in Los Angeles around in his backpack. Now, at 443 South San Pedro St., Gus could have his own bed to lay his head on, and a space of his own in a collective—where he would have friends and collaborators to not only keep him from feeling lonely and scared but to inspire him to create, grow--and teach others about what he was learning. He texted me a photo of his bedroom area (no walls, remember)—all neatly set up with a neon sign and a pink bedcover. He was very proud of having his own place. He looked forward to living and working with people he trusted and enjoyed. And he sent me a picture of his artfully arranged space.
Gus called me because he wanted his Iron Maiden and Death Note posters to decorate his loft space--posters he would later on end up leaving there as he tip-toed out one morning to move to Fairbanks Ave. in Echo Park. Then he asked me to send him some sheets. I ordered three sets of sheets on August 2nd. He texted me the next day saying they had arrived---and on that day he and Nedarb created OMFG.
The loft was Gus’s dream place. Six Hellboy tracks were written there. Driveby, OMFG, Red Drop Shawty, Fucked Up, and Cobain. Yet, it could be chaotic and unpredictable too. People, sometimes even “random” people, would come over and want to party. It got noisy. There was no privacy because of the open floor plan design of the space. So, where there could be a relatively quiet evening of young men working in small groups in different spaces around the place, there could also be loud screaming, throbbing parties. And you couldn’t really predict or control what happened when. Nevertheless, six of the 16 Hellboy tracks were created in less than a month in that loft on Skid Row.
During the time Gus lived at the loft, he was being pursued to sign a “deal.” That put a lot of pressure on him, and he would call me upset about it. The promise of large amounts of money was being dangled in front of him, and he had no idea how any of the music business worked. He counted on the advice of others to steer him successfully—so he wouldn’t sign “a bad deal.” He was a nineteen-year-old being placed under the sorts of pressures much older adults would find overwhelming. And it was overwhelming. Gus told me several times he didn’t want to stay in LA, that it was a “big popularity contest” and that he “might retire.” So, the intense pressure to take a big advance payment to sign a deal, as well as the often noisy, unannounced, and invasive loft visitors took their toll on Gus. He had a hard time getting sleep. He had a lot of things to think about. And all of the pressure and strain exploded out in lyrics and in song. Gus really started belting out his lyrics. He let it all out with the music, saying to me when he was at his wit’s end and feeling like giving up “Sometimes no one can make me feel better except myself.” That was perhaps true. And he happened to make a lot of others feel better, too.
Gus ended up leaving the loft to move into an apartment on Fairbanks Ave in Echo Park in the end of August, 2016. He had signed “a deal” on August 11, and now had money advanced to him for rent, clothing, and equipment.
He went right out and got himself some pink teeth and one week after he had signed his contract he sent me a text saying “Just bought 1200$ shoes with my clothing budget. And a $600 belt.”” They were black leather shoes with snakes on them. He told me about them. That very day he purchased a fancy belt, and these shoes, he said “Nice clothes don’t make u happy I just found out! But I’m still happy. It’s your friends that make you happy.”
Gus had moved to Echo Park because it was supposed to be better than the loft. The neighborhood was certainly considered “better than Skid Row.” The person Gus signed his deal with called the loft a “squat”--as though it were an abandoned building and Gus and his friends were homeless. Echo Park was nice. It had real rooms and a real kitchen (small), but it was tiny. And everyone followed Gus there. So, now there was equipment, couches, a bedroom, but this little apartment could not hold all of the people who migrated from the loft to hang out, take pictures of, and work with Gus. Gus even commented one day that “This apartment is backwards, the bedroom is bigger than the living room. There’s no room here.” Nevertheless, Gus and his collaborators and friends made it work, and continued making Hellboy. He asked me to order him a new Death Note and Iron Maiden poster to replace the ones he had left at the loft. For the last week of August, Gus was excited to move into his new place. Once he got there, however, he discovered that there was nowhere to sit, sleep or eat. So he asked me to order basic things like pots, pans, a pepper grinder, tea kettle. Then he bought furniture at Ikea. On September 2, Gus sent me a photo of his colorful couch, saying “I inherited a little of your style I think.”
The end of August was marked by two photo shoots, and several “stylist” events connected to those photo shoots. Gus loved some of the clothes, saying to me “Ima rich fuck.”
But by early September, Gus had no money left in his account. We were trying to get him a flight home to New York for a restful visit, but we had to wait a week or so until I got paid. On September 4, Gus said “Guess we’re both broke.” It was just after this that Gus began to question what was going on, and how he was living. He had no idea how the money worked, “I don’t know how to do this at all and I really do r give a duck…I want to die so I don’t really care about my finances u know. I’ve been like this the whole time. I’m used to it. I don’t care if I get sued. Or if I’m homeless. Or whatever I made my mark I just want a microphone. I don’t care about that real life shit it’s not real life that shit is all fake. Money is fake... I’m blowing every last dollar on sushi…I live in the real world. Not this made up world of numbers and evil rich white people.”
Nearly three weeks later, on September 21, Gus wrote to me “I been freaking out and crying all day idk if I can take this…I think I want to leave…This can be a vacation house…I can’t live here sorry…I don’t want to work anymore…” During those two and a half weeks between September 4 and September 21, Gus made Nose Ring, The Song They Played, Interlude (which he has titled as “Gucci Shoes” on his laptop), Walk Away as the Door Slams, Drive By, The Last Thing I Wanna Do, and We Think Too Much. That last song was made two days before he texted me saying he had been crying. Later, I learned he had been locking himself in his closet—having nowhere else for privacy—and crying, trying not to be heard by those filling up the rest of the space in the apartment.
To listen to the Hellboy songs is to listen to the beautiful and heart-wrenching expression of raw emotion—raw emotion of a nineteen-year-old boy dealing with pressure in the best way he could.
I guess you could say Hellboy is a breakthrough record in that Gus was breaking through certain boundaries, social and musical, in order to get out his feelings in a way that helped him to feel better in the end.
He dropped Hellboy on September 25, and flew home to Long Beach, NY three days later on his big brother’s birthday. He was so exhausted that neither Oskar nor I could get him out of his bed for a couple of days.
Hellboy certainly shows how Gus could push through just about anything. Like the character Hellboy--whom Gus loved--Gus had a heart of gold and was someone very different on the inside from who he appeared to be on the outside. He was telling the truth when he said “Nobody knows me. Nobody knows one thing about me.” I wonder how many other young people feel that way too.
Luis Venegas aka Yung Goth
From February/March, 2016 for more than a year, Gus had one room-mate who lived and worked, off-and-on, with him the whole time. Here is what he wrote about Hellboy:
Seeing Hellboy be conceived was such an incredible experience.
I remember the quiet rooms and the monstrous recordings.
When Gus recorded this project he was relentless. If he started something he would finish it within an hour or two--tops. He didn’t care if there were groups of people in his living room partying the night away being loud and obnoxious. He would lock himself in his room and wouldn’t come out until there was a beautiful song to showcase. Not only was it beautiful, it was powerful.
Hellboy is a reflection of his surroundings, a love letter to the constant stress and societal pressures that come with stardom.
Gus was subject to a very toxic environment, “friends,” management, relationships--and having to deal with such change in a short amount of time. It was from all that pain and confusion that Hellboy came to be.
This project trail-blazed as soon as it was released, it shaped an entire generation of new artists and a new sound that completely took the entire music industry by storm. He was a pioneer, a visionary, and a genius. I miss him dearly.
“Can this be him? The one I've waited centuries to see.. How strange. So far from his path that I barely see the promise of glory. Can this be him? This Hellboy…”
Hellboy design by Mikey Cortez
Photos by Pretty Puke and Yoshi