How Evilgiane Made #HEAVENSGATE VOL. 1, as told by his collaborators

#HEAVENSGATE VOL. 1, as told by his collaborators”>

Evilgiane. Photo by Francisco Russo


Late last year, Evilgiane was sitting in a New York recording studio waiting for an artist to show up. He wasn’t the only one — the label arranging the session had four other producers on deck. When I called 03 Greedo in mid-February, he didn’t bother telling me any of their names — “[Giane] had every style I needed.”

“It didn’t sound regional… He just had a universal sound and we locked in automatic,” Greedo recalls. “He came in, he was ready for the assignment.”

That’s no small praise from 03, who has only grown more fastidious about his songcraft following a nearly five-year prison stint that froze the ultra-versatile Watts MC’s nascent career in amber. “I try to find something brand new, like no one else has a song like this,” he explains of his beat selection. “Do I like the song before I even got on it? It has to have that energy.”

His features on Evilgiane’s latest #HEAVENSGATE VOL. 1 most definitely have that energy. There’s the narcotized paranoia of “SIP SIP,” which Greedo calls “not really a rapper song — it’s a song that a pop star would make.” The aftertaste of Clase Azul is promptly washed away by the propulsive “BEN DAWAVE,” which finds 03 extolling his hip-hop dominance — he’s “been the wave,” get it? On wax, the song-to-song transition from romantic insecurity to artistic self-assurance is remarkably smooth, perhaps because both songs were recorded in the same night.

It makes sense that 03 Greedo found a particularly capable collaborator in Evilgiane: if you don’t know the Brooklyn-born producer, your favorite rapper certainly does. Over the past year, his woozy beats (part New York drill, part digital cloud rap) have served as a springboard for inspired singles by Kendrick Lamar (“The Hillbillies” with Baby Keem), Earl Sweatshirt (“Making the Band (Danity Kane)”) and Playboi Carti (“Sights” with A$AP Rocky).

But those high-profile collabs are just a fragment of the musical world Giane has carved out over the past five years as the linchpin of musical-collective-turned-label Surf Gang. That arc has encompassed the early music of OPIUM affiliate Babyxsosa, unreleased production work for Lil Uzi Vert, and collaborative projects with everyone from psychedelic Floridian 454 to the francophone Parisian Serane. #HEAVENSGATE VOL. 1 is a curated highlight reel of Giane’s career to date, seamlessly blending freshly recorded tracks and remastered favorites from the archives. The result is not only a wide-ranging sampler of Evilgiane’s discography, but an intergenerational cross-section of the 2020s rap internet.

“I did ‘SHOTTAZ’ when he first started sending me beats and shit, and then I had did ‘CROWDSURF’ last year,” Queens rapper Dee Aura tells me of his #HEAVENSGATE contributions over the phone. “We first met around 2021 but he had sent me some beats before that.”

One of those beats was “GIVE BACK,” an unorthodox sample drill song built around a thumping flip of “Aston Martin Music” that quickly picked up viral steam: “Shoutout to Drake for showing love,” Dee says.

“Everybody has the same samples, but you’ll never find a sample like Giane does. That’s why it’s always special to work with him — never know what you’re going to get.”

Where most drill producers speed up samples into futurist blurs of motion, “GIVE BACK” welds a slowed snippet of Drake’s hook to a typically uptempo drum pattern. But those drums — like those on #HEAVENSGATE — are tighter and more closed than the signature open-ended 808s skidding across the majority of the subgenre, setting Giane’s production apart from the local scene. A similar trick animates “Myself” featuring Slimesito off 2021’s Surf Da World, a collaborative mixtape by Evilgiane and K$upreme.

“Even though Giane be making sample drill, he know how to do it in a way where it don’t sound like New York,” Slimesito explains when I call him. “I be forgetting it’s a sample drill beat.”

Based in Atlanta, Slimesito also started working with Evilgiane before they physically met. “2020, I had just got out of jail, I was pulling up [to New York] with DJ Rennessy, [and] he was already telling me about Giane. But I ended up going to the studio the next day with K$upreme” — the pair have been close friends and collaborators since they first met in 2015 — “and I rapped on two of his beats with K ‘Preme. That’s when I really got locked in with him.”

The trio reunite on #HEAVENSGATE for the tranquil “LIL WAYNE,” centered on a haunted music box melody peppered with claps and rustling hi-hats. Slimesito tells me that like “Myself,” it was recorded in 2020. “It sounds like we just made it though, I swear to god.”

That these early collaborations slot neatly beside their modern descendants is no small feat considering the accelerated lifecycles of music in the streaming era. “He got a timeless sound,” Slimesito offers when I mention as much over the phone. Staggered hip-hop releases are even more uncommon thanks to the genre’s rapid-fire output, but they certainly aren’t unique — like Lil Wayne, Gucci Mane, and Drakeo the Ruler, Slimesito and 03 Greedo also number among those rappers who have drip-fed fans “new” music while incarcerated.

“Bob Marley or Michael Jackson, the songs are forever. Whether Stevie Wonder or Ray Charles — a lot of [the greats] passed away before we were even born,” Greedo points out. “I go into it with a mindset like I’m trying to make those songs. People think something that does well in seven days is a hit, ‘look at your first week sales!’… So much business on top of the music takes away from the music, and me being tapped in artistically, it’s not gonna stop there. We really trying to make some timeless shit, so it won’t matter if it come out five years later.”

Everybody has the same samples, but you’ll never find a sample like Giane does. — Dee Aura

You can’t talk about Evilgiane without talking about Surf Gang. The story goes something like this: Giane Chenheu grew up in Brooklyn’s Chinatown, the son of a producer father and songwriter mother. An avid skateboarder, Giane was a mainstay at Lower East Sideskateparks, where he started to meet the loose collection of rappers, singers, and producers who would become Surf Gang around 2017. The skate crew began experimenting with music, drawing more focused attention during the pandemic as their skills sharpened. In 2020 and 2021, Surf Gang was perhaps better known as the home base for Polo Perks, Babyxsosa and Moh Baretta, but as the group’s producers racked up more credits and affiliated artists moved on to other projects, the focus shifted to the architects of the collective’s sound.

“Even if it’s been up and down with who’s been in and out,” Evilgiane, Harrison, and Eera are the heart of the collective, according to longtime collaborator Harto Falion, who connected with the group in 2019. “The style, the tape, the sound, the direction and the people they tend to work with — that’s Surf Gang.”

Hailing from Woodbridge, Virginia, Falion has been making music for more than a decade under the name Trip Dixon, producing songs for D.C.’s Goth Money Records and LA’s GothBoiClique. With four appearances across the album’s 45-minute runtime, Harto is the most prolific guest on #HEAVENSGATE, just ahead of K$upreme and Surf Gang associate JDN. On the phone, Falion tells me his features were recorded over the past two-and-a-half years, with the droning Eera coproduction “141” born out of the same sessions as 2023’s babyg_Lock, a joint tape with NOLANBEROLLIN. But Falion says he’s most proud of the sparse ballad “UGLY PRETTY” and the thuddingly plaintive “TALKING TO A WALL,” which have “more of the longevity and more of my feeling expressed from a deeper place.”

The Gud-coproduced “TALKING TO A WALL” was initially premiered on NTS Radio back in 2021, but had yet to see an official release. “All those songs [on the tape] are from [Evilgiane’s] SoundCloud that he’s put out over the years,” Falion says. “Those are the ones that he wanted to put in a project and get it mastered, make it a real collective thing.”

“Working with Surf Gang, particularly Eera and Giane and Harrison, it just feels right.” Falion tells me. “You feel like you can express yourself the way you want to. I love the percussion almost every time for almost anything they make, so I don’t really think that much about it, but the melodies, the feeling they put into it… It just feels like a recipe for greatness. I feel like I can kind of think a little bit better when I hear those beats. It’s got that little pinch of whatever it is that makes it feels like it’s gonna last forever.”

“He has no limits,” Queens rapper FLEE declares five minutes into our interview. “His sound ranges all over the place.” The plugg rapper isn’t sure exactly how he connected with Evilgiane, but he’s pretty sure he first heard of the producer through Babyxsosa’s music. Whatever the particulars, the pair started working together, yielding a handful of SoundCloud tracks followed by more official releases.

Across #HEAVENSGATE, Evilgiane coaxes his collaborators into unusual sonic territory. “The sound I mostly like, me and my friends call it Yoshi, like from Mario,” FLEE tells me on a call. “It sound like a bunch of Yoshis running through a field of happiness.” If Evilgiane’s beat for the hooky “1 TO WHENEVER” (off FLEE’s September album, GHOST) sounds like 64-bit dinosaurs jumping on a very squeaky bed, booming #HEAVENSGATE cut “BRANDY” sounds like Bowser stomping all over a tiny Italian plumber. “Doing ‘BRANDY,’ that’s not the typical sound I do,” FLEE agrees. “And a different sound is always going to bring out a different FLEE.”

“He always got some crazy weird sounds that catch my attention,” says Dee Aura. “You can get a sad vibe out of him, you can get a crazy vibe out of him, you can also get an unexplainable vibe outta him.” Slimesito tells me Giane is among the few producers he lets pick beats for him; the pair have a mixtape together, Evil Slime, set to drop this spring. “He pushed me to be more experimental, more creative,” Sito says. “His beats be so advanced and they got so much going on with the sounds that I gotta lock in and flow a certain way.”

“Giane has a really good way about rhythm,” Massachusetts singer-songwriter LUCY (aka Cooper B. Handy) says over the phone. “Where he places the kicks and where he’ll throw in a clap — it’s not ‘hard’ to predict, but it’s also not easy to predict. I’ve heard a lot of beats where he’ll throw in some percussion sound where it almost offsets the rhythm, but it doesn’t actually.”

LUCY’s off-kilter pop songs aren’t too far removed from the music made by Harto Falion and Babyxsosa, but he’s mostly preferred to self-produce, using a limited palette of Garageband presets. Though he assures me more solo albums are on the way, as well as an EP by his punk duo Taxidermists, this year has found LUCY folding outsiders into the contours of his eclectic sound via an album with Minneapolis beatmaker i.v and a forthcoming tape “all on Surf Gang beats.” Like those projects, his song on #HEAVENSGATE, “WHAT SHE’S HAVING,” stems from an impulse to cede control: “If I’m not in control of how the music sounds, but I like how it sounds, all my efforts go into what I can make my voice do so it’s still my energy on this track.”

“WHAT SHE’S HAVING” is shimmering refractive dance music, buoyed by evaporative synths that recall the vaporwave tinkerings of Evilgiane’s youth; the pulsing beat foregrounds the latent influence of club music in both artists’ discography. Feeling particularly inspired by a beat he “couldn’t stop listening to,” LUCY’s airy chants defamiliarize everyday phrases like “I can help whoever’s next over here” in their repetitions.

“I always wanted to say that [in a song]. It’s a relatable thing; when people hear that they’ll be brought to something they know,” LUCY tells me. “That’s what I go for with a lot of my songwriting, but this track is a really blatant example.”

Evilgiane’s ability to get the best performances out of his studio mates recurs in conversations again and again. “He might have all his artists in the studio like, ‘Do the hook. Now you go in there,’” Slimesito says. “The way he be doing it, he’s like a playmaker — I call him Evil Genius.”

“It’s good to be able to work with somebody that could do different things,” Xaviersobased offers. “It’s nice because I myself do a bunch of different styles.” When we catch up at the start of February, the 20-year-old Upper West Side rapper has never been hotter, capping off a buzzy 2023 flush with new music with an energized On The Radar freestyle to kick off 2024.

“My brother and Giane are pretty good friends, so for my birthday he bought a beat off Giane for me,” Xavier recalls. “That was when we made one of the first songs on my page… And then we just kept working from there.”

When I ask him about the process behind “40,” Xavier’s memory is less reliable: “I was fried bro,” he confesses. “I just remember I was recording and my manager walked in and said Nettspend was there… That’s gang. I’m already knowing him through one of my best mans, [so] working with him is great.”

The riotous jangle of “40” prompts a charmingly menacing string of bars before Xaviersobased passes the baton to Nettspend midverse, who raps approximately four bars and immediately dips. “40” represents a cross-generational alliance of sorts, even if the distinction between 2018 and 2020 SoundCloud is negligible to casual onlookers: “The vibe stayed the same, but musically, the music is just way more fried, way more bass, way faster,” says Xavier. But more importantly, it fucking rips.

The biggest strength of #HEAVENSGATE VOL. 1 is its connective tissue — how Evilgiane sutures together disparate moments and regional sounds until their edges sit flush at the seams. These are smaller gaps than those he’s bridged between, say, pop punk and sample drill, but #HEAVENSGATE prioritizes polished execution over raw concepts, no wrinkle too minor to iron out.

Although I’m partial towards “BEN DAWAVE,” the song that best encapsulates the tape’s syncretic ethos might be the lead single “BASIC.” Giane’s muted beat has a hydraulic bounce but always cedes the spotlight to Atlanta rapper Anycia and South Florida’s own Robb Bank$, both rapping their asses off. And to hear Banks tell it, it all came together in less than half an hour: “She went in there first, knocked her shit down real quick, maybe five, 10 minutes, [and] I did the same.”

Robb and Anycia have been friends for a minute, ever since meeting through mutual acquaintances in Atlanta. “She’s very truthful in her raps, and I also love her tone,” Banks says. “The tone reminds me a lot of myself, that deep tone.” So when they both happened to be visiting New York at the same time, Anycia invited him to the studio.

“I was just gonna come drop a verse off, and then Giane was there, just sitting in the studio playing beats,” says Banks. “I actually didn’t even know it was going to be Giane’s [song], I thought it was going on Anycia’s tape.”

How many times can one person be in the right place at the right time? “As many times as they’re prepared for,” #HEAVENSGATE VOL. 1 seems to answer. As I spoke with Giane’s collaborators, the old Roman proverb kept coming back to me: “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” If he ever ran out of luck, Evilgiane would make his own.