Speaking to Tulsa artist Gang51e June over the phone, there’s a sense of humility in his voice. He has a slowed, calmed tone, and more often than not, deflects questions about his own personal growth to the way that it helps those around him.
As an artist with just about every label knocking down his door with an offer, this humility isn’t so much surprising, but rather, refreshing. June’s music is a direct reflection of darker times in his native Tulsa, Oklahoma, where opportunity is limited and the future often bleak. Gangs are the easy route for most, and as a result, June notes that not many make it out of Tulsa, or even feel like it’s possible. Naturally, his recent success in music has been a source of inspiration for many, coining June as “THE HOPE” in his city – a label that he wears proudly, and one that continues to act as his ethos amidst recent success.
22 years old, Gang51e June began his quarantine working at Best Buy. As COVID set in, he found himself on the way to being furloughed, where he’d still receive some pay but would need to take time away from work to cut labor costs. June saw the sudden influx of time and money as a perfect opportunity to get going on music; a decision that now, 7 months later, has crowned him one of the most exciting new artists around, ready and rearing to lead his city to the promised land.
As of now, label interest continues to heighten, new fans and listeners arrive by the day, and as it stands, June is approaching the biggest steps of his career thus far. And to add to the excitement, he has a child on the way; his first-born daughter.
“Hope” feels like the most accurate summary of June’s current situation, and after speaking with the man himself, his humility and gratitude are infectious.
If Tulsa was in search of the chosen, I think they’ve found it.
Read our full interview with Gang51e June below:
LL: How did you get into making music?
I got into making music when I was probably 8 years old. My pops was a local producer so I was always in the studio with him. One day, he wasn’t in there and I started asking if I could try something out. I ended up putting some poetry I wrote onto a beat, and I recorded my first song when I was 11 years old.
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LL: What was it like growing up in Tulsa? Was there a real scene there?
The scene in Tulsa was really just the homies listening to eachother. It wasn’t even really the surrounding cities listening to us, it was just the city making music for themselves.
Growing up here, there really aren’t too many opportunities. A lot of the time you join a gang and you end up in the streets because you really don’t have too much hope to get out – ain’t nobody really did it before. It’s a dream, but you gotta think about getting out. Otherwise you just settle and end up in gangs, caught up in street activities.
LL: Where do you take inspiration from in the creative process?
I take a lot of inspiration from what’s going on in Tulsa and just from my life experiences. That’s why I don’t run out of music – I live every day, something new is happening every day.
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LL: You have the words “THE HOPE” in your bios on Instagram and Twitter. What do those words mean to you?
I actually didn’t give myself that name, but I took it and ran with it. Everybody around me started giving me that name where I came from. I’m really one of those stories about someone who struggled; I didn’t have money, my parents didn’t have money, I didn’t get put on by anybody or even cosigned. I was struggling, living in abandoned houses, mom on drugs, slept without lights, and was living that life. I ended up putting that into music and became something that people around me had never seen before. The people around me who are also from the dirt, it gave them hope that they could do something, too. The further I go, the more hope they get.
LL: Is there any added responsibility in being a leader in your city like that?
For sure. It’s always harder for the first one, but that goes with anything. I always use the analogy of polar bears; when they travel in packs, the first one always has to dig the hardest to clear the trail for the rest of the pack behind them. I’m the one who’s going to go through that so it’s easier for the people after me.
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LL: It’s crazy how so much of the momentum you’ve gained in your career has happened during a pandemic. How has that been?
It’s crazy. At the beginning of quarantine, I was working at Best Buy and they were about to furlough me – make me stop working – for a month. But they kept on paying me. I figured that if all I got is time and money, I could put out videos, record music, and just focus on my music career. I started putting all of that time into my music, and it started popping out of nowhere. I guess it was the consistency while everyone was losing their jobs and losing their source of income. My consistency, and me being one of the only artists really sparking that flame during this time, is what helped build me up. It’s been crazy. I don’t know when it’s going to end but I’m gonna keep going as long as I can.
LL: You also have a baby on the way, right?
Yeah, I have my first child on the way. It’s changed my perspective on a lot of things because I’m having a daughter. Instead of just taking care of myself, I gotta take care of a whole family now. One way or another, I’m gonna get to it. I can’t do what I used to do, surviving on one meal a day. I gotta get rich rich and get this to a point where my daughter doesn’t have to worry.
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LL: I wanted to ask about so many of your songs beginning with prayer.
My mom, she was on drugs, so there was a point of time when I was living with my grandma. She would take me to church every Sunday, always made sure I prayed before I went to sleep, before I ate, in the morning before I brushed my teeth – everything. So I always wanted to carry that on. I wanted to put those prayers into my songs to show people that this didn’t happen for no reason; I actually prayed for this.
LL: You’ve talked a lot about wanting to give back to Tulsa as your career grows.
I want to build facilities for the youth when I get on. Just something for the kids to do so they don’t have to hang in the street all day. I want them to have arcade games, sports programs, music lessons – all different faculties in North Tulsa to prevent a lot of the gang violence and to prevent kids from going in a bad direction. I want to have a holiday in Tulsa where I give stuff away to the community, like Christmas.
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LL: What kind of legacy do you want to leave as you continue to grow?
When it’s all said and done, I want people to remember June as the first one to actually make it and stay humbled through it all. Just a person of the community, making sure he puts the whole city on so that everyone after me has more opportunities. That’s what I want to be remembered by.