On a recent day at The Grill Studios in Emeryville, LOE Gino is talking about his upbringing in West Berkeley and his love for Seattle. A few moments into the conversation, while reflecting on his childhood, the rapper cuts himself off mid-sentence and says, “Blood really didn’t pick my family. It was just circumstances.”

It is just this type of personal reflection that has helped LOE Gino develop a loyal fanbase throughout the Bay Area and Pacific Northwest. He gives his fans the opportunity to get to know him as an artist through lyrical reflections that touch on topics such as family loss, fatherhood and Black identity.

Berkeleyside spoke with LOE Gino ahead of a concert he’ll be headlining at Cornerstone in Berkeley on Friday, July 23, along with Ashley Mehta, Shante, Clyde Shankle and LargoBlas. The interview was edited and condensed for clarity.

Tell us about your Berkeley roots

I went to Longfellow and then I went to Berkeley High. Technically I’m from West Berkeley. My grandma stayed right behind Berkeley Youth Alternatives and my aunty stayed on Ninth and Delaware. Both of them still stay over there. Growing up, I’d bounce between the two. 

Get tickets for Friday’s show at Cornerstone Berkeley.

One of my aunts raised me. My mom passed away when I was 10, and then I moved with my aunty, and that’s pretty much where I’ve been in Berkeley. Before that, I lived in all different parts of Oakland.

My aunty had three kids, and she took me and my sister in. So it’s always a lot of us. That’s why I always say blood didn’t really pick my family, it was just circumstances. It doesn’t make a difference. I consider my cousins, who I grew up with, as my brothers and sisters. 

Where does the name LOE Gino come from?

LOE stands for Loyalty Over Everything, and Gino — I just recorded a song about it called “Gina”, which will be on the last project I release this year. It’s pretty much an ode to my mom; her name is Gina. My real name is Roderick Fields. I was named after my biological father who pretty much wasn’t in my life, and after my mom passed I pretty much started telling people to call me Gino, because her name was Gina.

Who were some of your music influences?

I’m one of those people who just loves music in general so not just necessarily rap. 

As far as rappers, I used to listen to a lot of J. Cole, Big Krit, Jay-Z, a lot of Biggie and The Jacka. 

I’ve always been surrounded by rap music so you get interested in it, and you go towards it. That’s how it was for me.

My first song was recorded on a software called Mixcraft. Me and my friend were in a home studio recording on a random microphone just trying to make music, but it sounded bad, we were just trying to figure it out because it was interesting. My first couple of songs, I was scared to show anybody, I wasn’t being timid, but I wasn’t super outgoing, I was an introverted kid. I was writing songs, but I’d only show them to my little brother. The more I grew as a person the more I felt comfortable showing everyone. 

Who influences your music now?

I’ve been listening to a ton of ’80s pop. If you look through my music library now and you’ll find random music that doesn’t necessarily co-exist — Queen, Grover Washington Jr., and Boney James. I’m able to take from all of this in some type of way.

I know how to rap, so I feel like I don’t have to think too hard on how to do stuff, so now I listen to music to help me with my production. It can get kind of frustrating sometimes because I feel like I’m over-analyzing every song that I listen to. 

So far you’ve released two albums and two EP’s — with your most recent one coming out in June, “SUFY.” How has your music evolved?

I’ve gone through a lot more in life, and also I’m fine-tuning my artistry, or trying to. I care about how skilled I am as an artist, also as a listener, I want to make music that I want to listen to. That’s something that I’m always working on. 

I feel like if you listen to each one of my projects that are out — my first project came out in 2018 to the one that came out now — every single one has gotten better sonically and production-wise. So that’s what I want to continue to do:  just figure out ways to grow. 

I stick to pretty much the same producers, and every single one of my projects has gotten more and more live instruments. I just like the sounds, it hits differently. I listen to a lot of old music, and most of that is live music. 

I want to be an artist that can eventually tour with a band, I don’t want my stuff to just sound like beats. 

What’s the inspiration behind the phrase SUFY (Show Up for Yourself)?

I want to eventually turn it into a full-blown brand. Show Up for Yourself is a name that I had to connect with in order to get to where I’m at. That’s showing up for yourself — mentally, emotionally — and being who you have to be for yourself to get to the next level.

LOE Gino performing at a previous concert at Cornerstone, wearing his signature Birkenstocks. Credit: Jason Castae

You mention Grizzly Peak and the Berkeley Marina frequently in your music. What are some of our favorite Berkeley landmarks?

Both those places and Indian Rock. I loved Fat Slice before they took that down. I like Strawberry Creek. … I used to go there a lot as a kid and just play.

You also touch on topics specific to the Black community in Berkeley — such as peace between South Berkeley and the Waterfront communities. What was it like growing up in the Waterfront community?

It’s a little different — I was never trying to be in the streets or anything like that. So technically being from the Waterfront and going to Berkeley Youth Alternatives, and going to Longfellow, which is in South Berkeley — I would describe it as a melting pot. Everybody from everywhere was kind of together, and as we got older, people started having conflicts with each other. So watching that as someone who is standing on the sidelines is just a trip. Also being from one place, but having family that lives on the other side, it’s a trip to watch, it’s sad, but it’s just what it is as well. 

It’s always a trip to not necessarily be in the conflict, but I have to watch it.

In your song “Man” you discuss fatherhood and not having a father. You’re expecting a baby now. How do you think fatherhood will change you as an artist?

I’m anxious to see because I’m not really sure. I know who I want to be as a father, and nothing will be before that. So what I’m kind of scared of right now, which is why I’m putting a ton of work on myself, is me not caring about my music as much as being with my kid, which I’m fine with. What I’m anxious about is me regretting it in the long run — slowing up the music over my kid. That’s why I’m trying to get a lot of stuff done now, so when my kid does get here I have a lot of stuff done.  

I haven’t been a dad before so I don’t know how much time it takes, I know music takes a ton of time. We’ll see — the baby is due Oct. 5.

Can you tell me about the creative process for your new single ‘Biscuit Bitch’.

Biscuit Bitch is a restaurant in Seattle and they sell biscuit breakfast sandwiches. My girlfriend told me about it and I went there when I was on tour with Rexx Life Raj. Hella early in the morning I left the room and got a Jump bike, I went there and got the sandwiches and I liked it ever since. I went to Seattle a few months after that and we went there like three times. 

I had just released the SUFY project and I was getting hella plays in Seattle so that’s how the song came about  — “I got fans in Seattle, I need my biscuits bitch”. 

What projects do you have on the way?

I plan on releasing three more projects before the end of the year. Most of the music is done at least for the first two, and I’m working on a third one now. 

Finally, how did you come to adopt Birkenstocks as part of your typical outfit?

I used to hoop, I used to play basketball. On game days it would be sweats, hoodies, and sandals. I have a very very flat foot, and there was this girl I used to talk to at Cal, and she got me some [Birkenstocks]. They were too small, but I liked the way they fit on my feet so I just bought some and have kept it going ever since. 

D'Andre Ball is an education professional and freelance writer based in Berkeley. He enjoys covering Bay Area hip-hop culture and writing about artists throughout the region for local and national media...