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Berkeley Rapper LOE Gino's Got Birkenstocks — and Bars

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LOE Gino, posing for a photo while wearing a black shirt that reads "NOT THE PLUG" in colorful writing over his left chest area.
LOE Gino's new EP 'Everything Gone Be Aight' is a personal missive across six taut tracks. (Jason 'Yeiseon' Hayes)

A few things to know about Berkeley’s LOE Gino: He’s a rapper, delivery truck driver, and a self-proclaimed foodie. He avidly rocks Birkenstock sandals, with socks, and has a clever way of putting personal pain into his art.

The first part of his stage name, LOE, stands for loyalty over everything. The second part, Gino, comes from his late mother, Gina.

At 6’3″ with locs, shaved at the side, he stands out in a crowd — and he’s often in one. He’s rocked stages all over the region, from The Plant Queen nursery shop in his hometown of Berkeley to LaRussell’s pergola in Vallejo. Last fall, I saw him perform a full set at Lola’s Lounge in Sacramento — a good portion of it while holding his young son.

Berkeley rapper LOE Gino looks skyward.
Berkeley rapper LOE Gino looks skyward. (Jason 'Yeiseon' Hayes)

His bars are cerebral and relatable; another human writing to process their thoughts, and at the same time escape their thought process.

“Craft brew drinker, with the cold pizza / Thoughts everywhere, I’m a fucking over-thinker / Never trip when they catted, I just turned them into believers / Showed up for myself and that’s on Citas,” he says in the song “What’s Life Supposed To Look Like?”

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That idea of showing up for yourself, or SUFY, is a guiding principle in his career and brand. When he invited me over to listen to his new project, I had to show up.

Inside his home garage-slash studio space, Gino sat with his friend and multimedia producer, Cheatcode, who handed me a pair of studio headphones. The plan was for me to listen to Gino’s new release, Everything Gone Be Aight, after which they’d film my reaction.

While I listened to the 15 minute-long project — head-nodding and stretching my legs on a pair of stairs in the backyard — they made small talk.

I can’t recall the last time I pulled up to an artist’s crib and listened to their newest work. Nothing like standing next to someone while they play a recording of themselves, pouring out their heart over drums, snares and guitar riffs. Assessing someone’s latest contribution to humanity while being right next to them. It can make for a very awkward situation. What if the album doesn’t slap?!

That wasn’t the case.

The first three tracks of Everything Gone Be Aight are fun, full of clever bars and quality production. There’s a cold guitar solo from Gyrefunk on “Lox n Stocks,” and a dope drum breakdown by Deaf Heff on “Lavender Candles.” The EP’s lyrics reference the things that make Gino who he is: reflective walks in the Berkeley hills, thoughts about deceased loved ones, and Birkenstocks.

“Vices,” the fourth track, is a heavy one. I didn’t fully grasp the story being told on first listen, but two lines stood out: “Late night she was typing her essay / Bitch nigga came in the room gave her SA.” A few listens later, I understood that it’s Gino’s account of a young family member’s life both before and after surviving sexual assault.

Intimate details like these, both universal and personal, are present throughout the EP. Gino writes about seeing his mother take her last breath, his photosynthetic relationship with his radiant son and his appreciation for lavender and sage.

The project ends with “Brandon Greene,” a 90-second track with bright keys, airy synths and wispy background vocals from Shanté. Gino writes about pills and anxiety, a nod to the life story of a guy named Brandon, who Gino met at work. During a 20-minute conversation, Brandon opened up about his youthful addiction to pills, and how it manifested as an adult. Gino hasn’t seen or talked to Brandon since, but it’s clear from the track that his story left a lasting impression.

Days later, after a few listens, I called Gino and asked him about the inspiration behind this project as a whole. While on the job, between shouting instructions and making deliveries, he answered with “the hard shit I go through.” Laughing, he noted that being able to adjust and persevere are key, and that ultimately, it’s his ever-cool mindset that pushed him to make this music.

As he says: “Everything gone be alright, even when it’s looking like it’s not.”

LOE Gino’s ‘Everything Gone Be Aight‘ is out now. He performs live on Sunday, March 24 at the Catalyst Atrium in Santa Cruz

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