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Dispatches from budding rap star G-Eazy's tour bus in Tampa

TAMPA — G-Eazy hunches on his tour bus, elbows on thighs, mouthing lyrics he just wrote on his iPhone, as a woman's voice pops through a black Marshall speaker.

"I don't charge Bebe for this verse, right?" the rapper asks his crew.

The question is rhetorical. Of course he can't charge Bebe Rexha for contributing a verse to a song on her upcoming album. She co-wrote and sang on Me, Myself and I, the blockbuster hit that has made the Oakland, Calif., native born Gerald Gillum a budding superstar. Without it, he might not be featured on Britney Spears' new single, Make Me, which dropped two days earlier and promptly became iTunes' No. 1 download. And he would not, on this night, be headlining Tampa's MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre, where 10,000 fans outside are gathering to watch him perform.

"Without that song, who the f--- knows what?" Eazy says. "Hits are like vehicles: They take everything else with them."

Life moves fast at G-Eazy's level, so fast he almost can't take it all in. From the outside, pop stars live a life of which few dare dream — throngs of adulatory fans screaming your lyrics, an orbit of support designed to minimize your stress, clouds of women hoping to be ushered into your dressing room at night's end. All of that is true.

But the reality of life on tour for a star at Eazy's level isn't always so glamorous. A typical tour stop like Tampa, the 12th of 17 cities on his Endless Summer Tour, feels no different from St. Louis or Nashville or Albuquerque. Each brings the same regimented fan meet-and-greets, the same wacky radio interviews, the same concert setlists, the same solitary afternoons in sweltering backstage barracks.

"For people on the outside looking in, every show is magic and special," Eazy says. For him, though, "it's like Groundhog Day," the Bill Murray film where each new day is exactly like the last.

"The show, the interviews, the after-parties, the meet-and-greets — it gets repetitive. On one hand, I travel more than almost anyone. As a musician, you get to. But I don't ever really go anywhere, because everywhere is the same. What's really different about your experience? You're walking across the stage seeing a sea of people."

Eazy is 27, but has been grinding for a decade, since finding early viral fame on MySpace. He rose up as an independent artist before signing to RCA, which saw in his lacquered slick-back and lanky, chiseled features a heartthrob in the making. He's given pop stardom his all, touring relentlessly for four years, and basically nonstop all of 2016 — America, Australia, New Zealand, America again, Canada, Europe, America once more.

Scale of 1 to 10, someone asks, how exhausted is he?

He turns to a pal. "Where we at?" he asks. "Eleven?"

He sips "black eyes" — iced coffee with two shots of espresso — to keep moving. At one point he says he's quit Red Bull, but just before going on stage, he can't help but take a swig.

Performing every night still gets him going. Minutes before taking the stage he's a candle of flickering energy, stretching and bouncing as his crew toasts shots of Evan Williams. The lights drop and the crowd chants his name: Ger-ALD! Ger-ALD! Ger-ALD!

"That's the s--- I would close my eyes and dream about back in the day," he says. "We worked really, really hard for that. And just to know that the music matters that much to that many people, you can't take that for granted. You can't take that lightly. Because a million people with a dream never even make it close to coming this far."

Eazy unfolds in his chair. He heads to the back of the tour bus, to the one place he can escape the mundane cycle of life on the road. On his bedside table are a pair of Air Jordan Retro 4s and a cracked biography of Johnny Cash. Near the foot is a makeshift recording studio, where an engineer is preparing for Eazy to lay his verse down for Rexha.

Eazy straightens up and faces the mic. Just beyond, out the window before him, stands the Amphitheater and 10,000 fans dying to hear Me, Myself and I, all unaware that his next duet with Rexha is cooking just a few hundred feet away. It's called F.F.F. ("f--- fake friends") and is all about the disillusionment of celebreality. He's been ticking out lyrics all day on his phone, squeezing in ideas between meet-and-greets and interviews.

Lately I been dealing with mad stress

Comes with the territory of a Hollywood address

Is anybody real here? I need some fact checks

I need more realness; I need you to act less

He nods to the beat as he plays the track back, parsing his timing and inflection. Tour life is far from his mind. Right now he's feeling this song. He grabs his phone to FaceTime Rexha because he wants to share the feeling.

Contact Jay Cridlin at cridlin@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8336. Follow @JayCridlin.

Dispatches from budding rap star G-Eazy's tour bus in Tampa 07/18/16 [Last modified: Monday, July 18, 2016 5:03pm]
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