Thursday, May 27, 2010
GPA: A Profile
Gilbert Pico Ardilla Jr., 35, is a fairly well-known rapper in the underground hip-hop community. Known to his fans as GPA, he carries himself with steady confidence of a big man, despite his five feet six inches. His most popular album, Hard Times, was released in 1999, and has sold over 5,000 copies. His music can be found on iTunes and YouTube, and he has quite a following of local hip-hop enthusiasts.
Growing up in Paradise Hills, which is a rough and tumble area of South San Diego County, Ardilla was exposed to violent inner-city life at a very early age. "Gangs have always been in my life. I think that I learned to write PH, which is the neighborhood that I'm from, before I learned to write my name. This was all before I was in kindergarten," he says with an uneasy chuckle. As an only child from a broken home, Ardilla looked to his older cousins and uncles, who were mostly members of neighborhood gangs, for guidance. At the age of twelve, he began smoking crystal meth.
Music has always played a large part in Ardilla's life; his father was a musician who played with several prominent artists. Ardilla recalls his parents putting him down for his nap as a small child by making him listen to a Commodores album front to back. When he was twelve years old, he discovered the rap group NWA while on a trip to Los Angeles. Rappers like NWA's front-man Eazy-E glorified life in the rough neighborhoods of South Central Los Angeles, which were much like the neighborhoods where Ardilla grew up. It was the song Eazy Does It that inspired Ardilla to begin writing rap lyrics. "For like four years, I wrote raps," says Ardilla. "I never told anybody I wrote raps until I got into tenth grade. I used to write raps about a guy with one leg, and that was when my friends realized that I could flow. When my family finally found out that I could rap, it was like the floodgates had opened."
Ardilla formed rap groups for the next couple of years, recording music when he could. It was during this time that he was selling crystal meth, which he was also heavily addicted to. "I was smoking anywhere from a half a teener to a teener of crystal a day," says Ardilla, shaking his head at the memory. Gang life suddenly became real to him when a close friend was murdered. Soon after, during a neighborhood party, Ardilla found himself on stage for the first time. This spontaneous performance caught the eye of a local music producer, whom he began recording for shortly thereafter. He formed a close association with another rapper named Lil' One, who was also putting together an album for Ruthless Records, which was owned by Ardilla's hero, Eazy-E. When the two of them made a trip up to Los Angeles to the Ruthless Records studio, Eazy-E himself made an appearance, and also sat and listened to Lil' One's latest record, including a track that Ardilla rapped on. "So Eazy got to hear me on one of the songs, which was bomb," says Ardilla. Two weeks later, Eazy was diagnosed with AIDS and died suddenly. Because of some internal politics, the Lil' One's record with Ardilla's track was never released by Ruthless Records.
After some personal issues with several of his associates in the business, Ardilla became somewhat disillusioned by the personal politics that were transpiring, and decided to give up rapping altogether. With his musical focus behind him, Ardilla once again became caught up in life on the streets. He began drinking heavily, and also returned to crystal meth. "I was selling crystal to support myself at that time," says Ardilla. "And I was making a lot of money and moving a lot of weight." He made the colossal mistake of obtaining an ounce of crystal meth towards the end of the month when most of his customers were low on cash. Owing an
Shortly after this life-changing experience, Ardilla recorded a song with one of his associates in the business, therefore returning to rap after nearly eighteen months. Back in the game, he began recording his first full-length album, Hard Times. Other than his decision to stop selling drugs, Ardilla's life had not changed much. "There were the groupies, the drugs, the partying," he says. "I was really a selfish person." Ardilla describes the theme of the album Hard Times as a mirror of the anger that existed within himself. "There was so much turmoil in my life at that time, and I was about to have a baby. But I was still addicted to drugs," he says. Ardilla finally got sober, and was hired at Taylor Guitars, a job he still holds today, nearly twelve years later.
While recording his second album, Ardilla discovered that a friend was using some of his music without his permission. Once again, he decided to leave the music business behind him. He got married, and established a new life for himself as a devoted father, husband, and employee. He still enjoys music, but chides himself for not having been more involved in the business side of the industry; today he receives no royalties from his music.
"I wanted to make sure that I made a footprint in this world," says Ardilla. "By being a father and a husband, I think I've done that. And those are the two hardest occupations." Despite his major musical accomplishments, Ardilla is most proud of his small family, which he is passionately devoted to. He considers himself retired