GaTa doesn’t want to be the greatest rapper; he just wants to be great.
“My whole thing is progress, not perfection. Nothing happens overnight,” he tells Variety. “That’s why I grew dreadlocks, so I can see the progress, baby!”
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The hype man turned rapper turned actor got his start working with Tyga and Lil Wayne, but he’s best known now for playing himself on the hit FX comedy series “Dave.” While the show centers around Dave Burd, a white Jewish rapper on a quest to become hip-hop superstar Lil Dicky, the heart and soul of the series is GaTa, Burd’s real-life friend and hype man since 2013.
GaTa, whose real name is Davionte Ganter, provides an emotional depth to “Dave,” opening up about his bipolar disorder and grappling with his own dreams of becoming an artist. In Season 2, GaTa struggles to make ends meet as the self-interested Lil Dicky prepares his debut album and rehearses for his performance at the MTV Video Music Awards. When GaTa confronts him about making a song together, Dicky admits he doesn’t like GaTa’s music, calling it “generic.”
Yet, capping off a season defined by Burd’s disregard for the people around him, GaTa steals the show in the tear-jerking season finale, which ends with GaTa joining Lil Dicky on stage at the VMAs for a euphoric duet. While the line separating fiction and reality is increasingly blurry in “Dave,” GaTa says the bumps in his relationship with Lil Dicky, as portrayed on the show, stem from a very real place.
“I really did ask him a million times, ‘What’s up with a song, bro?’” GaTa says. “But I’m so glad that Dicky waited this long to finally put me in a position to have a song with him and for him to let the world to see, because… if we would have dropped a song six years ago, nobody would have heard it.”
As the series tracks his character’s aspirations of blossoming from a hype man (a backup rapper tasked with igniting the audience’s excitement and energy) to a rapper in his own right, GaTa, too, is ramping up his solo music career. His latest song, “Check Up,” debuted in the fictional world of “Dave” and hit real-life streaming services soon after, with the music video nearing 800,000 views. GaTa also reveals that he has a few other songs lined up and is working on video treatments.
“I got a lot of day-one fans happy that I finally got my big shot, releasing something on a major platform and letting people see it on TV,” GaTa said. “I’m not signed to a major label, so I’m proud about that, and I’m just so thankful to be in this position.”
GaTa’s performance in “Dave” has generated Emmy buzz and more work for the budding actor, who is currently working on four movies — the only public project being Alexi Pappas’ film “Not an Artist.” As someone whose first acting role was playing himself, GaTa says he wants to explore new characters, including a computer hacker (GaTa is a self-proclaimed “nerd” who can build computers from scratch) and a surfer (“C’mon, man, I would be so gnarly”).
“I want to do it as long as Cicely Tyson and Clint Eastwood,” GaTa said. “I want to dive in and show people that I can tap into different roles.”
GaTa’s uphill climb from hype man to solo artist and Hollywood actor is no surprise to anyone who knows him. His personal statement, G.E.D., stands for Grinding Every Day, Getting Educated Daily and Getting Every Dolla, and his way of life is defined by the “gander,” which he defines as “using your energy in a positive way to manifest something that you want to happen.”
“If you’re going to the hottest club with your boys and you know that there’s no way you can get in, but you go to the front row with $20 or 40 bucks and dap up the bouncer, you just gandered your way in,” GaTa says. “You thought about it, you premeditated positive thinking and positive energy, and you got something done in a positive way.”
GaTa’s gandering dates back to before his manager hooked him up with Burd in 2013, when, in order to appear more professional, he hired a fake cameraman and fake personal assistant.
“Traveling with Lil Wayne, Fall Out Boy, Travie McCoy, Katy Perry… all I knew was how to look like a star,” GaTa said. “When I met Dicky, I was gandering out the gate, and now we’re best friends for life.”
When Burd first approached GaTa with the idea of making a TV series in which the pair would play themselves, he was immediately on board. Now a consultant on the show, GaTa provides a great deal of creative input on his character, also noting that both the network and Burd encourage him to improvise takes.
“They give me the green light to go off script and just be GaTa, because that’s when we get all the magic,” GaTa says. “I get to be myself, and it’s not watered down. As long as I know the scene and all the beats, I really get to say what’s on my mind.”
Burd said he cast GaTa as himself in part because their relationship is “borderline impossible to replicate,” and he was “extremely confident” GaTa would be able to nail the humor of the series.
“Did I know he had it in him to pull off these breathtaking emotional scenes, where he’s literally crying on camera? I’d be lying if I said I knew that was in his skill set,” Burd told Variety. “But we wrote those scenes on blind faith, because if there’s anybody to believe in, it’s GaTa.”
While GaTa brings his full self to the screen, it was Burd who convinced him to incorporate his bipolar disorder into his character.
“I was definitely hesitant because I didn’t want to tear down my wall,” GaTa admits. “But then Dicky was like, ‘You’re going to inspire people to share their stories and help them come out of the dark,’ and that’s what did it for me. The whole reason I wanted to do music and be an entertainer was to inspire people.”
Burd added, “This show spends a lot of time focusing on the vulnerability of authentic characters. Look no further than the very first scene of the series, when I reveal my biggest insecurity about my penis at the urologist’s office. People connect with honesty and truth. And GaTa’s a champion of authenticity, so his hesitancy switched to confidence and pride once he factored everything in.”
GaTa says he received an outpouring of love and support after the fifth episode of the series, “Hype Man,” in which he reveals he is bipolar and has a mental breakdown in a shoe store. While he had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder 10 years prior, many of his friends had no idea.
While the success of “Dave” — FX’s highest-ranked comedy series ever — exceeded all expectations, GaTa is most proud of being an advocate for mental health awareness.
“We need to make therapy more cool in the urban community,” he says. “Therapy is life changing… the best thing is being able to tell somebody how you’re feeling with no judgment.”
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