Image via Sean Paine

Image via Sean Paine

Gucci Mane has been locked up on weapons charges since 2013, and nobody’s sure exactly when he’ll get released. It could be as late as 2017, but there are rumors that he’ll be out earlier than expected. If you’re following Gucci on Twitter, though, you wouldn’t know that he’s in prison.

His official account sends out tweets on a daily basis, and a lot of them point to new projects. Yes, Gucci Mane is putting out albums full of unreleased music while he’s in prison. He’s dropped 24 projects in total, and all of them are available to purchase on iTunes. He reportedly made $1.3 million in 2014 alone, while incarcerated for the entire year. Oh, and he’s planning a movie and writing a book.

So, what’s really going on here? How is a man who doesn’t even have cell phone access coordinating album releases, autobiography plans, and book deals?

It all comes down to one very hardworking man named Sean Paine.

How did you get connected with Gucci?
I met him through Cory, his engineer at the time. And I met Cory through my brother. I was interning at Patchwerk Studios.

So he was just in there recording and you were in there working at the same time?
Let me start at Morehouse. I went to Morehouse College, and so did my brother. That’s where my brother met Cory. That connection began like a Morehouse brotherhood thing.

I used to come down to Atlanta to get my songs out because I rap. I had built a relationship with Cory through my music, but I was still out in Michigan, and I was like, “What am I gonna do with my life?” I was always in my basement, engineering and recording everybody in the neighborhood out in Michigan and my brother was like, “Why don’t you go to Full Sail [Recording Academy]? That’s where Cory went.”

So I applied to Full Sail and got accepted. I called Cory to tell him Full Sail accepted me, and he was like, “Hit me up when you’re done.” I already had my Bachelor’s degree from Morehouse, and so I was expedited through the program at Full Sail—I didn’t have to stay the whole two years because I had a lot of credits coming in.

The day I graduated, I was driving home to Michigan. I had been calling Cory throughout the year, but there weren’t any positions open. So I’m driving through Atlanta on my way home, and I called Cory to tell him I was in town. He was like, “Just hang tight for a week or so. Just hang tight and I’ll see what I can do.”

So I went and got a room for a week, and stayed down [in Atlanta], and then he interviewed me and hired me as an intern. So from there, I was working. I was a runner, running errands. That’s how Gucci came to know me. I was just running errands for Cory. Eventually, Cory invited me in to start sitting in on sessions. So I started sitting in on sessions, and Gucci knew who I was by name. Before long, I started engineering. I started tracking a couple of people. They started testing the waters with me.

The BET Awards week was a big turning point for me. It happened in Atlanta, and all the staff engineers were out of town and busy during that weekend. But all the celebrities were in town, so I went to work. So these big names are in there, and nobody’s around. But I was trying to work, telling them, “I can do it.” So I got booked for a French Montana session, and I nailed it. I recorded about eight songs with eight hooks, and that same day, right after the session, they asked if I could work another one. Then Puffy came in. So I worked with Diddy. Diddy had his own engineer but he needed an assistant, so I was in there being the assistant to the engineer.

I was with the big-time celebrities, just thinking, “Damn, this is crazy!” When Puffy left, he still had time in his session. I asked Matty, his engineer, if he was coming back, and he was like, “Nah, he isn’t coming back.” He left, but I was still in there, waiting, and lo and behold, about four or five in the morning, Puffy comes, walking in with his shoes off. He’s walking in their with his socks on, and Matty wasn’t there. So I ended up recording Puffy.

From that point, they were like, “Damn, the little intern can handle this stuff.” So they took me off the intern list, and I started tracking. But it was still kind of a struggle. Then Gucci called. Mike answered the phone, and Gucci was like, “I need an engineer. Who’s there?” And Mike was like, “Nobody’s available; I got an intern.”

I was like “Let me do it.” That was Gucci. That’s pretty much the whole reason why I came to Atlanta. The whole reason was to get to work with Cory, to get with Gucci. That was the whole reason why I even went to Full Sail, you know. So like, “Wow, it’s happening.”

I recorded him, and he loved it. From then on, he started requesting me. More and more and more. It got to the point where I was tracking all the records for Gucci and Cory was mixing. And Gucci and me got real cool. It went from that to him going to Miami, he took me down there, because he needed someone down there who knew how to record. So I kinda started going on the road with him and working with him more and more.

I left for a while during Christmas break then came back to town, and he was like, “Yo the song you recorded hit the radio!” That was my first placement. It was “Bussin Juugs.” I’ll never forget it. That was my first placement. And then the second one was “GuWop Nigga” with Trinidad James. Those were the songs I mixed.

Can you talk a little more about that first night? Like what do you think it was that made you two work together so well? Do you think it was a personal thing that he looks for?
It’s not like I reinvented the wheel. I was quick on my feet when it came to tracking. I didn’t have to redo much, or lose tapes. All that type of stuff really matters.

After I got a little taste of it, I got hungry. How it works is, if you’re around, you get sessions. I was interning, but on my days off, when I didn’t need to intern, I was still at the studio. I was grinding. I was doing extra stuff that people wouldn’t do. Like, when Gucci comes in to record, he always sent me to the store to get Swishers, a couple of cups, and some ice. Every time.

So I started putting that on myself. When they called and told me Gucci was coming, I would just go to the store myself and get all the stuff, and as soon as they pulled up, I got it. They were like, “Damn, dude on his grind. Beat me to the punch.” I’m doing a little extra stuff that the other engineers weren’t doing. If he’s like, “Roll this up for me,” I’m in there recording and rolling blunts. He comes out and I’ve got blunts rolled for him. I’m doing everything. It’s a service. I’m going above and beyond for real. There was a little conflict, though. People were telling me I was getting too close to him.

Who said that?
Kurt at Patchwerk. Gucci started smoking at sessions—they wanted to smoke in the room, and I let him do it sometimes. Once they started smoking, and you in there with all these goons, you’re not gonna be like, “Hey man put that out.” You let the session go on and just clean the stuff out after. I didn’t wanna cause no strife. That’s kinda what I think they were attracted to.

They used other engineers as well, but they just felt more comfortable [with me]. I really appreciate Patchwerk though. They really, really looked out for me. I learned a lot from them. All the engineers taught me… you know, everyone has their own little way of doing things—plugging, vocal changes, all that. So I just learned it from them, and then developed my own. Cory gave me a template to start off with so when I did record Gucci, it was his sound. It was already familiar to him.

So when you started working more closely with Gucci, did you leave Patchwerk? Or were you still doing that?
I was still at Patchwerk. Gucci was at the studio five days a week. If he isn’t on the road, he’s at Patchwerk. He kinda lived there. Some days, he’d only do two songs, and he’d be there for twelve hours. He’d be in there asleep. He just living there, it was like his home.

It got to the point where he didn’t even call me. I stayed down the street. Then they would just say, “Gucci’s here.” And I would just pull up. I freed my schedule so I could work. It was good money that I was making, you know, like $25 an hour. Eight hours. That’s $200 a day. Cool for me. For the whole year working for free, interning and stuff, it was my big break. I had the top artist at their studio wanting to work with me.

This wasn’t always your plan, right?
My plan was to become an investment banker on Wall Street. It still is. I’m studying for my GMAT now, and I’m trying to go to Harvard. I studied Finance and Economics at Morehouse, and I was top of the class. Unfortunately, some things happened while I was in college, and I had to get out of there for a second. That’s kind of what got me started on doing the music thing.

What happened at college that made you wanna get out of there?
Well, I didn’t really want to get out of it. My crib got raided. I was dibblin’ and dabblin’ in the streets while I was in college. I was a top-tier student, but I was also selling drugs. That’s what was going on. I was the weed man. And my crib got raided one time, a lot of stuff happened, and I had to get out of there. I abandoned school. I just withdrew because I didn’t want to mess my GPA up. I withdrew from all my classes, and I went up to Michigan. And that kinda stopped me for two years. I had all my classes done except for Spanish.

Eventually I finished up Spanish and got my degree. I didn’t graduate with the class I was supposed to; I graduated in ’08. I was supposed to get out in ’06. I kind of got shell-shocked when I got raided, and it threw me off. I was taking 18 hours of classes a semester. A lot of people only take 12. I was maxing out every semester, and I was killing it. I was literally getting all A’s some semesters. I had a 3.7 when I graduated. I’m very smart when it comes to books. That’s why I’m trying to go back to that route now. Even now with Gucci, I’m his engineer, but I’m his personal assistant as well.

That’s what I want to get to next. How did you get to that point with him?
Well, I was working at Patchwerk and Gucci ended up buying his own studio. I didn’t know nothing about it. Patchwerk called me, and said, “SP, Gucci’s here. Pull up.” And he was like, “Hey man, I really ain’t working today. I bought my own studio, and I need you to come with me—what’s up?”

I didn’t really have no choice, because at that point, I wasn’t even living at my apartment no more. Nobody knew this, but I was sleeping in my car. I was engineering all these folks, and at the end of the night, I’m going to my truck, laying the back seat down and sleeping in my truck behind Wal-Mart. It was tough. I had to grind it out. Then he was like, “You can come live with me.” And I did it—that’s how it started. That’s when I went from being an intern, to a recording engineer, to basically owning my own studio within a year. Who wouldn’t take that opportunity?

I didn’t really have no choice, because at that point, I wasn’t even living at my apartment no more. Nobody knew this, but I was sleeping in my car. I was engineering all these folks, and at the end of the night, I’m going to my truck, laying the back seat down and sleeping in my truck behind Wal-Mart.

So where were you actually living? What was the set-up?
In the studio. I lived in the studio. At first I was there maybe two days. And then we drove to the studio—I think my car broke down or something—and he drove me out there and dropped me off. He kind of just took me hostage, man. [Laughs] It was his plan the whole time! I didn’t know he’d set me up like that. So yeah, he dropped me off there and just left me.

So now I have this nice home, I’m in the studio with the guy that was helping me start it off. When he started it off, it was just a building. He didn’t have a studio in there yet. I knew everything, so I had to go from ordering gear, treating rooms, checking up the whole studio, because I’m running it, handling business with the maintenance people. There was a lady next door to the studio. She was kind of like the groundskeeper and handled all the paperwork and all of that. She and I were real close. Rest in peace to her; she passed away.

So that’s how the engineer role kept going. And from there, I would bring artists through to Gucci—I was kind of playing the A&R role. Some days, I didn’t sleep. Sometimes I went two days without sleeping. That’s just how my schedule was. That’s how hard I work. I actually ended up at the hospital one time because of that. I almost died over that.

Just from exhaustion?
Yeah, exhaustion. They said it was sleep deprivation or something. I almost died, dog. What kind of played a part in that was, you know… They’d be drinking lean and all that, and they’d leave their cups, and I’d make my own cup out of all the leftover cups, and now I’ve got this big cup of lean. [Laughs] I was doing too much, man! They leave roaches around, and now I got a nice blunt and a cup of lean. But it just caught up to me, and I couldn’t put my body through that.

I just feel myself collapsing, like I almost fell to the ground but I grabbed the handle to my truck, and I pulled myself up. I took my shirt off, and I was screaming. I was in an underground parking lot, so I was screaming, “Somebody help me!” but nobody was there. So I figured this ain’t gonna work. I jumped into my car, and I just hit the gas because I was in a panic. I called my girlfriend, and said, “Stay on the phone with me, I’m dying.” She didn’t believe me. But I couldn’t even talk to her; words weren’t even coming out no more. So I was speeding, I ran through every light, all the way to the hospital. I drove myself to the hospital, flying. I seen this guy, and I was like, “Hop in with me, hop in with me, I’m about to die!” So he got in my car and helped me drive to the top and parked. And I just ran into the ER. I ran in there and fell face-flat. [Laughs]

That’s scary, man. Who’s the person who jumped into the car? Was that somebody you knew? Or just somebody you saw?
It was a random person that was at a stop sign! I was just like, “Hop in, I’m dying!” And I just ran in there, and just fell flat on my face. I’ll never forget this. I was like, “I need help! I need help!”

By the time I got out of there, I had to go quit another job I was doing at Music Box. I told them, “I can’t do this anymore bro, I’ma die.” So I kind of just worked at Patchwork only from that point on. This was before Gucci told me to go to his studio.

I got to apply my business skills when I started to run his studio, handling calls with people… I didn’t really get to apply it as much as I get to now, because he’s putting out his movie. And he just set up his LinkedIn.

Since he’s been locked up, though, a lot of files hadn’t been finished. So I reach out—all these features that are popping up with all these people… I’m the reason. I’m reaching out.

How does that happen? Are you in touch with him while he’s in prison?
Yeah, I talk to Gucci every day, all the time. We communicate via email. At first, he could call me. So I would be playing the songs for him. He’d call me, and I’d be wired to my hard drive at my house, and I’d play his songs for him. And he’d be like, “Yeah pick that one. Keep going, keep going.” He’ll pick what he wants for his CDs. And then he got to the point where he couldn’t call no more. So he just kinda trusted me to do it.

Why couldn’t he do phone calls anymore?
Because he went to the [federal prison]. He gets one call a week. At first he could call whenever he wanted. But now he’s only got one call a week, and you know, you gotta call your girl.

So he can still email you?
Yeah, there’s something called CorrLinks. And that’s how he and I communicate. So all the moves that are being made, he kinda tells me, “Yo I wanna do this,” and then I put my sauce on.

How did the Fetty Wap connection happen? Was that you bringing the idea to him?
He actually brought that idea to me. He said, “Put me on ‘Trap Queen.'” That’s what he said. That’s when I first started taking verses and making them work for a song. I wanna say I invented that—honest to God, I do.

He got an archive of music, though. We recorded all day long, that’s why. Me, him, Thug, PeeWee, Scooter, Waka, Cashout, Wale…

Image via Sean Paine

Image via Sean Paine

Does he have hundreds of songs? Thousands?
I mean at the moment, he’s got three hard drives full of music that I ain’t even touched yet. Those are songs that I ain’t even heard. Those are songs from before I started working with him. He just got stuff on deck on the low. At this point, flood ’em with music. We slowed down a little bit because we thought he was getting out… and he should be getting out soon, but nobody knows when.

So no one knows when he’s getting out yet?
Nobody knows when he’s getting out, man. He did the movie, and it just got finished. Now it’s time to put out that movie. He told me that in jail, he met somebody who told him about LinkedIn, about how it’s a place for business connections. He told me to do that. So I set up LinkedIn for him, and now how we do it is… you know, I go through it, and see what good leads there are, and I send it to him. He can’t do it so I do it for him.

So he just called you up one day—or emailed you—and was like “I heard about LinkedIn, can you set me up?”
He called me and said, “Hey, I need you to set up a LinkedIn for me, make it real professional, find the most professional photo of me with a suit on. I’m trying to set up this movie. And I wanna get some ideas.” He said, “I know you’re good with the marketing stuff; I just wanna see what other people have to offer.”

That’s what’s been going on now, so I guess I’ve been playing more of an executive role, which is cool. I kind of enjoy it. It’s a break from the music.

It’s more about emails than it used to be. He wanna know how the fans are reacting. He tells me what to tweet most of the time, like, “Hey, say this.” But when he tells me just to promote, I promote. When it’s Gucci saying, “I would like to do this and that,” that’s him; that’s really him saying that.

What I don’t like is how when he’s talking professional, and saying intellectual words, people are like, “That ain’t Gucci.” It is Gucci. Y’all just don’t know Gucci in that capacity. That’s his wording.

So are you the only one who’s doing stuff on his Twitter account? Is that all you, or are there multiple people doing it?
Everything’s me, man. Everything. I’m the direct connect. I’m the keyholder. I’m his right-hand man. It’s just me and Gucci doing this stuff. Everybody’s helping, though—don’t get it twisted. The relationships that I have are definitely helping. But I’m pushing the buttons for him. I’m the man on the outside.

He told me that in jail, he met somebody who told him about LinkedIn, about how it’s a place for business connections. He told me to do that. So I set up LinkedIn for him.

Do you get paid for all this?
Yeah. I’m on salary brother, I’m gettin’ paid! I’m an employee. I’m definitely getting paid. C’mon, I ain’t gonna do that for free!

Have you talked about what happens when he gets out?
When he gets out, I mean… I gave him an idea to write the book. I said, “Hey Gucci, you’re locked up and you’ve got all this time on your hands, you might as well write a book about yourself, about your life.” So that’s what he’s doing now. He getting with Will Martinez, who was a writer for XXL and stuff like that, so that’s who’s handling the book situation—him and Will did the book. I’m just the music. I’m just the engineer. I’m the one with the music. But I gave him the idea to do that, and he was like, “Great idea.” I actually think it’s crazy, because he’s gonna do a movie to the book.

Nobody knows Gucci. Like, his life story. His autobiography. Despite the fact that it’s about Gucci, it’s a comedy. It’s a movie for everybody.

What is his role in the movie? Is he in it?
I’m not sure. I haven’t even seen the movie yet. I’ll definitely check it out. I’m supposed to get some clips soon to start promoting.

It’s his business, so he tells me, “SP I need this business done for me,” and I go and handle it in the best way that I can. It has actually been working. But I think if he wasn’t who he is, it wouldn’t work. He’s helped so many people out and did so much stuff.

Yeah, it seems like ever since he got locked up, so many people that he’s helped have blown up. Young Thug is now in the spotlight, and everyone knows it started with Gucci. It’s a crazy situation.
I mean, that’s how it’s supposed to happen. That was the reason for them signing to Gucci. That was the whole purpose. He definitely is proud of them. It’s not like, “Man, damn they blew up.” Nah, he’s like “Hell yeah, good shit!”

Does Gucci talk about what he’s gonna do when he gets out? Is he gonna just get right back into things? The music, the movie, the book?
I mean, Gucci is a studio fanatic, so as soon as he’s out he’s going to the studio. Basically yeah, he’s gonna go back to work. I know he’s gonna go harder than he ever did, because he’s got a point to prove now. Nobody ever thought this was gonna happen. When he got locked up and they was talking these big numbers, everybody thought it was over for him. God bless, he’s gonna get out early. I just kept it alive when he was locked up; that was my whole agenda.

When you guys talk, is it all business? Or do you get any idea of how he’s feeling? Is he in a good mind state right now?
He’s in a great mind state. I think he’s better than he’s ever been, honestly. When you sit down, you got a lot of time to think. Being locked up is a horrible position to be in, I don’t wish that on anybody, but he’s more level-headed, he’s strategically thinking of different ways to… basically, you know his brand, besides music, there are other streams of revenue. Other things you can do in the entertainment industry.

Right now, because he’s doing this movie thing, it’s kind of like a transfer of sale. We’re trying to establish that now. When he gets out, he could start his own sitcom if he wanted to, you know? Get a couple people in there, his friends, his industry homies. I mean if we had cameras in the Brick Factory? We’d have a sitcom. We’d have a reality show right now. Man, it was crazy.

That’d be amazing if you two had a reality show.
It was just fun the whole time. Brick Factory was just fun, man. Recording with all them dudes? They were hilarious. Nothing but smiles.

Basically, now it’s like… I do come up with ideas. You know RiFF RAFF? I know who’s who, I see what’s what. So I’m reaching out to these people. And I checked out RiFF RAFF, and I was like, “Damn, RiFF RAFF got it going on. We need to go ahead and get with this program, ’cause this is it.” So that’s in the works. On the merch side, he’ll have his own brand of clothing when he gets out. Stuff like that. So when he gets out, it’s not like he’s gonna have to pick up broken pieces. It’s already moving. The machine is already moving. All he gotta do is hit the ground running.

But I really appreciate all these people that helping out, I really do appreciate all of ’em, man. I appreciate that they are helping. I reach out to people and they reach back… kinda like you!

Yeah man, it’s exciting. Gucci’s one of those characters who everybody thinks they know something about, but there are still so many questions.
Yeah, Gucci is like… Gucci man, he’s a good dude. He’s not what everybody’s making him in their minds to be.

Is there anything that you think you learned about him, that surprises you? Or that people don’t know?
I mean I ain’t gonna lie… one time I was at the airport with him, and I was just looking at him, and he was just sitting down and shit, and I was like, “That man ain’t human.” He ain’t human, bruh. He just goes too hard. He just don’t…. he just keeps working. He’s a workhorse for real.

What’s next for you then? You were talking about going back to school.
I don’t know when he’s getting out. But when he gets out, I definitely will go on the road and get back to work. Right now I’m studying to take my GMAT. So once I get my scores and send it off to city schools—I wanna go to Harvard. I really want to go to Harvard. It’s that or MIT. I wanna get into the stock market shit, man. That’s what I really wanna do. I never got a chance to do it. It was always my dream to be an investment banker on Wall Street. I gotta fulfill that dream, even though everything is good happening now, you never get comfortable, man. That’s what I did learn from Gucci, man. Keep working.

So you don’t see this relationship with Gucci as a career for you?
Aw yeah, man, I mean Gucci and I are gonna be friends forever, man. Bros for life. He said that the first time he went to jail: “Bros for life.” So like good or bad, we’re bros for life. Remember that. And that’s why, because I just dropped the album… or the mixtape… I got RiFF RAFF on it, I got Lil B on there, Hankro Fresh, Lil Flash, a guy name Iceland Fezzle… The first song I got RiFF RAFF on it. It’s on Live Mixtapes now. I’m an artist as well. I got kinda bored, you know? I’m doing all these Gucci records, and after I got all that shit done, it’s like, “What else?” I wanna keep doing something, you know what I’m saying? I gotta get my stance up. So I used to rap before I engineered. I’m a producer, I’m a rapper, I do all that shit. I can do graphic arts. I do videos if I want, I do all that. But I did all that before I came to Atlanta and started taking it serious you know, I did those things as hobbies.

So when Gucci decides to release something, how does he decide which tracks go on it, where it’s gonna live…?
At first, he was telling me which tracks to put on. Now he kind of just says, “SP we need to drop three CDs this month.” He comes up with the ideas, the titles, and I get with KD Designs, he basically does all the cover art. I get with KD, and I tell him the names, and he comes up with his creative input. Usually he nails it right on the dot, and I’m like, “Boom! That’s it.” I’m doing all the mixing for the songs, and we shoot it over to iTunes.

Gucci tells me when he wants it to drop, too. He’ll want it to drop at a certain time, and this, this, and this, I want to drop a new song at 10:17, and I go ahead and do what I gotta do to do that. Don’t get it twisted. It’s not like he’s just in there, and I’m coming up with shit. He’s guiding me through it. And then I come up with my own ideas. I see people say, “Gucci and RiFF RAFF should do a song.” So I go, “OK, I’m gonna make it happen then.” Because the fans want that. So I reach out to RiFF RAFF, Lil B, and that’s how the stuff happens.

Is there anything else you want people to know?
Definitely let ’em know that I have a website: I just made it last week. I run my own business now and mix a lot of indie artists. Not gonna lie, I built that website, and I got hooked. I wanna get another website. I love websites now. It works itself. You could have 30 different jobs if you had 30 different websites.

How old are you? Do you have a family?
I’m 31. No kids! Ladies: I’m single!

You’ve accomplished a lot.
I’m about to work on a new album. First one I put out was cool, but it was rushed. Right now, my focus is getting this movie out. That’s my focus. That’s what’s going on right now. I’m working behind the scenes, trying to get this movie up and running. Get it out there the best way possible.

I wanna expand on that knowledge, though, so I can expand my business out here, not just with music. I want to create something that’s going to be here forever. That’s why I’m going back to business school. I’ll still do the music, still work with Guwop for sure. But I’m trying to be a billionaire, man.