Giovanni Petrella may be new to the rap game, but he’s not letting that slow him down. When the 17-year-old Worcester native isn’t hitting the books as a student at Worcester State University, Gio, as he prefers to be called, is writing and recording his own music with ambitions of having his voice heard. There was a time, however, when it looked like he wouldn’t get the opportunity.

Early beginnings

Music has always been Gio’s passion, and when you speak to him, you can hear his love for it in his voice. Recently, he performed at two boxing matches at The Palladium and at a First Night event last New Year’s Eve. His online presence is growing, as well, with his collection of songs gaining more and more traction by the day on Soundcloud. But getting on stage isn’t anything new to the budding artist.

Gio’s start in performing extends way back to a holiday concert at the Friendly House when he was 6, said his mother Siobhan Petrella, who is assistant principal at Worcester Technical High School and a vocal coach. During that time, Gio enrolled in Worcester Arts Magnate, an arts school, where he learned how to play a plethora of different instruments, including African drums and piano. Singing turned out to be his strong suit.

“He just fell into it,” said Siobhan Petrella, recalling the time that a 1-year-old Gio surprised the family when he matched the pitch pipe the conductor played for the chorus at a recital. “That’s when we knew ? right then and there ? that he loved hearing the sound of music.”

Gio went on to win talent shows as he got older, performing songs that stretched his vocal ability, like Queen’s “We Are the Champions” and Ben E. King’s “Stand by Me.”

Having a mom who has a background in singing and can give you expert advice along the way doesn’t hurt. But while Gio’s mother is of the opera ilk, Gio himself added in the element of songwriting, something that would come in handy and keep his musical pulse alive when it almost stopped.

‘For a while I couldn’t sing at all’

Gio was on the fast track to honing his singing skills until puberty hit. While having your voice drop may not be a big concern for some, it spells the end of the road for many young singers.

“Puberty hit really hard and my voice dropped like crazy, and for a while, I couldn’t sing at all,” Gio said.

He didn’t let it deter him, though. Instead, he changed his focus to writing and recording.

“I was concerned I was never going to sing again, and I didn’t want to rely on just being able to sing,” he said. “So that’s when I started to pick up all this other stuff like writing, learning how to record, learning how to mix vocals and mix vocals with instrumentation.”

It turned out to be a blessing in disguise. During his time off the mic, Gio not only got familiar with other aspects of his craft, he got familiar with a whole other genre: rap.

“I never really listened to rap much until my voice dropped,” said Gio, citing old school hip hop artists like LL Cool J and Will Smith as influences because of their advanced lyrics and complex songwriting.

“That’s what got me into actually starting to rap ? was the respect of lyrical ability,” he said. “I consider myself a student of the genre, and I go back and listen to everything.”

And that tenacity is paying off, as producers are now interested in collaborating with him.

The birth of Gio

Those around Gio, particularly his mother, were caught a bit off guard when they found out what he had been up to with his music once he finally developed his new voice. Singing as he knew it was out of the question with his new set of pipes. The vocal stylings and delivery of rap, on the other hand, were still a realistic option for him. Add to this his fondness for rap songwriting, and he had a new vision for himself.

Finding a local studio, Gio began laying down tracks without anyone else knowing exactly what they were going to sound like. He returned home and played them for his mother.

“She was shocked,” he said.

“I just supported him in his wanting to do something that’s outside what I’m used to, the genre that I’m used to,” said Siobhan Petrella, who jokingly calls herself “momager.”

Gio’s mom isn’t his only fan.

Armed with lyrics, Gio has teamed up with producers from across the country, some of whom have supplied him with beats to rap over. One of these beat doctors is Seattle-based rapper and producer LaLion. He and Gio collaborated on the song “Polo Fitted.”

“I think his music is great,” LaLion said. “He has changed his style a bit recently, switching from hard rap to more of a vibey, singy type of style.”

Gio has big plans moving forward, including recording and distributing an album in the near future. Regardless of his success, Gio makes it clear that he wants to stay involved with music in some way, no matter what. For now, he’s enjoying his newfound life as a rap artist and is looking forward to where it will take him.

“The fact that other people can enjoy something that I created, it’s surreal,” he said. “That’s what makes it so awesome to me.”

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– Jason SAVIO