Here’s something funny: Gucci Mane records a goofy-ass song called “Scarface,” which is all about his stupid, ridiculous face-tattoo of an ice-cream cone with lightning bolts coming out of it, and how the existence of said face-tattoo makes him a scarface. And then he recruits the legendary Texas rap fatalist Scarface, a guy who never records guest verses for anyone anymore, to come through and snarl through a guest verse. So: A goofy, possibly self-deprecating synth-rap novelty promptly becomes something else when the rapper Scarface comes through to rain molten gravitas all over everything, and then promptly reverts back to goofball form as soon as he gets done. Gucci Mane is, presumably, the only rapper currently working who’s got the pull and respect that he can actually command a Scarface guest verse and who’s got enough silliness in his soul to put this guy on a lightweight song about nothing. The result, awesomely, shows up in the tracklist of Gucci’s new I’m Up as “Scarface (Feat. Scarface).” I don’t know; I love this stuff.
At any given moment, it can be hard to remember whether Gucci is in or out of prison. The man has been frantically ping-ponging back and forth between freedom and incarceration for the past few years, often for reasons that are fantastically baroque in their needlessness. A couple of years ago, Gucci was the most exciting voice in rap: A slippery, strangely eloquent trickster-clown figure whose command of meter and ear for hooks were just scarily uncanny. But all that jail time, and the drugs that presumably led to that jail time, have taken their toll, and Gucci only ever recaptures that old glory in short spurts. For a while, new Gucci mixtapes, which still showed up all the time whether he was locked up or not, became depressing exercises in failure to recapture glory. But then, earlier this year, we got Trap Back, a hearteningly solid Gucci mixtape. Trap Back didn’t bring back that old Gucci brilliance, and it didn’t really try. What it offered instead was an hour of solid, enjoyable Atlanta rap hardheadedness that aimed modestly and hit all its targets. And now, a few months later, he’s back with another one that does exactly the same thing.
The Gucci we get on I’m Up is the same one we’ve already come to know very well: The drug-gobbling libertine who seemingly developed an endlessly inventive songwriting expertise mostly because that allowed him the best chance to talk about his diamonds and cars and make sure people would listen. Big guests like Lil Wayne and Rick Ross and, yup, Scarface show up because Gucci, for all his troubles, is still a street-rap star with a huge grassroots-level cult. Producers like Lex Luger and Zaytoven contribute catchy, utilitarian thumps. Mike Will, increasingly a producer who demands our collective attention, comes through to steal the show a couple of times. And the whole thing buzzes and thuds along modestly, never varying its approach or attempting to express anything deeper than “wow, I’m fucked up.” None of this is anything new, but when it’s done right, as it is here, this sort of low-stakes/all-reward rap music can be just immensely satisfying.
Gucci doesn’t elevate the tape beyond satisfying too often, but when he does, it’s because he shows flashes of the dizzy wordplay he once brought every time he opened his mouth. One great moment: “Gucci Mane, I’m sinister / Politic like the senator / Better yet, prime minister / Eat rappers for dinner, bruh.” Another one: “I’m super duper scooper cocky / My wrist super duper rocky / Rocky like the Rocky Mountains / Make it rain, water fountains.” When he lets loose with a couple of lines like those, he doesn’t really change his delivery, but I like to imagine I can hear a sheepish grin in there, the kind of thing you get when you say something that’s so smart and so stupid at the same time, and you realize that you’re totally getting away with it. He still gets away with it. All the time.
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