Real talk: There have been more good mixtapes than good albums in 2013. I don’t know that there’s been a single out-and-out classic, but every week I have to make a seriously difficult decision when I pick a single tape for this column, and this week was harder than most. Iamsu! and Problem, maybe the two sharpest and most likable rappers working the West Coast ratchet-music sound, teamed up for Million Dollar Afro, a tape of ferociously fun and catchy pimp-talk and twerked-up handclap-happy beats. San Jose’s Antwon dropped the clanking, sputtering, alternately slick and noisy In Dark Denim, proving that roaring punk-rap aesthetic is good for more than haranguing Death Grips-style agit-prop. AraabMuzik’s all-instrumental For Professional Use Only is simply masterful in the way it transforms 808 trunk-thunder into big-room club music. Maybe I’ll eventually have a slow week and I’ll get to write about one or two of these. But in a week when Gucci Mane recovers the twisty word-drunk style that made him great in the first place, they all have to take a back seat.
A little more than a year ago, Gucci Mane looked like he was more or less done: Constant jail sentences, arrests for really dumb and destructive things, way too many sloppy and unmotivated guest verses, a collaborative album with V-Nasty that I don’t think I bothered to listen to more than once. But Gucci quietly had an excellent 2012, releasing three mixtapes that ranged from strong to excellent, singsong-muttering insanely sticky hooks like it was 2008 again. This wasn’t the same Gucci who monstered out on the mixtape circuit a few years ago, cranking out dizzily excellent dinky drug-rap songs so quickly that mixtape DJs just couldn’t keep up. But it was a Gucci capable of making low-key rider music that never got boring, one who was capable of the occasional anthem like “Plain Jane.” The main thing holding him back, it seemed to me, was that he didn’t seem to care too much about the actual words he was saying, and that used to be his strongest point; check any circa-2009 Gucci track with an adjective for a title for proof. With Trap God 2, he’s back to writing.
I’m not saying that this is the comeback of the Gucci who wrote “Gorgeous“; his delivery is still too marbled, and the inspirational lyrical benders don’t come quite as often. But he’s now coming up with turns of phrase that sink their way into my grey matter and just stay there. On “Bob Marley,” for instance, he starts out talking about how he wishes he could bring a dead friend back, and then offers this sadly resigned line: “People think I’m a god, but to me I’m only normal.” Or this hilariously ignorant put-down, from “Greasy”: “Acting like you bourgie? / What, you Hillary Rodham, bitch? / With them old-ass Red Bottoms, she blew a kiss, I didn’t acknowledge it.” Or the insane bender of a verse that opens “Bullet Wound,” offering a staggering number of repeated internal rhymes: “Gucci Mane LaFlare, millionaire but don’t give a care / Tote my pistol anywhere, go to war with a grizzly bear,” and on like that. On “Scholar,” he calls himself “Mr. Never Ever Use A Coupon,” which is just too great. For the first time in a while, Gucci’s writing verses that I want to transcribe, just so I can figure out how they work. That’s cause for celebration.
Beyond that, Trap God 2 is just a very strong mixtape, for the regular boring reasons. I haven’t been able to find production credits online, but the beats, no matter who made them, are completely in Gucci’s sweet spot — dark, synthy, and unobtrusive, with subtle little shards of melody that you don’t pick out immediately. Gucci’s back to getting the best out of his collaborators, too: Recent Brick Squad affiliate Young Thug smearing high-pitched weirdness all over “Miracle,” a few reliably hard-headed and high-energy Waka Flocka Flame verses. Most impressively, Lil Wayne, who always brings his A-game when he’s on a track with Gucci, sounds better on his two appearances here than he’s sounded in years. “Bullet Wound,” with its complicated-berserker Wayne hook and its long, discontented sigh of a Young Scooter verse, is probably the best Gucci song since “Plain Jane.” But as great as those contributions may be, the tape’s joy is really in hearing Gucci relearning a sinister weirdo eloquence that nobody else in rap can quite match.
Download Trap Back 2 for free here.