Don’t Take Gucci Mane For Granted
Gucci Mane didn’t name himself after a clothing designer. He named himself after his father. Ralph Dudley, a former serviceman turned drug dealer who wasn’t around much during his son’s childhood, was sometimes known as Gucci. Radric Davis, his son, was Gucci’s little man. That became Gucci Mane. It’s not a rap name. It’s a family inheritance.
Earlier this month, Gucci’s man became Gucci’s man. Gucci, the fashion house, unveiled its fall campaign by releasing a promo video — an extended setpiece of an absurd rich-people party. Iggy Pop is there. So is Sienna Miller. So are the people you would expect to see at an absurd fasion-house shindig — an old lady in a nun costume, a few blank-faced butlers, various androgynous model types. And Gucci Mane is hosting the thing. Harmony Korine, who first cast Gucci Mane as the villain of Spring Breakers in 2012, serves as director, and it seems more likely that Gucci Mane chose Korine than that Korine cast Gucci Mane in the Gucci campaign. Gucci, the fashion house, could’ve filed a cease-and-desist against Gucci Mane in 2004, when “Icy” came out. Instead, they waited 15 years and then built an ad campaign around the guy.
That, in a nutshell, is the grand arc of Gucci Mane’s career. Gucci comes from a chaotic place, and for a long time, he was a chaotic person. Through the ’00s and early ’10s, Gucci Mane was a relentlessly creative force, and he helped shape entire generations of Atlanta rap, nurturing new talents and capturing imaginations. It’s hard to imagine how rap might sound without Gucci’s influence; Young Thug, probably the single person most responsible for the sound of the genre in 2019, is a direct Gucci protege. At the same time as he was establishing his legacy, though, Gucci was fucking himself up. He was addicted to lean. He flew off the handle, starting feuds with close friends and distant associates. He was constantly in and out of prison. His violent actions immediately became the stuff of urban legend.
At the height of his fame, Gucci went to prison, serving a couple of years on gun charges. He came out a changed man — cleaned up, slimmed down, ready to go to work. He maintained his absurd pace, putting out so much music that it was impossible to keep up. He scored his first-ever #1 hit, rapping a guest verse on Rae Sremmurd’s “Black Beatles.” He got married. When Gucci came home, his students and descendants were on top of the rap world. Gucci was able to relax into a well-earned elder statesman status. From that moment, it almost didn’t matter what kind of music Gucci Mane put out. His narrative was complete, and he had become a beloved uncle in rap and in the world at large, a man with a messy backstory and a beautiful future.
Not so fast, though. This past week, Gucci sat down for an hour-long interview with the radio host Charlamagne Tha God, and a moment late in the interview went viral. At the end of the interview, Gucci got angry about DJ Envy and Angela Yee, Charlamagne’s two co-hosts on The Breakfast Club. Gucci’s problems with those two aren’t especially interesting. Gucci and Yee disagreed over some old gossip stuff. (Basically, Gucci had claimed that Yee attempted to have sex with Gucci once in 2010, and Yee denied it.) Gucci felt that he’d been banned from The Breakfast Club. Talking to Charlamagne, he made crude comments about Yee and offered to “slap the shit out of” Envy. Charlamange just stoically looked on, nodded, and then tried to change the subject. Gucci Mane, as Charlamagne and the rest of the world found out, is still Gucci Mane.
That Charlamagne interview has already fully overwhelmed Woptober II, the new album that Gucci released on Friday. This is partly because that bit of that interview was exactly the type of thing that can dominate Twitter chatter for at least half a day, and it’s partly because Woptober II is not exactly a defining artistic statement. Gucci is on the downside of his career, so he’s not inventing beautifully silly new ways to talk about how hard he’s stunting on you every two seconds. And he’s been putting out baffling amounts of music for a decade and a half now. Taking both mixtapes and albums into account, Woptober II is full-length project #101 for Gucci. (That’s what he tells Charlamagne in the interview, anyway. Feel free to pick through his catalog and fact-check that number.) It’s the type of album that’s easy to ignore.
And yet I was surprised at how consistently enjoyable Woptober II is. It’s a quick, painless album — 13 songs in 36 minutes — and it’s dominated by guests. Gucci is only on his own for a few of those songs, and when he is, we’re typically just getting two hooks and a verse. (Maybe the guest verses didn’t come in on time.) The beats are mostly high-end but numbingly repetitive Atlanta trap, and most of those are from old Gucci collaborators: Zaytoven, Metro Boomin, Southside, TM88, even poor neglected Lex Luger. Gucci never leaves his comfort zone. And yet he gets some slick lines in there: “I took the stand, lie, said I was performing Arizona/ You know my brain fried, please, show some mercy, oh Your Honor,” “This dope’ll make you do the Kanye, took so many opiates/ The mall ain’t even open yet, but Gucci made ’em open it.”
And a lot of that is because of the guests. Gucci commands enough respect that entire Rolling Loud lineups show up to pay homage: Megan Thee Stallion, Lil Baby, Kodak Black, Kevin Gates, Quavo, even underappreciated old associates like OJ Da Juiceman and PeeWee Longway. And most of them try. Consider the opening track and first single “Richer Than Errybody,” where both YoungBoy Never Broke Again and DaBaby, two of the most breathlessly vital rappers currently working, absolutely attack the beat. YoungBoy turned 20 on Sunday, so when the album came out, he was less than half of Gucci’s age. (Gucci is 39.) And yet YoungBoy goes off with as much urgency as he brings to any of the songs on his own new album. DaBaby, meanwhile, draws attention to one thing he has in common with his host: “Some people compare me to Gucci, I drop some new music and caught me a body.”
It’s true. Both Gucci Mane and DaBaby have killed people in self-defense. They’ve both bragged about it on record. Neither has shown anything like remorse, at least publicly. In 2005, four men broke into Gucci’s house, and Gucci shot one of them. Later, police found the assailant Pookie Loc, an affiliate of Gucci’s adversary Young Jeezy, buried behind a middle school. Gucci was arrested but then cleared of all charges. For years afterward, Gucci taunted Jeezy about it on record. In that interview earlier this week, Charlamagne asked Gucci about the killing, and Gucci remained cold: “He needed to be in the ground.” (If you’re wondering why Charlamagne did not angrily defend his Breakfast Club coworkers at the end of the interview, maybe that’s why.)
Woptober II represents a sort of best-case scenario for Gucci’s future. In past years, Gucci has brought in pop stars like Drake and Bruno Mars to guest on his records. There’s nothing like that on Woptober II. Gucci’s not really chasing crossover hits. He’s just making the kind of chilly, vicious rap music that he could seemingly crank out in his sleep. I could see him becoming a Southern equivalent to E-40 — a universally beloved elder who still makes music and works with younger artists constantly. Gucci has that future in him. But he’s still Gucci Mane, and he could still send everything sideways at a moment’s notice. Appreciate him while he’s still here. With Gucci Mane, nothing is guaranteed.
1. Wiki – “Fee Fi Fo Fum”
Has Wiki ever made a song better than this? A lot of it is the beat — a huge tidal churn from producer Tony Seltzer. But Wiki sounds great on this, cracked and sidelong, and he talks expert dirtbag shit: “Gorilla all for that Brass Monk/ I swear, that guy still smoking clips from last month.”
2. Polo G – “Icy Girl Remix”
Polo G is so good at melodic Auto-Tune blues-groans that it’s almost a shock to hear him just straight-up rapping hard. And it’s also a shock to hear what he’s rapping over. “Icy Grl” is a Saweetie track from a couple of years ago. And it samples “My Neck, My Back,” Khia’s immortal 2001 blank-faced sex song. I didn’t know I needed to hear Polo G rapping about Kurt Angle bullets over the “My Neck, My Back” keyboard blips, but I absolutely did.
3. G Perico – “Billie Jean” (Feat. Wiz Khalifa)
Another thing I didn’t know I needed: a nasally majestic G Perico, talking DJ Quik-level shit, and a surprisingly crisp Wiz Khalifa, both rapping over a bass-heavy “Billie Jean” sample.
4. Reese LaFlare – “Hol’ Up”
This is a good song, with that soul-rattling minimal 808 and that darting-in-every-direction flow. I’d like to think that I’d be into it even without the video, which parodies both Kill Bill and the Limp Bizkit/Method Man video. But we’ll never know, will we?
5. Lucki – “4 The Betta”
When you hear a beat on headphones and it makes you feel physically seasick, that’s a good sign.
IT WAS ALL GOOD JUST A WEEK AGO
wtf is music twitter yall niggas just talk ab music?? lmaoooo niggas b like "this is good" then the other ones like "no its not" and thats yall identity??
— thebe kgositsile (@earlxsweat) October 16, 2019