Gunna’s New Album DS4EVER Is A Weirdo Trap Blockbuster
“When my album drop Freddie Gibbs will [have] the biggest moment of his career.” That was Gunna on Twitter, two days before his album dropped. That taunt was so random that it captured the collective imagination of the rap internet for a couple of hours. Gunna and Gibbs occupy completely different rap universes, and it seemed strange that they’d have anything to do with one another; the idea of a full-on feud was truly far-fetched. It turned out that the two rappers’ issue had something to do with a Gunna CNN appearance that people online confused with something called Crime Stoppers. I don’t really know, and I don’t really care. It’s not important. Evidently, it wasn’t that important to Gunna, either. When Gunna’s album did come out, the Gibbs-related content was limited to a single line: “I can’t fuck with Freddie Gibbs/ N***as telling fibs.” That was it. That was the whole thing. Freddie Gibbs was unimpressed.
— Big 🐰 (@FreddieGibbs) January 7, 2022
Gunna isn’t built for rap feuds. That’s not really what he’s about. Gunna’s lyrics are rarely worth parsing. If you’re listening to one of his records while clicking around Genius, you’re doing it wrong. Gunna’s music is all tone and texture and feeling. But the goofy idea of a Gunna/Gibbs feud got me thinking about how the two of them have more in common than you might expect.
Freddie Gibbs and Gunna both have histories of forming fruitful, long-term collaborations with producers who understand their strengths. Both of them talk in crime-life cliché, but with both rappers, it’s less about what they say and more about how they say it. Both Gibbs and Gunna are especially gifted at flow, at letting their voices heedlessly tumble over instrumentals. And both of them make pretty music, music for blissfully zoning out. (They’re also both signed to labels under the Warner umbrella, so there’s at least some possibility that this whole mini-issue was just cooked up to generate excitement. If that’s the case, it pretty clearly worked.)
Freddie Gibbs and Gunna have different approaches and come from different generations. They’ve got different flows and fashion senses and places in rap history. Freddie Gibbs is 11 years older than Gunna, and he’s also at least six inches taller. (In some rap feuds, you can at least imagine the principal figures getting into a physical fight. This is not one of those rap feuds.) If the stars ever aligned in the right way, it’s possible to imagine Freddie Gibbs and Gunna making a great record together, balancing out each other’s strengths. That’ll almost certainly never happen, though, since it would require Gunna to get out of the zone he’s currently in. Gunna seems like he wants to stay in that zone forever.
DS4EVER, the new Gunna album with that Freddie Gibbs line, is a great rap record, though it’s not the same kind of great rap record as Freddie Gibbs might make. Gunna figured out his sound years ago, and he’s comfortable making music in that lane. Gunna raps in a garbled, half-focused singsong, letting his voice float and dip and strobe over beats just as melodic as his delivery. Gunna is a Young Thug labelmate and disciple, but he doesn’t have Thug’s ability to come up with absurd, nonsensical lines that wedge their way into your brain. The most memorable lines on DS4EVER come from Thug’s guest appearances. (Some of those Thug lines are weird in a good way: “I just fucked a cup of water.” Some of them are weird in a less-good way: “I nutted all over her face, and now she looks like a cow.” That second line is on a hook, and Gunna says it too, but it definitely sounds like a Young Thug line.)
Gunna is not a traditional rapper, and if you try to judge him on traditional-rapper metrics, he’ll always come out looking terrible. But DS4EVER is a great rap record because Gunna knows what to do with his voice. He’s got a deep understanding of what kinds of beats to pick and what he can do to interact with those beats. On past records like Drip Or Drown 2 and Wunna, Gunna has slip-slid into his own kind of hazy psychedelia. On DS4EVER, he drifts deeper into that zone and comes up with something woozy and splintered.
DS4EVER is weird as hell, weirder than it has to be. Consider the standout track “Pushin P,” on which Gunna teams up with regular collaborators Young Thug and Future. Just last year, Thug and Future were both on a #1 pop hit — Drake’s knowingly gimmicky and goofy “Way 2 Sexy.” It can’t be that hard to make records like “Way 2 Sexy.” Gunna could probably do it if he wanted. Instead, on “Pushin P,” Gunna gets those same two guests to chant numb and muddy good-life fatalism over downtuned violin-hums and understated drum-spatters and eerie synth-tinkles. “Pushin P” creates its own time-space. It sounds like blissfully plummeting down an abyss, secure in the feeling that you’ll never hit the bottom.
Most of DS4EVER exists in that same arena — strange sounds pinging back and forth between speakers channels, at once soothing and disorienting. Gunna loves melody, and he loves rapping over acoustic guitars; he does plenty of that on DS4EVER. On a couple of songs, Gunna dials into confessional ’90s R&B vibes, harmonizing over Keith Sweat and Jon B samples. But most of the time, the album stays in disorienting chirp-hum mode — a smoothed-out take on the sound of Playboi Carti’s year-old gurgle-smack opus Whole Lotta Red. When I play DS4EVER loud in my car, something I’ve been doing a lot lately, I feel like I’m on peyote. It’s hard to pin down what Gunna does that sets a record like this one apart. On its own merits, though, DS4EVER is a total brain-dissolver. That’s what I like about it.
There are a lot of guests on DS4EVER, and most of them jump out of the speakers more than Gunna does. When Gunna’s old rapping partner Lil Baby appears on “25K Jacket,” for instance, it’s striking to hear the passion in Baby’s voice. Gunna doesn’t do passion, and he doesn’t really carry himself as a star. If he was a bigger, more forceful personality, the album might not work as such a seamless trip. But Gunna is a star, and DS4EVER is probably going to be a very big record. This might not be terribly predictive, but on Apple Music, my streaming service of choice, DS4EVER is absolutely annihilating Dawn FM, the Weeknd album that came out on the same day. I don’t necessarily know what it means if an album of this kind of formless lysergic space-rap can become a genuine blockbuster, but I’m into it.
1. Kevin Gates – “Who Want Smoke Freestyle”
If we could somehow harness the bass in Kevin Gates’ voice, we could end our dependence on foreign oil.
2. Your Old Droog & Tha God Fahim – “No Days Off”
“Can’t faze a real wealth collector whose name’s synonymous with ill records and killing shit like Phil Spector.”
3. Fat Nick – “Block Sweepers” (Feat. SosMula)
This beat could’ve existed at just about any point in the past 30 years, and it still makes me want to commit evil deeds. God bless the SoundCloud-rap miscreants of the world for keeping that kind of violence alive.
4. Lil CJ Kasino – “Road Kill” (Feat. Sauce Walka & Peso Peso)
Everyone on this song goes off, but it still takes real restraint not to just jump straight to the Sauce Walka verse and hear what he’s about to do to this beat. When the man finally shows up, he does not disappoint. He never disappoints.
5. Gucci Mane – “Fake Friends”
It’s probably deeply corny for an old man like me to get fired up when I hear people rapping over ’80s rap beats, but give me this. Gucci Mane is the same age as me. He’s old enough to remember Whodini, and he’s sharp enough to understand how a Whodini beat can work for him.