Gunna’s New Album Is A Wasted Opportunity
Imagine you’re the rapper Gunna, born Sergio Kitchens. You are content to be a melodic filler for Young Thug’s YSL unit. Your music is relatively low-stakes — fun and consequential, but not intimidating. At best, Gunna is someone to sing to during a house party. At his lowest, you put him on while cleaning your home. Gunna is a snack — something purely to munch on but not at all anything to plan your day around. While Lil Baby became the Thug disciple to receive his own glory in the form of chart success and industry adulation, his former rapping partner Gunna has been relegated to having documentaries come out on TIDAL.
Other than a quick and senseless beef with Freddie Gibbs, it wasn’t until the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office decided that YSL was a gang that eyes lasered onto Gunna like the QB vision in Madden 06. Judging from chatter on Twitter, a narrative emerged that Gunna had broken the street code — that all thieves must maintain their honor in front of the long arm of the law.
What that means to regular people like myself is different than what it means to hustlers and gangsters, a group of people that hip-hop caters to in some aspects. Hip-hop is a genre birthed from the same neighborhoods that give rise to infamous drug criminals and midlevel runners. Still, too many people who don’t even have a cousin doing a bid in a four-by-four have opinions on this. The question of whether Gunna should be commonly known as a snitch is completely obliterating the much-needed gap between the hip-hop internet and the streets.
Lester Bangs was right about a few things, but I especially wish he was around to tell everyone one thing: You’re not cool. You’re just fans of music. The fact that anyone knows YSL Woody — the YSL member whose interrogation video went viral — isn’t healthy. We used to never know if Jay-Z actually lost those bricks, or if he truly slaughtered the block; if you were a fan of Mr. Carter, you loved his unflappable hustle and winning mindset, and that’s all that there was. I care less about snitching, alleged or otherwise accurate; I have limitless trepidation about letting the DA decide what a gang is or not, even though Young Thug is a very complicated man.
(It’s possible to think the district attorney is overreaching by charging black artists via a RICO act, and also know the gang culture exists and has depth to it. Although it is hard to see an eccentric superstar like Thug get packed up with overboard RICO charges, gang culture runs a tad bit deeper than you or I can even understand.)
When Gunna’s new a Gift & a Curse, came out last week, it seemed inevitable that he was going to discuss the snitch rumors on the album. Right away, Gunna is indignant in the face of the supposed strikes against his character, while also affirming his stardom. (The opener “back at it” has lyrics like “Ain’t tryna sleep in no damn bunk, I’m ‘posed to be here making anthems.”) As a rapper, Gunna is charming. He’s someone who floats, as opposed to swims, through beats. His low voice and patience are often virtues. He is at his best on a sparse beat that allows him space to work in — think “Who You Foolin” from Drip And Drown 2 — but the production on a Gift & a Curse is mainly hollow, as if Gunna rushed to get this released.
If this was meant to be Gunna’s serious record, it fails in that respect. “Idk nomore” is a Michael Jordan shoulder shrug from someone playing like Josh Hart. It all feels underwhelming; it’s not enough, a 40-degree day. To see your world under surveillance from people sworn to send you to jail is heartbreaking. And to be the one man who has been released from that state surveillance can be relieving and quite confusing. Why isn’t there more of that on the record? I am not suggesting that he should have done his version of “The Bigger Picture,” a self-important song that will be a weird footnote in Lil Baby’s career, but Gunna seems remarkably subdued here for a dude that has been through hell.
“Cash Shit” is lighthearted entertainment – it’s always fun to hear Gunna talk about how fly he is – but on an album like this, the self-mythologizing burns in front of our faces, causing the smoke to get into our eyes. It doesn’t seem like we’re seeing how Gunna truly feels, but rather a sleek design, vapidly stuck between two moods. And if a Gift & a Curse represents what’s really on his mind right now, he ought to be thinking deeper about — and making better use of — his newfound freedom.
SILENCERS, INFRAREDS, AND OFFICIAL SHIT
Certified Trapper - "Trapper Of The Year"
I don’t mean to be sick — or maybe I do mean to be — but the sound that I associate with Certified Trapper’s aesthetic the most is that of intercourse with a woman from behind. It’s a continuous smack that flows like a heartbeat. On Trapper Of The Year, Certified continues to take this sound as far as he can, adding more synths and snares in a beat with the same old percussions in the background. If it isn’t broke, do not fix it — continue making those beats that sound like people bumping their heads on their headboards.
Sexxy Red - "SkeeYee"
Sexxy Red is a woman from St. Louis who specializes in ratchet rap music. “SkeeYee,” off of her recent effort Hottest Hood Princess, is the one. I keep waiting for everyone else to catch up, and they slowly are. This song has a million and a half views on YouTube. Pump those up, though. Ms. Red has one of the best albums of the year.
Doe Boy - "Kardashians" (Feat. Lil Yachty & Luh Tyler)
It’s a joy to hear Yachty when he isn’t jumping around styles like Miley Cyrus and tries to rap with the boys. And Tyler steals the show with his timbre. As usual, he sounds like he is 27 and not 17.
Wiardon - "Tracy McGrady"
Still not that into Wiardon’s rapping quite yet. But I do like this beat, which doesn’t really remind me of anyone. It’s full of mysterious pianos that function like film scores. This Texas native is obviously influenced by New York, but his beats sound more like Westerns about trying to save your family.
Rx Papi - "Gumbo Blunt"
“Actually, no factually, you had to see, just how I’m coming.” So says Rx Papi, the Rochester native who is trying to master every single flow — and he might just succeed. This loosie released on YouTube is another run of casually impressive tracks.
Sha EK & Bandmanrill - "Pistons" (Feat. MCVERTT)
Recently, I ran into Bandmanrill, who I profiled for Stereogum last year, at a bar that I frequent. It was hilarious running into him. We exchanged pleasantries. He told me that he has some new music that is going to be crazy. If it is anything like this track with the Bronx’s Sha EK, then we’re in for a fun summer.
Killer Mike - "Shed Tears"
No disrespect to Run The Jewels — seriously, I don’t think they are all time greats together, but the lane they’ve tapped with their festival-rap also isn’t anything to laugh at — but it will be a shame if Killer Mike, the big-baritoned Atlanta emcee, is remembered for being one-half of RTJ instead of his solo work. His new album Michael was an intriguing listen — much more intriguing than anything RTJ has done.
Baby Keem & Kendrick Lamar - "The Hillbillies"
I DON’T BUY MUCH, I BUY LAND BRO.
Maxo Kream & Bfb Da Packman - "Fatt Blacc Twins"
Thank you to both of these hefty Black men — it is a big Black king summer. Ladies, come holler at us. I have no idea if Maxo Kream and Pack are single like I am a newly single man, but if so, I wish them well this summer.
Congratulations to Pharrell Williams. This is an incredible accomplishment for his creative career and for hip-hop in general. To have someone who has been such an integral part in making this genre – that saved countless lives and gave me my vocation — bring the fashion world to what we have always been is great. Jay-Z performed a few tracks in front of the crowd in Paris too. Hip-hop has always been the #1 cultural product. Fashion finally knows — and if they don’t, then fuck them, because we all know.