As a human being, Gucci Mane is a mess. Back when he was on his hot streak about three years ago, that was part of his charm. Like fellow Southern-rap face-tat aficionado Lil Wayne before him, Gucci rose to the top of the heap by methodically cranking out mixtape after mixtape in which he cleverly described his total inability/unwillingness to resist any sort of vice, delivering it all in a disarming mushmouthed singsong flow that predictably annoyed the hell out of many. People derided Gucci as mindless, even borderline-retarded, but his genius was there if you were willing to hear it. It was in his tricky voice patterns, his unashamed Alabama yokel charm, and the slippery verbal economy that would switch to outright brutality at a moment’s notice: “East Atlanta, cockin’ hammers, bandanas on car antennas / No, we do not talk to strangers / Just cut off these niggas’ fingers.” But as time wore on, that messiness came to affect his work as well as his life. And after the repeated prison stints, the face-tattoo of an ice-cream cone, and the time he threw a woman out of a moving car, he’s no longer rapping with the absurd verve he once had. Or, at least, he’s not doing it dependably. Last year, though, one of the many mixtapes he released was Return Of Mr. Zone 6, an extremely solid and enjoyable affair that seemed to promise a return to form. That didn’t happen. But how he’s back again with another moment of clarity in the new tape Trap Back. Chances are it won’t return Gucci to former glory. But it’s still a ridiculously entertaining hour of rap music. That’s all we can ask from Gucci Mane.
If you’ve ever enjoyed a Gucci Mane mixtape, Trap Back doesn’t offer any new discoveries. Its virtues are old Gucci virtues: Radric Davis once again plying his slippery delivery over elastically bouncy beats while members of the Atlanta rap cognoscenti roll through to pay tribute. But Gucci sounds more engaged that he usually does anymore. He’s not revealing any emotional depths — he’s long past that — but he’s returned to his old favorite topics with a new sense of goofy excitement: “My face got a lot of tats, my grill got a lot of gold, my mouth talk a lot of shit, my dick fuck a lot of hoes.”
Similarly, his voice engages with the beats in ways that he hasn’t been doing much lately, snapping in and out of different patterns and always staying in the pocket. Things started go to musically downhill for Gucci when his less-talented, equally charismatic associate Waka Flocka Flame started routinely outrapping him on tracks; when Waka shows up on “Walking Lick” this time, Gucci makes sure that doesn’t happen. Actually, none of the tape’s many guests get the better of Gucci; even Jadakiss comes up short.
And just as important, Gucci’s once-formidable ear for beats has returned, at least for the time being. Longtime collaborator Zaytoven comes through with some of the rubber-band Casio-funk beats that helped build Gucci’s name. Lex Luger brings his trademark thunder to “Blessing,” and Luger’s heir in bombast Southside, whose own 808 Mafia instrumental compilation was also a Mixtape Of The Week contender, gets darker and slinkier on his tracks. But in terms of production, the MVP is clearly relative newcomer Mike Will, whose sinister minor-key beat for “Plain Jane” might be my favorite rap instrumental of the young year. Mike Will is also the man responsible for the insinuating keyboards on “Walking Lick,” and on “Get It Back,” he turns the 8-bit Tetris theme music into something counterintuitively funky. This guy is going places, and Gucci caught him at the exact right moment.
Listening to Trap Back, it’s easy imagining Gucci, in a rare moment of quasi sobriety, listening to BAYTL, his dismal collaborative album with international punchline V-Nasty, shaking his head and realizing that he just had to do better next time. There’s no guarantee that Gucci will remain in this zone for long, so we should enjoy him like this while we have him.
Download Trap Back for free here.