For lots of folks, its T.I. and Gucci who traditionally rep the hustler Trap mentality of the South, and arguably, T.I. was the one with more crossover looks, while Gucci Mane seemed more handcuffed to the streets. He could have gone away forever, considering how the judicial system tends to throw the book at rappers who are in and out of jail because of murder, assault, and weapons charges, but luck was on his side throughout this tribulations, allowing him to serve out severely commuted sentences and hit the scene healthy and ready to go. Since he last got out he’s lost some fans, but also gained possibly even more new ones, thanks to finding a synergy of what both civilians and the streets would respond to, and in the process, he kept out of trouble, which only made interesting Pop-orientated collaborations more possible. At the same time, the image of a killer with blood on his hands never stopped working wonders for his career or his subject matter. Like Drake, the man is too big too fail because he is a corporate media darling, yet where Drake plays with the idea of employing a team of killers, Gucci’s gangsta aura is so air tight that he can basically rap about anything he wants from here on out without ever having his authenticity questioned.
Rather than return from jail to make more of his old joints, Gucci Mane collabed on the hugely successful and seductive “Black Beatles” with Rae Sremmurd – and I believe it was here where Gucci saw the potential for something much larger in his career. Perhaps part of his genius is partnering with features while letting his persona do most of the talking on the track. He rides the new lo fi trap wave on “By Myself”, the even wavier “Bi-Polar” with Quavo, and the horror Trap of “Just Like It” with 21 Savage. The critical caveat might be that what’s fresh now is much more basic than what would pass in Trap’s yesteryears. Still, Gucci Mane is in good company with most of the stars of today on the album, and while maintaining a connection to current music, sometimes a strange collaboration can give you another “Black Beatles” moment – which absolutely happens with the wildly original vibe-track “Wake Up in the Sky.”
I get a sense of the old Gucci on more regional sounds featured on the dirty south bounce of “Cold Shoulder”, which showcases Gucci Mane’s very loose and creative cadence on the seductive hook “young and reckless, rich and wealthy / say health is wealth, that means I’m deadly / that’s why they sweat me, successful black man / with a felony, but what you tellin’ me?” A fertile vibe for YoungBoy Never Broke Again to rush in with his on-fire bars. Track “On God” is another traditional joint where Gucci raps on a hard, traditional trap beat, whose synth line ekes out higher and higher tension, reminiscent of his older tracks like 2006’s “Freaky Gurl.” Yet there are plenty of tracks interspersed that stick out like a sour thumb. “No Good” is actually no good, as it sound like he completely adopted Cardi B’s cadence – which is just strange. “Father’s Day” has probably the weakest production value on the whole album. “Lost Y’all Mind” completely lost me, with a beat too strange to nod, or rap, to – an instance where Gucci comes off as a very whiney sounding emcee.
The music is relevant when it successfully mixes old and new, as on the initially monotonous yet ultimately dangerous 808 bump of “I’m Not Goin’”, where Kevin Gates’ country grammar multiplies in speed and Gucci Mane raps boss-sized hooks like “I know that bitch want me to go for that (but I don’t wanna) / but I’m too rich to put my dick in that (Bitch, I’m not gonna, no).” Inconsistent quality creeps throughout the album, and the finger may have to be pointed at Gucci Mane himself, who is definitely going for a dumbed-down attitude, commensurate with the appeal of mumble rap. Aside from the amount of flexing on bounce-beated “This the Night” the last third of the album is of less listening value – with each subsequent song producing their own mixed results. The Lil Pump guest starring “Kept Back” shows how Gucci Mane has stayed relevant by partnering with the most trending artists, even if they bring nothing newer than their continued shitck-of-a-delivery. Meanwhile, a couple of these songs follow the familiar cadence of Rich the Kid’s “Plug Walk”, which is generally too elementary of a sound to be considered a bankable sound, yet in this day and age, heavy promotion can make any sound the sound of the moment. I would say Gucci is getting his money, but creatively, to his detriment. It could be argued that as famous as he is, he was never really exceptional as a rapper – and rather, relevant for his authentic image and confident swag. “Mad Russian” is mostly limp, with a few highlights as Gucci Mane rides the beat’s mildly rising energy level, yet it is guest Lil Skies who salvages this song enough to not be straight garbage. Really didn’t like the first half of the weak electronics on “Hard Feelings”, but as the 808 bass finally drops, it has a moment to shine, before decaying into poorly delivered boasts and a generally terrible sound design. Just when I thought the last tracks were a wrap, “Money Callin” calls out to me with its opulently bleak synth notes and steady snare. Quite an uneven album experience, and if Gucci keeps this up, he might as well hang it up – or at least transition to undeniable crossover hits like “Wake Up in the Sky.”