Sam Wicks lends an ear to Atlanta rapper Gucci Mane’s first post-prison release.
For much of hip hop’s history, New York and Los Angeles have served as its twin poles of influence. At times this has been at the expense of other scenes, the volume generated on the East and West coasts masking noise made elsewhere. Rap’s regional influences have since been triangulated with the addition of Atlanta, Georgia as a hip hop epicentre, a city that’s given rise to a generation of lyricists unafraid to let their freak flag fly. There’s even been a name coined for these artists and their southern celebration of individuality: ATLiens.
Gucci Mane is one of Atlanta’s most influential and idiosyncratic voices, his prodigious catalogue of some 70 mixtapes and LPs, and his dexterous, sing-song guest verses positioning him as a preeminent ATL tastemaker.
Gucci’s colourful personal life has also made him the city’s most unpredictable talent, with a rap sheet of arrests and jail stints interrupting his transition to the pop charts.
On May 26th, Gucci was released from a federal penitentiary to much fanfare. He’d remained prolific during his a two-and-a-half year stretch, drip feeding nearly two dozen mixtapes to build anticipation for his return. Newly sober and equipped with reams of new verses, Gucci recorded his first new song within an hour of his release, a track serviced to radio the very next morning.
Rather than celebrating his newfound freedom, ‘1st Day Out Tha Feds’ sees inmate 65556-019 reflect on the the pitfalls of prison life, his jaded rhymes set to a sinister Mike Will Made It production.
Streamed over a million times in 24 hours, ‘1st Day Out Tha Feds’ offered the first glimpse at Everybody Looking, an album that Gucci knocked out in the six days that followed his release. On house arrest, he converted his suburban McMansion into a studio, drawing collaborators like Mike Wil l Made-It, Zaytoven and Drumma Boy together to execute a project years in the making.
Carried by the gargled melodies of Young Thug, a Gucci protégée and leader of Atlanta’s new school, ‘Guwop Home’ signals the triumphant return of ATL’s prodigal son. Gucci Mane has long been one of the city’s most reliable A&R men and influencers, co-opting talent like Migos, Waka Flaka Flame and in-demand producer Mike Will. It’s an influence Gucci acknowledges on ‘All My Children’, as he declares his love for his heirs over a snapping Drumma Boy beat.
It’s not just southern artists who have pledged fealty to Gucci and his claim to Atlanta’s rap throne. His most recent stint behind bars has only served to cement his legend, with big tent names vying to work with him. Kanye West and Drake both lend their voices to the project, with a rumoured EP from Drake and Gucci also in the works.
Gucci returned home prison-yard fit, his sentence forcing him to quit lean, a concoction of prescription-strength cough syrup. Stepping out of a syrup-induced haze, Gucci has turned in some of his most tightly focused songs in years, while sticking with the deliriously abstract punchlines that make his woozy wordplay so addictive.
This is not the first time that Gucci has been positioned as a pop contender, but Everybody Looking is perhaps his best chance yet of lording over the charts as well as the streets. To strike that balance, he’ll need to stay ahead of a system that has stymied his best efforts to date, while losing none of the stylistic eccentricities that made him a king of the south. With all eyes on him, Gucci Mane might finally be ready to serve up his street rap as pop.
Songs featured: 1st Day Out Tha Feds, Guwop Home, All My Children, Back On Road, Pop Music.
Everybody Looking is available on Atlantic Records.