To Know Him Is To Love Him: Gucci Mane’s Tweets and You

    Those of you who have not been tuned into Rap Twitter for the past three days (or a media outlet that is) may not have heard about the near-100 tweet journey on which Atlanta trap icon Gucci Mane has taken the world. He’s denounced some high-profile figures in contemporary rap music, as well as some minor ones, and elicited plenty of responses from them. There was copious discussion of supposed sexual liasons with Nicki Minaj, most notably (also Ciara, Fantasia and Kelly Rowland, to name just a few).

    The argument began over the weekend with more insular, par-for-the-course disputes between Gucci, Waka Flocka Flame and Bricksquad rappers Frenchie, Wooh da Kid and OJ da Juiceman. Waka and Gucci  have been feuding for months, and the artists they’ve signed respectively have also been slinging plenty of mud. But yesterday Gucci’s discussion of record contracts and the details of the disbanding of Bricksquad bubbled over into more assorted and widespread condemnations of those who have been disloyal to him. He started calling out rivals- many known (Young Jeezy, T.I., Rocko) but some not-so-known (Drake, Rick Ross, French Montana, 2 Chainz).  Then it turned even darker with the boasts about women. I’ll stop with all of the exposition now—a good summation of the tweets and their responses is at Complex.

    The best way to classify Gucci’s tactics may be “scorched earth” (Craig Jenkins’ term). In a general sense, this ethos is nothing new for Gucci, who has been known for telling it very bluntly like it is in both his music and in interviews for his entire career. He has been in rap feuds since he made his first nationally successful musical appearance. His stints in jail have given him a reputation for flying off the handle, even during the course of the past year; he has been in and out for doing things like whacking a Marine on the head with a champagne bottle (the guy claims that he just wanted an autograph). These storylines have all unfolded parallel to the trajectory of his music career: Gucci released at least eight mixtapes this year (both alone and collaboratively) and starred in the polarizing Harmony Korine “pop poem”-art-film-in-the-guise-of-thriller Spring Breakers.

    By railing against so many, talking so tastelessly and not letting up even as the Internet rose slowly against him,  Gucci has made this Twitter rant—in just about 24 hours—a significant part of his legacy. He quickly broke 2 million followers as the accusations and anecdotes angered more and more artists’ fanbases, and intrigued more and more people who just like to follow purportedly batshit celebrities on Twitter. The overall reaction has been very negative, but often for the wrong reasons. The picture painted by the targeted individuals, much of the public and some of the media is that Gucci is washed out, sad and desperate. He’s been dropped by his label (Atlantic) and longtime manager. Tyga and Minaj posted screenshots showing that Gucci had asked them for a feature only the day before and they had turned him down. He has few friends to defend him; Young Thug’s been silent, Young Scooter’s in jail and I’ll guess that Future doesn’t feel like it’s any of his business. Gucci’s been called fat, ugly and retarded countless times. Though the fearless nature of the overall outburst doubtless has frightened or in some way upset most who have followed it, some still write it off as “comedy.” There’s the punctuation and misspelling and the outlandishness of the claims. Some believe it’s all a publicity stunt that shouldn’t be taken seriously.

    No one should think, in good conscience, that what Gucci said . . . is refreshing because it’s “real.”

    The number of speculations one can make about the exact storyline (again, running parallel to the surge of creative energy that Gucci’s had this year—we, the public, can be sure of this, and comment upon it confidently) are endless, and most of the easy conclusions one can jump to are bullheaded and offensive. Much of this is built into the tone which many have used to address the issue. The comments have largely been overly casual or reverent. Most of us are guilty of having been in awe of this whole thing to the extent that we’ve celebrated it to some degree. Those who have lauded Gucci have discussed how great it is that someone of Gucci’s profile was not afraid to be “real” on Twitter. Of course, this reading is complicated by two major things: a) the inclusion of things like tasteless and demeaning sexual comments and b) our inability to judge “reality.” There’s a whole analysis we could do here of why we are so attracted to “real”ness on Twitter, why we ourselves get pleasure from being “real” on Twitter, if we can be “real” on Twitter and what “real” means, but I’ll forgo that for now. No one should think, in good conscience, that what Gucci said about Nicki, Chyna and his (former?) girlfriend Keyshia Cole is refreshing because it’s “real.” No one should use the idea to paint a picture of Gucci as a near-honorable figure who’s being crucified by the world for “speaking his mind.” Certainly, no one should come out of this thinking that Gucci is a “hero” of any sort.

    Remember that we’ll never really know the contents of Gucci Mane’s mind and his rationale for doing this. Nor can we make judgments about the state of his mind and chalk this all up to “mental health” issues. It is pretty transparent that Gucci is not in a good place here, or at least that he’s not happy right now. However, evaluations of mental health are dangerous. In this instance, poor mental health has often been, intentionally or non-intentionally, lionized. People take perverse pleasure in making inferences about the way in which it is affecting the action on their timeline. In the end it usually devolves into tongue-in-cheek discussion of the fact that Gucci has an ice cream cone tattoo on his face (#IceCreamCone). How deep does our cumulative feeling for Gucci Mane the Human Being run?

    It would be great if we could all be perfectly “objective” and sensitive when interpreting and reacting to this situation, but I admit that it is nearly impossible to do so. One’s mind will race to conclusions. There are the longtime accusations of bipolarity (Gucci spent time in a mental hospital) and also—with little evidence—of drug addiction, upon which to draw. The imagery and perceptions surrounding Gucci Mane as conflicted and one-dimensional as the hyperbolic, free-floating and evocative symbols in  Spring Breakers. The alluring menace of trap music and its practitioners has been commented on extensively since that film, and especially since Miley Cyrus started palling around with Juicy J (and all of that funny business with all of its interpretative problems). Again, the public’s powers of free association and fascination seem to be running wild. We’re enthralled and scared by Gucci’s antics, and on some basic level (as inscribed in the tweets, specifically his accusations of Rocko’s “running”) this may well be how Gucci wants us to feel—at least Gucci-on-Twitter.

    . . . we’ve formed our impressions by cherrypicking ideas from this vast collection of words, non-words and abbreviations—ascribing intentions of which we cannot be sure.

    I cannot ask the Internet to shut up about this matter, as I myself am currently not taking that advice. I’m just advising people to not essentialize the narrative here: to be careful about what you say and how you say it. Everyone who cares has thought a great deal about The Great Gucci Tweet Session, and plenty of theories have developed. But in the end, it should be clear that we’ve formed our impressions by cherrypicking ideas from this vast collection of words, non-words and abbreviations—ascribing intentions of which we cannot be sure. We can be sure that the murder threats and objectifying discussion of women is upsetting, and certainly not something that we should praise on the grounds that we “need” this kind of craziness from our celebrities. Nobody needs these sorts of things.

    Nobody has won in this situation. Many of the rebuttals have been questionable in their articulation, and I would hasten to say that none of those people (especially Minaj) come off looking great, even if she is entitled to say whatever she wants to a man who made such crass comments about her. She has commented extensively on what a unsuccessful, fat loser he is, and no one should really feel the better for that reaction either. Fighting fire with fire is understandable, but “go Nicki” seems a bit of stretch. There are plenty of other ways one can publicly react to hate speech; we don’t need to give Nicki an A+ for tweeting her visceral impressions.

    Though I am trying to detach the tweet-string itself from presumed intention and some of its context (as we do when we analyze rap music with the many ignoble sentiments expressed in it) we should not do this to the extent that we ask for more of this sort of thing from public figures. This attitude implies that anything that is exciting for us to watch, even if its ugly and scary, must be good for everyone—but this is not true. It’s certainly not good for any of the people actually involved, and that reaction says nothing good about those of us who spectate.  

    What Gucci’s done here is far from Amanda Bynes talking about how much she loves Drake; unfortunately, many of our reactions to the Gucci mess have come out of the the same part of our brains that encouraged us to follow Bynes on Twitter months ago. I think the level that we immersed ourselves in her  perceived and actual personal difficulties was often unwholesome, but whether or not you agree with me there, I think we can agree that Gucci tweeting about how he’ll be happy to “help” people die if they want to come at him is something quite advanced from Bynes’ issues. It’s not okay to commend Gucci, nor is it okay to call him retarded or crazy, or pseudo-sympathetically analyze his psychology. It’s best for us to see this as a cultural moment that is resistant to interpretation outside of the most basic extrapolation of facts from the tweets themselves, and to remember that Twitter is a medium—a source of mediation which, by its very nature, encrypts information to a very significant extent.

    All of the Twitter activity overshadowed the fact that one of Gucci’s finest producers, C4, dropped a pretty fantastic unreleased track from the rapper last night. It’s timely for numerous reasons, but I think most importantly it encourages us to get back to the music. Hopefully most of the dissing, if more has to occur, will play out in that arena from now on. He’s dropping an album at 10:17 tonight, he just announced, so we’ll see.