It’d be nice to say that The Appeal: Georgia’s Most Wanted, Gucci Mane’s best album thus far, will finally bust him out of the "ironic appreciation from indie kids"/"pop-rap goofball" ghetto he’s been boxed in since 2008. But it won’t. There’s still too much baggage for Gucci to breakthrough to the Average Joes Lil Wayne-style. Firstly, there’s his voice, which he inadvertently perfectly described when he started shouting “brr” on every song on his 700 (estimate) mixtapes. It’s an icy, rarely changing concoction that sounds like someone rapping with a mouthful of syrup. But most odiously, there’s the perception that he’s just like his horrible protégé, Waka Flocka Flame, a one-man ringtone-rap Death Star, hell-bent on blanketing the world with increasingly reductive songs of unparalleled stupidity.
Which is wrong -- and a shame -- because the general public is about to start ignoring Gucci Mane at its own peril. Large swaths of The Appeal (particularly the relentlessly fun first half) are as good as bling-ified commercial rap gets anymore. In a year when Eminem has gone entirely emo, Wayne sits in jail, Drake represents a sea change and Rick “I Was Definitely A Prison Guard” Ross gets heralded for ignoring reality completely, Gucci is on top of his shit, perfecting his drawly flow on beats of massive proportions, delivering his most consistent album yet.
There’s a sense on The Appeal that Gucci is trying to make up for lost opportunities. He spent the promotion cycle for his last album, the inconsistent State vs. Radric Davis, in jail. Thusly he brings the heavy from the jump; The Appeal opens with the excellent “Lil Friend,” a colossal, movie-soundtrack boomer featuring Bun B that has Gucci lamenting his career choices. “I go to court so much, I coulda been my own employer,” Gucci says, after demanding things could have been different (he could have been a lawyer). Then the album veers into his wheelhouse: the violent-drugs and money-rap gloats of “Trap Talk” (“I put a hole in his chest the size of a commode”), “Missing” and “What’s It Gonna Be.”
From there, things get weird, particularly with the increasingly hilarious, seemingly non-metaphorical “Making Love to the Money” (“Making love to the money on the interstate, can’t keep my hands off her, we on a dinner date”), the chiming Swizz Beatz-produced “Gucci Time,” and the Drumma Boy-produced “Weirdo,” which establishes Gucci’s outcast persona. Gucci’s humor is on full effect through those tracks, and often it’s what sets him apart. While his competitors in this realm of rap -- Rick Ross, Waka Flocka, most of G-Unit -- take the drug talk dead seriously, with Gucci, you always get the sense he’s winking right at you when he says stuff like “white lion in the house, we named him Miley Cyrus.” Gucci never lets his bluster about his drug dealing, his sexual prowess, or the amount of money he’s about to hump in a car get in the way of trying to entertain. Gritty realism this is not. It’s like a buddy-cop comedy instead of an accurate depiction of urban crime.
It’s fitting that the release of The Appeal is being overshadowed by Lil Wayne’s rush-released I’m Not a Human Being, because Gucci is bound to be hitched to Weezy for time immemorial, since both of them rose to prominence on the back of piles of mixtapes and guest features. If Radric Davis was Gucci’s Tha Carter II -- the album where street hype met concrete commercial expectations from a label -- The Appeal is Tha Carter III, the album where all the artist’s idiosyncrasy is piled into one album that succeeds despite itself. The Appeal is still bogged down, like Gucci’s two other studio albums, with weak attempts at a pop crossover -- “Remember When,” “ODog” and “Grown Man”. But for at least 10 tracks, Gucci is able to sustain a hell of a run, forming perhaps commercial rap’s best dispatch this year. There have been, and probably will be, better rap albums this year. But none will be more fun.