It’s been quite a year for Gucci Mane, arguably the most talked-about rapper of the moment. A current bid in an Atlanta prison — the second this year — for violating his probation has not stopped him from unleashing a publicity onslaught on a wider commercial audience, including weekly leaked tracks, remixes, professional and amateurishly produced videos, and interviews conducted over the phone from jail. Between his prison sentences this year, a period of roughly eight months, he worked hard to ensure his name stayed in the streets, releasing a steady stream of mixtapes (most notably the Cold War Series) and appearing on any track that would take him. It was an eerily prophetic move, and one that has brought him more attention than ever upon the release of his second major-label album, The State Vs. Radric Davis.
But there’s a question that begs to be answered: What truly makes Gucci Mane important? His total control of his target market (a position that is constantly changing, but that Gucci currently holds) projects an image of importance that is practically built to backfire. Even Lil’ Wayne, his obvious predecessor in process and execution, has had to slow down recently to due to the heavy weight of an overload of material (as well as an impending prison sentence). Also, sonically, Gucci’s tracks have become commonplace throughout the music community, flooding the waters of modern R&B and even rock (just take one listen to Weezer’s “Can’t Stop Partying,” produced by Atlanta’s hottest producer of recent years, Polow da Don). Everybody is beginning to sound a little bit like Gucci.
And the fact is, most people don’t even know the rapper as a major influence yet. This familiarity of sound can dampen the impact of Gucci’s importance, and a move toward reaching a mutual balance between the old street and new commercial sound of Atlanta — between Gucci and everyone after — is the main problem with The State vs. Radric Davis. “Spotlight,” a track jammed in the middle of the album and featuring Usher on the hook and Polow da Don on production, is a facsimile, desperate in its attempt at commercial popularity.
That track is the bottom of the barrel here, but the rest of the album is not smooth sailing. The mixtape format, where Gucci excelled, provides a sense of being in the moment because of its seemingly direct connection from the studio to the streets. Here, Gucci seems stiff on many of the tracks, too rehearsed and pre-planned to reclaim much of what made him interesting originally, as if he has been listening to too mant of his followers. The best work here are tracks that have been floating around for a while, such as “Wasted,” the nicest beat on the album. On the surface the song is about getting drunk like “white boys,” but with his verses closed in by menacing synths provided by producer FATBOI, the song acts more as a cautionary tale of what happens when you’re rollin’ too hard.
“All About the Money,” the track that comes closest to containing the spirit of the earlier mixtapes, is all wobbly rolling synths and contains, among the references to R. Kelly and jerkin’ kings New Boyz, a hilarious but untimely diss of Silk the Shocker. Gucci manages to pull it all together, though, even when at times it seem to be on the verge of collapsing. “The Movie,” produced by Jazzy Pha, is all superb braggadocio that veers into some refreshing self-deprecation, a nice turn toward the end of the album when things begin, for good reason, to feel stale.
So back to the question posed earlier: Why is Gucci Mane important? Here’s an attempt to pinpoint part of it. A certain dichotomy is present in all his best tracks. One one hand is the syrupy, marble-mouthed voice and wordplay that at times is intricate and elegant, and one the other are beats that are at once simple and complicated, inviting and scary. To be certain, the push and pull is lost through most of The State vs. Radric Davis, replaced by a straddling of the line between commercial and street rap. If Gucci wants to achieve the fame he deserves, he needs to stick to what he does best and let the audience come to him. This seemed to be the strategy from the beginning, so there’s no reason to get off track now.