No Trivia

Archive for the ‘Gucci Mane’ Category

Two or Three Things I Know About Gucci


The problem with Gucci Mane is as much what he represents as it is his music. Either what Gucci himself represents (insert any number of comments about Southern rap and ignorance here) or what those who persistently and poignantly big him up represent (“po-mo” over-reachers, “borderline racist”). There’s not a lot of talk about Gucci Mane’s rapping because well, to those dismissing him and reducing him to a symbol, it’s not even worth the discussion. To those ingesting every mixtape, the rapping’s all there is to talk about.

When it comes to rap though, which is so much about “representation” and “authenticity” and all this other stuff, it’s hard to not reduce someone like Gucci Mane to a symbol. For rap fans of a certain type, he represents the antithesis to the current “underground” scene, or such a change from rappers of equal fame to Gucci’s fifteen years ago or whatever else that they can’t help but get upset.

This devolves into an issue of sensibility and taste–what we want, expect, celebrate, enjoy from rap starkly contrasted in say, Elzhi (or your favorite, nimble, lyrical rapper) vs. Gucci Mane. This is at first, reasonable as yeah, Elzhi and Gucci from a pretty conventional point of view don’t share a lot in common. Of course they actually do, and an ongoing enterprise in and of itself’s begun that seeks to disentangle the many ways in which Gucci’s very much “lyrical”.

1. Gucci Gives Me the Same Invigorating Feeling As All My Favorite Rap

These days, unemployed and needing to feel like I’m doing something with my life, I walk to the local university library–about a 3.5 mile walk–to write these goofy screeds (and those by me elsewhere). Of the many edifying results of walking a long-ass way on the daily is growing especially intimate with the music on my iPod.

At least half of this walk is spent everyday with Diamond District’s In the Ruff and some mix of Gucci tracks, sometimes nerdy “favorite songs” playlists, and most often one of his many mixtapes. Both Diamond District and Gucci are perfect walking music, filled with enough menace and glee, and closed-off, staccatto, word-obsessive rapping to keep me entertained.

Like In the Ruff (or Enta Da Stage or Hard to Earn or whatever), say From Zone 6 to Duval, is non-stop cluttered rapping, that’s hard to gulp down all at once–either locking in on your brain and taking up all your time, or effortlessly falling to the wayside like background music. Again with the 90s New York rap comparisons–Gucci’s approach to money, dealing drugs, or fucking girls has the abstract but material feel of slang-obsessed insanity from Cuban Linx.

Because it’s only a matter of time before the mixed metaphor of bloggers/white writers as colonialists wanders into the debate or accusations of flat-out racism get tossed around when someone like Gucci’s given a good critical look-over, part of the debate really is Black and White. Not “Black vs. White” but rather, Gucci’s cultural context switches in a way that’s simply not available to white or essentially, non-black listeners.

The same way say, us white boys cringe when Lil Wayne straps on a guitar and makes some butt rock because it reminds us of the turd metal listened to by the football players who stuffed us in lockers or the AC/DC blasted by our drunk step-dad as he drove us to high school when we missed the bus (that’s to say, it’s a bit deeper than the music just sucking to our ears), do I get the sense that guys like Gucci, a drawling, slurring, convicted of a crime a couple times rapper, represents a lot of negative shit to black listeners. When Gucci’s just floating around on the radio or blog he’s fine, but when people like me and others celebrate the dude’s work it strikes a certain chord of frustration.

The dislike of Gucci, when it extends beyond aesthetic reasons (which are I feel at this point, a waste to debate, the evidence is insurmountable that the guy’s got something interesting going on), falls into what Gucci’s a symbol of or for. Reducing anything and especially anybody to a symbol is always a problem though. It removes all the tiny details and humanity of that person, and turns them into something for every and anybody to project whatever onto the subject at-hand.

2. Gucci’s An Outsider, A Radical Individual, A Weirdo and All That Good Stuff.

That Gucci’s delivery, his way of speaking, continues to be a target seems especially depressing and sadly “high-school”, especially after that Creative Loafing article, which revealed that these were the kinds of problems Gucci’s dealt with since he was 9 years old:

“I got [picked on] because of how I spoke and my diction, which was different,” he says. “I would talk with a country slang because I was from Alabama.” Nonetheless he excelled in his classes, not so much because he studied a lot but because of his God-given abilities. “I was always naturally smart,” he boasts. “I had a high IQ.”"

On “Neva Had Shit” off a ton of mixtapes and the unofficial, official Murder Was the Case, Gucci details some of this not adversity, but extreme version of the kind of bullshit any kid that’s a little different has to fuck with…mentioning “rich kids at school” making fun of him, and tossing-in a matter-of-fact aside: “Teachers say that we can’t talk”. It’s the matter-of-fact tone that’s key here, because it’s Gucci diving into the coping mechanism/not-smart-enough-to-get-injustice that every kid has at the age of nine when they gotta deal with some heavy shit. A mix of innocent curiosity and just not knowing when to shut the fuck up: “Grandaddy why your eyes so goddamn red?/Got a real soft-ass and hard-ass head/Better mind your fuckin manners boy, that’s what he said”.

As “Neva Had Shit” continues, Gucci’s formative years–like Wayne, Gucci is obsessed with his youth and how it’s shaped him–full of peaks and valleys, a step-dad (who’ll turn out to be an alcoholic in verse three), noted and success trapping, are fully detailed. There’s a continued sense of rise and fall in the song, matching the horns of the beat, as Gucci slowly grasps the awful ups and downs (often at the same time) of life. The double-bind of love and life is perfectly captured in Gucci’s explanation of the relationship between his mom and stepdad (whom he just calls dad): “Now, my daddy hustle hard but he love some liquor/And my momma wanna leave him but she love that nigga”. The next line, “Everything kinda change when I turn 16″ both speaks to the unfortunate stuff he just described and the next line, which solidifies his success in the dope game by way of an “old-school regal”. This is a song about growing up surrounded by upheaval–a minor victory in one part of your life, a big, ugly disaster somewhere else–and how that’s how it goes, forever, or what feels like forever when you’re fourteen.

This is Gucci at his most lucid, his most direct and confessional–do you get more direct than the hook to “Neva Had Shit”?–and while this is not his usual stance as a rapper, he peppers in this sort stuff enough that I tell anybody who claims Gucci doesn’t rap about anything to fuck off.

Don’t treat Gucci like he’s OJ Da Juiceman. OJ’s fun and his “aye” adlibs are great because they’re pure goofball joy (not part joy, part faux-nihilism like Young Jeezy’s), but that’s all he is (a goofball) and that’s fine…sometimes it’s even awesome. Gucci’s more than that. He just is.

Though the two really don’t have a whole lot in common, Gucci’s the logical step after Lil Wayne in terms of delivering a non-traditional (though not post-lyrical) form of lyricism that gets people to take note of writing. Getting people who still buy CDs or have quick access to a mixtape spot, the old style of rap fan or even rap nerd and just regular rap listener–the one not Videodrome-d to their internet connection–to obsess over lines and craft and all that is no easy feat. The same way Lil Wayne transcended “hood” stuff by stretching it into meaning a lot and nothing, Gucci has.

Two white dudes with a Mastiff standing outside a convenience store bumping a Gucci tape and grinning, verbally guffawing even, when Gucci says something nutty. Regular ass eleventh-graders before my A.P English class I taught, parsing-out Wayne’s half-baked, maybe awesomely over-baked similes. A car speeds by and some Zaytoven joint is blasting out of the car speakers–this happens a few times a week.

3. Gucci’s Very Fun To Listen To, But Not In The Mindless Way You’d Expect

People don’t so much have favorite Gucci Mane songs as they do Gucci Mane mixtapes. It’s in part because there’s so many songs and so many mixtapes, but it’s also because Gucci’s rolls through every beat, every song, every tape with the something resembling the same aplomb. He crawls inside the beat and reforms it to fit his own rap skin.

When the wonky beat of “Hurry” (off the recent Writing on the Wall) begins, the focus is the super-identifiable doot-doot-doot circus song, but by the middle, Gucci’s bouncing a shit-ton of words that end in long E off one another (“thirsty/ early/ lovely/ me/ hurry/ jury/ emergency/ currency/ burglaried”), like in the song’s title “Hurry”, even ending the verse, continuing the long E obsession through the chorus, and holding on for the next verse’s first few lines, then abandoning it for another game of vowel-sound matching, all to the rhythm of the snapping, tinny drums–that circus part’s pushed to the background. He’s not so much versatile as he is elastic, stretching his voice and rap-joy across whatever beat’s placed in front of him. That he can fall back on occasion, to the stuff he addresses soberly on “Neva Had Shit”, in effect “proving” he can do regular old rap songs, adds enough levity to the songs to make them “matter”, if it’s important to you that songs “matter”.

Written by Brandon

June 15th, 2009 at 6:14 am

Posted in Gucci Mane

DJ Speedy & Blaqstarr: On Some Other Shit


-Gucci Mane “Shittin Onum” (produced by DJ Speedy)

So, don’t buy Murder Was the Case because Gucci told you not to but do buy it because it’s like, one of three, physical rap releases this year worth 12 bucks. And you get to hear a bunch of great Zaytoven and DJ Speedy beats unmixed, especially Speedy’s “Hot Damn”, now called “Shittin’ Onum”, playing as it was made to be heard: With every single insane beat flicker and snippet of sound, in CD quality.

Muddied and mixed, “Hot Damn” was another contribution to the mainstream Southern rap production avant-garde, a tangle of voices, sound effects, all fighting and tumbling into one another. “Shittin’ Onum” though, with every detail clear and separate, sounds like the logical extension of what, arguably, every producer of this decade’s been chasing: Timbaland’s mid-to-late 90s work. This is the first (sorry) Post-Timbaland beat. If Gucci’s claim in the Warner Brothers press release (linked above) is true, and this song is two years old, then it’s even more interesting because Speedy was doing this at the height of Rap & B producers reaching for the stars.

Since 05′ or so, every producer’s found their big House synths and subtle, oddball samples and they’ve been chasing Timbo’s sound, only they’ve namely been chasing a fatigued, coasting Timbo, one that left the stop-start of funk and inspired avant-sampling behind for a fun, but relatively pleasant Pop-Rave sound. What’s moving through “Shittin Onum” though, the use of buzzing flies as side-percussion, the way a shorter fly-buzz sample interacts with a piece of lilting funk guitar, is flipping baby voices brilliant. The weirdness of it is incidental or secondary to it just being ridiculously dope. Speedy even uses voice (the comedian samples) as music, but he takes it further turning fly-buzz into syncopation too.

What Timbaland abandoned–more because he had to move on, he’d perfected a style–is a sense of stop-and-start that was crucial to the actual funk racing through “Are You That Somebody” or “Pony”. Newer Timbaland (which is what producers ultimately ape because it’s easier than the early stuff) still has that Southern sense of open-space and an interest in something a little odd or staccatto, but there’s constant sound, the track is never silent, it never truly halts or pauses, so there’s always a sea of ugly synths pulsing. It’s a kind of production cowardice that always half-hides the song’s seams. Not so on this DJ Speedy track which is brave enough to get silent, to fully stop and immediately kick-back in, rooting the track in classic, jagged, angular funk, not the round cohesion of most electro-beats.

Sasha Frere-Jones says we’re in a disco era (I’d agree) and in that sense, the Timbaland of the 90s, where “Shittin Onum” has its roots, would logically be funk: A little more seedy, a little uglier, less fun…but really fun too.

-Blaqstarr “Temperature’s Rising”

In Baltimore, Blaqstarr is the biggest and most tangible influence on the youngest Club producers–the kids that rock high school parties and the kids still in high school cannot get enough of Blaqstarr’s twisted variation on Club. This is presumably true in other areas too, but there’s something especially, awesomely bizarre about Baltimore’s 10th graders fiending for this kind of oppressive music.

That’s to say, there’s a better chance that people rocking-off in Philly have some precedent, they know who Lee “Scratch” Perry or Sun Ra are and so this sort of lines-up with their aesthetics–in Baltimore, this shit is bonkers and they just kinda accept it. That’s why regionalism is a beautiful thing…the avant-garde’s just accepted by all if they grow up around it. DJ Screw’s an obvious analogue here, or Hyphy, or even how everyone in Baltimore, no matter who they vote for in the elections, has seen at least one fucking bizarre 70s John Waters movie.

But these new Blaqstarr songs–presumably from his upcoming album–aren’t Club and couldn’t be mistaken for Baltimore Club music. Yet, they make perfect sense coming from Blaqstarr because they’re an, if not logical, not unexpected continuation of his tripped-out, sloppy, 12-shots and a couple painkillers-in sound. And after a big celebration of DJ Speedy’s actual open space on a record, there are these smoked-out clouds of too much everything–neither stop-start funk or gelled-together dance pop, more like Lee Scratch Perry’s ghost swiped a crate of Baltimore Club records and took them back to Black Ark.

Each verse of “Temperature’s Rising” begins with a stutter or clipped version of the verse’s first line like, underneath it all, this is still a Club track somehow, but Blaq finally breaks through for a raunchy kinda verse before it’s all sucked-up in popping drums and a really eerie hum that seems to run parallel to the slightly happier aspects of the dusted sex jam. “Choke Hold” is almost danceable, though just as chaotic. There’s a killer dance track here, but Blaqstarr’s dissembled it entirely into pieces of Jock Jams synths, M.I.A chants, “I’m the Ish” homage, shopping carts crashing drums, and weeded-out threats and philosophy. That Baltimore Club’s biggest crossover hope is bouncing from studio to studio assembling these lumbering slabs of chaos would be disheartening if they didn’t sound so good.

-Blaqstarr “Choke Hold”

Written by Brandon

May 22nd, 2009 at 9:26 pm

How Big Is Your World? Some New Rap

leave a comment

-DJ Paul featuring Lord Infamous “She Wanna Get High”

You know that Todd Barry joke about how musicians always talk about how, on the next album, they’re gonna go “back to their roots”? Well this is Three-Six actually doing that—terrifying production, bad-ass album cover, lots of Lord Infamous—and better yet, not hyping it or promising anything special. Especially welcome is a return to the group’s odd social observation, where they for no reason necessary touch on some sort of wise reality of life and then base entire demonic club raps around it. Here, it’s how some vaguely “artsy” quiet chick’s pretty fucking nuts and’ll be really into “bumping” whatever’s passed their way, which is kinda true. Shit, it’s not Dreiser or nothing but it shows Paul’s thinking about stuff.

The vague Bollywood influence on the beat here is how Three-Six once sold-out, not by diving into a trend and losing themselves a la “Lolli Lolli (Pop That Body)” but grabbing some tiny piece (usually the wrong piece too) of a trend and thinking that would be enough to make them superstars but not giving a shit when it doesn’t. Don’t doubt “She Wanna Get High” was made in light of Slumdog Millionaire’s success or M.I.A’s increased prominence.

-Gucci Mane “1st Day Out”

Titled “1st Day Out” instead of “I’m Back Bitch”, the song goes from another brilliant tiny details, funny punchlines Gucci/Zaytoven song to a moving, hard-headed description of his first day out of jail–It starts with “a blunt of purp”—that’s also, still a brilliant tiny details, funny punchlines Gucci/Zaytoven track. Those laundry list of cars and weapons and wealth are less Gucci talking shit and more an inventory of all the crap he’s not been around since he was gone or upon returning, is making sure is all still there. And the beat’s as paranoid and gleeful as Gucci himself.

The rest of the Gucci Glacier tape’s new-old songs and it would seem, upcoming collaborations, but it sounds a bit like the point before the point where Gucci stops being Gucci. Hopefully that’s wrong, but this is less the Black Eyed Peas coming to Gucci and more Gucci trying to enter into the world of regular “popular”, “good” rappers which means not being quite as interesting and sort of sounding like a guy who wants to be famous.

-Ciara “I Don’t Remember”

The new Ciara album’s bizarrely dated, like it should’ve dropped in 2007 when retro-futurism and House shit still felt sort of interesting and hadn’t reached its apotheosis with soul-less art student Pop from Lady Gaga. When the uh, fucking Chris Brown feature shows-up, it’s like “Really? You sure this album came out this week and not this week last year? You know he like, beat the hell out of his girlfriend a minute ago…” And then, Fantasy Ride ends with “I Don’t Remember”, a way too real “I got drunk and blacked-out” ballad.

“I Don’t Remember” is irredeemably confused and detail-oriented, like there’s no way to come out of this song not feeling fucked-up and sad and you just want it to stop really. It’s the running, morning-after monologue you have with yourself as you half-recall all the dumb shit you did or maybe didn’t do while drunk last night, only Ciara was maybe even raped?! Polow Da Don’s beat is wisely under-cooked and when it sort of builds-up, you don’t want it to because it’s just making the ugly truths of being drunk of your ass louder and more palpable.

-Benny Stixx “Being That Drunk”

The connection between this and “I Don’t Remember” was a coincidence, these are just the tracks I’m thinking about or listening to a lot this week (although this entire group makes a good mix, mail me, I’ll send you a zip if you want), but this is just a Baltimore Club expression of the same feeling. Ciara’s sort of quoting the melody and desperation of Mariah Carey’s “Hero” on “I Don’t Remember” and Baltimore’s Benny Stixx consults Petey Pablo for a dance song not as concerned with the girls in the club, rocking-off, or what brand of sorta kinda pricey liquor’s being ingested, but with the fucked-up feelings that fuel it all. When Baltimore Club takes-on the everyman confusion and minor failures of life (most famously: Rod Lee’s “Dance My Pain Away”), it’s particularly invigorating.

Musically, “Being That Drunk” does all the right things as well, following the Club music blueprint when it should and going left-field at all the right moments too. The sparks of raucous vocals yelling-out “Yeah” and other gutteral shouts of approval and encouragement and the main shuffle of drums tie it to tradition but then, he bravely lowers the BPMs a tiny bit and there’s these weird-ass bells that zig and zag around Petey Pablo’s sing-song flow, like “Born to Run” turned Club.

-Camel “Skylines” (Live BBC Sight & Sound Concert)

Camel are one of those weird, straggler Progressive Rock groups, not quite artsy enough to get picked-up by avant-music fans and not straight-forward and poppy enough for Classic Rock, they’ve just sort of been loosely forgotten about or at least, slept-on. Let’s hope Camel’s straggler status is more appreciated now and thanks to this month’s reissues of Raindances, A Live Record, and Moonmadness, that might happen.

This is a live bonus track of “Skylines” but the joke about Camel is they’re these precise, jazzy weirdos and so they don’t do anything live except play a little faster and strike the drums a little harder. But their live sound is also just different enough to help them out a lot–if you get one Camel release, get A Live Record. The warmth of their music’s a little warmer and they can’t keep to metronome-timing quite as closely and so, these little peaks of humanity push through. “Skylines” just begins on one wandering sound of warmth, bounces to another, pauses for a beautiful whoosh of synths, punctuates the whole thing with proto-Drill n Bass drums, and wraps up. Not perfunctory by any means, but just like awesomely, transcendently, dipped in morphine, work-man like music. If you like Ratatat or Lindstrom and don’t like this more, you’re bullshit.

Written by Brandon

May 8th, 2009 at 3:50 pm

A Post About Gucci Mane.

leave a comment

Sometimes, just because you got enthusiasm for the Willy Wonka boom-bap blip of “We Gotem” or the blissed-out kinda glory of “Stunt” or the entire Gucci Land mixtape you physically bought in a store a few weeks ago in Baltimore, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t just concede to someone who’s said it better. But then, Dantheman’s video (or half a video) for “I’m Back Bitch” shows-up and it’s Gucci rapping gloriously, looking glorious-er, but a little desolate and sad (car in an empty Big Lots parking lot type sad) and it’s hard to keep quiet.

Even this point’s been made already–that’s how immediate the Gucci love is–but it’s worth repeating that a Black Eyed Peas track made to cash-in on the quasi-Clubish, retro-futurism hip-hop & B production trends of the past year or so, and the swagger boys’ infinite “shittin on you”-type rap lines at the same time, like that flips itself into a Zaytoven approximation so Gucci can laconically rhyme around it is a sign of Gucci’s impending takeover.

But it won’t be the ubiquitous takeover Lil Wayne’s committed the past few years, where it’s a mix of eager-to-please guest spots and all-over-the-place mixtape joints because Gucci’s nothing if not consistent. Wayne’s ascent was fun in a way that the internet was fun a few years ago, when “Web 2.0″ was all cool and interactive (oh, 2006, so far away) and not just this thing that crushed your Google Reader and Inbox and we could all mix and match our favorite Wayne verses and put them on CDs for friends. Gucci’s all take-it-or-leave-it oppressive; there aren’t entry-level Gucci Mane songs the way say, “Dough Is What I Got” could be sold to anybody with a vaguely open mind towards hip-hop.

His power as a rapper comes from the build-up of songs and verses. The excitement and joy of rapping all the time on hundreds of tracks doesn’t have to be super-explicit–that he’s doing it is enough–or even joyful and so, there aren’t really highlights or let’s just say, there aren’t these like inarguable stand-outs. Gucci’s putting the same effort forward all the time and he’s mining the same territory, twirling the same ideas and jokes and threats around and around sometimes falling on something deeper or heavier but when he does, it’s in the same wizened jokey drawl. He’s having fun and if you want to join in go ahead, he doesn’t seem to really care but you get the sense that inside, he really cares.

Unlike those easier-to-write-about rappers, Gucci Mane doesn’t “suddenly” get all personal or “deep” and he never sounds like he’s trying to get all “weird” and “next-level” either–he’s pretty much doing the same thing on whatever’s sent his way and it ends up as some weird mix of absurd creativity and worker-bee, head-down, move-forward rapping.

There’s a quieter, more modest sense of style and if you must say it, swagger too. This is why in many ways he’s been met with even more opposition and downright denial that he’s a significant figure in rap: He upsets your expectations of a rapper and rap star by being ordinarily irregular. He revels in the minor joys of self-expression, like your your accountant wearing NIKEs or the guy at Sheetz with a big-ass earring or your redneck neighbor with those truck balls.

In “I’m Back Bitch”, he’s basically rocking shades you could buy from American Apparel, matching shoes, tracksuit, and cycling hat, and shit-ton of gold–it’s both crazy over-the-top and really kinda understated. It’s like out-there, out-there the same way his signature Bart Simpson chain is out-there. That shit’s not cool and it’s unprecedented too. Gucci thought of this stuff, he’s not playing rock star or dressing like he’s in TRON because that’s what’s cool this year. He’s not exactly concerned with the outside world all that much.

And what better way to represent Gucci’s disinterest in the world than to stick an iced-out Gucci Mane in a tour van in the middle of an empty parking lot rapping to a hand-held camera as his buddies smoke and fart around on a laptop around him? Director Dantheman’s perhaps best known for Prodigy’s “Mac 10 Handle” video and in a lot of ways, “I’m Back Bitch” is as just as isolated and dark, just not so obvious about it. This is the plurality of emotions, the pleasure and pain, and all that, hip-hop does best.

Prodigy revels in his paranoia and self-destruction, while Gucci just sort of stiff-upper lips it and keeps on going. All Gucci’s descriptors, a laundry-list of what’s around him, what he’s gotta do, and how much he’s going to sell, extend only as far as his backyard (where he keeps “a couple” old-school Impalas), which is a little broader than the “four corners” of Prodigy’s room but not by much.

That this is the parking lot of a Big Lots should resonate with a whole bunch of people much the same way Asher Roth’s references to “Thirsty Thursdays” have caught-on. Trapping at a gas station, asking people to “meet [him] by the checkers”, and rapping in a tour bus in an empty parking lot at like, 3am, and proudly tossing-off another gumptious rap that’s implicitly–and only implicitly–celebrating his release from prison is everything great about Gucci Mane wrapped-up in under two minutes.

Written by Brandon

April 29th, 2009 at 6:45 am

Posted in Gucci Mane