You may have noticed that here at Somanyshrimp, we run on an ancient historical calender that believes the beginning of the year starts sometime around February, or whenever we get around to it. Thus a year end ’09 mix arriving in Feb. 2010, and our last actual Gucci feature post, the 30 Best Gucci Mane Tracks of 2008, turned up in early Feb. ’09.
Since we made that post, a bunch of shit has changed when folks talk about Gucci Mane. I.E., they actually talk about him — choice quote from our ’08 roundup — “Id just like to be having any serious discussion at all.” The amount of discussion about dude skyrocketed — and it helped that he dropped what Noz pointed out was a Tribe Called Quest career’s worth of music in a few short months, never mind a major label record, a series of videos, several major charting singles as both primary & guest artist.
At the level of internet rap nerd discourse, there was a bunch of talk about him too. An ugly common-sense consensus emerged: Gucci Mane was being hyped by blogs, his buzz blown out of proportion to his regional popularity in the southeast, aided by ironic white hipsters with racially suspect motivations overwriting overdone thinkpieces to blow up an at-best nominally talented “lowest common denominator” rapper on some offensive Wesley Willis-style mocking condescension. Psuedo intellectuals doing mental backflips to prop up the critical profile of a rudimentary short bus remedial rapper that was doing nothing better than degrading the public profile of African Americans.
To be absolutely clear — what the black community has to say about Gucci Mane’s impact on their public perception is not something I purport to have any authority or input on, at least as it relates to the internal dialogue of the community. My purpose is not to inveigh on the significance of gangster rap in the undoubtedly negative imagery it propagandizes at some level.
I can speak only to why I bothered even listening to his shit in the first place, & ask that you take my motivations at my word, just out of respect for real actual discourse: there is no ‘laughing at’ going on, there is no condescension, Gucci is funny in an intentional, ironic (meaning HE is being ironic — i.e. “I THINK I LUV HER!!” — not that my appreciation is ironic) and worthwhile way. The idea that I’m riding for dude because he sounds “retarded,” on some sub-Kells racial caricaturization, is simply incorrect (& in fact, there is an uncomfortable tendency from his haters to bring the ‘retarded’ epithet with alarming frequency). Of course he’s got a ‘dumb’ flow — an artistic stylistic performance/affect, though, not an evaluation of the ‘outsider genius’ or some other such bullshit.
Anyway, at this point I’m probably preaching to the converted with this, and if you’ve heard me argue in a cocaine blunts comments section then you’ve heard this before. So Im done defending my own motives. But I think its instructive to look at the mythic level to which folks have blown up the mysterious group of ironic white Gucci promoters supposedly behind his huge blog buzz. This supposed conspiratorial gang is mostly po-mo overwriting music critics, although the only Gucci boosters in the Pazz & Jop poll this year were basically the 1st-wave rap bloggers — myself, Al Shipley from Governmentnames, Noz of course, plus Jordan (from this blog) & some dude from Cokemachineglow I think who voted for a Gucci tape that actually dropped in 2008. Sean Fennessy linked to this blog & gave general appreciation for Gucci’s work, but ranked him behind Drake & well outside of his own top ten. Then you had Tom Breihan (a reader of this blog), who also wrote the Gucci review for pitchfork — an appreciably even-handed account of a divisive artist. Pitchfork’s year-end list, “surprisingly Gucci Mane free” as Byron put it, suggested even further that the supposed huge blog-hype around Gucci Mane was nothing more than a fiction — other than “Shine Blockas,” which has negligable Gucci contributions (is that even in his top 50 verses this year?) and was an Outkast collab with a soul sample folks inexplicably kept comparing to “International Players Anthem,” Pitchfork only voted (after considerable boosterism from myself & Tom) for “Wasted,” a top 40 hit that barely scraped Pitchfork’s top 100. So much for that conspiracy.
So who exactly is this mysterious cabal of ironic Gucci boosters? Maybe we should look at Diplo, whose self-helmed tape of remixes attempted to cross the rapper over to the hip white kid crowd with less than successful results. A casual browse through the Low Bee forum of post-Hollertronix fan-DJs suggests pretty much negligable appreciation for anything that doesnt qualify as some degree of nu-rave remix when it comes to Gucci Mane, and basically no discussion about why his rapping is worthwhile.
Meanwhile, the bigger names in blogging were either posting Gucci up because they knew it developed hits (NahRight or whatever other aggregator sites), or you had media personalities like Miss Info backhandidly comparing him to Master P (“You couldn’t deny the temperature…!”) or Combat Jack observing that, hey, these guys (Gucci & OJ) kinda have some chemistry together, despite being mostly garbage! You had the dudes at Fat Lace trying to pull some the-emperor-has-no-clothes shit by saying come on, no one really thinks Gucci is any good now that his album “bombed” (in soundscans). (They also have the temerity to pull a “white kids appreciating gangster rap they cant understand!” before turning around and offering the alternative — young jeezy?? who also received the same kind of delayed canonical appreciation when he arrived.)
Anyway, enough of this bullshit. The point is, Gucci Mane wasn’t just some personality, & he certainly wasn’t being pushed primarily by blogs. In 2009, much like in 2008, he was rap’s biggest & most notable talent, flooded the streets with music for a 2nd year in a row, dropped a gang of rewindable, memorable, smart raps that had me trying to memorize entire verses for the first time since I was like 20 yrs old. They do fly by you at first — a friend couldn’t believe the “no 20s in my denim” & “can’t bring older yeller back” lines once he realized what was going on in “Lemonade” — but the kind of sociocultural power moves at play, the demonizing of a phantom bunch of white hipsters, it all pointed to yet another popular gangster rapper making rap worthwhile for folks who aren’t convinced by a real top-down media blitz like, say, Drake the GOAT. (fwiw, Drake the pop/R&B artist is a different story).
So what is so fresh about Gucci’s lyrical style? It’s the way he’s managed to figure out a method of writing so many verses by doing minor variations on a narrow slice of themes to keep things vibrant. If you imagine a Gucci archetype — a track about ice, and cars, and girls, where he says “burr” and the basic Gucci lines like “higher than an owl,” you might think “yeah this guy is generic.” If you listen to more than that, you get this feeling that his is the art of endless variety — that there are a thousand ways to play with “higher than an…” (eagle on california reefer) (mountain lion) (pelican) (skyscraper) (giraffe pussy) (do you see the trees??). Or “press the button, roof turn into nothin” “eazy e drop top, call the car roofless,” “panoramic roof clearer than a cup of water.” He cycles through all these different lyrical themes w/ endless possibility for variety. His ‘dumb flow’ is just panache, letting these kinds of clever lyrics in without having turn his flow into some super-technical overwritten Slaughterhouse-style garbage (mea culpa — I’m a Royce/Crooked I fan). His verses are really tight, & his best ones avoid unneccessary verbiage — his ‘dumb’ delivery actually lets him get away with say more, since he can fit more ideas into a shorter amount of space. & the way this style works almost improvisationally has really upped the bar in terms of productivity for other rappers (poor Gorilla Zoe). So Gucci can release so much material, and have it all be entirely listenable.
When a track — like say the real-talk written verses of “Frowney Face” — breaks the mold entirely, it makes the songs sound even more refreshing than they would otherwise. Like when he goes for a story track on “Timothy.” And sometimes his best verses don’t look quite as great on paper, but sound amazing when actually rapped, like his later “Beat It Up” verse: “Freakin partners probly never bother with a second option.” That kind of syllable play is some gold mine shit.
No doubt (word count: 1410 & counting) some haterz are gonna use this as yet another example of ‘overwriting’ about a retard (sigh) who totally doesnt deserve this. Oh well. You’ll figure it out some day.