Why is Gucci Mane so infamous

Gucci Mane is the most influential underground rapper of the last decade

Image by Alex Cook

Despite being behind bars, Gucci Mane is everywhere. He's the most influential underground rapper of the past decade, if not the most influential rapper ever. Regardless of whether it was intentional or unintentional, the fact that Gucci was left out of the big VH1 documentary about Atlanta hip-hop speaks volumes. The demotion of such a large scene actor to a footnote indicates that his place in rap history is controversial. Even more devastating for him was - at least in the eyes of those in power who wrote the history of pop music - that he never managed to achieve success with the masses like Lil Wayne, Jay Z or Drake. Which further cemented his status as an outsider. In the 90s, platinum album sales strengthened the genre of gangster rap both inside and outside the mainstream. But in the late 00s, just as Internet piracy was at its height, the real enthusiasm for Gucci's work was much harder to measure — and, accordingly, easier to deny.

History has never really answered a question satisfactorily, but Gucci's status seems particularly precarious. Sure, there are specific reasons that his music is so controversial. His discography is full of misogynistic innuendos. And of course it is also enriched with the obligatory faux pas — clichés for some, formal characteristics for others — of dirty street rap. A genre that is usually documented by lovers rather than historians (if academics condescend to investigate the phenomenon, then rarely as an independent art object, but more as a pathologization of artists and fans: hip-hop as a cause or consequence of cultural dysfunction). At the same time, the plea for his art can be just as uncritical: Celebrated as a crazy, multi-layered character or as a one-dimensional deviation from the Streetrap standard, he is presented as superficial, his work as difficult to decipher - a representative of the so-called "ratchet culture", like in the movie Spring breakers from 2013.

The disrespect and audacity of this trash culture is something that Gucci actively plays with, and that's not always wrong with him — nothing buries enthusiasm as quickly as the joyless commitments of seriousness. Even so, its influence ranges from ten years after its publication Trap house much deeper and further than many of his relevant colleagues ever got. Across the South and the post-industrial Midwest of the United States, the hip-hop landscape is criss-crossed by its descendants, the amateur and professional Gucci disciples — an aesthetic diaspora that a friend once referred to as the “Sunz of Mane”. Young Jeezy, who achieved a similar level of success, had far fewer tricks up his sleeve. The kids may be inspired by his success or learn from his experiences, but from the outside, his music is far less to emulate. Gucci's work was bursting with ideas: from his Adlibs to his thematic concepts to the style of language he was teeming with innovations. There are no Mike Wills or Waka Flockas on Jeezy's résumé — Gucci promoted artists — and neither did Jeezy inspire a new generation of stars like Gucci's aesthetic predicted those of Migos and Chief Keef. And no one at CTE has grown as quickly as Young Thug after his time under Gucci's wing.

While Thug was much more in the wake of Lil Wayne than Gucci, it was hardly surprising that Gucci was the first to reach out to him. Both stars stand for the opposite aesthetic poles of street rap of the late 00s. Hearing Lil Wayne was an incomparable experience: It was the absolute climax of casual play on words. By definition, of course, there could only be one Wayne. He was a brilliant craftsman — one for whom no ideology could ever trump the art of powerful pun, imagery, or breaking the fourth wall. Sexual or just plain crude, no joke was too shallow to not be improved upon and conveyed in the most intelligent and unpredictable way possible. His transition to mass taste made it necessary to emphasize these qualities in particular: At its core, his art was about excellence. And so his delivery got weaker and weaker as he turned more attention to his tricks. (This took on parodic proportions with the arrival of Young Money and the cartoonish hashtag punchline style in 2009.)

Gucci meanwhile worked in the opposite direction and played down any suggestion that he was a “lyrical rapper”: "'Damn, Gucci lyrical!' Naw, I ain't lyrical / But my bracelet is crazy, but my necklace is hysterical. ”For a rap artist who rejected the term“ lyrical ”, Gucci was one of the most skilled, liveliest and most resourceful writers ever suggests less of a qualitative divide between Gucci and Wayne than of an ideological one. Gucci's aesthetic was as much about the relationship with its listeners as it was about the aesthetic itself. It was his means of bonding, not of exaggeration. Perhaps that approach can be used even traced back to an interview he gave Murder Dog magazine in the mid-2000s after the success of "Icy." Born in Bessemer, Alabama, and raised in Birmingham, Gucci moved to Atlanta at the age of nine. "That shit happens so quickly, I adapt so quickly, "says Gucci of Atlanta." I go to school here in the east of the city. I mix all the stuff I see here with the way I talk and people just like this shit. This is my style, very simple. It is as if a boy from the village and a boy from the city mix into one person. "

Aesthetically, this explains Gucci's cuddly and provincial performance and his excessive lifestyle. But it's also about something deeper. The country boy isn't stupid; he is uneducated — a humble person, unfamiliar with the structures and rules of institutional power. For a shrewd country boy who quickly finds his way through the ramifications of the music industry, poetry is not an end in itself, but a tactic to hold the attention of an audience with an insatiable thirst for new material. At its peak (roughly between 2007 and 2010), every line, every verse of his was the undisputed must-hear moment of every song in which he appeared. (This tradition was influenced in many ways more by Bun B's furious guest appearance in 2004 than by Wayne's extremely prolific mixtape output — more lyric than stylistically eccentric: “UGK my favorite group for years been rockin 'with them guys. ")

The persona that Gucci created was built on accessibility, authenticity and solidarity with the street, not on lyrical skills: "All nas need is one mic, all I need is one stove", he rapped in 2009 in "Dope Boys". There was an innate sloppiness in his type of lyrics that was unconditionally democratic. It found itself in his nasal congestion, his superficial disregard for rhythmic precision, and the way he adapted the syntax to the ideas and not the other way around. That was also a by-product of the economic realities: in order to outperform rappers with financial advantages who had more connections in the business, he simply produced more music than everyone else. But he couldn't just fill in the void with filler raps - every song had to matter. The typical showbiz approach of perfecting a single record behind the scenes — a strategy that privileged stars could use — has been sacrificed. Instead, Gucci improvised and experimented with every type of song in public. He released a number of variations just different enough to make each one indispensable. This allowed him to maintain a strong cost-benefit ratio while becoming the scene's most productive figurehead.

His discography grew and grew, with each new publication changing the perspective on the entire work. He created the new path for the next decade of street rap — a blueprint for how to succeed when the usual channels of power are closed — and shared it with the world. The Anti-Wayne: What he was doing was easy to understand — at least that's what he made it look like. It would of course have been difficult to imitate his artistic influence or the uniqueness of his story. But it was easy to mimic the things around him. (The one closest to his spiritual legacy, Chief Keef, put it best on his latest tape: “Got so many styles, n — as bite one.”) His art opened up a new world of possibilities, a world where most of today's street rappers live.

There are many innovative aspects of Gucci's art that have not even been addressed. On the one hand, he belonged to the first generation of artists who faced the challenges of songwriting in the post-super-producer era and created their own hooks and concepts with a single beat producer (Zaytoven) - and not with an array of A & Rs and pop- Songwriters like the Neptunes or Lil Jon. (Another example of how he had created a more democratic blueprint of hip-hop for subsequent artists.) He was also one of the first to be forced to adapt to a mixtape model for that only as a result of the infamous mixtape raid on DJ Drama own things could be used. From these legal consequences one of the most extensive, creatively most successful mixtapes in rap history probably emerged.

Though arguably better known for the idiosyncratic aspects of his persona, his story — much more so than Wayne's — was grounded in the concrete and all-too-human details of his own autobiography. This is also told in songs like “Frowney Face” from 2009, for example. This song, which refers to the conflict with his former record label Big Cat and his beef with Young Jeezy, hints at the pathos on which Gucci's rise is based: “Two tear drops under my eye because I wish some days I could cry / But to lose my self-respect my nigga I would rather die. ”His story was one of inextricable hostility towards the rest of society at large, including the prison system. This also explains its particular appeal to a fan base that is all too often pathologized by the mainstream.

Today the vulnerability of his position in the general canon of the scene speaks to exactly what is valued by those who document the whole structure. It's the uniqueness — the lyric talent of rappers like Lil Wayne, Eminem, and Jay Z — that fascinates most hip-hop watchers: those for whom rap music is less art and more sport — a competition as measurable as a league table. (Just look at the music world's fascination with sales figures, or all of the studies trying to quantify rappers' vocabulary.) To really understand Gucci's appeal, we need to move a step away from the language of competition and quantification. It is this step — the necessary explanation of his unique history — that ultimately inspires comments about how Gucci is being over-analyzed; that he himself would not understand what is being written about him; that we write thousands of words about someone who doesn't think too much about his art. But it's not so much that his art needs song-by-song explanation — the confusing 2009 “My Shadow” is just as powerfully direct as any pop record, and I don't have to read about it to know that.

The reason Gucci inspires so many articles has to do with the nature of his art — that its influence has been so massive and yet it works on its own terms; that their relationship with fans is so historically unique. Although his albums have sold respectably, they don't match the numbers of Lil Wayne or Drake. Even so, he has grown as big as a street rapper can get without turning into a mainstream star. Some go on to argue that it's just "cranking music" —a perspective that ignores the deep gouges left by the rapper's back catalog, reducing him to one of those cynical hit-seekers clogging radios . This ignores the way in which his multilayered art is rich in narrative contradictions and pervaded by pathos. Now his music, while solid, is far less haunting than it was in the first five years of his career. Nonetheless, he has remained one of the most important and central voices in hip hop over the past ten years. An artist with a discography that is so extensive and complex that we have only just been able to scratch the surface, and whose influence runs like a domino chain through the new generation of artists.

It doesn't take much persuasion to have David Drake Gucci Mane rap songs for you. Follow him on Twitter— @ somanyshrimp

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