Gucci Mane was released from prison last week. There are two groups of people that are excited about this: those who know what a free Gucci means for the rap world and those who follow the memes and lack any grasp of who or what Gucci Mane really is.
Recently, a high profile music publication published an article on why Gucci Mane is the most influential rapper of the last decade. You don't need seek this article out. It's about 300 words and sounds like it was written by some fool that wrote it on his phone while waiting in line for a fitting room at the Supreme store because his editor said "Gucci is free, now give me something". I don't take exception to the article's thesis statement. In fact, I've been championing this exact contention for the last two years. While everyone else rotated between Kanye West, Jay-Z, and Drake, I always said Gucci Mane. The problem I have with this article is that it reads from the narrative of memes and social media. To the author of this article, Gucci's legacy is not defined by the creative entity and power center that he is. Rather, he is defined by quotes like "lost in the sauce" and "bitch I might be". This is problematic and wildly myopic. If you look at the big picture, you realize that Gucci Mane is not only the most influential rapper of the last ten years, but perhaps of all time.
Gucci Mane is a legend. This fact is not under dispute. The problem with being a legend is that if enough time passes people will forget what makes the legend a legend. When that happens the legend washes into parody. We arrive at the shallow understanding that produces memes and poor aptitude. There are several reasons why Gucci Mane is a legend and perhaps the greatest of all time and it is important to know why or risk chewing on a meme for your intellectual credentials.
In 2005, Gucci Mane was still a bit of an unknown. He was working on self-releasing his album Trap House. To boost the star power on the record, he paid Young Jeezy (then hailed as the savior of gangsta rap) to do a feature on the song "Icy". The song wound up being a breakaway hit and made Gucci Mane's bones in the rap world. Jeezy's people at Def Jam felt the song could do even more if it was given a bigger platform. They instructed Jeezy to perusade Gucci into selling the publishing rights of "Icy" to them. Jeezy comes to Gucci with a hefty offer to outright buy the rights to the song. Gucci rebuffs the offer and tells Jeezy to kick rocks. This would spark the Gucci - Jeezy beef (one of the most heated rap feuds of all time and is discussed in great detail in Mara Shaloup's book BMF). After having his offer rejected by Gucci, Jeezy resorted to mentioning his associations to try and intimidate Gucci into selling. Jeezy was backed by Big Meech and the Black Mafia Family (BMF). In 2006, BMF ran most of the cocaine game in Atlanta, St. Louis, South Carolina, and Detroit. They were organized, dangerous, and, because of Jeezy, were now enemies of Gucci Mane. Upping the ante, Jeezy basically hit Gucci with "do what I say or else". Gucci, being the street nihilist that he is, responded by dropping the song "Round 1" where he tells Jeezy "put a dress on a nigga, you Meech's bitch". Losing patience, Jeezy and Meech hatch a scheme to take care of Gucci. Jeezy offered a group of five rappers from the Atlanta area a record deal with CTE (Jeezy's Def Jam imprint) if they kill Gucci. The group accepts and go after Gucci. They hit a house where Gucci was at and, in a plan gone awry, failed to kill him. Rather, Gucci was able to draw a weapon of his own and kill one of the invaders, wounding another, causing the other three to flee. The next day (the day before Trap House was to drop), Gucci turned himself in to authorities and claimed self-defense (which worked). When it was all said and done, Gucci Mane took on Young Jeezy, Big Meech and one of the largest criminal syndicates in the southeastern United States and won. It cemented his reputation that he was not someone to ever be trifled with.
Best A&R Ever
Simply put: if Gucci puts on for you, you are a made man. Much like E.F. Hutton, if Gucci is talking about another rapper, you better be listening. He groomed Waka Flocka Flame into his protege, spawning one of the most popular rappers. Future was a nobody until Free Bricks came out and minted his name. Young Thug was considered "niche and acquired" until Gucci signed him to 1017 and released 1017 Thug and everyone stopped to pay attention. The list of rappers and producers that Gucci has scouted out and put on for is staggering:
- Young Dolph
- Waka Flocka Flame
- Rich Homie Quan
- Young Thug
- OJ Da Juiceman
- Young Scooter
- PeeWee Longway
- Sonny Digital
- Lex Luger
- Metro Boomin
- Mike Will Made It
Rich Homie Quan during an interview with Drug Money USA was once asked what was his favorite thing about working with Gucci Mane. He answered Gucci's work ethic was inspiring. Rich Homie said on his best day he could maybe lay down three songs. He said Gucci on an average day lays down seven songs. When Gucci went in to prison, a record executive remarked to me that Gucci's people were sitting on two terabytes of verses that could be used for songs. In 2014, Gucci released fifteen (15) albums and mixtapes. As far as output goes, no one comes close to Gucci's.
People come to Gucci and offer their services for his releases. He doesn't have to beg or pay. While Mike Will Made It charges artists in LA a fortune for his beats, he readily gives them to Gucci for his releases. His features are regularly a who's who of the rap game from Future to Rich Homie Quan. Aside from the esteem Gucci holds, it is even more amazing that people in the rap game won't touch his enemies. When Flocka and Gucci's beef reignited in late 2013, Flocka declared he was over the rap game and wanted to break into the EDM world. Given how contentious the beef was (Flocka's cousin Frenchie went as far of accusing Gucci of being behind the murder of beloved 1017 member Slim Dunkin), it isn't a stretch to say that Gucci had Flocka blacklisted. Was Flocka really over the rap game or was the rap game ignoring him? It is kind of hard to be a successful rapper when the best producers won't touch you and the only features you can get are your brother (Wooh Da Kid) and cousin (Frenchie).
Beyond the memes, stories, and quotes, there's still Gucci Mane. The gears are still turning and he's still scheming. His name is still the heaviest on the streets. What matters above all else is that he did it all himself. He didn't kowtow to labels and superstars so much as he took them on. He builds his own soldiers from the ground up and they stay loyal to him no matter what heights they may reach. He will bury you in the booth and if he utters a bad word about you, it will cause more damage to your career than a hundred scandals. In a genre like modern rap, where fans have the memory of a goldfish, it is very easy to forget about someone who has held it down as long and as strongly as Gucci Mane. I could ponder the question if prison slowed him down or not, but the fact is I've been watching Gucci Mane all this time and I know better enough to know that there is no slowing him down.