Gucci Mane’s Historic Run

By Guest Contributor

You have probably heard of the rapper Gucci Mane.  You might have a song or two of his.  Or you remember his cameo in 2013’s Spring Breakers, in which he played Big Arch (and actually fell asleep while filming a sex scene).  Perhaps you’ve seen his Bart Simpson chain or his ice cream cone tattoo with lightning bolts coming out of it.  The one on his face.

What you might not know is that Gucci Mane, the man they call Guwop, is currently on the most prolific run of record releases in the history of music.

Gucci, who is from Alabama, started his rap career in 2005 with the self-released album Trap House, followed by a handful of mixtapes, which are essentially less polished albums that rappers release between albums.  Between that first album and signing with Warner Bros. in mid-2009, Guwop released five albums and 14 mixtapes.  His popularity quickly expanded outside the South, and he was able to release his music through his own record label.

At this point, it is probably necessary to spend a little time describing Gucci’s music to those who aren’t familiar.  Gucci is considered one of the modern fathers of the sub-genre of hip-hop known as Trap, the combination of a hazy, promethazene-addled rapping style with snare and bass heavy beats.  His lyrics, like most within the genre, are highly violent, depict heavy weed, molly, and cough syrup consumption and contain relentless misogyny.  If you agree with literally any of the common criticisms of rap, you will probably dislike Gucci Mane’s music.  Hold that thought.

Gucci’s 1017 Brick Squad label (the name is a reference to his grandfather’s Bessemer, Alabama address, and a kilo, aka. a brick, of cocaine) continued its success.  However, by the fall of 2013 Gucci’s life was in shambles.  In a span of 15 days, Gucci launched a Twitter tirade aimed at dozens of artists, including Waka Flocka Flame, Nicki Minaj, Drake and countless others with whom he had repeatedly collaborated, was revealed to have defrauded several 1017 rappers and was accused of murdering yet another.  After initially claiming that a former manager hacked his Twitter, he went on to admit he sent the messages and revealed that he was struggling with an addiction to codeine cough syrup.

Allow me a quick aside: I was following this story every day as it happened last fall, and I honestly don’t remember experiencing anything like it.  We’re used to watching the lives of public figures from Charlie Sheen to Mike Vick to Tiger Woods crumble.  There’s nothing unique about that.  But in those cases, one event revealed a past of wildly destructive behavior.  What set this apart was that we were watching this dude, in real time, act out similar behavior in a manner that was so insanely self-sabotaging and nonsensical that it defied all understanding.  It was like watching a car crash in slow motion, only if the driver was purposefully ramming into every object in sight while dousing himself in gasoline.

The fallout?  Gucci Mane is currently in jail, after pleading guilty to firearm possession by a convicted felon.  He will be out in either 2015 or 2016, depending on if you believe him or the government.  He is reportedly attending rehab in jail.  And somehow, unbelievably, Gucci is putting out more music than ever before.

Since going to jail on May 13, 2014, Gucci has released six mixtapes and five albums.  Read that sentence again.  Going back to the beginning of 2013, the total is seventeen and seven.  That rate is pretty much consistent dating back three years.  Even though all the material was pre-recorded, it is hard to imagine that this level of output has ever been reached before.

But what is equally amazing is the undying popularity of his music.  All of his mixtapes achieve  hundreds of thousands of downloads, despite the fact that all of his songs are more or less the same.  Which brings us back to the earlier point about his lyrical content.  Gucci Mane embodies, and advocates for, most everything that is popularly disliked about hip-hop, even by its listeners.  However, he is in some senses the most popular individual currently practicing the art, adored by fans who unquestioningly love most everything about hip-hop.  As Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber winkingly adapt pieces of hip-hop culture and whitewash them for mass consumption, Gucci has targeted a decidedly non-mainstream audience.  He is considered by most casual music fans to be somewhat of a joke, known for his drug and legal problems and that bizarre face tattoo (seriously, google it).  But to write him off as such misses the fact that no artist has better employed the Internet as a means to reach a massive audience and that his 1017 label continues to produce popular artists.  He has essentially ignored the standard rules of the industry, and as a result, he deliberately operates out of the sights of America’s consuming class.  Gucci’s historic run is proof that there are pockets of hip-hop culture that Miley Cyrus and the mainstream have yet to claim for their own.

LUKE SMITH-STEVES ’14 is from New York, N.Y.