Perhaps no rapper has had more near-misses than Gucci Mane, now a decade and a half deep into a fits-and-starts career. He is one of hip-hop’s most prolific and admired artists, and also one of the least predictable. The shadow he casts over Atlanta — the center of 2000s hip-hop innovation — and by extension the rest of the South, is long and constant.
He’s released perhaps 2,000 songs — his own and appearances on others — and for a spell in 2009, thanks to breakthrough hits like “Wasted” and the deliriously warped “Lemonade,” as well as guest verses on tracks by Mariah Carey and Mario, it seemed like Gucci might finally take his regional charm global.
Gucci’s trademark is his flow: buoyant and melodic, with light comedic flourishes. He raps with a slurry intricacy that’s inscrutable to old-fashioned hip-hop purists, but holds consistent thrills. His rhymes take unanticipated turns, and he loves to hover over the same syllable, dropping it over and over from different angles.
He is also a logistical innovator, part of the first wave of rappers to understand that a steady presence via mixtapes (in the real world, and later, online) was just as effective a marketing strategy as the traditional singles-and-albums approach. And he is one of the most astute rap talent scouts in the country, having kick-started the careers of Waka Flocka Flame and Young Thug, and catapulted producers like Zaytoven, Drumma Boy and Mike Will Made-It to wide renown.
From the early 2000s through the early 2010s, Gucci released dozens of mixtapes and a sprinkling of commercially released albums, and even had a role in the neon-gothic film “Spring Breakers.” Harmony Korine, the film’s director, said his longtime friend is “a pure artist in the way Sinatra was. He embodies the code and the myth, but also elevates it in this really weird way.”
Gucci’s mystique, skill, omnipresence and oddball instincts — in 2011, he had an ice cream cone tattooed on his right cheek — all came together to make him something like a folk hero.
Jon Caramanica, “Buff, Sober and Ready to Flow”, The New York Times (24 July 2016), AR12.