No Reason To Pretend is a bi-weekly column by Stephen Kearse that explores the intersection of hip-hop and pop culture.
It’s hard not to root for Gucci Mane. Over a tumultuous decade, the east Atlanta rapper has gone from a hustler on the periphery of the music industry to a fixture at its center, weathering incarcerations, creative slumps, personal misfortunes, and punishing economic shifts. His new self — drug-free, six-packed, clear-voiced, and brilliantly veneered — is so startlingly far from the pot-bellied, marble-mouthed Gucci of old that he was initially thought to be a clone. His first post-prison release, Everybody Looking, reveled in these differences and their implications for his future, promising a new artistic vision to match Gucci’s dazzling rebirth.
The promise hasn’t been kept. Even if you’re not a student of Gucci’s sprawling discography, you’d be forgiven for not being impressed at his post-prison output. Hooks, flows, and concepts used to come effortlessly for Gucci Mane, even after his peak (2007-2010), but his recent music, spanning two albums, four EPs, and one mixtape, has been a grind. His once liquid flow has become more cumbersome, hitting the downbeat with awkward force and often cramming syllables together into blocky chunks.
Consider the opening line to “Both” from The Return of East Atlanta Santa, for example: “I got so many felonies, I might can’t never go to Canada.” Gucci sprints through “felonies” to make it fit the beat and it completely disrupts the verse’s rubbery bounce. Likewise, his verse on Young Thug’s “Floyd Mayweather” is just as shaky. “The walking lick and my chopper is my walking stick,” he spurts, stumbling over “and.” This bumbling flow debuted on “No Sleep” from Everybody Looking, but there it at least had an air of unbridled directness, the slippages justified by the chorus: “I can’t even sleep, I got so much to say.”