Kevin Gates is a pleasantly confusing artist who refuses to fit into any box that listeners may attempt to place him in. He sings and raps in an inimitable drawl that switches from choppy and subdued to angry and resonant. The twitchiness and perpetual suspicion of a man constantly surrounded by illegal substances and guns permeates every single song, but that natural mistrust doesn’t stop him from sharing the most intimate personal details.
This incongruous juxtaposition continues on his latest release, By Any Means. Running the emotional gamut from love and hate to pain and joy, Kevin’s unique approach paired with riotous production is a satisfying combination; the highs and lows serving as an enjoyable roller coaster ride through Gates’ psyche.
1. It’s raw.
The eerie “Posed To Be In Love” is an uncomfortable but arresting listen. A somber Gates assures the object of his affection that they can discuss their problems, but their relationship won’t end in a breakup, no matter how much she wants it. The vivid descriptions of stalking and domestic violence, followed by a less descriptive, but just as realistic portrayal of his lady’s death (“Passing by yo house like come outside/and we get violent/lights off mask on/silence”) will make you question yourself as you repeat the song.
While on “Can’t Make This Up” he almost flippantly mentions having two kids by two different women within a week of one another, on “Movie” he details both of their births with the expected love of a proud father. On paper, it doesn’t make sense and shouldn’t work, but you can’t help but understand what he’s going through when you hear him.
2. Too many cooks
While the features aren’t terrible, with the album clocking in at less than an hour, Gates should have been a little more selfish with his time. The late Doe B’s swaggering turn on “Amnesia” is a well-placed and welcome addition, as his aloof verse dedicated to Ms. Right Now snaps into place along with Gates’ like two Lego bricks in toddlers’ hands. However, 2 Chainz, Plies, and Rico Love don’t add much in their respective appearances, not dragging the proceedings down, but not contributing anything memorable either.
3. Beats by the pound
Kevin Gates wields such a magnetic personality, and he uses his voice in so many different ways, that he can sometimes reduce his production to mere window dressing. Thankfully, that’s not the case on By Any Means. In terms of stand-out cuts, Go Grizzly’s somber keys and subterranean bass set the proper tone for the aforementioned relationship-gone-wrong ode that is “Posed To Be In Love.” And “Stop Lyin’” is so weird that it works. Producer Dun Deal blends what sounds like the prerecorded whale sounds people use to sleep with futuristic robot bleeps and bloops to create something that sounds oddly regal.
4. Gates is an open book.
Kevin Gates’ greatest attribute is his honesty. His vulnerability can sometimes come off jarring, but it’s refreshing to hear when so many other artists are spending entire albums distancing themselves from regular people. Even when he’s trying to boast a bit, he can’t help but temper it with humility. On “Get Up On My Level” he addresses hometown haters while wishing them well:
They was already making music, I just added rap talent
Came out of prison, pursuing my dream
Now everybody mad at me
I ain’t never tried to diss y’all
All I ever did was tell the truth
Pray every one of y’all artists make it
Don’t or do, I still salute
That level of authenticity is enough to minimize some of the album’s missteps, like the schmaltzy “Go Hard” and the hollow 2 Chainz feature, “Bet I’m On It.”
There are a few obvious attempts to appeal to radio on By Any Means, but the album will mostly satiate the true Gates fans who crave the unfiltered look into his life that he offers each album, while also appealing to the more casual listeners who are drawn in by his schizophrenic delivery and southern drawl.