While some critics bemoan Migos’ massive Culture II album as a distended offering, it’s clear the group can’t help themselves when it comes to creating music. During an interview with Power 105’s Breakfast Club, Quavo bluntly revealed his requirements for collaboration: “when the price is right, we can work.” As he gave a “simple-as-that” shrug, I laughed because I knew exactly where that mindset came from: Gucci Mane.
Sure, Lil Wayne was the most prominent artist to flood the internet and mixtape market at such a prolific rate, but Gucci had his own successes in the same timeframe. In 2007, the FBI raided the mixtape pioneer DJ Drama’s Atlanta compound. The move abruptly halted the sale of mixtapes featuring remakes of popular songs. Gucci saw the breach in the market and revolutionized the mixtape game in his own fashion. While Wayne is considered a mixtape king for free projects that skillfully repurposed other artist’s songs, Gucci Mane is an innovator of mixtapes with full, original songs that could chart on their own.
Similar to Wayne — who had to hold the once-bustling Cash Money fort down on his own — Gucci’s rapid musical output arose out of necessity. After an infamous beef with Jeezy got bloody when he murdered an associate of Jeezy’s in self-defense, Gucci Mane was incarcerated for six months. He became a pariah in the trap music kingdom of Atlanta. Upon his release, the doors were still closed on him. That’s when he and go-to producer Zaytoven started recording and releasing music on their own at a breakneck pace that persists to this day. How productive is Gucci Mane? While incarcerated on gun charges from 2014 to 2016, he managed to drop 24 projects. Not songs. Projects.
While Gucci was away, many of the artists that he co-signed and collaborated with rose to prominence, becoming Atlanta royalty in their own right. He gave producers Zaytoven, Mike Will Made-It, and Metro Boomin some of their first breaks; Atlanta rappers OJ Da Juiceman and Young Scooter earned hits under his umbrella; Waka Flocka, Nicki Minaj, French Montana focused their craft and vaulted into national consciousness while affiliated with him. Rich Homie Quan was first heard on Gucci’s Trap House 3 mixtape, and he also began working with Migos, Future and Young Dolph very early on in their careers. Gucci says he gave Young Thug a $25K advance before even hearing a song, merely trusting the co-sign from then-1017 Brick Squad member Peeway Longway.
If Gucci Mane had all of those artists signed to 1017 Brick Squad, we’d have to call him Suge Gotti-Dash Laflare. What’s most impressive is that it appears like he’s never co-signed artists with a capitalistic, exploitative agenda, but to simply put another person on. Several Atlanta artists have echoed Quavo’s sentiment that there was “no paperwork” upon meeting Gucci, just instant love and collaboration. Metro Boomin said “Gucci’s the kinda n—- where I could bring my homeboy through, like, ‘Yo this n—-’s dope,’ and if he thinks they’re hard, he’ll give them a deal. Gucci really would try to make other n—-s bosses.”
When we talk about hip-hop as a vehicle for upward mobility, Gucci Mane’s 1017 Zamboni was the ride of choice for so many of today’s prominent acts. He invited hoards of trap aspirants to the Brick Factory, his East Atlanta studio that served as an oasis for some of trap rap’s crown jewels — and a foundation for young artists to find their polish.
Coach K told The Fader that “[the studio] was a home for all the street rappers. Gucci gives you that confidence. He makes you feel comfortable.” Quavo said from the moment Migos walked into the Factory, they “locked in” and would literally sleep in the studio between sessions. DJ Holiday said that the Brick Factory was like a school, and Gucci Mane was “teaching.”
He learned them well. Young Thug, Future and Migos are some of the busiest, most well-known artists in the game. Dolph is one of hip-hop’s highest-profile examples of independent success, as he’s one of the only selfmade acts to have multiple top 20 Billboard records since 2014. Gucci’s ceaseless musical export and DIY-nature rubbed off on all of them in varying degrees. DJ Burn One once reflected a post-strip club session where Gucci went into the booth and freestyled nearly 10 full songs as the producer pulled up beat after beat. That process sounds like a corollary of DJ Durel’s observation that Migos finished songs in “20 to 45-minutes” for Culture II, steadily freestyling lyrics and concepts for the tracks.
They haven’t even stopped since the first Culture album. Instead of stepping back and celebrating their coronation as hip-hop’s newest kings, they decided to work harder. By the time they had released teasers for Culture II in December, it was hard to feel an anticipatory rush because it was just another project by the group.
That’s part of what has caused some people to look at the record as a task to get through instead of an enjoyable album. The trio has made it abundantly clear over the past five years where their expertise lies: Throaty triplet flows and catchy choruses over sinister, thunderous beats. Thirteen tracks of that at a time is acceptable, but twenty-four can be a lot. That said, it’s not surprising that the group aimed to squeeze every dollar out of the streaming services with as many tracks as possible. We often celebrate the carnivorous capitalistic exploits of Black artists who have long been screwed over by the music industry, but it seems like the moneygrab was too blatant here.
Offset and Quavo, especially, have been among the most prolific artists in the game. Quavo was on over two dozen features last year. Young Thug is as likely to show up with pop star Camila Cabello as he is to be with an upstart rapper like SahBabii. Ditto Quavo, who has done tracks with ex-One Direction member Liam Payne, and Iggy Azalea all the way to upcoming Atlanta acts Kap G and Alexis Ayaana.
That’s right out of Gucci Mane’s “money talks, bullsh*t walks” ethos. Gucci did a mixtape with V Nasty of White Girl Mob infamy, and broke Youtuber Jake Paul for a $250 K feature. Those are two artists who probably wouldn’t have survived the Brick Factory, but the chase for the bag clearly keeps Gucci motivated. It’s little wonder that his sonic successors have been on the same wave.
Whereas other street artists may be weary of going full on pop, Migos will jump on any track, spitting the same kind of content they would for a Migos record. Based on how closely derived modern pop and EDM is from Atlanta trap, it makes sense. It’s also the kind of thing you can do when you’ve developed goodwill with a cult fanbase who can do figurative backstrokes in your massive pool of music. When Kendrick Lamar does an off the wall pop feature, it’s ripe for more backlash because there are less opportunities to hear him. But Migos, Future and Thugger fans — like Gucci fans — know there’s always more music coming right down the pipeline.
There’s a downside to such a relentless release schedule, but at this point there hasn’t been much burnout from Migos, Thugger, or any of Gucci Mane’s other former prospects. As much as people talk theoretically about being fatigued by copious creation, Gucci Mane himself has been on a grind for more than a decade and still maintains his diehard fanbase. Of course his run has been speckled by a few hype-stirring “Free Gucci” campaigns, but he released so much music during his prison terms that it was like he was never gone. The same level of prolonged allegiance could happen for Migos and Young Thug, who, despite numerous controversies and probable homophobia, have procured a prominence in pop culture as imaginative, magnetic burlesques of Atlanta street culture with outrageous, unforgettable visual idiosyncrasies. Sound familiar?
We can dictate how and when we think artists should release music all we want, but the output is ultimately up to them. When Vulture reporter David Marchese asked Erykah Badu whether reclusive neo-soul artists like D’Angelo “fulfilled” their potential, Badu’s response was perfect: “whose fulfillment are we talking about?” Maybe, just maybe, Gucci Mane and the acts he influenced just like making music — and love the idea of getting paid to do something they enjoy. We can’t govern their release schedule. We can only patronize it, evaluate it — and marvel at its breadth.
So many artists (from Atlanta especially) have absorbed a tenacious work ethic — and so many other things — from Gucci Mane. We see his influence in Future’s 4-peat of highly acclaimed projects in 2016, in Migos’ relentless run, and in acts named Lil Guwop or La Flare. He told us about “the sauce” years ago — and it looks like he let a flock of worthy youngin’s in on the secret recipe. Let these boys cook.