Artists have to create. It’s a compulsion. It’s what defines people as artists. However, it’d be pointless to create without an audience, so many artists probably also feel compelled to share as much as their work as possible. But this begs the question: Is it possible for artists to overshare?
Rappers have certainly pushed the limits of that question in recent years. Both experts and casual observers have begun to wonder whether there’d be more benefit for them in more sparing releases. Conventional wisdom goes that rappers must keep their names buzzing with regular drops, lest they be drowned out by the continuing churn of new music from their peers.
That obligation to not only create nonstop but share nonstop has had a weird, flattening effect on the perception of artists’ development. How much more can you possibly have to say in 2019 than you did in 2018 — especially with multiple releases in the earlier year? Gunna seeks to address that conundrum — albeit indirectly — on his new project, Drip Or Drown 2, and the results are about as mixed as you might expect.
On one hand, all the endearing aspects of Gunna’s output are present: His slippery flow, his vibrant descriptions of his wealth and experiences in the trap game, those hypnotically enjoyable Turbo and Wheezy beats. There’s a lot to like, especially if you’re already a Gunna fan or just a trap rap aficionado in the first place.
However, Drip Or Drown 2 also highlights Gunna’s shortcomings as an artist as well, especially when absorbed in the context of his already prolific existing catalog. That sinuous, bouncy cadence can begin to sound like a drone, especially since there’s little stylistic variation in the mass machined production over the 16 tracks of the album and its predecessors.
But really, the most glaring flaw is that Gunna raps about the same stuff pretty much everybody in trap rap raps about, in basically the same ways they do. For instance, on “Derek Fisher,” a simmering flex over a spacy Turbo beat with Lil Baby riding shotgun, Gunna brags, “Dead fresh, out a coffin, Playboy VLONE cover my spine,” which starts off and ends with slick twists on old concepts. This is Gunna’s gift and his curse. His tilted perspective offers some clever feats of wordplay, but his subject matter is pat. It’s kind of disconcerting.
It makes you wonder what he could do with the time between releases to come up with more imaginative scenarios and content, or if the same ones he’s already mastered might land better if we weren’t already inundated from last year’s Drip Season 3, which came out around the same time, and Drip Harder with Lil Baby, which came out only eight months later — and just four months previous to Drip Or Drown 2. Heck, even the titles reflect this tendency to stick so tenaciously to a single lane. A little variety couldn’t hurt at this point.
For example, on Drip Harder, at least an equal number of Lil Baby verses gave some sonic balance to the proceedings, if not much stylistic variation. But on Drip Or Drown 2, Gunna’s dominance is only broken up three times: By Lil Baby on “Derek Fisher,” by Playboi Carti on “Same Yung N—-,” and by his YSL label boss Young Thug on “3 Headed Snake.” On the latter, Gunna sounds energized by Thug’s energy, a dose of espresso on the otherwise drowsy, lean-washed proceedings; his flow sounds more alert here than anywhere else on the album. Unfortunately, he has the opposite effect on the usually hyperactive Carti on their collab, leaving the younger rapper sounding lethargic.
The Japanese biwa-sampling “Who You Foolin’” is a smart closer because it leaves listeners with the promise of further innovation on future projects. It’s a break from the airy, woozy synths that permeate the remainder of the album and it provides another opportunity for Gunna to wake up and try things with his voice as well. Most listeners would probably like more experimentation like this on his next project — or maybe, just a longer break before it comes out, to give Turbo and Wheezy more time to locate even more surprising samples to play around with. Giving Gunna new sounds just might be the trick to refreshing an engaging artist who sounds a little burnt out from his intense release schedule.
Drip Or Drown 2 is out now via Young Stoner Life Records / 300 Entertainment. Get it here.