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Every week, we tell you about an album we think you need to spend time with. This week's album is Gucci Mane's Everybody's Looking, his first LP since being released from federal prison to house arrest.
There’s no phenomena like watching a rapper come home. It remains one of hip-hop’s most joyful cultural moments, borne on a spectrum of shifting contexts and unfortunate circumstances. Welcoming someone back - to the game, to the outside - is best served outside of a selfish craving for creative output and inside a grand sigh of relief that an artist we love wasn’t consumed by their confinement to the point of no return.
From all indications, Gucci Mane(‘s clone?) came back a different man for the better. He’s been sober for three years, his trademarked belly abandoned for a combine-ready wide receiver build. The most-notable change: he’s present with a smile, serving the rest of the summer on an ankle bracelet with his girlfriend, a pool, and an array of “clean, but opulent” jewelry. (Thankfully, he’s adopting Snapchat to catch up on the beneflex via modern technology.) Guwop’s weathered many a storm of his career in the face of a saddening recidivism; a testament to his struggles with substance abuse and violent tragedies harkening back to his old life. Though his team dropped several seemingly-random mixtapes since his 2014 federal stint began, Gucci’s traction remained shaky at best, especially after wave after wave of Atlanta rappers indebted to him met mainstream, or semi-mainstream, success. The glee surrounding his return is easily matched with a cautious prayer that he’s finally back for good, finally equipped to give his demons the shake.
On Everybody Looking, it’s clear Gucci’s had the time to marinate in these very concerns (“They call me crazy so much, I think I’m starting to believe ‘em / I did some things to some people that was downright evil.”) But this album serves not as a time to wallow, but to get back to business. It’s not a randomized compilation with tacked-on features from the heatmakers of the moment, but a definitive signifier of the Trap God’s return: an album, done in a week, with Mike WiLL and Zaytoven at the helm. The two remain atop their thrones as the most prolific architects of the South, building the context for the third architect to return to his throne.
The sober Gucci offers a stark improvement on how he manages every side of himself: a man with redemptive intentions, emerging from solitude to face the repercussions of his villainous ways while reveling in what made him the hood favorite. For every bar detailing his lean addiction, there’s three or four where he’ll comment on the purple pubic hair of a lover or propose his son growing a vulva if Guwop isn’t really a millionaire by now. We even get “Pussy Print:” a song where his pockets are compared to a vulva, and Kanye West spends the first four bars doing his best Gucci nursery-rhyme cadence impression. From that awareness emerges one of the bars of the year: “And I only featured Kanye cuz we both some fuckin’ narcissists!”
There’s a special power in knowing you’re responsible for the success of damn near everyone out of Atlanta for a decade now. “All My Children” exemplifies the on-wax cementing of Gucci Mane as a certified OG, though no one’s dared to question it (“Don’t nobody love you like Guwop love you / I had to make a track to say I’m proud of you”). Other than a stray Drake chorus and Young Thug’s jubilant throat-singing on “Guwop Home,” Gucci’s the sole force carrying the project. While it’s fun to imagine college girls falling out over Gucci’s new six-pack, he’s at his best when he turns the lens inward. There’s “Robbed,” painting his hometown Mountain Park neighborhood as a battleground where even the most prominent dope boy can be a walking lick at any moment. “Richest Nigga in the Room” is an autobiographical account of his early brushes with jail, doubling as one of the album’s most vulnerable moments where Gucci reminisces over being made fun of in school and buying his first whips as a trapstar when no one could tell him shit.
At 36, it’s a bit uncomfortable to imagine Radric Davis waxing poetic about high school kids making fun of his shoes, but it’s this vulnerability that continues to dent the monstrous exterior he’s lived up to throughout his career. It’s one of the most understated characteristics of the gangster: a hardened grasp of reality that many dance to, but few elect to empathize with, casting their humanity away at a moment’s notice. That’s what makes “1st Day Out tha Feds” such a brilliant comeback record: it’s as paranoid as it’s remorseful. Even Gucci Mane - the one who caught a body, beat the case, and did the diss record about it in the hometown of the man he murdered - has nightmares of his past catching up to him.
While there’s plenty of detail, there’s a void left in this album as well: Guwop’s careful enough to let us in on his mind, but only so much. With time, will we hear the names of the three people he lost in the same summer? Will he speak on how his mama turned her back on him, or what those two years in Indiana did to him? Everybody Looking isn’t the explicitly-political gangsta opus many could’ve predicted, a la YG and Kendrick, but it’s not supposed to be. It’s a retail Gucci Mane album for the masses to coast through the rest of the summer with, a moment where we can relish in the light of a rejuvenated Guwop that can’t associate with us if we don’t have at least a million to our names. If he stays off the cup and leaves the blunt alone, that’s all we deserve for now.
Michael Penn II (aka CRASHprez) is a rapper and a former VMP staff writer. He's known for his Twitter fingers.