Gucci Mane Droptopwop

[Atlantic; 2017]

Styles: la flare, guwop, mr. zone 6

Before proceeding, a disclosure: this is being written in one of those $10-and-up cocktail bars. At once justifying my presence and making matters worse, they (crucially, we) are celebrating something called “Negroni Week.” Embarrassment aside, what I’m saying is that I’m sitting squarely in the demographic of the new Gucci Mane; at this very moment, I and the other patrons are being treated to the Drake-featuring hit “Both,” a few head-bobbing appreciatively and most giving no signs of acknowledgment. Equal parts man and myth, Gucci now rules over the Discover Weekly playlist as much as he once did the rap underground.

Ever since his release from jail, the Gucci fandom has been split in two; purists are prouder than ever of their fluency in the rapper’s early albums and mixtape work, conceding praise to the current era only insofar as it recalls its antecedents. On the other side are the latecomers, enthusiasm buoyed by the rising tide of rap’s radio dominance. Gucci has entered the rarefied air of pop-cultural shorthand, a towering figure whose shadow over rap is easy to invoke yet catastrophic to appear ignorant of.

The scant overlap between the two groups is fascinating, especially because Gucci himself hasn’t changed all that much. His legend is built on being unmistakable, by definition requiring a somewhat tightly-bounded style. In an era when pop radio preferred its rap features relatively anonymous, Gucci got the call for songs like “Break Up” and “Obsessed” because he had cornered the market on being Gucci Mane. Today, however, his legacy feels more limiting than liberating. Abandoned by his old fans, there is virtually no modern audience for Gucci experimentation. Instead, his modernity is maintained through his ever-evolving taste in features and production, the well of which will never run dry thanks to his decade-long tenure as Atlanta’s tastemaker-in-chief.

Neither is anything close to in short supply on Droptopwop. Metro Boomin drops off yet another bundle of beats completely distinct from his more formal commissions, doing more to elevate the project than he has for anything since last year’s phenomenal Savage Mode. Offset, Young Dolph, and 2 Chainz, all acolytes to some extent, pay tribute with incredibly true-to-form appearances. Gucci himself is no slouch, delivering easily his most complete and engaged work since his release (i.e., since his incarceration; the mixtape-by-numbers fire sale during his jail stint, while fascinating to read about, produced little of note).

And yet it’s hard to feel optimistic about the future. Gucci’s peak didn’t occur in a vacuum, but was a product of a specific time and place intersecting with the rise of an icon. Some of the magic of his run was that it felt insurgent, the sound of someone molding radio’s reality into his own vision by sheer force of will. The stakes simply aren’t the same when his conquests are conceded to him from the get-go. With the bag secured, Gucci has nearly limitless options to proceed, but he’s done little to show that he’s interested in them. Droptopwop is a return to form insofar as it is the high point of his post-jail music, but a plateau is a plateau nonetheless.

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