Kevin Gates By Any Means 2

[Bread Winners' Association; 2017]

Styles: baton rouge, getting tired
Others: YoungBoy Never Broke Again, Dreka, N/A

Not sure if you’ve ever been, but Las Vegas is fucking great. On any given block, you’ll find the full spectrum of human vices; perhaps you can resist a few of them, but something’s going to get you. These are simple pleasures, practically encoded in your DNA, and they’re all happening at once. That’s what listening to Kevin Gates is like. For over a decade now, Gates has refined the technical elements of his songwriting while remaining utterly unchanged at his core, remaining recognizable both as himself and as an obvious influence. To the extent that any other mainstream artist sounds similar, it’s because of him; massive regional popularity notwithstanding, Gates stands in opposition to every identifiable trend in modern street rap.

Interpolating “What If God Was One Of Us” in a rap hook is awesome. Keeping the parenthetical portion of “At the same time, fuckin’ coach Whitney/ He the track coach, and a asshole/ (Know that didn’t have shit to do with this, I was just stating the facts though)” in a major hit is awesome. Nearly pulling off the role of tender lover in a song called “D U Down” is awesome. It’s the bundling of all these moments of corniness that gives them power; only alongside all of the others can any one seem authentic. It’s New Sincerity applied to rap, really-realness surviving only in styles that would never be adopted consciously.

Of course, there are downsides to Gates’s iconic individualism. Across a dozen mixtapes and a platinum album, usually minimally adorned with guest appearances, we’ve gotten a fantastic idea of what Kevin Gates’s music sounds like. While Islah showed an encouraging ability to stack an album with his best work, his tapes maintain a fairly consistent ratio of killer to filler that can leave something to be desired. Gates’s willingness to charge straight into guilty pleasure territory means that any given listener may well have a unique set of favorite songs, conversely making the occasional dud inevitable. By Any Means 2 is not immune to this, and its release as Gates begins a 30-month sentence for an old weapons charge raises the question of whether his steady stream of new music is intended to show progression or simply maintain his current relevance until he’s free once more.

This is the essential question of Gates’s career: for how long can he mine his current sound before fans grow bored? His singular position within the rap game grants him the advantage of having no immediate replacements, and there’s really no telling what the carrying capacity of the music world is in terms of Kevin Gates hits. Every single release has a few (“Imagine That” seems to be the early favorite from By Any Means 2), and the genre — to say nothing of musical success in general — is so singles-driven that there’s virtually no penalty for casting a wide net by means of a lengthy tracklist. In this sense, Gates playing it safe on By Any Means 2 is reassuring. But, on the other hand, the question of whether he can repeat the statement-making step up he took with Islah looms large as ever. After all, Vegas is a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.

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