It’d be fair to say that hip hop superstar Gucci Mane has lived an extremely productive life. Having released 13 studio albums, and over 70 mixtapes, he has a discography that few other rappers could even dream of approaching, both in size and in notoriety. Commercially, he’s best known for his collaboration with Rae Sremmurd on their huge single Black Beatles. Outside of music, Mane has released an autobiography – The Autobiography of Gucci Mane, a clothing line called Delantic, and even starred in a couple of films.
However, it’s the transformation that Mane has undergone – both literally and figuratively - after being released in prison in 2016 that is arguably the most important part of his career, marked by the release of his 13th album, Evil Genius. This album, released at the end of 2018, came at the end of a surprisingly quiet year for Gucci – after all, he released three albums the year before. He put forward his hopes for how the album would be viewed simply when talking to Billboard: “Ok, Gucci still coming hard. He still passionate about the music." This was echoed in a later interview on Ricky Smiley’s radio show, saying the album is “just a celebration of merit. A very good album in a very good part of my life.”
Whether you love or loathe Gucci Mane, it’s hard to deny his all-encompassing influence on rappers around him. Migos, Metro Boomin, Young Thug, Young Jeezy, Nicki Minaj and more have all benefited from a co-sign from Gucci Mane early in their careers. Indeed, approval from Gucci Mane can be the difference between becoming a superstar and being forgotten to time. Evil Genius is a representation of the genre that Gucci helped popularise, with 2005’s hit Icy giving Atlanta trap music a huge boost in popularity. It’s no wonder then, that Evil Genius features some of today’s biggest trap stars, with Quavo, 21 Savage and the rest of Migos all featured on the album.
Evil Genius comes at a time where Gucci Mane seems like he is at a high point in his career. It would be hard to argue that his frequent incarcerations haven’t affected his ability to break through to the level of superstardom that many think he’s destined for, but by the same token, he’s had staying power since the turn of the millennium, with countless musicians having been and gone since then.
The album also answers an important question – what if Gucci Mane held back, at least for a little while? Diehard and casual fans alike have marvelled at Gucci Mane’s release schedule – even while in prison, he was averaging a mixtape a month. For most rappers, a year between projects is standard, but in this case, it’s something to be talked about. Gucci himself believes that the market in which he would saturate audiences with mixtapes might have changed, saying in an interview with GQ that "I hate to say it, but I don't think [there's] the same market for that — if I put out 15 mixtapes, they cannot really do what I need them to do”.
The increased gap between projects might not have resulted in more hits than the average Gucci Mane record, but it’s improved the overall quality. That’s not to say that there aren’t huge hits, either – Bipolar, Off The Boat and I’m Not Goin’ are all as huge as any songs in the rest of Gucci’s discography. The aforementioned album opener Off The Boat, demonstrates the juxtaposition of old and new Gucci – as the song imagines someone talking to his wife, Keyshia Ka’oir – ‘Gucci Mane's a murderer, you sure you wanna marry him?’. Gucci is destined to be followed around by his past, and rather than ignore it, he embraces it – in many ways, you can’t have the current evolution of Gucci Mane without first accepting his past.
It doesn’t appear that Gucci’s downtime has taken away any of his signature confidence, either. Speaking on the aforementioned Rickey Smiley’s radio show, Gucci declared himself the king of rap, and dismissed any claims that Eminem might have to the title – a belief that isn’t isolated to Gucci alone. Call it what you like, confidence, arrogance or swagger – but it’s this belief in himself that keeps Gucci going, over a decade after he first stepped into the limelight.
So what’s next for Gucci Mane? Today he's dropped a new song with Meek Mill called Backwards and a new mixtape called Delusions Of Grandeur will land on June 21st, so we've got heaps to look forward to.