Here’s the thing: NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts fucking rule– especially rap performances.
In that grade school homeroom, lined with catty-cornered bookshelves spilling over with dog-eared autobiographies and singular trinkets and rumpled LP covers, the spectacle of an artist’s performance collapses in on itself. With the artists stripped down and laid bare, you notice small, occasionally personal things that you might’ve otherwise missed with all the bombast and stage lighting. There, you stumble across little revelations. Or big ones.
You notice things like T-Pain’s almost-nervous tic of adjusting his glasses and snapback in the dead air between songs. Or the revelation that, just because he messed around with voice-modulation software to make himself sound all kaleidoscopic and metallic (not for nothing, setting into motion a massive tectonic shift in hip-hop), that didn’t mean dude couldn’t actually sang. Or even something as simple as this: Back in August, Anderson .Paak & the Free Nationals blew the pig-glassed doors off of it, and it dawned on me that experiencing them live is something I need to do before I die. Point is: You can learn a lot from an NPR Tiny Desk Concert.
And on Monday, Gucci Mane went and performed over full recordings of his own songs, and it was really fucking good. It was also weird — because rapping over full recordings of songs isn’t usually a good thing, and because wringing interesting performances out of artists like Gucci Mane (and T-Pain and Anderson .Paak) isn’t exactly a hallowed NPR tradition. And it was amazing too, because it was full of all those perfect little details. Here are five of them:
Gucci Talking About Shooting Somebody … in Front of an Intimate Studio Audience
As a rapper, Gucci is historically unswerving in his subject matter. He keeps finding newer and more inventive ways to say the same stuff over and over, stretching vowels lasciviously, as far as they’ll go, playfully contorting words anywise. There’s nothing that gestures outside of himself, his money, or his sex life, “lyrical content” be damned. But sometimes solipsism is fascinating. Revelatory, too, and not infrequently uncomfortable. At one point during the concert he did “Waybach,” from this past summer’s Everybody Looking, on which he comes within inches of just flat-out saying, “I killed a person”:
“I had a long nose .38, way way back / I sent somebody to the Pearly Gates, way way back”
The practice of performing an MTV Unplugged version of a trap record was always going to be weird, but hearing this line in this setting was an entirely different level of weird than anyone could’ve possibly been prepared for. But that playful detachment — from things as they plainly are — is what Gucci is all about.
Gucci Wearing a T-shirt … With Gucci on It
We need to pause and appreciate what Gucci was wearing. He was rocking massive hater blockers from some era other than this one, and a purple tee from a recent Supreme drop — that had his own face on it. This is why he’s your father.
XAVIER … L. … DOTSON
This is Gucci’s frequent collaborator/producer Zaytoven, whose live piano gave Gucci’s grimy street tales their signature frolicsome mirth:
It’s often treated as a joke because one’s name closely mimics the other, but here’s a fact: Zaytoven really is a better pianist than Beethoven. And Chopin, and Liszt, and Tchaikovsky, and Debussy. If you disagree, it’s only because you [extremely J. Cole stan voice] don’t get real hip-hop, bro. And also because you’re wrong.
Gucci Is Happy
In May, Gucci was released to house arrest after serving a three-plus-year sentence in a maximum security prison for possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. “Life in prison was … hell” during those three years, Gucci has said. But they paid off: He kicked all of his self-destructive habits, including a number of “toxic” relationships. Now back on the outside and obviously grateful for it, he’s seeing an entire rap game that’s been remolded in his image, and he’s smack in the middle. His “children” are all successful, he’s engaged to his longtime girlfriend. He’s also drug-free and in shape. The last song in his NPR set was “Last Time,” an aptly named scatalogical song about the last time he took drugs. Halfway through it, a smile crept across his face. Not that he’s never smiled before — he has — but this one, for whatever reason, felt totally unburdened.
After the show was over, Gucci wanted to get Zaytoven and all the “beautiful people” together for a group photo. Shouts out to Gucci Mane for being happy.
Gucci Is Still About His Money
Before he left, he made a note to tell all listeners that, and I’m paraphrasing, WOPTOBER OUT NOW. And though he forgot to say it, The Return of East Atlanta Santa is coming soon.
All hail Gucci Mane, the newly crowned king of National Public Radio.