There’s a line on Gucci Mane’s new album, Everybody Looking, which came out last week and is his first proper album following his approximately three years of incarceration for possession of a firearm by a felon, that stands out. The line is a bit of a puzzle, even though it would appear completely plain. It’s from a song called “Pop Music.” He raps: “I think it’s funny how y’all think, cuz y’all don’t really know.” It doesn’t instantly sound remarkable or feel remarkable. It’s not a line that stands out immediately, like earlier in the same song when he raps, “I’m hearing rumors that my label ’bout to drop Gucci / In my convertible Rari they call me Drop Gucci,” which is especially clever. It isn’t a line like that. It’s a line that stands out in retrospect; on, say, the fourth or fifth time you’re making your way through the album.
“I think it’s funny how y’all think, cuz y’all don’t really know.”
The first line of the first verse of the first song, “No Sleep (Intro),” is: “When the sun comes out it takes the rain away.” As far as opening lines go, or lines of any kind, for that matter, it’s hardly revelatory. Remember when Scarface started a song with, “I sit alone in my four-cornered room starin’ at candles,” or when Biggie started one with, “Who the fuck is this pagin’ me at 5:46 in the mornin’,” and in both of those instances it felt like you’d been dropped into their universe before they’d even finished enunciating the last word? Or remember when Tupac started a song with, “I ain’t a killer but don’t push me,” or when Eminem started one with, “Hi, kids. Do you like violence?” and in both of those instances it felt like with those tiny strings of words you’d been allowed to grip the brain stem of each of those guys?
The opening here — “When the sun comes out it takes the rain away” — is not that kind of opening. It’s a confounding one, or a blurry one, and I mean that in the most Guccian way possible. It’s an opening where you hear it and you say, “Wait. This is a metaphor, right? This is this a thing where he’s talking about getting released from prison, right? When Gucci was sent away, he was overweight and drug dependent, wrapped in controversy and fog. Now he’s out and healthy and sober and he looks fantastic and sounds even better and his teeth are in the best shape of all. This is him talking about all of that, right? He couldn’t possibly just be talking about the actual weather, could he? He’s not talking about the literal sun and the literal rain, is he? I need clarification. Because, I mean, he’s Gucci Mane. So who the fuck knows?”
The line that follows “When the sun comes out it takes the rain away” is: “But just like Noah it been rainin’ the last 40 days,” and, as he says it, a thundercloud sound effect happens in the background. If you listen closely, or even if you listen to it just twice, you can tell that the thunder happens exactly as Gucci says “raining,” and I wonder if that was a happy accident or if that was on purpose. I wonder if the sound effect was haphazardly tossed in at a different point, like when he said “just” or “Noah” or “40,” and then Gucci heard it during playback and asked for it to be moved. I wonder if he said, “No, that’s wrong. It has to come in exactly as I’m saying the word ‘raining.’ Nowhere else. It has to be then.” I wonder if he made a big fuss about it. I wonder if he threw a stack of papers at someone who questioned why anything that small could ever possibly be so important. I wonder how Thundercloud Sound Effect Meticulous he is.
Maybe none of that happened. Maybe he just rapped the line without any Thundercloud Sound Effect Plan at all. Maybe he’s extremely Thundercloud Sound Effect Careless. Maybe someone mentioned to him the idea of putting it in the song and Gucci was just like, “Yeah, go for it,” and then that person was like, “Do you care where I put it?” and Gucci was like, “Did you know I lost 50 pounds in prison? I’m very aware of what I eat now. Kale isn’t all that bad once you get used to it,” and the person was like, “What?” and Gucci was like, “Put the thundercloud sound effect wherever. I don’t give a shit.”
In the second verse of the second song, “Out Do Ya,” Gucci says, “How they let a nigga in the feds out do ’em,” referring to how he managed to outwork other rappers while he was in prison. He then follows that with, “I ain’t got no rap, I let my chopper talk to ’em.” He says it to mean he won’t talk to lazy people, only shoot at them. And get this: Exactly as he says the word “chopper” — slang for “gun” — there’s a gunshot-spray sound effect played in the background. It can’t be an accident. It’s all too exact. The first verse of the first song has a perfectly timed word-appropriate sound effect and the second verse of the second song has a perfectly timed word-appropriate sound effect. It can’t be an accident.
Gucci Mane is wildly clever and also willfully foolhardy. So I don’t know if he did those two things on those first two songs on purpose or not. There’s really no telling. I think I know, but I don’t know.
Gucci Mane did an interview with The Fader that was posted to YouTube this past Thursday. The clip was less than three minutes long, but Gucci sounds incredible on it, and I mean that literally and figuratively. His words are crisp and clear, as are his ideas. It was such a great thing to see. I watched it and it made me happy, and then when I thought about it a couple of days later it made me even happier, which is the opposite of how the Gucci interview clips used to make me feel. There was definitely a period when clips of Gucci, bloated and baked, would pop up online and it was like, “Jeez, man, Gucci could be dead tomorrow and it wouldn’t be all that surprising.” But not anymore. In the Fader video, he talks about how hellacious prison was in a chilling way, and it felt very real. He talks about being sober and how much that’s helped him. He talks about people not being used to seeing him with bright eyes, about how even he wasn’t used to it in the beginning, and it felt like genuine openness. Gucci Mane is going to live forever, is what it felt like. That’s probably why “Gucci Mane is going to live forever” is what Everybody Looking sounds like.
There’s a part on the aforementioned “Out Do Ya” when he raps, “Old neighborhood with some brand new jewelry,” and that’s a great, big line. It’s a happy moment, and one that would explain his folk-hero status without actually having to explain it.
On “Back on Road” he raps, “Can’t eat, can’t sleep, man I miss these skreets / Muhammad Ali and the skreets miss me,” and I have no fucking idea what the Muhammad Ali reference means there and maybe neither does he. It’s either a very profound thing that I don’t understand, or it’s just something that happened to wobble out of his mouth and into the atmosphere and doesn’t have any meaning beyond the fact that it exists now; those seem to be the poles between which he moves. Pick one of those options. Either way, it’s good.
On “Waybach” he raps, “All these folks impersonate me like Elvis,” and it’s a sentiment that becomes a theme of the album. Example 2: On “Pussy Print,” which is otherwise about the imprint a woman’s vagina makes on her pants or shorts or underwear, he raps, “Bitch, stop the comparisons / I’m not these other artistses.” Example 3: Near the end of the album there’s a song called “All My Children,” where he abandons pretense and leans all the way into acknowledging the way he’s influenced the current sound of rap, quite literally calling rappers today his children. It’s the most interesting angle on Everybody Looking, really. I can’t think of another instance when a rapper served as the creative inspiration for a cohort of rappers, then disappeared to prison for a few years, then returned to find those rappers standing as central figures of the genre — and if not central figures, then at least among the most captivating ones. Imagine that. Imagine being in that position. Imagine being in that position while also looking and feeling better than you’ve looked and (presumably) felt in a decade. How could you not be excited? How could you find the future anything other than electric?
Everybody Looking is enjoyable because it’s hostile in a very specific and gummy manner that only Gucci Mane can muster. Gucci Mane is funny on it (“My bitch walk around in lingerie all day, she think she elegant”). He’s existential on it (“Orange seats, orange feet, what do all that orange mean?”). He’s devastating on it (“My own mama turned her back on me, and that’s my mama”). He’s more, and more, and more.
Whether he’s doing any of it on purpose, I don’t know. It’s hard to tell. And it being hard to tell is either (a) the point of every Gucci Mane song, (b) not the point of every Gucci Mane song, or (c) irrelevant with regard to every Gucci Mane song. Again, I don’t know. That’s part of the reason why Gucci Mane is fun to listen to and the whole reason he becomes irresistible if you think about him for more than just a handful of minutes.