Today’s major label Rap album is rarely a work of pure art. It usually serves as either a placeholder for Pop singles and a major label press blitz or it strive to create a fictitious artistry or to establish the performer as a serious artist. Commercial coercion or critical illusion. Last year Lil Wayne managed to synergize both approaches with The Carter III. Gucci Mane seems uninterested in either with The State vs Radric Davis.
He makes this point quite clear with the album opener “Classical.” Set to a Dipset-style ironic operatic refrain, Guch touches on his legal issues, his beef with Jeezy and the ever looming threat of invisible haters. And then brushes all these concerns to the side, instead prioritizing a purely virtuosic display of rapping. “Hurdle my opponents / run through problems / unstoppable / i jump over obstacles / stopping my grind’s like stopping sunshine / so improbable.” It’s a “Return Of The G” type mission statement (yes, readers, grimace if you must at the comparison of Gucci Mane to OutKast. It happens). Quit spreading them rumors, Gucci eyes the Timex. Well, he probably has a more expensive watch, but the point stands – time is of the essence.
Since his last prison stay, his work has been defined by a frantic energy. Not just in terms of productivity, but aesthetic. While the rest of the album never quite matches the energy of the open, it sustains a certain intensity. Hip Hop’s been so plagued by disaffected cool ever since Jay sees to have borrowed Young Chris‘ whisper flow, the rise of Gucci might mark a welcome return for rapping who rap like rapping matters. His raps are heavily breathed threats. His hooks are often centralized around the repetitition of a single word like “Bingo” or “Heavy.” There’s a density of ideas, rhyme constructions and production. On “Lemonade” he sees nothing but yellow, on “My Worst Enemies” he clumps up syllables into a small space. “Sticks and stones will break my bones and bullets wont reflect off me / but words and insults only show the world how y’all respecting me.” And, for an artist who is too often dismissed by know-nots as a ringtone rapper, the production contributions from Drumma Boy, Bangladesh and Shawty Redd are mostly chaotic post-crunk with nary a catchy melody to be found.
Sure, he’s released superior mixtape material recently, but that’s to be expected. It’s more telling that those tapes were also broader. Apart from the spillover mixtape hit “Wasted,” the album lacks instant street anthems like “Photoshoot” or “I’m a Dog.” As a mixtape rapper Gucci was scattershot, splashing a blur of concepts and personas and flows onto the protools. Here he’s hyperfocused, apart from an uncomfortable middle album love/sex/girl diversion that starts with the atrocious Usher single “Spotlight.” These records are necessities in this market (women still buy records for some odd reason) and definitely not new terrain for Gucci. But they lack the relationship stressed nuance or playful arrogance displayed on undergrounds like “I Think I Love Her” and “Bachelor Pad,” respectively. Here he seems to be going through the motion, just waiting to get back to the punch you in the face type rapping. Strip the record of the four songs lover man stretch and you’re left with the least accessible Pop/Rap album of the decade.
But maybe this is purposeful. The State vs. Radric Davis is neither a grand statement nor an empty radio concession. It’s just a solid collection of Rap songs.