The album art for The Ceremony depicts Kevin Gates sporting golden eagle feathers in his hair — feathers he says he was gifted by an Indigenous American chief after participating in “very sacred ceremonies [he] can’t speak about.”
Considering the title of the album, it’s clear that these ceremonies had a profound effect on Gates, helping inform his life and his decisions. Gates’ music has always had a motivational quality to it, but The Ceremony feels more triumphant than much of his past work, as if he’s turned a corner and begun to settle into a life he feels he can be truly proud of.
That isn’t to say The Ceremony is overly saccharine — he’s not channeling his inner Chance The Rapper here. On the contrary, Gates’ fourth studio album deals with some of the weightiest topics he’s ever tackled.
He’s making what he refers to as “real medicine music” on the intro track, “Ceremony,” where he also states: “I hereby release all of the things that no longer serve my highest self,” right before beginning the first verse. The Ceremony feels like Gates’ way of healing and letting go of trauma so he can move forward with his life and use what he’s learned to help himself, his family and those around him.
On “Letter 2 My Fans,” for example, he raps about how depression and the feeling of inadequacy culminated in a near suicide attempt. “Gave the world the best advice I wish I could give myself/ I wish I was somewhere else/ Deeply I’m depressed, pressure built up on my chest/ Wish that I can heal one day get my soul some rest,” he raps. You can feel just how deep of a rut he was in from the inflection and modulation of his voice, with Gates sounding out of breath to the point that he’s almost croaking at points throughout the song.
Coming immediately after is “Protect Children,” which hears Gates ruminating on his own less-than stellar childhood and how he wishes to shield not just his own children, but children everywhere from environments like the one he was raised in.
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However, a focus on profound spiritual experiences and serious subjects don’t mean that The Ceremony is lacking when it comes to traditional — and, at this point in his career, sometimes tired — Gates-isms like on “Walmart,” when he spits: “Quarantine still jumpin’, I’m retarded swear to God.” There’s also “Lil Yea,” where he gets explicit: “Kiss all in your crack, my tongue all in your ass/ Grip your waist and pull you around, right before I dick you down.”
But the album’s crowning achievement in this department is “Eater,” a track where Gates imitates a woman giving him head by reciting the lyric: “She go, ‘Guck, guck, guck, guck, guck,’ my lil eater” no less than 12 times. After all, it wouldn’t be a Kevin Gates album without juxtaposing off-color lyrics with heavy subject matter.
Some lyrical missteps and a few duds aside, The Ceremony mostly succeeds as a cohesive, singular body of work, ending strongly with “Broken Men,” where he delves even deeper into into his period of suicidal ideation: “At my daughter birthday party, I was contemplating leaving/ Looking at my son like this will be the last time he going to see me/ Suicidal thinking/ Heart so heavy in my chest that it get difficult when breathing/ Sacrifice at all to see you smile but you don’t see it.”
The evidently deep track feels like a culmination of the album’s themes; it’s one final blood-letting release of trauma before, as Gates says on the song’s intro, he “can start [his] healing process.” But as far as anyone who’s heard The Ceremony can tell, it’s clear his healing process has already begun.
RELEASE DATE: January 26, 2024
RECORD LABEL: Bread Winner Alumni/Atlantic
Listen to The Ceremony below: