CD review: Gucci Mane's 'The State vs. Radric Davis'
Being a rap fan is hard work these days -- so many blogs to check, so many feuds to follow, a never-ending sluice of mix tapes to download. If rap music was the black CNN in Public Enemy's heyday, today's rapscape feels like a Google-age Tower of Babel.
No rapper has thrived in this land of profusion as much as Atlanta's Gucci Mane. In 2009, the 29-year-old, born Radric Davis, has dipped in and out of jail and rehab, booked and bagged various tours, stoked and squashed alleged beefs -- and still found time to record more than 150 songs for a spate of mix tapes that made him one of the most beloved rappers of the year.
So you'll have to forgive him for sounding a little fatigued on his compelling new album, "The State vs. Radric Davis," the cover of which depicts the rapper clad in an orange prison jumpsuit. This is no pose. Gucci recently began serving a year-long sentence for violating his parole.
Meanwhile, his voice is everywhere -- that stuffy-headed drawl blaring in clubs, on car stereos and over the airwaves, where he's appeared on Mariah Carey's "Obsessed," Mario's "Break Up" and local rapper Wale's "Pretty Girls."
His delivery is blunt and woozy, clouding his lyrical dexterity with a kooky charisma. So when Gucci claims "I spit these lines erratically, sporadically" on "Gingerbread Man," it's a bit of a ruse. If anything, he's reliable -- not to mention wildly prolific.
A flood-the-market mentality has taken hold in hip-hop since Lil Wayne surfed a tidal wave of mix tapes to superstardom a few years back. But unlike Wayne, Gucci consistently puts quantity over quality.
With the album's opening cut, "Classical," he seems altogether bored with the greater hip-hop discourse. "I'm from East Atlanta 6, where the boys dump bricks, but we don't bump 'The Blueprint 3,' " he raps, ambivalent to Jay-Z's latest album.
That's because Gucci's brain space is occupied with more pressing concerns. He rattles them off during "Heavy," a song where life's pressures take the form of screeching synths, ominous church bells and drum machines that rage like a wood-chipper possessed. Even at his most harried, though, the rapper's desperation comes wrapped in bravado: "Somebody help me. My neck hurt, my chain heavy."
With "Wasted," happy hour feels more like Gucci's darkest hour. "Party, party, party, let's all get wasted," he yammers. (This song has become a rallying cry on Saturday nights in Adams Morgan as throes of barflies flood the streets after last call.)
And that is what's most interesting about this Gucci Mane. "The State vs. Radric Davis" likely won't be nominated for a Grammy, but it would be tough to find a truer, more communal swatch of pop music released this year. Keep an ear open for any car stereo coasting down Washington's streets -- if it's pumping a triumphal hip-hop beat, it's probably pumping Gucci's bloated syllables, too.
Expect to hear the delirious kick of "Lemonade" beneath rolled-up windows all winter long. Over sparkling piano trills and growling bass, Gucci counts off his earthly possessions, all of which appear to come in a shade of yellow: jewelry, wall-to-wall carpeting, a yacht, even a little yellow Corvette.
It's not rote boasting. It's the sound of a beleaguered rap star outlining what happens when life hands him lemons.
"Lemonade," "Wasted," "Heavy"