Something felt strange about the welcome home parade the Internet threw for Gucci Mane upon his early release from federal prison in May.
Before Gucci went in, he wasn’t a hero — he was a walking dumpster fire. His mainstream hits seemed like a lifetime ago. His relationship with Atlantic Records was on the rocks. He was squaring up with strangers at the local mall, and hitting fans over the head with bottles.
The rock-bottom moment was an epic Twitter meltdown in September 2013. He claimed to have had sex with Nicki Minaj and Ciara, gave the middle finger to one of his closest friends, Waka Flocka Flame, and called Drake a male groupie.
Once the mushroom cloud cleared, Gucci checked into rehab. Eventually he was charged with firearm possession by a convicted felon and handed a three-year sentence. None of it stopped him from flooding the streets with music — he released 29 mixtapes behind bars.
But when he got out, Gucci clearly wasn’t the same person. He was slimmed down and sober. His gold-toothed grin was now pearly white. People tossed the #guccihome hashtag around like confetti. The Internet somehow turned him into Gucci Mandela.
The title of his first post-prison album, “Everybody Looking,” couldn’t be more fitting. The question is: Why? At times throughout the rumbling 15-song purge, Gucci seems skeptical himself: “These [expletive] faking like they happy, but they mad I’m home,” he puts it in “Back on Road.”
Gucci kept his circle small for the album. The brooding beats were laid by trusted producers Zaytoven and Mike Will Made It — who just happen to be among the biggest beatmakers alive. Cameos are similarly slim: Young Thug summons Dizzy Gillespie’s spirit for “Guwop Home”; Kanye West parachutes in for a verse on “[expletive] Print”; Drake offers a spiteful hook for “Back on Road.”
Otherwise, Gucci pours Mike Will’s drums and Zaytoven’s melodies into a cocktail glass, and airs out thoughts he spent three years sorting through. There’s less party and more perspective. He sees the troubles he went through before prison for what they are. On album opener “No Sleep” he admits to being addicted to codeine syrup, taking the first step in public recovery (“I can’t even sleep, I got so much to say/ Recovering drug addict, I used to drink a pint a day”). On “All My Children,” he assesses his undeniable contributions to rap, despite the chaos that came with them (“Making rock stars out of trap boys/ and if we never talk again, I got your back, boy”).
It’s all true: Minaj, Waka, Thug, Migos, Rich Homie Quan, and a long list of others are indebted in some way to Gucci.
Some have forgiven him — Drake was onstage for his “Gucci and Friends” concert in Atlanta last week. Some haven’t — Waka said they haven’t spoken. But with all the changes he’s made, hopefully everyone’s not just looking at Gucci, but also listening.
Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.