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Gucci Mane’s Woptober Is A Sober Thrill Ride

Molly Lambert on the Atlanta kingpin’s chilly, grown-up new album

Gucci Mane released his 10th studio album, Woptober, last week, wasting no time in following up his summer triumph, Everybody Looking, whose biggest burners sampled Minnie Riperton (on “Bentley Coupe”) and, reportedly, extreme Norwegian metal act Burzum (on “Pussy Print”). He’s already announced a third 2016 release — Return of East Atlanta Santa comes out December 16, just in time for the holidays — which makes this either an unusually great year for Gucci Mane fans or a pretty normal one, depending where you stand. Prolific output is nothing new for the Atlanta rapper, who once released a three-part mixtape series in a single day (and dropped an entirely different mixtape a week before that). But his current creative streak feels special, in part because it comes after his 33-month incarceration on federal weapons possession charges. Gucci was released from an Indiana prison in the spring of this year, and celebrated by releasing a song called “First Day Out tha Feds,” produced by Mike Will Made-It, on SoundCloud the following morning.

If Everybody Looking was the champion’s welcome-home parade, Woptober deals with the PTSD and hard emotional work of spending years behind bars, getting clean, and purging your friend group down to a tight trustworthy few. Although Gucci calls prison “Hell,” he also credits it with forcing him to confront his addiction issues and sever ties with toxic people. The new album is the work of “a sober, more conscious Gucci,” one who has publicly settled down with girlfriend Keyshia Ka’oir and gotten in shape. If you leave the game for a couple years, by the time you get back it’s completely different. Gucci is 36, which is a reasonable age to decide to mellow out your lifestyle, as one’s body starts to show signs of being temporary and you recall that it’s the only one you get. The worst thing that can happen to a rapper as they age is that they become corny, but Gucci has always been an unapologetic goof, so there’s no static when he drops dad-rap jokes about his car collection and his longevity, like, “They say that I got nine lives / Six Flags Over Georgia, I got nine rides” on Woptober’s “Hi-Five.”

He might not be the young gun anymore, but he’s now the godfather. Next-generational Atlanta rappers like Lil Yachty and 21 Savage (who released an EP called Free Guwop) look to Gucci’s sublimely silly ad-libs and his proficiency with ice-worm choruses that drill right into your brain forever. On Woptober, he tosses out new catchphrases like snowflakes — they’re numerous and never delivered quite the same way twice. The Rick Ross–featuring “Money Machine” has a Sesame Street chorus that will captivate children and adults alike: “My money machine, my money machine, my money machine go BEEP BEEP.” He also references Edward James Olmos’s underrated Mexican-American mob epic American Me, which not coincidentally is about a mafia kingpin who spends years in prison and returns to a changed world.

The first few songs on Woptober see Gucci reestablishing his credentials, with an alienated bent. Several songs hinge on a repeated phrase that changes meaning with context: On “The Left” he uses “left” to refer to the hand he intends to slap you with, the feeling of something going wrong (“God, please protect me if this shit go left”), and the isolation of being the last one standing (“It’s like I’m on an island by myself, the left”). He’s more paranoid than he once was; the album opens with "Fuck 12," a quick bird-flip at the cops, and two tracks later he calls out the former friends who called them on him.

There’s a highly gothic feeling to Woptober, from the cover art depicting a bust of Gucci made of ice to the organ stabs in the dark on “Right on Time,” produced by his longtime collaborator Zaytoven. “Wop” is an instant Gucci classic produced by London On Da Track, best known for working with Gucci’s meteoric protégé, Young Thug; he gives “Wop” a beat that sounds like a haunted-robot player piano becoming sentient.

First single “Bling Blaww Burr” features Memphis’s Young Dolph and a Metro Boomin beat that purrs bass, with a classically Gucci hook made up of the titular onomatopoeia. The video is a modern Southern Gothic pool party, all overcast white sky with serious-faced video girls vaping in fangs and writhing in straitjackets on gray satin sheets. Woptober is a perfect Halloween album, for the nights when you finally need a sweater all the way until the last gasps of autumn — right before things get … icy. “Love Her Body,” produced by Metro Boomin and Zaytoven, is a real Brian De Palma movie of a song, with its psychologically probing chorus: “Do I love my bitch or am I in love with her body?” The Drumma Boy–produced “Out the Zoo” has a Krautrockian synth line and animal sound effects, as Gucci spits lines like, “Man, they think I need a shrink / ’Cause I fear God, but don’t fear death.”

Gucci’s mental health comes up a lot on Woptober, most of all on the last song, “Addicted,” produced by Will-A-Fool, in which Gucci confronts his sobriety head-on. “Hi, my name is Gucci Mane / I’m addicted to everything,” he repeats in every chorus, “Bad bitches, fast cars, weed, and promethazine.” What sounds at first like a standard brag about material possessions becomes a revealing statement about other inheritances: “My daddy was an alcoholic, mama she’s a junkie’s daughter / Cousin smoking crack, guess she forgot all my aunt done taught her.” As he gets older, he seems to be spending more time thinking about larger societal patterns, like the way systemic poverty leads people to seek chemical escape and then punishes them for doing so. In verse two of “Addicted,” Gucci connects his family’s history with addiction to own dependence on lean, giving us his own Wolf of Wall Street quaalude scene: “Wrecked my yellow Lam’ / High on drugs, I didn’t give a care.”

Lurking under Gucci’s live-wire talent were always suggestive signs of the kind of depression that plagues those who see what others can’t. “Demons in my ear, got me seein’ things wasn’t even there / People in my circle say they care, but they don’t really care,” he tells us on “Addicted.” “But I can’t blame nobody but myself, it starts with myself / ’Cause rap can bring you wealth, but that wealth can destroy your health.” It’s a tentatively hopeful ending to an album that really peers into the darkness. And it shows the ways Gucci has matured into a person who is not afraid to get help, nor to tell others that addiction isn’t glamorous: “Lookin’ in the mirror at myself, had to catch my breath / And tell myself ‘Gucci, you an addict!’ / That’s the first step.” He sounds like someone who’s realized that burning out is overrated. Better an artist in recovery than a dead legend.


VMAs 2017