The moon knows things we don’t. Monday morning, while Gucci Mane and Future were likely still immersed in Sunday night’s impromptu studio session, the biggest, closest, and brightest supermoon since 1948 rose. By the time it had begun to set (let’s say, with the help of science, around 10:17 p.m.), Gucci had giddily released Free Bricks 2k16, a six-song collaboration reprising the Atlanta duo’s 2011 Free Bricks tape. “We ditched our entourages, we didn’t book my usual studio, or his usual studio ... It’s like we knew we wanted to fly under the radar,” Gucci told Miss Info the next day. “Even Future didn’t think we were dropping this tonight. This is the freshest it can get. These joints ain’t even 24 hours old.” Earlier this year, Future confirmed to me that his alter ego of choice for 2016 was Super Future, the hard-working, hit-making studio rat. I don’t know if the rare supermoon served as a cosmic Bat-Signal for Super Future Dirty Sprite Legendary to help America in our darkest hour, but I do know that the moon, probably, is a better music critic than I.
Maybe it’s 2016’s ability to pack several years of trauma into one, or that we actually live in the Matrix, but the five-year gap between the first Free Bricks tape and this week’s sequel feels longer — especially if you measure it by the way the power dynamic between its co-stars has evolved. To say that Gucci’s creativity had already peaked when the original tape dropped in July 2011 is only half the story; this wasn’t an artistic slump, it was a mental health crisis. That was the year Gucci emerged from a week in a psychiatric hospital with an ice cream cone face tattoo that we made into a meme, served time for erratic and violent behavior, and fell out with Waka Flocka. But Gucci was still an icon, with occasional turns of brilliance even on autopilot, and he was the tape’s clear draw. Future was an up-and-comer riding his first hot streak — January 2011’s Dirty Sprite and that June’s True Story — and nowhere near established on a national level. Even then, though, a shift was imminent. In Fader’s excellent oral history of Gucci Mane, producer Mike Will remembered Gucci using his singsongy “Ain’t No Way Around It” ringtone as a spark of inspiration. Months later came Free Bricks, which felt of a similar mood to the addictively slurry Dirty Sprite. Future’s current scumbag anthems channel the emotion of fucked-upness; in 2011, the codeine may as well have been dripping off his every word. His hooks would steal songs, but his rapping was still more reliably entertaining, with sporadic, effortless gems like “They say money is the root of evil / I say money is the reason I’m so rude to people.”
Things are different now. Future’s incredible 2015 hot streak may have cooled off months ago (though I still say Purple Reign was underrated), but his position as a top-tier rapper remains intact. And for the most part, it’s Future who sets the tone for these six quick tracks, not the other way around, even amid a new wave of good will for a free, healthy, happy Gucci among those who would have probably written him off five years ago. Granted, it’s great to see him get some long overdue love, but while it feels like a more-than-worthy tradeoff for his newfound Zen, much of his 2016 post-prison output has felt a bit lukewarm.
It’s hard to argue that Free Bricks 2k16 shows Gucci at the top of his game — or Future, for that matter, for whom 2016 has mostly felt like a rebuilding year. But I’ve spent the past day listening to it on repeat all the same, and it’s been hard to listen to music at all this week. There’s something stabilizing about these songs, not just in spite of but, I think, because of the significantly altered musical and cultural landscape they’re released in. Free Bricks was a showcase for aggressively understated beats from guys like Mike Will and Drumma Boy. 2k16’s production credits are dominated, expectedly, by Southside and Metro Boomin, whose sounds feel richer and moodier than their predecessors’. They’re responsible for some amazing details throughout the tape: the pitched-up samples in “Selling Heroin” that feel like an eerie take on the Skrillex/Marshmello vocal-chop trend in recent EDM, or the sophisticated remake of Future’s “Monster” beat on “All Shooters.”
But I don’t think it’s by coincidence that the two Zaytoven productions feel most essential here: He’s the one producer represented on both Free Bricks projects, and his relationships with Gucci and Future have lasted even longer. On “Kind a Dope,” with a prototypical Zaytoven beat down to the flute samples, Future channels the rawness of his early career with the finesse and dynamism of his current era, and Gucci delivers the tape’s definitive line: “While you was playing basketball, I was playing Pimp C.” And on “Zone 6,” 2k16’s last and best track, the two finally feel like they’re operating at their full capacities. The Zaytoven beat is minimal and not especially current-sounding, which turns out to be a gift: Where Metro beats, by this point, have a tendency to lull Future into his comfort zone, Zaytoven leaves the duo room to explore. Future sounds revived. Gucci sounds fluid, spontaneous, at ease.
The appeal of these songs will likely fade, but they’re all I want to listen to right now. They feel like ties, however loose, to a feeling from five years ago, which may have changed but still remains. Right now, at this very moment, the No. 1 song in America is “Black Beatles” by Rae Sremmurd and Gucci Mane. It’s Gucci’s first-ever No. 1. There are still small things to be believed in, things that persist.