Gucci Mane

The Return of Mr. Zone 6

(Warner Bros.; 2011)

By Colin McGowan | 15 June 2011

It’s strange to say this about an artist who releases music like most of us flip open our laptops in the morning, but: I have missed Gucci Mane. Not because he hasn’t released any music lately; he put out The Appeal: Georgia’s Most Wanted late last year, which was remixed earlier this year by a collective of Diplo proteges from across the pond, and Gucci 2 Time (2011) and Brick Squad Mafia (2011) were okay, I guess, though the former falls under the heading of Minor Gucci and the latter was dominated by Waka Flocka. No, I miss Gucci in the sense that he has failed to provide a record or mixtape that bangs as consistently as Mr. Zone 6 (2010), which often thundered through my apartment walls during video game sessions. I miss not hearing anything as slippery and hypnotic as “Georgia’s Most Wanted.”

The Return of Mr. Zone 6 is an indication that Gucci admirers will have to wait longer still. Return is a Gucci Mane many haven’t heard in years. In wake of the Lex Luger aesthetic’s growing predominance in Southern rap—with Flocka’s Flockaveli (2010) being the movement’s defining document—Gucci has elected to move in harmony with the prevailing tide. As a result, Return is largely bereft of the chintzy, minimal Zaytoven beats dominating previous Gucci releases, and in their stead exists the dense ominousness Luger peddles so brilliantly. Drumma Boy, Return‘s primary producer, doesn’t churn out massive, operatic behemoths, but these beats are inarguably bigger in scope than the tracks over which Gucci traditionally raps.

It would be incorrect to say Gucci sounds out of his element over bigger production. He does, after all, frequently sound like he’s rapping in the midst of a comfortable high from a leather easy chair. But these beats don’t meld well with his personality; they are better suited for, say, the impenetrable intensity of Waka Flocka or Slim Dunkin. As much as Gucci Mane’s music is about his chain, his women, and his gun, he doesn’t force any of these themes into his listeners’ ears. His music is more about language and confidence than any concrete entity. So, when the track and his collaborators are screaming, “Gun talk,” and he shows up, detachedly dribbling couplets as he does, he sounds like a guy who brought a book of poetry to a street fight.

There are revelations birthed from this mess, which is largely pleasant, but so unlike Gucci’s other tapes that one struggles to call it “good.” “Brinks,” excepting a Master P verse which reminds us why Master P was the poster boy for Southern rap’s boring bling bling era, is one of the highlights, largely because it doesn’t plod so much as bounce. Gucci’s raps demand some amount of buoyancy from the beat, and the glass bottle keys rhythmically clinking beneath Gucci’s drawl sound correct in a way nothing else on Return does. The other standout is “Hell Yeah,” which features a strangely animated Gucci matching a churning club track that flattens into a melancholy little synth line during the hook.

Calling any Gucci Mane release “canonical” feels silly, since his work adheres largely to the conventions of the mixtape genre. Namely, he possesses nary a tape in catalogue that is eminently listenable from front to back. But, in his own way, Gucci is one of the great discography artists of the past half-decade or so, his works functioning as a series of peaks and valleys fascinating to the right variety of connoisseur. Return of Mr. Zone 6 is a valley, one that hints towards a career reinvention or a slide into irrelevancy. The thing with Gucci is we won’t have to wait to figure out where his career is headed. I’m sure we’ll be amply informed, perhaps five times over, by this time next year.