Gucci Mane’s Trap House 3, is a good and proper album, apparently, because you have to pay for it, and it’s got a whole bunch of big names on it (Rick Ross, Wiz Khalifa, 2 Chainz). In the midst of what some are calling a “comeback,” Gucci does have control over his elastic style again, though it seems like every mixtape or series of mixtapes is symptomatic of a comeback to some fan somewhere. 2012’s Trap Back and I’m Up were promising enough returns to form too, no?
Honestly, recent Gucci tapes have been devoid of a lot of the slap-happy word fun that once made him so fascinating. And there’s just something a bit more hateful — or at least bored and bitter — leaking into his raps as of late. He has sounded bored before, but this is the kind of palpable disinterest that comes with halfway figuring out your crap just enough to where you can skate by, but remain cynical and a little dead inside.
There’s just no motivation. He hit a peak awhile ago, and he’s been able to hit that peak here and there with some frequency and that keeps everybody listening, but it’s kind of over for the guy. He’s often almost yelling on Trap House 3, trying to keep up with a new generation of all-caps MCs like 2 Chainz and Chief Keef. The best moment, though, does find Gucci adjusting to a trend. It’s “Hell Yes,” his take on Future’s emo-mumble, crooning about having “a change of heart.” It’s a moving and strange song, but it feels like a novelty. A whole album of Auto-Tune soaked Gucci would not work. We do not need more of this.
Another inexplicable highlight is “Birds of a Feather,” which takes aim at T.I., Yo Gotti, and Young Jeezy. The song seemed desperate when it showed up as a big-deal diss track on the blogs, but here it’s a revealing coda that highlights the discerning nature of Gucci’s self-destructive hate. As much time is spent shouting out the guys he respects, and there’s a sense of melancholy to the build-up of references to dead and imprisoned rappers, heroes, and relatives. Beef here is almost besides the point, or rather, an inevitability. It’s a song about who he respects, as well as who he doesn’t respect. Calling it a diss track undersells it.
So why is this the rap release of the week? In part, because it’s a Gucci Mane album, so there are still plenty of highlights. Also, because this a is pretty lame week. But also because it shows Gucci Mane actually entering a new phase in his career: The tastemaker and overseer. Here, Gucci is a raspy-voiced curator who allows his music to be fleshed out and usurped by rising stars (2 Chainz, Chief Keef) and pushed in new directions by the next generation of Brick Squad’s oddball trappers (Peeway Longway, Rich Homie Quan, and most importantly, Young Thug). Back-to-back tracks featuring Thug’s whiny-voiced, screeching yelp (“Chasen Paper,” “Off the Leash”) only add to the up-and-comer’s strange, singular appeal. Imagine if Future was raised on Hot Topic mall-punk vocal theatrics and you’re only lukewarm.
In SPIN’s “40 Best Songs of the Year So Far,” Charles Aaron compared Thug to peak-form Lil Wayne when it comes to “push[ing] the boundaries of what’s rapping and what’s hysterically spontaneous jibber-jabber.” Like Wayne when he mattered, Thug’s appeal is a “what the fuck am I hearing?” shock of the new. That’s the future of Gucci Mane’s Brick Squad and it’s been true for awhile now. But Trap House 3 is the sound of Gucci Mane finally stepping back and accepting that reality.