Gucci Mane: Jewelry Selection (self released)
Gucci Mane’s first post-prison mixtape of 2010, Mr. Zone 6, was another successful outing for one of rap’s most divisive artists. With Gucci’s focus on nimble rap acrobatics over an almost flat-line production style, the record was a victory for lyrical density at the expense of the colorful songwriting and stylistic affects that characterized his 2007-2009 output. The multi-dimensional pop approach that congealed memorably on 2008′s The Movie mixtape had taken a backseat, a possible by-product of his court-enforced sobriety. Maybe he’s fallen from the wagon, because Jewelry Selection is a more musically dynamic record than Mr. Zone 6, and its production, much of it from longstanding collaborator Drumma Boi, again pops from the speakers.
This reflects well on both 2010 records and the Gucci project at large, his conceptual range letting fans choose their favorite approach. Jewelry Selection has its own drawbacks; despite competent rapping, “Gucci Time” is banal, a rehash of Jay-Z’s “On to the Next One” with an unnecessarily shrill Justice sample. (Someone at Gucci HQ still hasn’t figured out that it was the artist’s untainted appeal, cf. “Wasted” and “Lemonade”, that made for his greatest commercial successes.) It’s also unclear why anyone thought the rote Rick Ross-style strip club banger “Makin Love to the Money” needed to mar two of his 2010 releases. But the bulk of Jewelry Selection works in much more novel terrain. Like so many of his best mixtapes, Gucci operates by zooming in on one strain of his style and blowing it up to LP length with a multitude of variations, adding new dimensions to a massive, shifting body of work.
In this case, he fleshes out the archetype captured by The Burrrprint (2): HD’s “Coca Coca”– darker lyrical themes delivered with straight-faced detachment over ominous, gothic production. What makes this vein particularly vibrant is how it balances the more eccentric elements of his persona with street rap’s brutal, populist traditionalism. Gucci is a rap version of Heath Ledger’s Joker, his exaggerated mania grounded by the violent reality he represents, the more rote gangster formulas given new life by his colorful charisma.
This minor-key noir infects the bulk of the record’s best tracks– from the early street-level drug talk (“Block Party”, “Trap Talk”) to the whisper-flow menace of “Cleopatra” to the record’s eerie peak, the one-word concept track “Gross”. The mixtape warps its own street clichés the further it flows, ultimately draping them in horror film conceits on “Poltergeist” and “Vampires”. In between you have enough variety to keep the record’s sonic approach from feeling one-note. The tape is less concerned with technical fluency, and a few of the verses suggest Gucci may be hearkening back to the days of “no pad, no pencil,” but his lyrics and personality remain inventive. In the end, Jewelry Selection has stuck to the broad template that has paid such creative dividends for the past three years– if you didn’t like him before, this is unlikely to convert you– but it does find the rapper once again pushing into new creative terrain.
— David Drake, August 27, 2010