Thursday, July 01, 2010
Let me give you a layout of my city.
I am sorry to say that Tom Wolfe gets pretty close, in the somewhat unflattering A Man in Full, to an accurate social map of Atlanta, and it's a good read if you ever want to understand the city. But beyond literature, the physical police zones are pretty important too, in the way they divide up ATL. So important, in fact, that Gucci Mane named his latest mixtape after his home, Zone 6, declaring himself king of the district - a an appropriate and well-deserved title which few will fight, and here's why.
Zone 6 is a police zone in East ATL where Mr. Mane resides. For reference, T.I. lives in Zone 1, Jeezy and Lil Scrappy live in Zone 3, Lil Jon, Outkast, Luda, Ciara, and Yung Joc no doubt get together for block parties and bbqs in Zone 4, and Zone 5 is central downtown and is for tourists and DJ Unk, only. Nobody lives in Zone 2 except residents and some NBA players. So in declaring himself "Mr. Zone 6," Gucci is laying a claim to a title that nobody else even wants, except for him. It's like saying you're the boss of your house: great for his hometown pride and sense of his roots, but sort of unnecessary.
It's not that Zone 6 is any worse than the others - it's just that there was never any competition to own the turf, in terms of rap sales and fame. This is an apt metaphor for Gucci's entire career and as of late, his success on Top 40 radio. He collaborates on killer tracks more often than he makes them himself; he rides on exceeding low expectations and benefits from the lack of hype. In fact, while a solid effort, Mr. Zone 6 will get positive attention if only for the fact that it was hardly hyped at all, especially compared to the typical anticipation that surrounds the releases of similar artists like Jeezy and T.I.
Fresh out of Fulton County Jail, an incarceration he entered just as soon as the aptly-named The State vs. Radric Davis was released in 2009, Gucci seems to have rushed his latest release, perhaps showing his eagerness to get back on the map. Mr. Zone 6 is slightly darker than Gucci's past work, but not quite dark enough to warrant total praise. The title track, with a chorus that consists of "I'm so good at ballin'" relies on videogame-like beats and old, overdone rhythms, just like most of the songs here. In "Georgia's Most Wanted" he fills the chorus with namechecks and fairly stupid rhymes ("traffickin" with "African") but at least he keeps it moving, whereas the next track, "Normal," drags dully on and on. He doesn't have enough variety; "Cowards and Soldiers" bleeds far too seamlessly into "Dats My Life."
Luckily his voice is thrilling as ever, that laid-back growl that is the bread and butter of Gucci's work, and there is some redemption in both "Long Money" and "Rooftop," which are both threatening and have somewhat catchy choruses despite inane verses. But not only does this album lack a hit, it lacks any sort of inspiration whatsoever. It is the opposite of fresh.
You can be Mr. Zone 6, Gucci. I am sure you already are. I mean, I understand the danger of aiming higher-- now that T.I. is back on the scene, fresh from incarceration, and with the stunning Big Boi album that leaked yesterday, you've got a lot of local stars to compete with. But why not embrace that, rise above it? Why not aim for Mr. ATL, or at least Mr. Zones 1, 3, and 4? You've got the voice. Sure, your rhymes could use some work, but did you hear Jeezy's pedestrian latest? Not that anybody needs to restart that beef, but honestly - there's your window of opportunity. Go forth and prosper. Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid. Be Brave and Be Kind (and baby we'll be fine.)
-- Caroline Klibanoff