Radric Davis. Mr. Zone 6. Trap God. GuWop. Inmate #65556019. Gucci Mane.
In 2013, after a run of increasingly erratic behavior and incidents—an epic, bridge-torching Twitter rant, fighting a fan in the mall, breaking a bottle over the head of a marine who wanted a picture—East Atlanta's king found himself dropped from his label and headed to the Terre Haute high-security federal penitentiary.
Denied his freedom for three years—a career-ending hiatus for some—the Trap God gained some life-saving perspective on the things he'd been taking for granted. The sentence also gave him a much-needed reprieve from his daily intake of weed and codeine. He focused on surviving this new environment and on strengthening the connection he had with his girlfriend, Keyshia Ka'oir.
By the time of his release—in May of this year—he'd been clearheaded, clean, and getting lean for 30 months. His physical transformation—six-pack and all—was dramatic enough that there was god-honest speculation among fans that the man we were seeing was not Radric Davis, but a federal-government-engineered clone.
He further trolled the world by affecting a diction as sparkling as his new icy-white veneers. The era of the gold-slugged, lumpen goofball was over. No more cries of "Free Gucci."
Free Gucci is here. (No really, he's playing the Tacoma Dome, Saturday at the Dope Music Festival.)
He came out of prison with a head start—and a plan to win. He emerged a model of rehabilitation, determined not to go back. He repaired relationships with artists and his label Atlantic. He did more press than he's ever done, going on a reconciliation tour through all of hiphop's major media outlets.
He got right back to his trademark prolific release schedule—since his parole, he's dropped two albums—Everybody Looking and Woptober—and two collaborative mixtapes: Free Bricks 2K16 (Zone 6 Edition) with Future, and 1017 vs. the World with Lil Uzi Vert. December will bring The Return of East Atlanta Santa, naturally.
Where some of his most telling moments from before betrayed a dark, weary haze of drugs and resentment—think "Hell Yes" from Trap House III—Gucci's post-prison aura is alight with celebration. Pictures from the set of Everybody Looking single "Guwop Home" (filmed on house arrest at Gucci's home) feature him and Young Thug both grinning Kool-Aid smiles, running over with ebullient Black joy. His subject matter hasn't changed a (walking) lick—but his new material is by large degrees more life affirming: Gucci's life, to be specific.
This last point is especially important.
Gucci could be fairly said to be rap's most influential figure of the last few years. The producers who have shaped the dominant sound of the past half-decade—Zaytoven, Lex Luger, Mike Will Made It, Metro Boomin—all cut their teeth making mixtape classics at Gucci's five-studio 1017 Brick Squad compound.
His rapper protégés have sold millions of records, too, and the most successful—Young Thug and Migos—have helped change rap's entire style of talk, much to the chagrin of many. Even if Gucci wasn't a rapper, with a legendary run of music through the late 2000s, he'd be one of the game's most revered A&R reps.
All his symbols, from his tats to his Herculean drug use—even his belly—became iconic. He's a unique figure: country as an outhouse, gangster as it gets, and with a mouthpiece like a Martian. But the greatest dimension of his influence might yet be found in his newfound sobriety and sense of purpose.
Gucci already deserves a Nobel Prize as much as Bob Dylan—he'll deserve it more if he helps wean a new generation off of the organ-killing pharmacopeia he helped put in vogue.
Some might not welcome Gucci 2.0, but Gucci does. "I can't truck forward looking back," he told Funkmaster Flex on Hot 97 in September, the day after he cut off his house-arrest ankle bracelet (live on Snapchat, of course).
Looking forward means that whatever the new generation is excited about, he's excited about it too. Mandatory—new sounds, new dances, you name it. "I just wanna embrace everything," Gucci said to XXL in October.
The plan is working. After being one of the rare veterans nimble enough to catch waves after a hiatus, Gucci even lucked into profiting off of one of the year's biggest memes. Rae Sremmurd's "Black Beatles," featuring Gucci, became the unofficial soundtrack to the viral video sensation #MannequinChallenge—which topped the Billboard Hot 100 for the last three weeks, and earned 60 million streams (we're talking Adele territory).
Clearly, Mr. Zone 6 isn't going anywhere, and though he must be on his 11th or 12th life by now, he's still showing new cats how to do this shit. It really is all Gucci.