There was a moment last year where Gucci Mane, the Atlanta-born hip-hop superstar, became not just a celebrity, but a role model.
It was in an interview with Vogue magazine, a pairing of publication and subject that would have been unthinkable just three years before, when he was convicted for possession of a firearm. During his stint behind bars, the rapper was forced to end his addiction to lean – cough syrup taken as an intoxicant – and began to work out instead. Meanwhile, his stature in the hip-hop world metastasized as he gained recognition for his influence on the now-dominant trap style.
When he emerged, 75 pounds slimmer and recording an hour after release, it was as if he were a different man. Prison was like a crucible that had sheared away the drugs and weight, and produced a man adhering to a clean, stylish lifestyle. It felt like a new and different kind of success story, in which the focus is not wealth, but the struggle to overcome one’s demons.
Since his release, Gucci, born Radric Davis, has released three full-length albums and is planning a fourth. The Vogue interview was a highlight of his first year in the light. Ahead of a May 2 performance at the Fillmore Miami, here are a few more:
“All My Children”
Comeback single “First Day Out Tha Feds” may have been an attention-grabber, but this track was Guwop’s true return to form. Over an infectious, woozy beat, Gucci reminds us of his immense influence on rap music in Atlanta and afar, both as an artist and a promoter and mentor. Rappers can talk about their stacks of cash or their criminal records as an appeal to “realness,” but when Gucci says “All of these rappers are all my children,” it’s one of a few hip-hop boasts that can be authentically backed up.
“You muthafuckas think I go to the store?” Filmed by Spring Breakers director Harmony Korine, Gucci’s ad for Supreme, arguably the most coveted streetwear brand in existence, doesn’t simply extol the virtues of online shopping. It's an example of what the rapper has done for his entire career: turn a disadvantage into an advantage. It doesn’t even matter that he’s under house arrest (in a mansion, albeit), physically unable to actually go to the store. Why would he want to? “Ya hit the butt! Shit just come to the house!”
“Black Beatles” with Rae Sremmurd
It may have topped the Hot 100 because of the Mannequin Challenge meme, but it took the collision of three incredible talents to make “Black Beatles” an instant classic. There’s the foundation, a groundbreaking, airy Mike WiLL beat that glides along like a thick fog before dropping into Rae Sremmurd’s flawless hook. “That girl is a real crowd pleaser,” sings Swae Lee, delivering the kind of line you swear you must have heard before, if only because it feels so out of time, so ageless. Finally, Gucci zooms in for backup on a stellar second verse feature and his first Billboard #1. Black Beatles indeed.
Gucci’s very public proposal
This is the type of proposal you can only pull off if you’re a famous rapper, because it’s at an Atlanta Hawks basketball game during the kiss cam. He doesn’t even get down on one knee to propose to his girlfriend Keyshia Ka’oir, lest he soil his immaculate white trousers. You can guarantee that if it were any other couple, she would require kneeling, but it’s Gucci, it’s an enormous ring and it’s an unforgettable moment. The Hawks may have lost that night, but the true winner - wait for it - was love.
Supreme puts out a Gucci Mane t-shirt
It takes a certain type of insanity to pay $75 for a t-shirt with Supreme’s red box logo, let alone the absurdly inflated resale prices once the things sell out in a second. But when the New York label put out a tee with Gucci’s face on it, fans fantasized about owning it, regardless of their income bracket. On Grailed, an online marketplace for high-end menswear, listings for the garment run between $175 and $350. Believe the hype.
Tiny Desk Concert with Zaytoven
NPR has been mocked for its eclectic, occasionally oddball musical tastes. But they made a choice pick when they invited Gucci and producer Zaytoven to play their Tiny Desk studio session series. Watching the Trap God’s formidable stage presence in a small setting is fun, but it’s totally enhanced by Zaytoven’s equally-skillful piano embellishments. You can also hear the NPR audience quietly lose it when Guwop delivers the line “The last time I tricked off I brought four girls to my place / They call me Gucci Mane Picasso, cause I painted they face.”
Alongside more entertaining appearances, Gucci had a handful of times where things got real. Appearing on ESPN’s Highly Questionable, he spoke on his experiences in prison and what led him there. He sees the years of his ascent into rap from 2005 to 2012 as a blur, due to extensive drug use and the fear of killing or being killed. Prison straightened him out. “When I was in prison, I had time to sit back and evaluate everything,” he says. The interview ends on a lighter note when one of the hosts’ father asks Gucci about his Bart Simpson chain.
“Both” with Drake
Gucci has never been shy about collaborating with veterans and upcoming talents alike. In 2016, he released tapes with Future and Lil Uzi Vert. He also recruited Drake for two features, “Back on Road” from Everybody Looking and “Both,” a wintery, Metro Boomin-produced tune from The Return of East Atlanta Santa that became a hot track on the charts and at clubs. Gucci provides the verses and Drake delivers a characteristically relatable hook. Is it a party tune or a morose reflection on substance abuse? Yeah, it’s both.
East Atlanta SantaCon
Raderick Davis is a man of many names: Gucci, Guwop, the Trap God. But come Christmastime, he dons his gay apparel and becomes the East Atlanta Santa. Gucci has released two holiday-themed projects with this name, and this past December, he doubled down on his status as the jolliest rapper this side of the North Pole by visiting the New York edition of SantaCon, a pub crawl where attendees dress in the red hats of Saint Nick. With a few stacks of cash, this is one Santa who might actually be able to deliver on children’s Christmas wishes.
8:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 2, at the Fillmore Miami Beach at Jackie Gleason Theater, 1700 Washington Ave., Miami Beach; 305-673-7300; fillmoremb.com. Tickets cost $45.50 for general admission.