MAMA’S BASEMENT by Gucci Mane & Zaytoven
Genre: Trap Rap
Favorite Tracks: “Wzup,” “Ride Wit Me,” “Hold Up Now (featuring 4 Tre)”
It shouldn’t be too much of a stretch to assume that one approaches a Gucci Mane project with the expectation of consistency. Although ignoring the product purely on these grounds is short-sighted, the gargantuan discography of the man born Radric Davis exists as such that one can cherry-pick tracks and generally have the same overall experience. Debates about what this means for Gucci Mane as an artist aside (I personally believe his omnipotent relation to the distinct Atlanta sound is grounds enough for his name to be remembered), whenever Guwop deigns to shake up the formula, you can bet that his audience will notice. And MAMA’S BASEMENT is by far one of the most “different” hip hop releases of 2016.
The aughts are coming back in a big way. An era with some of the most critically maligned pop music, through winking repackaging by artists such as A.G. Cook and his PC Music collective, musical spheres are being forced to reconsider sounds and production aesthetics they thought they had left by the wayside long ago. I don’t truthfully believe Gucci Mane to be enough of a forward-thinking auteur to have commissioned these songs as a part of some overarching social commentary (especially because his extended stint in prison raises questions about just when he recorded all of these verses), but Zaytoven at least signed off on a sonic anachronism. Ripped right out of subwoofers circa 2005, MAMA’S BASEMENT is an unexpected foray into the club rap milieu of nearly a decade ago.
As soon as the first notes of “Wzup” hit your ears, you’ll notice that Gucci’s typically reductionist trap antics are nowhere to be found. Best described as “swangin’,” the sonic references to crunk and the call-and-response structure have the listener expecting Lil Jon to appear out of nowhere and start screaming. Zaytoven’s production is like nothing you’ve ever heard from him, as artificial whistle-blowing and accentuated hand-clapping are used in place of his usual oppressive ominosity. And those synths; boy howdy, those synths. Although “Wzup”’s production is comparatively contained when put side-by-side with its peers, the piercing production style of a track such as the retro-fitted “Ride Wit Me” is best described as unbelievable. Zaytoven fully embraces just how cheesy and amateur these sounds may seem, as we’re shown again and again with the hollow violins of “Trapstar” and “Shake It Baby”, the ringing “strings” of “Get Geeked” and the percussive “saxophone” hits of “Hold Up Now.” There’s an unfiltered joy here that left most of Gucci’s music long ago.
Unapologetically indulging in hedonistic optimism, the main takeaway from the tape in general is appreciation of just what a notable degree Gucci carries himself through unfamiliar territory. However, more than anything, this has appeared to give him a new grasp on energy and effort. His typically catatonic flow has been almost entirely left behind ( “Conceited” is perhaps the least kinetic) and for perhaps the first time in his life, Gucci Mane can be described as captivating. Not that he had much of a choice, considering the club-friendly nature of what Zaytoven has provided him with, but it’s refreshing to gain the sense that he was fully present in the studio for once.
The only true misstep is “Shake It Baby,” whose paranoid, claustrophobic nature doesn’t fit in with the rest of its peers. In addition, Gucci’s delivery style and rhyme schemes on “Two Thangs” and “Pill Man” seem unfortunately recycled considering how fresh everything else sounds (although “Pill Man” features an overall synth tone that would be comfortable on EEK’s KAHRABA). Last but not least, the last two tracks feel like they were recorded in a matter of minutes, and some more care in terms of fully rounding out the release would have been appreciated. Recommending MAMA’S BASEMENT is difficult, as most of its appeal relies on its nostalgia for a time that nobody enjoyed while it was occurring, but it entirely refutes our a priori expectations of Gucci Mane. For nothing else but that, you just may walk away from MAMA’S BASEMENT a fan.