Had his life turned out differently, this night, billed Gucci Mane and Friends, could have been an anniversary show. His debut album, Trap House, a basic template for Atlanta’s homegrown subgenre trap rap, turned 10 in May of last year.
Instead, Gucci is fresh out of federal prison on a weapons charge. Welcome as it was, this sold-out homecoming at Atlanta’s Fox Theatre was also Gucci’s bid to reassert himself as he re-enters the rap world.
The “trap” in what was once called “coke rap” is an abandoned house with boarded-up windows. Yet Gucci’s gleeful, hooky tendencies gave this notion a pop appeal that has both molded and inspired his collaborators.
First came the regional talent: PeeWee Longway, Young Dolph, OJ da Juiceman. Then, artists who fill stadiums: a bashful Fetty Wap led a singalong to My Way, as if Taylor Swift hadn’t invited him on stage last summer.
“Y’all know that my cousin, right?” 2 Chainz boasted after sprinting through Watch Out. Future and Drake appeared two days after kicking off their Summer Sixteen tour in Austin. These cameos felt as triumphant as Gucci looked – sequined jackets draped over his now-trim frame, as he strutted like a pro wrestler re-entering the ring.
Overhead, drugged-out projections reinforced Gucci’s status as a hip-hop folk hero: one showed him in 2009, holding a lit blunt to the lips of his Bart Simpson chain. But onstage, Gucci was more Clark Kent than Superman, pacing back and forth, his gaze barely rising past his designer sneakers. He could have been walking himself through dress rehearsal. Either that or he somehow couldn’t register the sold-out crowd climbing over seats to get closer to him.
Also puzzling was his decision to play his biggest hits earlier on. Lemonade, from 2009, a favorite of Beyoncé, came in the first 15 minutes. But you almost had to admire his refusal to treat his bestselling album, 2009’s The State vs Radric Davis, as his heyday.
Gucci had plenty of backup: For 2 Chainz’s No Lie, producer Mike WiLL Made-It leaped from the wings on to the bench of a cocaine-white baby grand piano to rock out. Drake stuck around until almost the end for the 2009 collaboration Believe It Or Not. Drake has scored hits with artists – Future, 2 Chainz, Migos – that Gucci discovered first, so his extended stay felt like the least he could do.
Once Drake departed, the crowd began to disperse. Then, the floor shook with the titanic bass of First Day Out the Feds. Local radio has been bumping it all summer. So folks rapped along: “But I bend, don’t break / I don’t ask, just take / Black gloves and black tape / This is my first day.”
Suddenly, the night felt like the best thing Gucci could have asked for: a fresh start.
This article was written by Christina Lee, for theguardian.com on Saturday 23rd July 2016 17.28 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010