In the glorious pantheon of trap rappers, Gucci Mane’s dais is the largest. Since the mid 2000s, Guwop’s been peddling a very specific style of rap music – one for the hustlers, not the hustled. He wasn’t the first to rap about drugs, but he was first to package it within a very particular set of characteristics that would later be stretched out and commercialized. He seldom argues the fact that he’s the creator of rap’s biggest subculture – he lets T.I., Jeezy, and others have fun with that – and lets his enormous catalog play as something of an oral history of the genre. With more than 12 albums and 71 mixtapes, there’s not much more that Gucci Mane can show us to cement himself as one of the most influential artists in hip-hop culture. And that’s precisely the problem with Evil Genius; it’s familiar when everyone around him has taken steps to change the parameters of trap more than he ever has. Gucci Mane sounds comfortable, making this skippable.
Evil Genius is an album for settling in on a car ride and for making the lower end of curated playlists on DSPs. To that end, most of its 18-track runtime is dedicated to downtrodden trap anthems with lush elements like the ambience of “By Myself” or the stabs of piano on “Just Like It.” It nary reaches the oddity of modern trap that’s evolved away from the street corner anthems of Gucci’s heyday. In this respect, it creates something of a uniform sound. Gucci’s 808s have never been more prevalent, which is a plus. His drawling bass has been a constant, and a large reason his music bruised the speakers of Nissan Altimas in 2008 when the lyricism stagnated and never improved.
Wordplay has never been a strong suit of Gucci’s music, though it’s not a detraction, either: it’s just there. It’s not quite punchlines or backpack rap; it’s in the middle, rarely being clever enough to remember a witty line. Evil Genius continues in this vein. “Bipolar” has a slightly cringe-worthy chorus that makes you wonder if Gucci has any clue what being bipolar really is. “Lost Ya’ll Mind” finds a gem of personal duress sandwiched between filler bars (“2012, did more drugs than I sold/ My dope like a Chia Pet, ya water it, it grow” is about as close to introspective as you’ll probably find). Otherwise, it’s more jewel talk, Lambo braggadocio, and mountains and mountains of sexual encounters. It’s trite to complain about it at this point. Chances are, if you’re listening to a Gucci Mane album in 2018, you know what you’ve come for.
Deciding not to switch things up lyrically does have its pitfalls, though. Rap music is all about lyrics being built around repetitive beats to create songs that contain ideas. When you remove the imaginative, constantly evolving element, which has defined the genre since its inception, the song relies on adventurousness of its other elements to compromise. Often artists will switch up what they rap over if they know that, lyrically, they aren’t that wide-spread. The problem with Evil Genius is that this doesn’t happen. It sounds like DropTopWop, which sounds like Woptober. The beats lack any kind of spark and all occupy the same sonic stretch of mid-tempo, bass-heavy jams. “Wake Up in the Sky” and “Solitaire” are glitzy, if brief detours that only exacerbate the fact that there’s not much originality in this spectrum. If the beats sound mostly the same and the lyricism leaves little to the imagination, what exactly is there to attract anyone here?
Evil Genius isn’t necessarily a bad album, it’s just that there’s no way to justify its existence – save for the fact that it’s another check and means of bolstering his legacy as trap’s founder. It’s not enough to just exist in the trap space in 2018, there needs to be some kind of innovation, or at least an attempt to keep up with the advancements made. At this point, hip-hop fans are just happy that Gucci continues to create and thrive. His album is a reflection of that; by doing just enough of the same act to feed a hungry fanbase. Gucci’s on autopilot now. Because he’s a legend shouldn’t excuse him from trying as hard as anyone else, but Evil Genius may be proof that he really doesn’t need to.