Both artists’ names pay homage to luxurious fashion houses, but each has established a unique name and sound for himself that represents two generations of Atlanta-born hip-hop. Together, they’re weaving the future of the city’s musical legacy. Read this story and more in the latest issue of Highsnobiety Magazine.
Few careers have been as tumultuous as that of Radric Delantic Davis. Through sheer grit, shrewd intelligence, and a stubborn unwillingness to be counted out, he transformed himself from a street hustler, drug dealer, and occasional strong-armed robber into a modern day Zone 6 prophet. Even while incarcerated, Gucci remained a cult hero to a generation that reached far beyond the Southern city where his influence first blossomed. His is a story of overcoming adversity, taming internal demons and rejecting the imposed labels of others.
Born in Birmingham, Alabama in 1980, the young Gucci relocated to Atlanta, Georgia with his mother when he was only 9 years old. Throughout his childhood, financial instability was a recurring theme, and from a young age the enterprising future rapper adopted a myriad of side hustles to earn extra money. In fact, he met his longtime friend and former collaborator OJ Da Juiceman as a middle-schooler—the two would collect bottles and cans together for extra pocket change.
The discomfort of poverty is something that would leave a lasting psychological impression and follow Gucci throughout his young life. Eventually, the desire to never again be money-less would motivate his early flirtations with drug dealing. Furthermore, it would inspire his gritty, street-centric musical output, motivating him to make music for hustlers, gangsters and others on the fringes who ultimately had dreams of a better quality of life. His upcoming album, Mr. Davis, builds on his existing oeuvre while demonstrating how he’s evolved as an artist.
This raw, unfiltered soundscape, which blossomed during the heyday of BMF (who provided the real-life examples of “thug motivation” those like Gucci, Jeezy, T.I. and others) eventually commercialized—and brought to even the furthest flung suburbs—also inspired Atlanta’s new generation.
That included a young Jordan Carter, who released his first mixtape—Young Misfit—in 2012, under the name Sir Cartier, a nod to another luxury fashion label. A year later, he re-christened himself Playboi Carti, coming into prominence under the wing of Atlanta’s Awful Records, with his first breakout song being “Broke Boi.” Soon he found his way to New York, ingratiating himself in the city’s vibrant fashion culture, finding a place with the A$AP Mob, and gaining clout as one of the artists effortlessly mixing high fashion with a street edge.
He released his eponymous debut mixtape in April 2017 under Interscope Records and AWGE, featuring appearances from Lil Uzi Vert and A$AP Rocky. The song “Magnolia” was an instant standout, and went on to become Carti’s highest-charting single, landing at number 29 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the U.S.
Clearly, Carti is no longer a broke boi. But as he continues to progress in his career, it only makes sense that he could use guidance from one of Atlanta’s most prolific rappers. Sonically and aesthetically, the duo represent two very distinct generations of hip-hop culture, one that’s recently been marked by the friction between the new guard and the old guard. But as their conversation—that took place in Gucci’s new home base of Miami—shows, there’s far more to be gleaned when the OGs impart their knowledge to the young guns.
What does youth mean to each of you? Particularly in an industry where longevity is so incredibly rare.
[Playboi Carti] The younger generation is the turn-up crowd, you know what I’m saying? We’re the people kids look up to. We are the party so we do things that set that dream.
[Gucci Mane] Youth means learning. It’s a time in life when you’re taking in a lot of information and finding yourself. With music, I feel like youth is the most important generation; it’s what pushes everything forward. Every new generation gets more creative and smart. The old guard, we’ve been doing it for so long we kind of get stuck in our ways, but the younger generation they’re willing to just try stuff.
What can an industry OG and a newcomer from the same city learn from each other?
[Gucci] I feed off of the energy of young artists. It takes me back to the time when I was trying to get in the game, trying to get heard and just trying to build a fan base. Sometimes it’s hard for me to feel the same hunger, but if I keep them around me, they’re so eager and they’re ready to make their next home run record. It makes me want to be in the studio, it makes me want to perform. I just feed off the energy. They keep me going.
[Carti] I’m all ears whenever I’m around somebody who’s been doing this before. You have to be all ears because they can teach you. They can tell you what mistakes not to make and how to do things in certain situations. I just sit back and learn as much as I can.
[Gucci] You also have to remember you can’t teach nobody without them teaching you. If I try to tell you something good, as I’m telling you that, I’m reinforcing it to myself. If I’m telling you what you need to be doing I have to stand on what I told you.
Gucci, in your autobiography you talk about how you wanted your music to connect with people who were in situations similar to your own. Carti has called you one of his influences. How does it feel to know that your music served its intended purpose?
[Gucci] I feel honored. I’m a fan of Playboi Carti. I’m a fan of all these young artists who are talented enough to get the attention of fans. There are so many people putting out music; so many people want to be rappers. Everybody done bought into hip-hop now, so everybody wants to be a rapper. I salute anybody that can get noticed and keep people’s attention.
Getting attention is almost like the underground again. You’re throwing a shot out there and hoping that people find it and take to it. People overlook how hard it is to get noticed. There are billion-dollar corporations putting huge staffs together to find the next artist or build the next artist, and look at Carti. He came in and just put records out. People are already waiting on what he’s going to do next. That takes genius.
There tends to be a recurring mentality in hip-hop that younger artists need to “respect their elders.” How do you feel about that?
[Carti] Coming up from Atlanta, you can’t tell people that you don’t know certain music because your mama and dad was playing that shit too crazy. You cannot be from Atlanta and not know who Gucci Mane is, period. I know so many singers and shit just based off my parents. So seeing rappers saying they don’t know who Tupac is, like what the fuck you talking about? How you a rapper? That’s like saying you don’t know who Michael Jackson is. I know who Michael Jackson is, I know who Prince is, I know the Isley Brothers, all that. Still, I got my own thing going with this music. You have to know certain shit. That’s just how you get respect as an artist.
[Gucci] I respect my elders, but at the same time I feel like the elders need to respect the youth, too. They write them off so much. When you’re young and people telling you that you’re trash or clowning you about how you dress or what you do with your hair or saying your lyrics ain’t up to par, that makes people get defensive. Part of being young is that ‘I don’t give a fuck anyway, fuck the old generation’ attitude.
If I wear a 7X white T-shirt then Carti and ‘em are going to wear theirs medium. That’s just facts. The people who are mad are just mad because it’s the best time in the world to be a rapper. There’s so much money. Even when I got out of jail, it’s like ‘damn, damn, I’m making so much money off of streaming and festivals and concerts.’ Honestly, I feel like a lot of these rappers are frustrated because they were so dope, they were so talented, they were so articulate and they never got to make the money that these young boys are making now. It makes them bitter.
What about social media? How has that played a different role in each of your careers?
[Carti] That’s easy. Now you can just go crazy with the shit and share your music everywhere. Back in the day, you knew where to find Gucci’s shit because there was only one place for mixtapes and that’s all you knew. Now you can find anything anywhere. Even growing up—as soon as we got to school we already had our math books on computers and shit. I never had to sell CDs out of stores or nothing like that. My first phone was an iPhone.
[Gucci] That’s crazy. My first phone was a rotary phone.
[Carti] What’s that?
[Gucci] The house phone with the cord.
[Carti] I thought you were talking about the Sidekick.
[Gucci] When the Sidekick came out that was like some high tech shit to me.
So has social media made things harder or easier?
[Gucci] I didn’t have social media or Twitter or SoundCloud. We had gatekeepers so there were more opportunities to blackball somebody. Let’s say you did just so happen to rub the wrong person the wrong way, they could shut doors on you because you were going to need their help. You still wanted to be in the record store because we had CDs back then. You wanted to have that prime position—prime real estate—in the store, even if it’s a mom-and-pop store. If you didn’t know the right people, you’d never get exposure.
[Carti] Now all you gotta do is be dope enough and put it up yourself and people—because there’s so much money in the game now they will just pay because everybody want to get on the rap train.
Has the structure of the actual music industry changed or have people just realized what a cultural phenomenon rap music is?
[Gucci] Hip-hop is the culture. It’s our time. The record business, they try to adapt to it, but it’s more geared to the artist right now. It still ain’t a hundred percent right for us, but it’s better than it ever was for a rapper now. We were getting pennies compared to what we’re getting now. There were people like Master P and Puff making all kinds of crazy money in the ’90s, but it was just a select few. Now Carti can just make a song and put it out and start getting booked immediately. It wasn’t like that for me.
When Soulja Boy came out, that’s when we started being like, “Okay, you can upload your stuff and get your own fan base from your house. Waka was recording and putting those songs out by himself; he was finding producers from his garage. Nobody helped him. He found Lex Luger [“Hard in the Paint” producer] on MySpace with a Sidekick.
[Carti] It was different for me. I used to sit over at my homeboy’s house and he would make beats. I’d lay some shit down, but my voice was real light because I was only 14. By the time I was 16, my voice got a little deeper and I started dropping tracks and shit. Like Gucci said, it was hard. Niggas don’t want to hear that. I’d drop it on Facebook but people wasn’t hearing it. It took time. After I graduated high school, I went to South by Southwest and that’s where I got the most exposure. I know he [Gucci] didn’t really have shit like that.
[Gucci] I just went to South by Southwest for the first time this year.
Gucci, there was a point you were churning out mixtapes to keep your name buzzing. Do you think people like Carti who cite you as an influence are using rapid-fire SoundCloud outputs in the same way you once used mixtapes?
[Gucci] I hope that people saw my blueprint and use SoundCloud in that way. I feel like the actual song content is in the eye of the beholder. What you might feel like is not dope or not lyrical or doesn’t have a lot of substance—for another person, that’s all they want to hear. Every morning I go work out and the music I choose to play is mixtapes. I’m going to Carti, I’m going to 21 Savage, I’m going to find the newest tape on SoundCloud. So if you can give me 20 of those tapes in two years I’m good. The quicker you can give me another Carti tape, I want it. Seriously.
[Carti] That’s fire because every time I make a song I want to drop it. Every time. That’s how I really be, if you want me to be honest. I wanted to drop a mixtape back in high school, but I didn’t get a chance. After I got signed to my label and started hitting studios—they started booking studios for me and shit—and that’s when I made my tape. I started in studios, found my producer, got comfortable. By the time I got done, I dropped the shit.
How has the music community in Atlanta influenced your work?
[Carti] I live in LA now but as soon as I go home I make my own tapes. That’s where everything started, so there’s really nothing like home.
[Gucci] I live in Miami but I still record in my studio in Atlanta. I get a better vibe in Atlanta. All of the producers I mess with, they’re from Atlanta. They can email me a bunch of beats, but it ain’t the same thing as if I go in the studio and we vibing together.
[Carti] It’s like a team effort. You feed off of everybody’s energy and it just makes the music better because you got somebody there—you got two or three other people—who really know about music, really know what’s going on giving their opinion like, “That was hard. That was dope. Keep that going.”
Have you thought about what it might feel like to have fans turn on you, Carti? Gucci, for instance, has experienced both adoration and being the underdog.
[Carti] Honestly, if my fans turn on me, then they’re not my fans. Hopefully, that doesn’t happen to me or any other artist. When my tape dropped, I didn’t read any reviews. I don’t read reviews on other people’s stuff either. As I got to the limelight, I learned to just walk away from shit because you make the wrong step and people can sue you and other bad things can happen.
[Gucci] I guess I’ve just matured to that point where I read reviews, but even if it’s super good or it’s bad, you can’t pump me up. I really don’t care. You say you don’t like it—it’s not that I don’t care—it’s just I kind of stay even. Shit, if somebody write something about me, I’m going to read it. But if they say something I don’t like, it don’t hurt my feelings. I don’t take it personal anymore. I’m making the money. I got the freedom to do what I want to do, but on the other hand, people got access to say stuff to me. That’s just the trade-off.
If right now is the best time to be a rapper, where do you see hip-hop in five years?
[Gucci] The hip-hop community has some of the most creative minds in the world so it can only grow from here. Atlanta in particular is just a mecca for the culture. That’s where all the great minds are because there are so many colleges there. All these kids from all over come and they go to all the schools down there. That’s where all the producers and the photographers and the writers meet. They provide the soundtracks to what we’re rapping about.
[Carti] Yep, taking the pictures, making the beats, writing about the people—they are an important part, too. They spread the culture.
What are some of the soundtracks that still influence you guys today?
[Gucci] Get Rich or Die Tryin’ and B.G. Chopper City in the Ghetto. When he left Cash Money, I remember what I was doing that day. I loved them albums. I used to be trappin’ to all of them. I had those CDs alternating back and forth when I was going from Birmingham, Alabama to Atlanta. That was my life. Them songs right there? I made a lot of money to them.
[Carti] I started getting money when I got older, so I’d say I’m more of a mixtape dude. What changed my life was when I started smoking. It was probably weird shit back then but I loved Wiz Khalifa’s Kush and Orange Juice. I was in 7th grade when I started smoking and that hit in 11th grade. I remember everybody started wearing the camouflage shorts and getting the blonde patch.
[Gucci] I remember that. I went to a career day, and I didn’t even know that was happening. I did not know why the whole school had dyed a patch in their heads. It messed me up so bad. I didn’t even know that was the trend because it was just the kids.
Any other fashion moments that inspired you guys?
[Gucci] Cash Money with the soldier rags. Gang culture was in Atlanta back then and it is now, but back then people didn’t wear a lot of flags. That was an LA thing or a rural country thing, but when Cash Money happened, everybody started doing it. That just took over for a minute though.
[Carti] I remember when I first saw Cam’ron. I remember Gucci had some fur coats too.
[Gucci] I was definitely inspired by Dipset. Cam’ron is one of my favorite artists to this day.
[Carti] That’s the truth.
This story originally appeared in Highsnobiety Magazine Issue 15, which is available now from our online store, as well as at fine retailers worldwide.
- Words: Stephanie Smith-Strickland
- Photography: Gunner Stahl
- Styling [Gucci Mane]: Jason Rembert
- Styling [Playboi Carti]: Aleali May
- Styling Assistant [Gucci Mane]: Daniel Jones
- Styling Assistant [Playboi Carti]: Jordan Boothe
- Styling Intern: Junior Deschamps
- Videography: Dana Reeves