It’s becoming increasingly difficult to work out what the phrase ‘debut album’ album even means in 2019. As trap and its Skittle-colored offshoots have taken over the charts, the line between mixtape and album has blurred even more than it once did. When we’re all listening to these records on Spotify and Apple Music, instead of downloading them on DatPiff, does the difference even matter?

Case in point is Gunna’s Drip or Drown 2, the sixth full-length project from the Georgia native, including Drip Harder, his joint project with Lil Baby. Billed as the follow up to Gunna’s third tape, 2017’s Drip or Drown, DoD2 makes a compelling case study for what does or does not constitute an album. It’s roughly the same length as his last solo project, Drip Season 3, and it’s backed, as with all of Gunna’s recent work, by Young Thug’s YSL Records. It even shares a producer with the original Drip or Drown, in the form of fellow Georgian Wheezy. On the surface at least, the only difference between Drip or Drown 2 and its predecessors is the style of cover art, this time a photographic riff on Nirvana’s iconic Nevermind in place of the illustrations that have covered its forebears.

However, a few tracks into the project, the real difference becomes apparent. While Drip Season 3 may have boasted features from Lil Uzi Vert and production from Metro Boomin, Drip or Drown 2 makes clear from the jump that it’s the most considered Gunna record to date. In fact, just thirty seconds into opening track “Wit It,” Wheezy has built an atmosphere that carries through the entire album.

The strength of Drip or Drown 2 lies in details like these - ones that you don’t necessarily clock at first listen but would definitely miss if they were gone. Whether it’s the way Gunna’s ad-libs bleed into the next line, giving the whole project a hazy, almost psychedelic feel, or the unique turns of phrase the Georgia MC conjures up to describe his opulent world, it’s clear a lot of care has gone into this album.

Take second track “Outstanding,” produced by Ghetto Guitar and Turbo, for example. Over a burbling beat, Gunna flexes about making his first million, getting off Xanax and flying in private jets. It’s all well-trodden ground, but the imagery Gunna conjures up – vintage clothes as old as his granny, candy-colored cars – can’t help but endear you somewhat to the Young Thug protégé.

As the record progresses through tracks like “Speed It Up” and “Baby Birkin,” it becomes less clear whether Gunna is reveling in his successes or just wallowing in fame. Switching between dreary autotuned hooks and less filtered verses, Gunna’s mood flits between melancholy and flamboyant at a moment’s notice. Meanwhile, thanks to its endless repetition, his braggadocio becomes predictable and occasionally depressive.

In Gunna’s world, private jets and designer brands are reduced to nothing more than syllables for him to deliver - perfectly on beat in a variety-less monotone. More than a throwaway pun taken too far, on Gunna’s debut to ‘drip or drown’ feels like life or death. In a musical sphere that has come to promote opulence above all things, either you flex harder than the next would-be trap star trying to take your place or you sink into a sea of nearly-men.

It’s important here to note that despite its unintended misanthropy, Drip or Drown 2 is not another emo-trap record, and while its production definitely skews gothic, there are moments of light peppered throughout the album. In fact, just as things get too dark and the weight of Gunna’s jewellery threatens to becomes too much, the fog lifts. Gunna and his label boss have always had chemistry but when Young Thug swoops in on “3 Headed Snake” - “rose gold shank” in hand - it saves a sizeable chunk of the album.

From there, the mood on Drip or Drown 2 lightens considerably. “Big Boss” and “On A Mountain” see Gunna in cheerier voice; the harpsichord sample that forms the core of the latter coming through like the logical conclusion to Future’s flute-trap. Yet it’s the closing trilogy of “Out the Hood,” “Same Yung Nigga,” and “Who You Foolin” that really pull the record back from the brink, with Playboi Carti lending a cheerful feature to the penultimate track.

All of this comes together to make it clear why Gunna would claim Drip or Drown 2 as his debut album. Though it sags in places with materialism and Gunna’s melancholy flow, at its best, his charm shines through. Stronger than any of his mixtapes or EPs, Drip or Drown 2 is a promising debut album filled with hints of a talent yet to be fully realized on record.

Gunna's 'Drip or Drown 2' is available to buy or stream. For more of our reviews, head here.

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