Book: The Autobiography of Gucci Mane
Author: Gucci Mane and Neil Martinez-Belkin
Sometime in 2008, as I was preparing for college, I reached out to my would-be roommate via Facebook. One of the first questions I was faced with was, “Do you like Gucci Mane?” I had only heard of him in passing and definitely hadn’t knowingly heard any of his music. I took a quick trip over to Youtube, typed in Gucci’s name, and skipped through a few of his songs. At that point, having grown up listening to 2pac, Nas, Eminem, Immortal Technique, and other “lyrical” rappers, I was highly resistant to anything I deemed less-than-lyrical (read: Southern). Years earlier, in 2004, I remember being incensed that Outkast, a group I defined by their work on Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, had won the award for Best Rap Album. I had not heard Aquemini, Stankonia, ATLiens, etc. I say this only to note that my hip hop pretentiousness at that point in my life had been steadily growing for years, and by the time my roommate asked me about Gucci Mane, I was already repulsed by what I deemed the popular onslaught of catchy, empty, Southern hip hop. Needless to say, I told my roommate-to-be, Doug, “No, I do not.”
Towards the end of 2009, after about three full months of resisting Doug’s Southern rap tastes, I decided to give Gucci Mane’s new album, The State vs. Radric Davis, a try. I wanted to hate it. I wanted to tell Doug when he got back to the room that this music belonged in the garbage can with D4L and Soulja Boy. I wanted to tell him that this kind of hip hop disrespected the art form that its forefathers created. And then “Classical” came on, the album’s intro.
I felt like Odysseus, tied to the mast of East/West coast hip hop, trying to resist what was really, surprisingly, incredible. I was hooked from that song on, and I couldn’t wait to tell Doug that I had finally opened my heart to the wild and wonderful sounds of southern hip hop. The significance of that moment is hard to describe–it marked one of the first times that my fundamental understanding of something was completely obliterated. My position that “real” hip hop necessitated an intricate showing of lyrical ability and serious content contradicted my newfound love for Gucci Mane. I now had a whole sub-genre of music to explore, and with my self-imposed barriers gone, I looked to Doug for hip hop guidance–Lil Boosie, Webbie, Z-Ro, Waka Flocka Flame, and so many others became, for a while, my go-to music. I have sincecarried this experience with me as a lesson and a reminder to remain open-minded. How many other things might I be missing out on due to stubbornness and pretension? Anyways, today, Gucci is in my top five favorite rappers of all-time. I was heart broken in 2014 when I found out he was going back to jail, but it turns out, thank god he did.
I’ll begin by simply giving this book my recommendation. The Autobiography of Gucci Mane is an easy, exciting read, with a huge added bonus for any of his fans. I don’t think you need to be a big Gucci supporter in order to appreciate this book, but there are a lot of references to songs, albums, and people that may become tiresome if you aren’t. Because this book was rather straightforward, I’ll mention some of my biggest questions and reactions below, rather than bore you with critical reflection.
The book lists Gucci Mane as the author, but includes Neil Martinez-Belkin (NMB) as the co-author. How much of this was written by Gucci himself?
This was a question I thought of frequently while reading. I wondered whether Gucci had recorded the book as notes to be transcribed by Martinez-Belkin, or whether Gucci himself sat down and penned it. The writing did sound like Gucci at times, but I couldn’t be sure. Finally, I found this wonderful interview with NMB, who cleared this up for me straight-away. Gucci did write the book, and only received editorial help from his co-author. Along with the normal editing tasks of an editor, NMB conducted interviews with many of Gucci’s friends and family, going over the stories Gucci wrote about. In many cases, NMB then went back to Gucci with that information, which subsequently sparked more memories and writing. So, I guess you could say that NMB facilitated the writing of this book, but did none of the actual writing. Just food for thought as you’re reading.
Throughout the book, Gucci uses his albums and hit songs as touchstones along his journey. Where is the accompanying soundtrack of mentioned tracks?
I can’t tell you how many times I thought about this while reading. Some of the books most poignant anecdotes describe the process of creating songs, specifically those songs that proved significant to his career. Gucci has so much material that some of the earlier songs he mentions were unfamiliar to me. A playlist of each song he discusses would have been a super useful and enjoyable supplement to the autobiography, both for known and unknown songs. “First Day Out” is one of my favorite Gucci tracks of all time and I have every word memorized, but I still wanted to hear it when Gucci mentions the way Zaytoven reacted to the first four bars of the song. I wanted to lose my mind alongside Zay, as I had done on my own, countless times, walking through the streets of New York yelling shit like, “No pancakes, just a cup of syrup!” Creating a playlist available on Youtube or some other streaming service would not have been difficult for Atlantic to do. If I wasn’t doing the majority of my reading on the wifi-less subway, I would have made my own Youtube playlist.
The section describing Gucci’s first encounter with DJ Burn One and the making of “Chicken Talk.”
I had no idea DJ Burn One was white. I also had no idea he was the first one to talk Gucci into doing a mixtape. More than his albums, any Gucci fan knows that the true gems of his lengthy catalogue are scattered across his mixtape projects. Chicken Talk, however, has always remained my favorite. Gucci was doing a lot of ecstasy at the time, was back to selling drugs, and had complete freedom from his label with this release. None of that is necessarily good on its own, but it made for some authentic, gritty, and downright fun music. As he says himself, “More than any other release of mine, Chicken Talk captured my state of mind during the time I was making it…It’s a perfect time capsule and my favorite of all my mixtapes.” It’s Gucci’s favorite, too!
Apparently, when him and Burn One finished the mixtape, they tried to sell it at an Atlanta flea market. The proprietor of that market had heard rumors Gucci Mane’s career was finished, which was a realistic enough diagnosis, considering his upcoming album wasn’t gaining much traction. Instead of giving up, the two bumped Chicken Talk from Burn One’s truck in the flea market parking lot, attracting a group of people and plenty of interested buyers. When the aforementioned proprietor saw what was going on, he came out and bought a bunch of copies. I’m a walkin’ lick, I’m a talkin’ brick!
I know I already mentioned it, but that story about the making of “First Day Out”…
This is best described in Gucci’s own words:
Deb organized a homecoming party at Metronome Studios the night I got out [of jail]. It was a big affair, with a whole bunch of important industry folks in attendance. The party was for everyone else, though. I was itching to work. As soon as Zay showed up I had him load up some beats to get the ball rolling.
A couple songs in, Zay waved me out of the booth. He had a request.
“Do something for me,” he said. “When I play this next one just go in. Don’t even think about a hook and don’t do any of those writtens. Let’s see what comes out.”
I had pages and pages of raps I’d written in jail, so those were the songs I started up with when I got back into the studio. I wanted to get them recorded so I could move on to new stuff. But I had no problem doing a freestyle for Zay…I stepped back into the booth and put the headphones on. Zay played the beat and I was off to the races.
I’m starting out my day with a blunt of purp
No pancakes, just a cup of syrup
Baking soda, pot, and a silver fork
You already know it’s time to go to work
“Damn!!! That’s it!!!”
As soon as I let those four bars off, my buddies outside the booth went crazy. I lost my momentum. I looked out the window to tell Zay to start the beat over, but he’d already gotten out of his chair.
“You know you’re killin’ this right now?” he said.
Killing what? I’d only rapped four bars. I wasn’t sure what Zay was talking about, but he wasn’t alone in his thinking. We’d already made a bunch of songs and nothing had gotten a reaction close to this. Zay started up the beat again and I regained my focus and finished the freestyle.
…When I exited the booth every person in the studio had their eyes on me, looking bewildered. Zay had goose bumps. Holiday looked like he just watched me walk on water.
Side note: Gucci was the first person I ever heard yell “skrrrt!” adlib. In fact, aside from Jeezy, he was one of the first people I ever heard use adlibs. Now every rapper in the game uses them. He’s a god damn pioneer.
Gucci almost died on a flight to Houston with his manager, Coach K. And he has a son?!
One of the things you notice while reading this book is how many times Gucci seemingly avoided death, or at the very least, grave injury. If anything had happened even slightly differently in various different threatening situations, Gucci would probably be dead. The run-in with Jeezy’s goon, his status as a cocaine kingpin, his behavior towards police in 2014 while carrying a weapon, and so on. Given the complete lack of discretion police have shown towards unarmed black males in recent years (or perhaps throughout the entirety of American history), it’s an absolute miracle that Gucci came out of that last situation unharmed.
One of the lesser known situations was a flight from Atlanta to Houston that flew way too close to a tornado, terrifying everyone on board, including Gucci. It’s at this point in the narrative that Gucci tells us he has a son:
The storm bellowed as I heard muted crying. I looked at Coach. We didn’t exchange any words but I knew we were thinking the same thing. Maybe this was it. We bowed our heads and all I could think of was my son.
I know what you’re thinking. What son? Truth is I didn’t know him all that well either. I’d only learned I had a child a year before. He was already ten months old. A girl I used to see had a baby and people were saying it looked like me. I hadn’t even known she was pregnant. I reached out and asked her if it was mine. She was unsure. I took a blood test and sure enough, I was the father of a little boy.
Gucci goes on to describe how he had not, up to that point, had much time to “embrace [his] new role as a father.” Between jail bids, his career, and his drug addiction, he had neglected to forge a bond with the child. With his life in the balance, Gucci thought only of his son. Sometimes it takes situations like that to wake us up.
But, more importantly here, can you imagine calling Gucci Mane dad?
An underlying theme throughout the autobiography is Gucci’s struggle with mental illness. Not only drug addiction, but also bi-polar disorder.
Mental illness has always lurked in hip hop’s shadows. From Geto Boyz’s “Mind Playin’ Tricks on Me” to 2pac’s paranoia-laced recordings to Kid Cudi’s much reported struggles with addiction and self-harm, the topic has been there for a long time. Unfortunately, there has not been much hip hop-centered discussion around this topic up until recently. It felt refreshing to see Gucci speaking openly and honestly about these struggles, not just in one part of the book, but throughout the entirety. In one situation outside the 2010 VMAs, Gucci lost it, throwing a stack of ten thousand dollar bills at the cameramen agitating him. This was only one situation of many in which Gucci appeared to succumb to his inner demons.
This would happen from time to time, whenever my benders would reach their tipping point and manifest in the form of bizarre behavior and volatile outbursts. Spells where I would zone out and gaze into space. Sometimes I’d be looking into the mirror, mumbling to myself, trying to make sense of thoughts that didn’t make any sense. Doctors had tried to give me medication for this before. Mood stabilizers. But I rarely took them. They made me even more sluggish. They zapped me of my energy, my creativity, my whole mojo.
I hope that Gucci’s frankness about his mental struggles inspires other rappers to open up, encouraging the genre as a whole to be more forthcoming on the topic. With many young, urban black men dealing with violence and suffering from PTSD, it probably should be more prominent than it is. Most recently, Chief Keef sidekick Fredo Santana opened up about his struggles with mental illness that led to his drug abuse. A couple seizures, a kidney failure, and a liver failure later, Santana had this to say on Twitter:
Hopefully I can be the face to sho niggas to slow down an we got our whole life ahead of us fuck being rock stars gettin high I got ptsd…
This tweet was reminiscent of one Gucci sent out in 2014:
To all the young people who follow me I beg ya’ll stay away from codeine cough medicine it’s not cool to be in jail or early grave #guwop
Let’s keep this conversation going, hip hop.
So, what’s next for Gucci?
This isn’t a reaction to anything in the book, per se, but goodness, Gucci is a changed man since his last jail bid. In my opinion, he’s making better music than ever and sounds as focused as he’s ever been. He just got married yesterday on 10/17 and dropped another album late last week. The man is on a tear and I couldn’t be happier for him.
Other quick notes
Gucci launched the careers of so many different Atlanta rappers, and he gives each of them a part in this book. As a fan of hip hop in general, it was intriguing to read about early Migos, Young Thug, etc. There is also a brief but interesting section on Gucci’s unfortunate meeting with Scott Storch. Turns out the guy really is, for lack of a more appropriate term, a douchebag, but probably also a drug addict, so I’ll give him a break. And lastly, Gucci goes over his full-fledged 2014 mental breakdown in detail, making for an uncomfortable and sad section called the “Nightmare on Moreland.”
It’s Gucci! Burr!
Next post: The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem