Earlier this month, Waka Flocka Flame released DuFlocka Rant 2, his latest mixtape in the conceptually lengthy series that finds Waka placing his head on a famous basketball player’s body. It’s a fine tape, but still the sort of one that you’ve heard from Flocka before, and again and again since Internet time immemorial. Meanwhile, Gucci Mane released Trap God 2 this week, and it’s a continuation of the excellence that Gucci’s been giving us since his return to prominence on the aptly-titled Trap Back. Simply put, Waka Flocka makes songs for Waka Flocka fans, while Gucci Mane makes songs for rap fans. While it’s arguable whose music is better, it’s pretty clear who’s winning over new listeners.
What the connection here? Think of Gucci Mane and Waka Flocka’s relationship this way: Gucci was once the master, and Waka was his apprentice. Gucci was literally given Flocka by his mother, who managed both of their careers. Gucci taught Waka how to rap, and promoted his music. Then, as Gucci Mane’s career spiraled into stints in rehab, facial tattoos, and jail time, Waka Flocka took his mentor’s place and took a no. 6 place on Billboard’s top 200 albums with his debut, Flockaveli.
The world was at Peak Flocka in the halcyon days of Flockaveli. We were given the herculean “O Let’s Do It,” followed with “Hard In the Paint” as well as the unlikely pop juggernaut that was “No Hands,”and suddenly one got the distinct sense that Waka Flocka had parachuted down onto the deck of the luxury liner that was pop-rap, forced his way into the control room, and caused the entire ship to 180. A lot of this had to do with the sudden ubiquity of his go-to producer Lex Luger, but for every Luger beat that Ace Hood halfheartedly stunted over, you find yourself wishing Flocka was on it instead. The thing about Waka, however, is he’s pretty much a one-joke comedian. It’s a great joke. But watching Waka shouting about airline food every night can be exhausting.
Gucci Mane, meanwhile, has approximately one million ideas. In fact, the absolute best song of 2012 was made by Gucci Mane. It’s called “Cyeah”—the pronunciation splits the difference between the hard “Chyeah” of Young Jeezy and the pedestrian, “Yeah;” the C in the title is a hair off of silent in terms of audibleness. The song begins with, “Do you know who I am? Baby girl my name is Shit/ I’m The Shit,” perhaps the least likely candidate for a dick-swinging opening line of all time. But Gucci sells it unequivocally and totally.
“Cyeah” wasn’t the only brick of brilliance that Gucci Mane threw at us in 2012. Following a recent past that included a prison sentence and allegations of mental illness, something clicked in Radric Davis and he decided to get his shit together, releasing the three beyond-solid mixtapes in Trap Back, I’m Up and Trap God. In the process, he helped make Mike Will Made It, gave enough shine to the diamond in the rough that was Future, and yet again proved himself a rapper capable of showing up names like Rick Ross, 2 Chainz and Lil Wayne, conforming to popular styles but never becoming mired in them. And he’s got a starring role in the upcoming Harmony Korine/James Franco film Spring Breakers.
Flocka, meanwhile, is floundering. His second album Triple F Life: Friends, Fans and Family was as clunky as its title might imply, a hodgepodge of Flocka-doing-Flocka (“Rooster In My Rari,” “Let Them Guns Blam”), successful experiments (“Triple F Life Outro”) aborted pop-rap piffle (the Drake-featuring stripper-saving anthem “Round of Applause” as well as “Get Low”), and “Fist Pump (feat. B.o.B.)” was. If you caught him live in the past year, he was going on about having invented “Punk Rap” before jumping into his hardest material, which isn’t entirely correct but still vaguely on the right track. It seems that Waka Flocka has retreated inward, making music that simply just read as “Waka Flocka songs.”
Waka Flocka’s victory over Gucci was a pyrrhic and temporary one, more indicative of the fickleness of the rap zeitgeist—and Gucci Mane’s mental state—than anything else. Waka Flocka Flame and Gucci Mane represent two diametric sensibilities in Southern hip-hop: aesthetics vs. lyrics, bluntness vs. nuance, kinetica vs. melody, adlibs vs. punchlines. And while Waka and Gucci might play well together and their affiliation nearly demanded that the two record a joint album together, it seems the Southern Rap pendulum has once again swung back towards Gucci Mane.