Why Have We Martyred Gucci Mane?

Gucci Mane is free from prison.

Knowing Gucci is now free is to know that my college basketball boys will be happy. I don’t usually have a lot to do with Gucci. In 2008-2009, when I played basketball in Nebraska, each training team had a name and my side was called ‘So Icy Boyz’ – I didn’t realise it was a Gucci song (or should I say a Jeezy song?) for some time. All I knew was that when someone made a bucket or crossed somebody up, we shouted “so icy.” All my teammates just loved Gucci Mane, they pumped him in the locker rooms and in the dorms, but I was never a fan. I couldn’t understand the obsession. I particularly couldn’t understand the ‘Free Gucci’ campaigns that kicked off whenever the rapper ended up back in jail.

Hip-hop has an unhealthy relationship with idolising crime and the gangster/criminal lifestyle. While it’s not quite as common today, there’s a very long well-documented history of rappers claiming to be gun-toting, show-no-weakness thugs. Stories of drugs, guns, violence and so on atop a hard beat are commonplace, that’s no surprise. However, especially in 2016, we typically assume that these are just stories, and we love the thug stories. Tupac said it best when he said, “we trading war stories.” But what happens when it goes deeper than just stories? When we start to idolise and martyr a real-life career criminal, just because he’s been imprisoned? I am not talking minor gun-charges (since Americans do have the right to bear arms), or bar brawls, or DMX not paying child support. I am talking about rappers with a mile-long rap sheet like Gucci Mane; like Troy Ave and his attempted murder charges, or C-Murder and J-Dee of Da Lench Mob who are doing hard time for murder.

Obviously, we’re very well aware of the relationship between hip-hop and violence, a relationship which sets the basis for endless ethical debates regarding who you should listen to, who you should lose respect for, and whose crimes have been swept under the rug for too long. Sometimes artists take the stories to extreme lengths in their music. Immortal Technique’s Dance With The Devil is one classic example that has stayed with me as being shockingly violent and indigestibly raw. As far as I know, Tech isn’t as violent as his music, although he has been to jail for assault related charges. Since then, he seems to have learned his lesson and has made changes in his life for the better.

But what about Gucci? What has he learnt throughout his many reappearances behind bars? #FreeGucci is a phrase we has adorned tweets, t-shirts, songs and beyond for the last three years – but why? His very incarceration has made him infinitely more popular and beloved than he ever was; his new single First Day Out Tha Feds has been streamed a whopping 2.3 million times in four days and there have been hundreds of articles praising his this week  – and no amount of respect he’d achieved via discovering more Young Thugs and Rich Homie Quans could amount to that.

It’s not like people are celebrating because we haven’t heard new Gucci in three years. On the contrary, he has been extremely prolific in his musical output over the past three years, thanks to Sean Paine, so it can’t just be about the music. When the world chanted “Free Pimp C,” it was because UGK was the hottest rap group at the time and we were quick to forgive his aggravated assault charges because we needed his rhymes.

But Gucci? I don’t get it. What am I missing about him? I thought maybe he was a victim of circumstance, you know, maybe he was hanging out with the wrong crowd and has become a martyr for their cause. However, one look at his conviction list from the past 15 years makes it pretty clear that it wasn’t exactly a wrong-place-at-the-wrong-time event:

  • 2001 – Gucci spent 90 days in jail on cocaine charges. Okay, we all like to party.
  • 2005 – Gucci shot a man in ‘self defence.’ He was charged with murder, but the chargers were dropped due to insufficient evidence. By the time the charges were dropped, Gucci was already in jail serving six months for aggravated assault on an unrelated charge.
  • 2008 – Gucci was arrested for a probation violation for completing only 25 out of 600 community service hours. He served around a year and a half for this – as opposed to community service taking up the equivalent of four months of 9-5.
  • 2010 – Gucci was arrested for traffic charges including driving on the wrong side of the road, running a red, and having no license or proof of insurance. His defence for this was a plea of mental incompetency, and he was ordered to time in a psychiatric hospital.
  • 2011 – Gucci was arrested on one charge of battery, then arrested a week later on two separate charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Seriously – three assault charges in one week? Gucci served three months of a six month sentence for these. But do you want to know what one of those charges was for? Gucci offered a woman $150 for sex and when she refused, he forced her out of a moving truck. The woman sued and won an estimated $58,000.
  • March 2013 – Gucci was arrested allegedly attacked a fan who attempted to get a picture with him, using a champagne bottle for a weapon. The fan suffered a concussion and needed 10 stitches. Attacking a fan for wanting a picture? Who does he think pays for that champagne bottle he used as a weapon? Your fans!
  • September 2013 – Police were called out on two occasions because Gucci was acting erratically, and threatened and cursed at police officers. He was charged with having a concealed weapon, possession of marijuana and disorderly conduct. Both these situations happened in the same week as Gucci’s legendary Twitter rant and his fight inside of Atlanta’s Lennox Mall.
  • December 2013 – Gucci Mane was charged in federal court with two counts of possession of a firearm as a felon, the incidents that occurred in September. Gucci could have received a maximum of 20 years in prison, but entered into a plea deal and somehow only served two and a half years.
  • May 2016 – Gucci was released from prison, and has not yet assaulted anyone … That we know of.

Gucci Mane has had over a decade of criminal charges, which suggests to me that there have been few or no attempts at or hope for rehabilitation. All his prison time seems to be doing is giving the man lyrics and inspiration for his music. Like the girl he threw out of his Hummer: “First you get her name, then you get her number / then you get some brain in the front seat of a Hummer.” Or the time he and his mates killed the man ‘in self defence’: “Robbing me unlikely, last time dropped him / hollow tip stopped him, I ain’t have time to box him.”

I have read numerous articles stating that Gucci is the most influential rapper of the past decade, mainly for seeing the star quality in artists like Young Thug and Migos, and producers like Mike WiLL Made It, Zaytoven, and Metro Boomin. And for dropping this song in 2009:

His contribution to the hip-hop/ trap world is undeniable, and his new track, First Day Out Tha Feds, may bring hope for a new and focused Gucci. Who knows? The self-reflection of the past two and a half years might be paying off. I just hope he proves that he deserves to be free this time and deserves the attention and praise that a million Soundcloud streams in one day brings.

But how do we separate a man from his art? Does any of the information about Gucci’s character make a difference if the man is releasing ‘good’ music, or introducing great new artists to the world and helping to evolve the hip-hop genre – and should it? Tupac’s sexual assault charge has been all but ignored. Will we ignore Afrika Bambaataa’s influence in the development of hip-hop if he is found guilty of the accusations of sexually assault? It is an almost impossible question to answer, and one that maybe I am not qualified to answer.

I will be very interested to see what Gucci does next, and in the meantime, I pray I don’t hear a new song with the words “free Gucci” in it.

Image: DJBooth