Breath of Fresh Air

Breath of Fresh Air

It’s been 18 years since the East Atlanta rapper broke through with his debut album Trap House and began rewriting rap in his witty, marble-mouthed image. It’s hard to overstate Gucci’s influence on how hip-hop sounded through the late ’00s and the 2010s as his wildly prolific, deceptively intricate trap bangers went mainstream. For several of those years his lifestyle threatened his continued legacy, or added to his outlaw mystique in ways that proved unhealthy. A handful of Gucci’s biggest albums, like 2009’s The State vs. Radric Davis, were released while he was incarcerated. By the time of 2016’s Everybody Looking, he was buff, sober, and serving the final months of a three-plus-year sentence for possession of a firearm by a felon, looking and sounding like a totally new man. That new man continues to thrive in a rap landscape far removed from the one in which he started, stunting wholesomely on the cover of his 16th studio album alongside his wife and two children draped in matching furs. (So icy, indeed.) The 24 tracks of Breath of Fresh Air feel like an extended victory lap, a celebration of his profound influence, which took longer to be acknowledged than it ought to have. “I feel like it’s me in ’06 and ’07, ’08 and even ’09,” Gucci crows on “06 Gucci,” where he’s joined by DaBaby and 21 Savage to extol his glory days. There’s plenty more torch-passing to the next generation of trap stars, some of it bittersweet: On his two appearances (“Thank Me” and “Pretty Girls”) the late Young Dolph sounds like the truest heir to Gucci’s buoyant, street-smart throne. A decade ago, a collaboration between Gucci and J. Cole would have caused conniptions in a certain type of rap fan; today, their link-up on the playful Mike WiLL vehicle “There I Go” simply feels inevitable. But the highlight is “Stomach Grumbling,” where the East Atlanta Santa delivers the final word on a few hot-button issues of late. “Writers on strike and I know why they did it/Hollywood moguls be paying ’em pennies,” he drawls, sounding rejuvenated. “AI can’t write the song Gucci would write/’Cause AI didn’t stay up all night in the trenches.”

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