Stranger Than Fiction
In the late 2000s and early 2010s, Baton Rouge’s Kevin Gates began to distinguish himself in the South, fusing the imposing trap lyricism of Young Jeezy with a grittier spin on Drake-style melodic rap. Across nine mixtapes, he built up a grassroots following, eventually catching the attention of hip-hop gatekeepers. In the summer of 2013, Stranger Than Fiction was released, serving as the initial salvo from Kevin Gates as a major-label artist, functioning as something between an official debut and a mixtape. Few tracks on Stranger Than Fiction better evidence the elite level on which Gates was operating at this point in his career than "4 Legs and a Biscuit.” The verses are a dizzying flurry of reminiscences touching on violence, romantic dysfunction, and religious crisis, including a brief scene of Gates getting shot. The repeated use of “car” at the end of lines highlights the sense of panic, creating the feeling that we are in the moment with him: “Caught slipping, blicked the biscuit administered in the car/I’m a dog, worst place to get hit is while in the car/Bullet hole in my lip as I’m inching back to the car/Bitch I'm with pitching a fit, yelling ‘Kevin, back in the car!’” The song sets up an album full of songs evoking paranoia and lingering PTSD after narrow scrapes with mortality. Gates’ verses are strewn with cryptic snapshots, rendered with feeling, interspersed with indelible, mournful hooks. “4:30AM” is like a time-lapse look from Gates’ high school years through the present, zeroing in on brutal gunflights, lurid sexual encounters, and drug abuse. The chorus embodies Gates’ signature mix of melodic infectiousness and abiding melancholy. Elsewhere, Gates indulges in and celebrates his rising fame, particularly on the tracks that feature the first superstar guests ever to appear on one of his projects. Juicy J shows up on “Thinking With My Dick,” finding Gates and the Three 6 Mafia legend at their most gleefully ignorant. The record closes with a shimmering remix of his 2012 hit “Satellites,” co-starring Wiz Khalifa, which functions a bit like a musical victory lap here.