The Return of East Atlanta Santa

The Return of East Atlanta Santa

Fans of one of Atlanta rap’s most crucial innovators, Gucci Mane, joked that the rapper had been replaced by a clone in 2016—the year the rapper emerged from prison, nearly unrecognizable with a beard, chiseled abs, and a new, defiantly sober lease on life. The Atlanta rapper’s third album of the year found the ATL legend hitting his stride artistically as well as physically, sounding like his old self in many ways, if more concertedly energized. That summer’s Everybody Looking and October’s Woptober sounded like Gucci celebrating getting back to business, relishing the newfound media and industry attention. December's The Return of East Atlanta Santa is positioned as a follow-up to a mixtape released during his prison stint and finds Gucci tapping back into the warped humor and braggadocio that characterized his formative work with a natural ease. As might be expected, the new old Gucci emerges against the backdrop of a Zone 6 holiday season, curated by Zaytoven on the "Jingle Bells"-interpolating "St. Brick Intro." The LP’s funhouse sound is defined largely by Zay and other warhorse Atlanta producers Gucci helped bring to the fore prior to his prison stint: then-younger talent turned industry titans like Mike WiLL Made-It and Metro Boomin. All of the project’s producers volunteer fresh ideas, elevating even the most standard-issue tracks. See OZ’s Latin-flavored counterpoint and piano crocheting on the R&B-flavored jam "Drove U Crazy," dominated by guest Bryson Tiller. Gucci sounds laid back and in a prankish mood even on tracks like these that feel defined by his collaborators’ sounds. On "Both," he refuses to be upstaged by his post-prison advocate Drake: "I got so many felonies, I might can't never go to Canada," Gucci murmurs. "But Drake said he gon' pull some strings, so let me check my calendar." The track—a streaming monster—hinges on a hook catchy enough to belong on one of Mr. Graham’s own projects. It stands as one of Gucci’s enduring post-prison cuts.

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