I didn’t want to write this piece.
It started with a conversation. I was in East Harlem, drinking Hennessey at an apartment/homemade studio. I was with a friend who manages a high profile artist and I asked him what he thought of one of my favorite current rappers – Kevin Gates. Everyone seems to be gushing over Gates these days, and the Baton Rouge rapper deserves the praise, so I thought my boy would agree. But he thought Gates was corny.
It shocked me. I happen to look up to this guy, and he tells me he thinks one of my favorite rappers is a cornball. He went on about how Gates says he got a masters in psychology while in jail, and he’s got tattoos under his eyes. I didn’t really understand the correlation, and I still don’t, but it was a jolting thing to hear. It was Tuesday night, November 19th, 2014.
I had preordered Luca Brasi 2 after hearing “John Gotti,” “Out The Mud,” and “IDGT.” I was excited for the sequel of what ‘s arguably his best project yet, but after that night, I couldn’t shake what I’d heard.
When the album dropped on December 15, it was a conflicted listen. I liked parts of “IDGT,” but I didn’t like how Gates was using a catchprase as some sort of branding technique, the way Curren$y bored me out of listening to any of his new music after he kept saying “Jet Life” on every single song. It feels like the artist is trying to hammer something into your brain. “Perfect Imperfection” was another red flag:
“I’m a perfect imperfection, my craft has been perfected, I just need affection / Emotionally, I’m an introvert but it come off as aggression / No one understand me and everybody can’t be slow / It’s refreshing to find someone who thinks like me so I can’t be wrong.
“I’m a perfect imperfection and I don’t find interest in the radio / So everytime I get high I watch the time pass by like away we go / Is it OK to cry when you’re dying inside? Seem like codeine is the one thing that help me take my mind from the lies.”
Listening to that song, I suddenly heard it. Yes, the things Gates talks about are all too real – depression, drug addiction, paranoia, loneliness – but the way he talks about them on Luca Brasi 2 sounds different than before. I couldn’t unhear what my friend said about Gates, and listening to Luca Brasi 2, it felt like one of my favorite rappers was pushing a very specific image of himself in his music.
I should have suspected something when he did “Posed To Be In Love” last year. I cannot for the life of me fathom why a male artist would make a song about domestic abuse from the perspective of the male unless 1) they have a couple screws loose, or 2) they’re consciously crafting a reputation as having a couple screws loose. The song doesn’t take any precautionary measures, either – Gates says he “thought it was legal to beat your ho” on the intro. Eminem did similar things in his lyrics, and if you think he wasn’t purposefully putting together his own image, you’re naïve.
In recent weeks, my suspicions have only been confirmed by Kevin’s antics on social media. First, there was the Instagram I immediately recognized as staged: Jhonni Blaze, a “model,” feigned getting hit by Gates in the face. Twitter naturally went ballistic because a majority of people on Twitter are bored and will bite at the first semi-controversial thing for conversation and laughs. The post got deleted from Gates’ account soon after, though it’s still up on Blaze’s, and she posted a second video with Gates after that found her laughing.
Now, rap websites without anything else to write about are pushing the news that Kevin Gates Is Having Sex With His Cousin – AND HE WON’T STOP. In two Instagram videos, Gates said he was having sex with a girl for three months before finding out she was his cousin. “Why fuck up a good thing?” he asks, before ending both videos with “I don’t get tired!” The schtick is starting to become a little tiresome, and it’s even more insufferable because rap publications are feeding into it.
The truth is that most artists with other people’s money behind them are given a marketing plan with an image of themselves to promote and broadcast to the world. That’s what major labels do – they find one marketable aspect of an artist’s personality or image and then magnify that singular, differentiating facet as a way of representing the artist. A large number of major label artists are one trick ponies who rely on their image and publicity instead of their music.
I hate to say this, but Gates might be heading down the same path. Gates may be the sharpest he’s ever been on Luca Brasi 2 technically, but the first half of the album is stacked with all the singles, and ever since hearing someone I admire say Gates is corny, I just can’t unhear that when I listen to his music. I couldn’t help but listen to his new album through the lens of a guy who’s forcing public fuckery like having sex with his cousin. I’m not proud of this insight, either. In a way, I wish I’d never asked what my friend thought of Gates, because I wouldn’t have listened to Luca Brasi 2 with the taint it now has.
Off the internet, it seems like a lot more people know about Kevin Gates for eating booty than for making dope music. This can’t be true everywhere, as he’s been selling out shows for awhile (remember when Live Nation bought out his show in the same town as Wayne and Drake’s concert because Gates was cannibalizing their sales?) and his new songs on Youtube generally reach hundreds of thousands of views within a couple weeks. The more antics Gates displays, the less they feel like genuine sides of his personality. Instead, they turn into publicity stunts. Not only is he in character, but he’s now becoming a character, too – or better yet, a caricature.
This isn’t to discredit all of his music. “Pourin The Syrup” is an incredibly powerful record, “In My Feelings” sounds heartfelt, and “Reasonable Suspicion,” which didn’t make the album, was one of the best rap songs of 2014. I just pray that Gates doesn’t allow the cheap bullshit that all these websites are running with to become his calling card. He makes beautiful music, and I’d hate to see it become overshadowed by dumb shit he says on social media.
Either that, or the mind of Kevin Gates is just completely beyond my scope of comprehension.