– Jacob O’Gara
A rapper’s swagger is as important to him as his microphone and gold chain. However, if you scratch beneath that layer, inevitably you’ll find squirming insecurity and self-consciousness.
In the case of Li’l Wayne, who has transplanted the slithering rock-star formula to hip-hop, you’d have to scratch for a while. Jay-Z’s swagger comes from surviving and rising from his hustler days; Kanye West tells us he’s “Amazing” as a way to convince himself, and his Good Music protégé Kid Cudi wears vulnerability on his sleeve, which is a kind of swagger in itself.
Gucci Mane is different.
He’s got the swagger of a playground bully, a bully who picks on the other kids because he got picked on, and because negative attention is better than no attention at all. But don’t let that make you think Gucci Mane, born Radric Davis, is some kind of weakling; in 2005, he was charged with murder (he was acquitted), something he references again and again in his lyrics.
But underneath his battle-hardened grizzly exterior is a teddy bear. In the song “My Chain,” Gucci asks, “Don’t you like my chain?”
Of course, Gucci Mane is following a long line of rappers who have bragged about and extolled the value of their chains, but he is the first (to my knowledge) to express a concern for validity from the listener. He is pretty sure his chain is above all others, but do you like it?
Gucci may be a blinged-out alleged murderer, but he has feelings too.
“Freaky Gurl,” perhaps Gucci’s most famous track (coming from the Hard to Kill mixtape along with “My Chain”), contains a similar plea for praise and validity. In the first verse, he inquires the listener/unseen female companion, “Don’t you think I’m handsome?”
In the hip-hop world, that question is never asked; a Li’l Wayne knows for damn sure he’s handsome, even a more introspective Kanye West does. Maybe that’s part of their swagger, that they just know they’re handsome.
Maybe they’re afraid that if they asked, the answer would be “No.” Either way, Gucci Mane is the only rapper out there with the balls (or self-consciousness) to ask such questions.
Hip-hop is a genre that, by its very nature, rejects introspection, even though it is populated by head cases fraught with anxiety masquerading as strutting peacocks. And of all the peacocks, Gucci Mane is the goofiest one.
He looks goofy and sounds goofy when he raps goofy verses. He is hip-hop’s court jester, a pompous, vainglorious, perhaps murderous clown juggling with tears in his eyes.
Far from causing you to shrink away in terror, Gucci’s mush-mouthed pleas make you just want to give the guy a hug.