By Biba Adams
(AllHipHop Features) I’ve read a lot of music autobiographies. From Marvin Gaye to Diana Ross to Rick James. I’ve read a lot of hip-hop autobiographies as well from Scarface to Common to Eminem. I can definitively say that "The Autobiography of Gucci Mane" is one of the most compelling music autobiographies that I have ever and might ever read.
It’s more than just the story of how one man went from rap reject to the most magnificent “glow up” ever seen. It is a story of black manhood in the American South as never described before. Written by Gucci and former XXL Editor, Neil Martinez-Belkin, the book is an eye-opening look into the life of the Trap God and the sound he influenced.
“Trap music. To some it’s the subject matter. Stories of serving fiends through burglar bars. To others it’s a style of beatmaking. Sh*t, today there’s a whole audience of white kids who think trap music is about poppin molly and going to a rave.” He explains, “In a way it’s all those things. But when I think about trap music I think about those early days in Zay’s basement…. The whole process was crude and unrefined. What we were making wasn’t radio-ready and definitely not destined for the charts. When I think about trap I think about something raw. Something that hasn’t been diluted. Something with no polish on it. Music that sounds as grimy as the world that it came out of.” (p. 52)
The story begins with the turning point that landed Gucci in federal prison for a 39-month sentence, immersed in a promethazine-induced haze he found himself in an altercation with Atlanta police where he required two shots of sedatives to calm him. From this turning point, that is revisited toward the end of the book, Gucci Mane introduces us to the origin of Radric Delantic Davis in Bessemer, Alabama at 1017 First Avenue to be exact. In the book, he explains his complicated family structure one of unmarried parents, half-siblings, and a close network of grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. He reveals that it was from his father Ralph “Gucci” Dudley that he got his rap moniker. Gucci’s early life reveals a lot in common with many rap artists, an early exposure to hip-hop music from a savvier older brother, good grades, and a passion for making quick money fueled by a working class economic status.
As one would expect, the story then diverges into his own interest into making rap music. Gucci was at first interested in being a CEO styled after Master P, this would later emerge in his signing and promotion of dozens of Atlanta rap artists including Waka Flocka Flame, Peewee Longway, Young Thug, and Migos. His relationship with his primary producer, Zaytoven is explored at depth. In the book, it is truly understood how much of an effect they had on each other. Zay with his calming presence, the son of a strict Christian family and Gucci with his relentless work ethic. Together they have gone on to create classic trap music that defined the sound of their city.
Undoubtedly, one of the most riveting sections of the book is the time that Gucci spends explaining his beef with Jeezy. It’s a beef that was seismic in its effect in Atlanta. The two titans and their rival crews divided the city for years with only brief, tumultuous moments of peace. The beef eventually caused Gucci to catch a murder charge that he later beat due to self-defense. “I was angry. Directly or indirectly this guy had put me in a situation where I had to fight for my life in the streets, and now I was going to be fighting for my life in the courts. Meanwhile he was out there enjoying all the success of his debut album.” (p. 110)
It is when Gucci talks about his various prison stints that the reader really gets an insight into what life for him was like, it then to understand what was going on in his mind with his seemingly endless trips to prison, and tattooing an ice cream cone on his face. “After what happened in ’05 and all my scuffles in the streets, I already had serious issues with paranoia. I would use the drugs to numb those feelings but really they magnified them. People have called me bipolar or that I suffer from depression, but I always identified most with the symptoms of someone with PTSD. Like a soldier who came home still dealing with the effects of being in a war zone.” This brief passage situated in a chapter that is mostly about his relationship with Waka Flocka Flame is where Gucci truly begins to speak for the voiceless. It is not the first time that growing up poor, black and male in America can trigger behavior similar to PTSD, but it is the first time that someone of his stature has made that claim and it makes perfect sense.
In November of 2013, Gucci was indicted by a federal grand jury on two counts of being a felon in possession of a firearm, he was prosecuted by Sally Yates, the federal prosecutor who would go on to become Acting Attorney General of the United States and later fired by Donald Trump after refusing to defend his travel ban. During this stint in prison, unlike his multiple trips prior and his various stints in rehab, Gucci dedicated himself to sobriety, working out and reading inspirational books. The evidence of which has been seen in his newly defined body, and Twitter account that reads like an excerpt from a self-help book. Incarcerated, for what we hope is his final time, Gucci learned, “It’s about how you bounce back from those moments that make you who you are.”
"The Autobiography of Gucci Mane" is a book that shines like Gucci’s dazzling new smile as he stands next to his love, Keyshia Dior Ka’oir. It is a revelation and a welcome addition to hip-hop’s literary legacy.
Biba Adams is a NYC-based writer with strong ties to ATL. She holds a MA in African-American Studies from Clark Atlanta University, and is currently working on a collection of essays about hip-hop music and culture. Follow her on social media @BibatheDiva.