Genre: Trap, Melodic Rap
Favorite Tracks: “pushin p,” “thought i was playing,” “so far ahead > empire”
Atlanta rapper and singer Gunna sports perhaps the most two-dimensional profile of any successful mainstream act. Little seems to be known about him beyond his affinity for outlandish designer drip and that he was lucky enough to snag an introduction to Young Thug in 2016. A steady stream of albums and features marked a steady rise to prominence alongside the likes of Lil Baby, but revealed precious little else to supplement the paper-thin premise of Gunna’s persona. With his latest offering, DS4EVER, I suspect there’s a simple explanation: there just isn’t much more to Gunna than what he’s already shown us. This lack of depth isn’t a problem exactly, but it leaves him operating with the same few strengths demonstrated on previous material, and thus a perilously slight margin for error to deliver a compelling project.
The best Gunna tracks do everything they can to support his limited-but-legitimate strengths, namely his buttery smooth delivery and delicate, half-sung rap voice. It’s a narrow lane that offers ample opportunity to support a more dynamic presence or to slide into a satisfying, steady groove, but it’s a tough style to headline an hour long record with. Unfortunately, DS4EVER walks this fine line less successfully than any in Gunna’s catalog, resulting in a flat, generic product that doesn’t play to his best attributes, nor represent any sort of recognizable step towards experimentation or progress.
Lest the introduction paint me as a hater, I’ve long enjoyed Gunna and defended his style-over-substance approach in the past. My favorite Gunna tracks are serene and ethereal in a way that’s more unusual in trap music than a guy pegged as a Thugger clone typically gets credit for. His voice is unique, almost naturally auto-tuned and breathy without being insubstantial. Deploying smooth, rhythmic cadences that see syllables bleed together, Gunna has the ability to effortlessly pull the listener into a trance during verses, floating atop beats that still manage to work in electronic sounds and trap drums without compromising the soothing aura. Prominent examples include the timeless “Top Off” from DRIP SEASON 3, “Outstanding” from DRIP OR DROWN 2, or “ARGENTINA” from his last record WUNNA, but this sort of sleek, serene approach is exemplified across his past work.
Despite a similar cadre of producers from previous projects, DS4EVER misunderstands Gunna’s appeal and attempts to shoehorn him further into the pop-trap space dominating streaming services for years. The pace and flows are indebted to the more staccato, wordy style of peers like Polo G and NBA Youngboy. It’s an awkward fit for Gunna, who excels with a steady, melodic delivery that works within the structure of the beat instead of in and out of it. The production is simply less appealing than on WUNNA, more aggressive and higher tempo, which ultimately forces Gunna into situations that sound like he’s rushing or straining what his voice naturally wants to do. Already playing outside his sonic sweet spot, he’s routinely outshone by more dynamic features like Kodak Black, G Herbo and 21 Savage. Even production highlights like “pushin p” seem to leave Gunna confused, as he leaves uncomfortable gaps in his flows which sound as though he’s unsure how to attack the beat.
The rollout of the album compounded my disappointment with the final product. Perhaps it’s fruitless to complain about another popular artist deploying tricks to game streaming algorithms, but announcing a tracklist, releasing the album without the Drake-assisted “p power” attached, and then re-releasing the proper album a couple days down the line to boost numbers over time is pulling back the curtain a bit too obviously for my liking. It doesn’t help that the formerly unimpeachable Metro Boomin delivers a cringe-inducing beat punctuated by graphic moans behind listless, horny verses from Gunna and Drake on the omitted track. Taken together, the streaming numbers gambit, the attempts to mint “pushin p” in the lexicon, the wet-noodle limp Freddie Gibbs “diss” hyped in the lead up, and the regression to the trap middle ground are all predictable, but disappointing steps to further a career now nakedly more concerned with numbers than music. That’s a shame, considering I genuinely enjoyed what Gunna used to bring to the table.