Writer Benjamin Meadows-Ingram spent the summer of 2015 speaking with nearly two dozen rappers, DJs, producers, record execs, and folks who at one time or another have been close with Gucci Mane. The result of his extensive effort is a lengthy oral history that tells the tale of the Atlanta rapper, whose superpowers include a wicked work ethic and a foolproof ear, which appears in The FADER's 100th issue (as well as online here). It's required reading for any rap fan. Here, we pull out 10 moments we found particularly revealing.
2. Gucci Mane has always been extremely prolific in the booth
As it turns out, everything you might have heard about Gucci Mane being a monster on the mic is true. According to a number of associates interviewed for the story, Gooch could bang out back-to-back hits like no other. Producer Mike WiLL Made-It recalled a time he rapped on 20 beats in three days. DJ and producer Burn One said he "would go from top to bottom," freestyling for as long as the beat was played, then say, "Alright, pull up another one.” Migos' Quavo estimated that he could probably make a whole mixtape in a night—and then, it seems, he would continue working through to the next day: "I would wake up in the morning and I’d get a call from Patchwerk, like, 'Gucci’s here, he’s ready to work,'" engineer Kori Anders said. This wicked work ethic was exactly how Gucci Mane set himself apart—according to Atlanta radio personality DJ Holiday: "[Gucci Mane] was always like, 'They sleep, bruh. They sleepin; I’m working. That’s how we gonna kill ’em.' And that’s what we did."
3. Even in the morning
Gucci Mane loved to record at pretty much any time of day, including the early morning. “I would wake up in the morning and get a call from the studio, like, ‘Gucci’s here, he’s ready to work,’" engineer Kori Anders said. Around 2009, producer Lex Luger said that Gucci was recording 24/7, and always right after waking up: "When Gucci got up in the morning, he didn’t go to the bathroom—he went to the studio. That’s why he said [in “First Day Out”]: No pancakes, just a cup of syrup. Like, 'I don’t want nothing to eat. I’m waking up and I have to work.'"
4. Gucci's breakout hit, "Icy," almost didn't happen
In another world, "Icy" featuring Jeezy might not have ever been. According to Zaytoven, who produced the song, Jeezy didn't like the beat the first time he heard it. "Jeezy was saying he wanted to do something a little bit more street, but this is what we came up with," Zaytoven said. "Me and Gucci do our stuff, it’s got flavor to it. It’s fun. It’s still hardcore music, it just has a frillier melody. It has a little brightness." But during that session, Gucci couldn't stop singing the "Icy" hook, and the rest is history. "They start working on another record," remembered Kevin "Coach K" Lee, a former manager of both Jeezy and Gucci. "But Gucci kept singing this damn hook. He was singing the hook to everybody. Eventually, I pull Jeezy, and I’m like, 'Yo, man, this shit may be kinda dope. It’s got a melody. He keeps singing the shit. We need to go ahead and cut this record.' So they went in and cut the record."
6. "Wasted" was the gamechanging song that brought him to a new audience
DJ Holiday described "Wasted" as the song that leveled-up Gucci's career. Pre-"Wasted" Gucci "was hood rich," and ever-after he was "doing MySpace parties in Orange County, doing Bar Mitzvahs for like 75 grand and shit," Holiday said. "Them white kids and they dads, they topped off for Guwop to come perform that one song. It wasn’t just hood shit no more."
7. And the song was polished without Gucci Mane's knowledge
As "Wasted"producer Fatboi remembered it, Gucci Mane came up with the idea for the song. "The first thing he said when he showed up to the studio was, 'What do you think about doing a song called ‘Wasted’?" But the final product came together without Gucci. "When he left—and to this day Gucci probably doesn’t know this—I worked on that record for like a week straight to get it to be the song that it became," Fatboi said.
8. Gucci liked raves, and predicted rap and EDM would merge
In the oral history, DJ Drama refered to Gucci Mane as "clearly" one of the best A&Rs to come out of Atlanta. Guys like Mike WiLL, Metro Boomin, Young Thug, Migos, and Rich Homie Quan, for example, all owe a bit of their success to him; but Gucci's apparently had an ear for more than just rap. According to DJ Holiday, he predicted that rap would have an EDM moment. "One time we was in L.A. and Gucci was like, 'Yo, you want to go to a techno party? This shit gonna be big one day,'" he said. "I was just like, 'Nigga, what do you know about a techno party?' He liked the lights, the beats, and all that type of shit. He was rapping verses to me in my ear to the techno beats. And I said, 'Well, you know one day this shit might merge.' Now you got people like DJ Carnage who mix these trap beats with these EDM beats."
9. And he basically invented the straight-to-iTunes mixtape
Gucci Mane did his time shilling tapes in parking lots, but when it came to distribution he was truly an innovator. Gucci Mane's The Return of Mr. Zone 6, which came out in 2011 while he was locked up, is among the first mixtapes to drop on iTunes. It sold 22,000 copies first week, and labels never looked back. "Even the label agreed after that," said Coach K, who managed Gucci Mane from 2009-2013. "They were like, 'You’re right. All that [chase for] Top 40, all that shit, don’t worry about that. Let’s just get his music out there to his following.' On Mr. Zone 6, we did 100,000 [sales], and that was a mixtape. After that, we set the trends. I went into Warner, where he had a label deal, restructured and negotiated a whole mixtape deal for three mixtapes for a certain amount of money outside of his album deal. It hadn’t been done. After we did that, you start seeing artists come out and put these mixtapes out commercially. Shit, Drake just did." And it worked out pretty sweet for Drake, too.