Gucci Mane, “Soul On Ice” (Originally Published March 2010)
Whether he is a free man or incarcerated, Gucci Mane is the most respected rapper coming out of Atlanta. He also must live in the studio, as indicated in his recent announcement of releasing three mixtapes at once on August 13. Big Guwop, who manages to always surprise us, gave an in-depth look of his journey back in 2008. This was when he was in jail for failing to complete his community service. His release a few months later meant another wave of his music flooded the streets. Here, Gucci talks about The State vs. Radric Davis, his life story, feud with Young Jeezy and more.
With his career skyrocketing, and on the verge of releasing his biggest-splash album yet, Atlanta’s Gucci Mane has been brought back down to earth by yet another stint in prison. XXL visits him as he cools his heels.
Written By: Vanessa Satten
Gucci Mane speaks from behind a glass window in a visiting room at Atlanta’s Fulton County Jail. “Got closure on a lot of things now.” He has a lot to talk about. Two weeks from dropping his fourth album, the all-too appropriately titled The State vs. Radric Davis, through Warner Bros., the 29-year-old rap star sits in a blue uniform with his hair slightly grown out, 11 days into a yearlong bid. He received the sentence on November 12, 2009, for a probation violation, and was escorted directly to jail, where he’ll be for at least the next four to six months as inmate No. 0936417.
Unfortunately, this is nothing new to Gucci Mane. When he graduated Atlanta’s Ronald E. McNair high school in 1998, he got a full scholarship to Georgia Perimeter College. But during his freshman year, he was busted with 90 bags of crack and locked up for three months. He lost his scholarship. So upon his release, he directed his focus on rap. Gucci spent five years in Atlanta’s underground mixtape scene, before signing with local independent label Big Cat Records for his first album, 2005’s Trap House.
The album’s first single was the hit “Icy,” featuring fellow ATL up-and-comer Young Jeezy. Unfortunately, the song’s success led to a beef over credit, and Jeezy soon placed a bounty for Gucci’s “So Icey” chain on a diss record, “Stay Strapped.” Gucci responded with his own diss, “Round One.” And so on.
On May 10, 2005, while Gucci was visiting a lady friend at Springside Run, in Decatur, five men invaded the house armed with guns, brass knuckles and tape. Gucci grabbed his own weapon, got a few shots off and escaped. Three days later, one of the assailants, Henry Lee Clark III, reportedly an associate of Jeezy’s, was found dead behind the nearby Columbia Middle School.
Gucci was arrested, charged with murder and released on $100,000 bail, on May 24. Two months later, he was rearrested, after beating up a club promoter with a pool stick. Denied bond, he stayed locked up through October, when he entered a no-contest plea to assault charges and was sentenced to six months, with credit for time served. He was released in January, put on probation and given 600 hours of community service. Right before he got out, the murder charges against him were dropped.
In 2006, Gucci put out his second album, Hard to Kill, and severed ties with Big Cat. The following year, he inked a label deal for his So Icey Entertainment with Asylum Records (then a subsidiary of Warner Bros.’ Atlantic Records arm) and dropped Back to the Trap House, which included the smash “Freaky Gurl (Remix),” featuring Ludacris and Lil’ Kim.
But instead of back to the trap house, it was back to the jailhouse. On September 12, 2008, Gucci was sentenced to a year at Fulton County for failing to complete his community service, after performing only 25 of the 600 hours.
Released on probation in March , Gucci got busy—flooding the streets and the Internet with new songs and videos, collaborating with big-name artists like Black Eyed Peas and Mariah Carey, building up the So Icey team with OJ Da Juiceman and Nicki Minaj, and starting a new imprint, 1017 Records.
Two days after visiting Gucci in jail, XXL got on the phone with the rapper to see just what he really meant about being ready to tell his story.
Did you ever think this is how you would be doing press for your first major-label release, from prison?
My status right now, with my album out, is that I’m very grateful, very thankful. I had been out of jail for eight months, and in that time, I’ve gotten to work with a lot of artists I’ve always wanted to work with. I put my record label together; my new situation with Warner went well. I built a lot of anticipation, I worked hard in those eight months, and I’m pleased with the recognition I’m getting. I’m at the height of my career so far. It’s a blessing just to have people who would want to buy your stuff and to be anticipated. But in the little time I got here, I really can handle it. It’s just a small, little stepping-stone of where I’ve got to go.
After your most-recent arrest, your lawyer said that you had tested positive for cocaine and marijuana. But when I visited you, you said you have had clean tests for months and those charges were old.
My urinalysis was from, like, six months ago. I think it was for marijuana. But it definitely wasn’t from cocaine. I have never used cocaine. That’s just not true. Then I stopped smoking and stopped drinking. For the last six months, I haven’t used any drugs, and I will continue to claim sobriety. That’s why I said that at the BET Awards and made that PSA. Because that’s something I took to and made a part of my life. So even when I do get out of here, I plan on continuing that, and I’m proud of myself for that. That gave me peace, even in the situation I’m in now. I know you have to be optimistic. Even if you’re going through something that you expect to be good and it turns out bad, you know it will get well.
What do you think it was, during those eight months, that built up the anticipation for this album?
I think, over the years, when I first started my career, a lot of situations that I was in made people kind of shy away from me. It kind of made people have a curiosity about me but a slight fear to work with me. So as people have gotten to know me and spread word around the industry that I was a stand-up guy…that I was a great businessman and I always hold my word in every business transaction I do—that made people open to wanna work with me. And once they got in the studio with me or we handled some business together, that went well. But compared to what they were hearing, because people were kind of blackballing me. So it took years and years just for that to die down. But once people opened the door for me to work with them, it just took off from there. I did have the talent. And that whole time, while they were scared to mess with me or work with me, I’ve been getting better. So I guess things just happen... Can’t never question how things happen. Even though it was hard to struggle all the time, doing it on my own independently, once I did break through that door, I just came straight through there.
Why do you think they were scared of you? Why were you blackballed? What gave you that impression?
Why? Just my history. Nothing that specifically I want to go into. Just the history of me.
Backstory has become such an important part of rap artists’ appeal. Fans are very familiar with the life stories of people like Eminem, 50 Cent and Jay-Z. Do you think your story is well known? Do you want it to be?
I don’t think my story is as known as those artists’. But I feel like, in a way, people know me better than they know these people that you named. Because a lot of my fans, they feel like they know me. They feel like they can hang with me. I’m more touchable than a lot of those artists. I’m, like, an around-the-way boy—a dude that you can relate to. And a lot of those guys, they can’t relate to them. Even though they know their stories in and out, they can’t relate to them. And with me being from the streets—honestly, with the life I’ve lived, some things I can’t even share—and they respect that. But for some of the people who are just now learning about me, there is kind of a mystique to me, a curiosity that I think attracts them to me, to want to get to know me. And I give them bits and pieces of it. When it comes to me and God puts it on my heart to share something with somebody, I do it, but that’s not something that I feel compelled to do. I don’t think that’s a requirement of being an artist—to air out everything in your closet of everything that you done went through. I don’t feel you have to do that. That’s all if you want to. If you feel you can help someone by doing that, that’s a good reason to do it. But to do it to show that I’m harder than this other artist or that I’m more real, I don’t feel I have to do that, because I know where I stand in my community.
There have been long-standing problems between you and Young Jeezy. The public perception is that it all stems from the dispute over the “Icy” song. And then from the shooting incident, in May of 2005, because the man who was killed, Henry Lee Clark III, was said to be an associate of Jeezy’s. Some have speculated that Jeezy’s recent problems with DJ Drama are because Drama collaborated on mixtapes with you. What are your thoughts on the situation with Jeezy?
That situation with me and homie, that just happened. I definitely didn’t expect that it would work out like that when we first got in the studio and made those records, and I don’t think he did, either. So it’s either like we can keep that going on forever or we can agree to disagree, and push on. With me, I’ve already pushed on. And a lot of people on my team, they follow the leader, what I got going on. So if I don’t speak on it, they’re not going to speak on it. And can’t nobody push my buttons to make me do anything. So regardless of whether anybody disses me or doesn’t like me, that doesn’t make me dislike them. Instead, they don’t like me.
Me and him are in two different places right now. There was a time where, honestly, I was angry, and I was upset, and I dissed him a lot. But now I don’t feel like that. I dissed him and a lot of other people. But right now I’m not even there no more. I’m so focused on trying to keep my record label tight and keep my family tight, keep everything going on the up and allow God to keep blessing me. So I don’t like to get into a lot of negative things. And that’s just negative. Even though it may sell a trillion records, it’s just not the lane that I want to go. I want to show people that Gucci is a talented songwriter, that he’s a hell of a performer, and that he’s a stand-up guy, and he made something out of literally nothing. And I feel like that’s a story that can help a lot of people. A lot of Black brothers need to hear that. A lot of all [different] colored brothers need to hear that—and sisters—that you can do it. So that’s the song that I like to sing. It’s so easy to be angry and negative, and it’s hard to say that you was hurt. And people don’t do that. So I’d like to be the first person to say I’ll do it, and maybe people will follow my lead.
Even though the murder charges against you were dropped, your lawyer spoke about the difficulty you’re having with your role in Henry Lee Clark’s death.
I never glorified that situation, you know what I’m saying? I rarely ever rap about it, if I ever rap about it. But, at the same time, you know, it always will bother me that someone had lost their life. You know, even if I don’t say anything about it or speak about it, it always bothers me and will bother me until I die. That was a situation I didn’t want to be put in, and it was also a situation I wouldn’t wish on nobody to be in. But some things happen for a reason. And the past, I can’t go back and… I can’t edit the past. I can only try to use that situation to help me help someone else, so they don’t be in that situation, ’cause who wants to be locked up? And for a murder charge, and probably face the death penalty for a charge, ’cause that could go either which way. The law said I was right, but I still hold that with me. And I still have to take that to the grave with me. Some people are gonna see that and think that’s tough-guy shit. But the tough guy is the person to say, Shit, man, I wouldn’t wish that on you. Don’t go down that road, lil’ shawty. Try to stay in school. Try and make something out yourself. You can be a rapper. You can be a producer. Kids, you can be an executive. You can be whatever. You can own XXL magazine. Do something positive with your life. Raise your family, be a good brother, be a good father, be a good son to your mother. That’s tough-guy shit to me.
But you are seen as being a “street” artist. Mainstream hip-hop has gone in a different direction over the past year or so. It’s gotten away from the streets and become more clean-cut—the Kanyes, the Drakes, Wales, Kid Cudi. Do you see yourself representing the other side, bringing it back around to the street element again?
I would like to just tell you that I agree with you a lot on that. To be honest, I’m a fan of all music. I like Wale, I like Kanye, I like Kid Cudi. But, at the same time…I feel like music mirrors life. What Kanye, Kid Cudi and whoever you just named, the life they led made them make the music that they make, know what I’m saying? And the life that I’ve led made me make the music that I make. I don’t think that you’ve got to kill nobody or sell dope to be street. When I think about being hood, I think about being resourceful. That’s what being hood is to me. You can be hood and be the richest man in the world. You don’t gotta be broke to be hood. It’s, like, taking something and making it into more than what it is. Like, your mother taking scraps and making Thanksgiving dinner out of that, when you all did have nothing. But now you’ve got a million dollars, and you’re trying to turn that into $500 million. It’s that same attitude of, I’ve
got to work with what I’ve got, and I’ve got to make that into something. That’s how I feel when I do my music.
Do you feel high-profile?
Definitely. I’ve got a lot of notoriety. I feel I’m more infamous than I am famous. When you say Gucci Mane, you can get mixed feelings. You can get feelings of praise and love, you can get feelings of hate and judgment, you know what I’m saying? And some of that I brought on myself, and some I didn’t bring on myself. So I just feel that that’s the truth.
During our visit, you spoke about closure, the need to get closure on the events of the past in order for you to be ready to talk about things in your life publicly. How do you achieve that closure, in order to move forward?
Well, I say that closure is just like having peace within myself. A lot of things I didn’t want to deal with or even think about. I would try to push them out of my head, just work and consume myself with my schedule and record and just all the requirements it takes to be an artist, so I didn’t have to deal with what was going on with me personally. I had to get to the point where I said I want to handle that. And once I did that, it made me a better artist.
It’s a common perception that going to jail can, in fact, help a rapper’s career, make them hotter. But throughout history, that hasn’t always been the case. Do you think jail makes rappers hot?
I feel like jail doesn’t make nobody nothing but bitter. But in this situation, it’s going to make me better. Because I have had time to get my mind clear, analyze my life, refocus on what I’ve got to do. Just take a break mentally and physically, rest up a little bit. Because when I get out, I plan on going hard. There’s not going to be too much sleep, so I might as well get as much as I can now, because when I get out, I’m really going to turn it up. It’s not aimed at nobody. It’s not a mad thing with me. It’s just, Okay, this is the situation, and it could’ve been worse. If it could’ve been worse, then I’ve gotta be thankful that it is what it is, and I’ve gotta make it better. And that’s what I’m gonna do. When I get out, people are still going to be off my last album, so it’s going to be right on time for me to get back in the lab.
How did you feel your first night back in jail, two weeks ago?
I went to court at 1 p.m., and by the time I got to my cell, it was almost 12:30 a.m. or 1 in the morning. So I was defi nitely tired. Going through the process of booking, processing, fingerprinting, changing out, and using the phone downstairs. By the time they took me upstairs, to where I am now, I didn’t really have time to think about nothing. It was just wanting to lay down, because I had a hectic day, physically and mentally. By the time I woke up and started realizing that this was where I had to make my home for the next couple of months, or maybe another year, I was at peace with it. I had time to think about it. I wasn’t down about it, because it could have been so much worse.
You counted your blessings.
Yeah, that’s where I was at with it. Not even thinking of what I’m gonna do. There wasn’t no panic or nothing. It was just, Well, I got a lot of things done before I came in here, which is another blessing. Sit my little hot ass down and just chill for a minute.
How do you prepare your family for the possibility of going to jail? Who takes care of them?
I’m always planning for a rainy day. That’s something that I learned from my mom, you know, so I’m always planning for tragedy, for the worst. If there’s a hurricane, a tornado, a death in the family, or my unfortunate death, it’s a part of life. Or jail, or a car crash, or something like that. You’ve always got to keep something prepared to take care of your family. That’s how it’s got to be, if you’re the man of the house. And that’s definitely what I am, so...
I understand putting stuff away for a rainy day. But preparing for your own death, that’s heavy.
Yeah, because I’ve got a little boy who’s two years old. I’ve got a little brother who’s 13 years old. I’ve got a mother, and she’s not married. I’ve got a niece, and I love her; she’s six years old. I think about them every day. I think about them constantly. That’s what I work so hard for, so that, one day, I can make sure that they’re well taken care of for the rest of their lives… I love being that go-to guy. So now my chance is to just always show them something positive. They can get the mixed message that Gucci went through all of this and this is what it takes to be successful. And I’m gonna show them there’s a whole ’nother way you can go. The way that I took is not the only way to get there.
So do you want to be a role model?
I definitely want to be a role model, but I feel that, right now, I’m not the best role model I could be. I hope that I can grow to be a better role model and be that role model that everyone want to look up to.
Do you look at what has gotten you in trouble in the past, the things you’ve done, as wrong? Or just, like, you lived that, and that’s who you are?
I say, like, for every decision that you make, you’re going to get judged on it. Because somebody sees it. Even if you don’t get caught by the judge, God sees it. Nothing goes unnoticed. And I believe that a lot of what you put out you get back. There are a lot of things that I have done that just weren’t right. I’ve been getting punished for that. There’s things that people never know about. But they were wrong. And I still get the backlash from that. But I’m man enough to say that I did make those decisions and that I have to endure that and try to get through that storm until the sun comes out again. And when it does come out, then everybody can be happy. But to get somewhere, you gotta go through something or you gonna never get nowhere. So I’m going to get through this shit and get where I’m supposed to be.
There’s a famous YouTube video—it’s been watched more than 520,000 times—of you punching a girl onstage. Is there anything you want to say about that?
That was back in, I think, ’05, and it was at a party. That was a girl I knew, and she had threw something at me and hit me with it. And when she did, I reacted quickly, and I had never ever put my hands on a female in my life prior to that incident. I apologized to her and made amends with her, and since then we regained our friendship. But it was an unfortunate incident, and
I do apologize to anybody who seen it and was offended by it. Because it’s definitely something I’m not proud of. And she knows that I was sorry for it, and she forgave me, and I appreciate her for that. And I applaud her for that, because she’s a stand-up female.
You released a lot of mixtapes before the album. One of them, Movie 3: The Burrrprint, featured a skit where you asked yourself in a survey whether Jay-Z is the hottest rapper in the game. Your answer was, “No, that’s a lie.” Jay’s been taking a few shots from folks lately. What was the reason for your skit?
The reason I said that is because I feel like a lot of people, even bigger than… Even way past Jay-Z, like with Rick Ross and 50. For example, if you say, “I don’t like 50 Cent because I like Rick Ross,” or “I don’t fuck with Rick Ross; I fuck with 50,” I feel like that’s just a lame-ass stance to take. If you don’t like either one of them, cool. If you like one of them more than the other, cool. But don’t dislike somebody just because they ain’t rockin’ with them. Be your own man and own how you feel. Don’t let anybody coerce you to feel some way different. Even with me and Jeezy, people say, “Well, Gucci, I don’t fuck with Jeezy, you know what I’m saying, I fuck with you.” And that will make me close the door on them so quick, ’cause—’cause you don’t like him you fuck with me? That shows me that you’re not your own man.
And they might not even really know you.
You don’t know me, but you don’t like him, so, like you said, you’re gonna come fuck with me to spite him. That’s lame, and I feel like, even with Jay-Z, a lot of times I felt that was the type of situation he was making. He was saying, “Well, I like Jeezy, so I don’t like Gucci Mane.” And by him saying that, it kind of made me look at him different. And [then him saying], “I self-proclaim myself to be the greatest rapper alive.” And I just feel like no one person can do that. No one can say, “I’m the best up north,” or “I’m the best down south,” or “I’m the best on the West Coast.” You have to let the fans do that.
Lil Wayne did that.
And I’ll say the same about him, or anybody. Or T.I. saying he’s the King of the South. Or somebody saying they run the West Coast. It’s no shame, really. A lot of these people that I’m naming are great entertainers and great rappers. They are that. But to self-proclaim yourself to be something, as the undisputed champion, it’s not true.
You’ve got a short life to live. And if you’re a rapper, rap. Get in the booth, kick that shit. Do what you gonna do. Do your interviews. You don’t even have to go about that lane about, “I’m better than everyone else.” You can sell more CDs than everybody, you can be more acclaimed than everybody, you can have more wealth than everybody, you can put out more records than everybody. That’s something that can be researched and be found to be true. But to say, “I’m the mostswagged-out rapper.” What the fuck you mean? Who told you that? You told you that! Because I bet you there’s somebody who don’t agree with you. And I just happen to be one of those people who don’t agree with you. And I’m not scared to say it. I wasn’t saying it to get no response back from him—don’t want it, because I don’t know him. But from what he said, I’m saying that I don’t agree with him. You go out in east Atlanta and they’re not playing [Jay-Z’s music]. So I’m speaking for me and a lot of people who think like me.
Have you been writing in prison? Rapping?
I started writing the day that I got up, the next day. I was writing on any piece of paper that I could get. I was writing on that back of my property sheet. I was writing on every piece of fan mail that anybody sent me. I would turn it over and write on the envelope. I’m gonna write everybody who writes me a letter in here—things I’ve never done. I want to stay active in here, to keep boredom down. I try to read a lot. That has always been a thing I have tried to do. Anything that I can do to help me as an artist when I get out I’m going to do. I’m not mad at all that I’m in here. I’m just missing my family, and missing my fans, and missing my job. But I’ll be back again.