Richard Morales, better known as Gunplay, has been a part of Rick Ross' superstar Maybach Music Group crew since virtually the beginning. Early on, he was known as a member of Triple C's but later on broke out as a solo act to start his own path. The Carol City, Florida native recently dropped a new tape called Acquitted that showcases the rapper's growth as an MC, demonstrating that he can put together quality songs and lace a whole project together.

"When I was writing this, I was free," he told XXL, citing his recent legal troubles that landed him on house arrest and resulted, eventually, in his acquittal on armed robbery charges. "I was getting my little money back in order, and my mind can now release all the shit that I wanted to say. I was in a zone of really giving it my best. Last couple mixtapes was just, I had a lot going on my nigga, you know what I’m saying? So I was just doing that shit just to keep my mind focused and just to keep working and just to keep the fans happy.

"I would hate to disappoint my fans. So I said, 'You know what? With this next one, ain’t gonna be no disappointments. Imma give ’em nine ounces. Imma give ’em a quarter kilo of crack.' In essence that’s all you get. You want the whole key, you got to go get the album. So this is what the kilo gon’ look like, you know what I’m saying? Here you go."

When Gunplay is at his best, there is one thing clear about his music: this is pure, hardcore street rap. There aren't any catchy hooks, no "one for the ladies" joints. His songs paint a painful, struggle-filled, gritty, militant story told by an artist who has seen a whole lot of things in his thirty-three years. So as we patiently wait for his debut solo album, Living Legend, Gunplay swung through the XXL offices to talk about his top five street albums and why they made such a big impact on his style.

1. Illmatic (1994)

Nas, Illmatic

"It was 1992, ’91, ’92, and you know, the way he was rapping he wasn’t stopping, he wasn’t—there wasn’t no breath, he just kept going. And that was like, little do people know that that was a Rakim style. Rakim was the first one to spit that shit and spit that shit and spit that shit, you know what I’m saying. And he took it and just threw steroids on that shit. And the way he was talking that street shit, niggas felt that shit. I felt that. I could rap on Nas' Illmatic word for word, from the top to bottom, just start it and stop there and I’ll do the rest for you. Straight up."


UGK, Ridin' Dirty

"And then the UGK, shout out my nigga Nick. When I was growing up he was from Houston and I met him. He was a real close friend of mine. We hung out every day, and he came from Houston so that’s what he brought with him. He brought UGK, he brought Zero, he brought all that third coast music. So that’s what really put me on to Pimp C and Bun B, and I was hooked ever since for their lyrical ability. And me being at the time ’92, ’93, ’94, I was still really on New York, East Coast hip-hop. I was listening to, you know, a few down south niggas but key motherfuckers you know what I’m saying. But once I got to hear what Pimp was saying and I was—the older I got, I was going through, seeing the shit he was talking about and seeing the shit Nas was talking about, seeing what was Jay-Z—I still to this day see what Jay-Z talking about when listening to Reasonable Doubt, I be like, 'Oh shit! That’s, damn,' you know what I’m saying. But that’s like my Bibles right now. Them shits raised me, basically."

Jay-Z - Reasonable Doubt

Jay-Z, Reasonable Doubt

"He’s an android. He was back in ’94, ’96 he was talking shit that, you know what I’m saying, when I got older, like late 20s, [I] started seeing shit and going through it and, you know, he was talking big money dope shit back then and you can’t talk that shit if you don’t know that shit. Like, you can’t just sit here and talk about—you could, anybody can make a rap about making something rhyme with a kilo—but the shit that he’s saying, the emotions of actually going out there and selling that pack and going out there and watching your back all the time, looking over your shoulder, don’t know who’s a rat, don’t know who’s watching you, saying, nigga you got to admire me from three feet away. You don’t know that nigga and once you get there you’re like, 'damn that’s that nigga we talking about,' you know what I’m saying. So I got to them points and that just made me lock in to them even more and to look up to them as icons for real, you know. Street icons."

Snoop Dogg - Doggystyle - Front

Snoop Dogg, Doggystyle

"Snoop on Doggystyle—he freestyled the whole album. People told me that over the years but you know, when you just a young nigga, you like, 'man, shut up.' But when you listen and when you actually perfect your craft and you know what you doing with this rap shit, you could tell when a motherfucker freestyle. And now when I listen to this shit, that whole shit was freestyled except for key ones, you know what I’m saying, like 'Murder Was the Case,' and he might have even freestyled them shits too a little bit. So that was amazing to me. That’s amazing to me. And the way his swag, his style, he’s still relevant. It’s twenty-five years later [and] he’s still relevant. He could walk in here and people gonna shut it down, take pictures, and then he’d freestyle for fucking ten minutes and won’t miss a beat, you know what I’m saying. I can’t freestyle real too good. When I was younger I used to do it but, you know, like Meek Mill, them niggas is dope on that shit, Snoop Dogg. I can’t do that shit dog, I’m not that type of rapper."

tupac thug life

Tupac, Thug Life

"Thug Life. That’s when I just got off the porch, you know what I’m saying. So a nigga just really was living that at a young age, looking up to the older Gs and all that, soaking up game that was told to me. [sings] 'Never trust a bitch from a prostitute.' So all that, 'Pac was like a nigga pre-pastor, you know what I’m saying, without the pulpit or whatever that’s called. Cause it’s like on your everyday grind, and he was given you jewels on how to get through it, get around it, get over it, you know what I’m saying, that’s what he was doing. And I took a lot of that shit to heart and studied it and actually lived my life like, you know, by his rules, by Jay-Z’s rules, by Biggie Smalls 'Ten Crack Commandments.' That’s what raised a nigga, listening to that every day and hanging out with folk like them."