Kevin Gates is, at this very moment, one of the most popular rappers in America. His official debut album, Islah, was just announced as the first debut LP of 2016 to go platinum last week. And while you'd think he would have ridden the success of the project through the year, he dropped his Murder for Hire 2 mixtape just three months later because he claimed Atlantic Records wouldn't let him release another album until 2017. The man can't stop making music.
With over 10 official projects to his name, Gates is also one of the most prolific artists in the country. You can catch random songs getting uploaded to his YouTube account at any given time, while old mixtapes like The Leak with fellow Baton Rouge rapper Max Minelli contain rare Gates cuts.
So to celebrate Islah's platinum status, our latest Loosies entry focuses on the lesser known Kevin Gates songs that aren't on any of his official albums or mixtapes. It's by no means a comprehensive list of every loosie he's ever dropped, but it's a good introduction to the cream of the crop.
A note before we start: in 2006, Gates released his first promo disc, which was distributed hand to hand around Baton Rouge. It's yet to surface online, but it's said to feature songs that have been dropped, like "Black Man," "Set It Off" freestyle and "We Rock Out," amongst others. We're on the hunt for that tape, and in the interests of our own OCD, we've kept those songs off this loosies list (minus "Died in Your Arms") just in case we do come across that project in full.
"What Must I Say"Kevin Gates
Back when Gates had dreads, he recorded this unreleased track sampling Jodeci's classic "Freek'n You." You can download this, plus other classic Gates loosies, on an unofficial mixtape called Urge of Development.
"Off Top" is another understated cut from circa 2010. His style was a little more tempered back then, but you could tell he had a flexibility that allowed room for emotion to propel any given line.
"Died in Your Arms"Kevin Gates
Strangely enough, this beat was originally on a 2009 song by a Latin rapper from Sacramento called Don Changolini 4000. Who knows how Gates got his hands on the beat, but the Cutting Crew sample must have caught him. Rumor has it this is one of the songs on that mythical 2006 promo CD.
"400 Degreez Freestyle"Kevin Gates
Ever since he spit this in a January 2013 vlog, people have been fiending for the audio. Little do most know that the audio became available later that year. To this day, it's one of the best freestyles he's ever done.
"Paper Steak and Shrimp"Kevin Gates
Feels like people forget about this song because it's barely a verse long, but it's an intriguing little nugget nonetheless.
"Roamin Around"Kevin Gates
In mid-2013, Gates released a song produced by J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League called "Roamin Around," and it was arguably one of the best singles he'd dropped up to that point. During an early 2014 interview, he said he'd meant for it to be a single, but something happened with the label and that didn't pan out. It's still one of the best songs he's ever made.
"Reasonable Suspicion"Kevin Gates
In late 2014, excitement was building for Luca Brasi 2, Kevin's second tape of the year, but a month before it dropped (and while "Out the Mud" was bubbling) he released this exquisite song produced by Guss. It's some of the purest rapping he's ever done -- three and a half minutes, no chorus.
That same year, Gates appeared on the cover of XXL's Freshman issue, yet for his track (produced by Cardo) on the Gangsta Grillz mixtape that accompanied the cover, he spit, "I just need a different tax bracket, let me excel/And I ain't gotta make the front page of XXL."
Atlantic wisely put a new Gates song on the Suicide Squad soundtrack, and it's good enough to sound like it was meant for Islah. That hook is especially indicative of the songwriting help Gates has been getting recently, the kind of help that's taking his music to the next level.
This was at once strange and shrewd. The same day Islah dropped, Gates released a song with a video that didn't even make the album. It's called "Castle" and it was forgotten in the wake of the incredible album, but it's still excellent.
2015 was a year of preparation for Gates, and though he dropped Murder for Hire, which sounded like cuts left off Luca Brasi 2, he also dropped a string of loosies, including this standout.
"I Don't Get Tired" RemixKevin Gates
The original version of this song was Gates' first entry on Billboard's Hot 100, but months later he made an inexplicable move by releasing a remix with a tweaked beat and one five minute verse laced with narrative flashes -- like only Gates would. It was as if he couldn't resist going back to his harder days on the very song that demonstrated his transformation.
Part of what makes these loosies so fun is hearing how Gates pairs up with producers he doesn't often work with, and this Drumma Boy-produced cut is one of the best on this list.
"Luca Brasi Speaks"Starlito Featuring Kevin Gates
In 2015, Starlito was heavily teasing a collab project with Gates called Studios and Gas Stations. It's yet to see the light of day, but back in 2013, Lito gave Gates his own song on Cold Turkey, and Brasi murdered it.
In 2009, while Gates was behind bars, he released his Behind Enemy Lines tape, and this song apparently didn't make the cut. Listen closely at the end; if you've heard stories about Gates, the rhymes might sound familiar.
"Many Men" FreestyleKevin Gates
He gutted 50 Cent's classic and made his own fucking song.
This might be the rarest of them all. It's barely 85 seconds long, and it can be found on a mixtape of 50 Gates verses his old DJ Ya Boy Earl uploaded to Live Mixtapes.
"Just Started"Kevin Gates
Only Gates would say he's listening to Lupe Fiasco in the first verse and then tell you he got bumps on his ass after sitting on a toilet seat in the last verse.
Gates spits some real shit on this, and combined with that guitar and the drum programming, it makes for one of his most powerful loosies.
Gates' range of styles is on full display here, from singing to deadpan Brasi voice.
Bonus: "Black Man"Kevin Gates
Okay, here's another one. Who knows when that 2006 promo disc will appear, so we're throwing this in as a freebie. Gates has a couple songs where he does this "oooh oooh" thing, like the "Many Men" freestyle above, but it sounds best over this Sam Sneed production (originally Tony Yayo's "Curious").