Gucci Mane
The State vs. Radric Davis
(So Icey/Asylum/Warner Bros.)

Beats: XL

Lyrics: L

Originality: XL

Since the beginning of his rap career, Radric Davis has been on a trial of sorts. When he first broke ground, alongside Young Jeezy on “Icy,” his introductory single, casual fans sang along to the catchy hook, while skeptics questioned the strength of Gucci’s lyrically light approach on the verses. Nevertheless, the song was a hit. Then came Gucci’s real-life drama. But after beating a murder rap in 2005, the Alabama-born, Atlanta-bred MC seemed to have put the bulk of his legal problems behind him—except he didn’t. An assault charge, which landed Gucci Mane La Flare back behind bars that same year, would come back to haunt him. He was released after several months served then locked back up in 2008, due to parole violations.

After being sprung in the spring of 2009, Gucci went right back to the booth, recording and releasing an arsenal of mixtapes for the streets (Writing on the Wall and Gangsta Grillz: The Movie: Part 2 with DJ Drama). Plus, he laid verses for some of this year’s biggest radio hits (Mario’s “Break Up,” Mariah Carey’s “Obsessed” and the Black Eyed Peas’ “Boom Boom Pow [Remix]”), satisfying both his core base and, now, the casual hip-hop fan. In perhaps his boldest statement, Gucci dropped a trio of mixtapes dubbed the Cold War series (Guccimerica, Brrrussia and Great Brrritain) in just one day this past October. It’s become clear that, as a rapper, Gucci has been racking up wins in the court of public opinion.

The State vs. Radric Davis serves as the type of art-imitating-life work that hip-hop fans historically eat up. It’s key to note that it marks Gooch’s graduation from the indie Asylum (where he released his debut studio album, Back to the Traphouse) to its parent major label, Warner Bros., and the music reflects that. Clearly, the label spared no expense, and the Polow Da Don–crafted, Usher-assisted first single, “Spotlight,” is the chief example. The well-polished pop track, complete with all-too-perfect 808 drums and superclean bass lines, does little to complement La Flare’s gruff vocal tone and Southern bravado. He simply struggles to find his footing alongside Usher’s overpowering R&B hook. Not that Gucci can’t turn an R&B trick, though. He fares much better on the Zaytoven-produced “I Think I’m Fallin’ in Love.” The title suggests a sugar-flavored relationship record, but that couldn’t be further from the truth, as Gucci chooses game spittin’ in place of sweet nothings, with lines like, “Yeah, I’m a bachelor, but I’m working on my master’s/No, I’m not a doctor, but my money is way past one.” The Keyshia Cole duet “Bad, Bad, Bad” follows a similar path, while “Sex in Crazy Places,” with Bobby Valentino, Trina and Nicki Minaj, is just downright dirty.

Fans of Gucci’s mixtapes need not worry—the album features a healthy amount of the hardened material that has made Mr. So Icey revered in the streets. “Heavy,” an ode to the rapper’s collection of gaudy chains, is a standout, with its over-the-top one-liners (“I wish a nigga would run up on me like Brisco”), while the Lil Wayne/Cam’ron collaboration “Stupid Wild” is sure to unite Southern and East Coast fans. It doesn’t stop there. La Flare holds his own in the company of proven artists like Rick Ross (“All About My Money”) and Plies (“Wasted”), but he exhibits the most chemistry on the weed anthem “Kush Is My Cologne,” featuring Bun B, E-40 and a scene-stealing verse by Devin the Dude.

Amid all the disc’s co-stars, however, listeners rarely get a glimpse of the real Radric Davis. Maybe that’s what makes the soul-baring “My Worst Enemy” so good, especially when Gucci touches on his Young Jeezy beef with earnest rhymes like, “The day they tried to murder me, a day I can’t forget about/And I don’t wish no death on homie, I just want him to hear me out.” It’s a shame the album doesn’t offer more songs like it. The bouncy “Lemonade,” where Gooch gushes over his lemon-colored rims and lemon-flavored weed, is clever, but ultimately it could’ve been left on the cutting-room floor. Same goes for the forgettable “Amnesia,” featuring Keri Hilson.

When it comes to his real-life troubles, the jury is still out on Radric Davis. Another ill-timed probation violation could very well land landed him back behind bars. So, in that regard, his story is still untold. On the other hand, musically, The State vs. Radric Davis has proven the rapper’s case beyond a reasonable doubt. So when rap fans ask if he is now a bankable hip-hop star, let the record show that Gucci Mane is guilty as charged. —Rob Markman