032c, December 2018
Bruh. What the fuck? This ain’t no pool, your boy Guwop in the lagoon.”
In June 2018 the rapper Gucci Mane uploaded a video to Instagram in which he takes a dip in “the fountain of youth” at Iceland’s Blue Lagoon. He can barely contain his joy, stepping from the cold air into the geothermal hotspot, and the Internet responded in kind: “Gucci Mane is out here living his best life, in case you haven’t noticed,” said The Global Grind.
Other sources called the video “precious,” a “must watch” moment of purity. He was two years into his post-incarceration metamorphosis, a period during which the rapper has been so “good,” and seemed so well, that fans have been divided between support and confusion. Between the other-worldly glow of the fluorescent blue water and the rocky black volcanic landscape, the Iceland post captured the essence of the new Gucci Mane narrative: he wades in, innocent and amazed, to emerge renewed.
Gucci Mane – aka Guwop, né Radric Delantic Davis – got his first passport this year, and I’d watch him take it anywhere. When we spoke, I asked him if he would ever consider a travel show – “Gucci’s Grand Tour,” maybe. “After I did the story in the lagoons, NBC stepped to me and asked if I wanted to do the Anthony Bourdain type thing,” he told me. “I don’t think I have the time, and I definitely don’t think they have the money.” The rapper knows how to entertain outside of music: it took me a beach day to read his 2017 New York Times bestseller, The Autobiography of Gucci Mane, a redemption tale written in such a personal style that it feels like a casual conversation turned confessional on a cross-country flight. The book covers Gucci’s early life in Bessemer, Alabama, his middle school introduction to selling drugs, the development of his intertwined musical and criminal careers, and his arrests and time inside – all with humanity and seemingly without deflection, setting up the rapper as an antihero, and the reader to root for the villain. Underlying his admissions is a pattern of repetition, and withdrawal: Gucci makes headway in the world, then retreats, his East Atlanta studio – The Brick Factory – appearing as a fortress and shelter from the limelight he so aggressively sought. The autobiography ends with the suggestion that the cycle is over: “Three years to replay things in my head over and over and over until I stopped replaying them. Until I just let them go.” A movie adaptation is currently in the works with Paramount Pictures and Imagine Entertainment – “We’re still developing the script,” says Gucci, who is open to playing himself. “Whatever makes the movie come across as authentic as possible.” That only gets us to 2016 – a halfway point – and putting down Autobiography made me want to know Gucci now.
Gucci’s childhood home in Bessemer is just a two-and-a-half-hour drive from our house in Atlanta – I couldn’t not go. When I got to the intersection of Alabama Avenue and 19th Street North, time seemed to slow down. Every now and then small groups of teens pent up from doing nothing over here walked over there, to also do nothing. On the street-facing façade of the Square Deal Bakery someone had re-painted a ghost mural that I imagined scintillated customers back in 1922: “FRESH BREAD & CAKES,” it read, a memory flash in the upper corner of a blinding red Coca-Cola sign. “PHONE 983.” Old Bessemer, a city so small that it only took three digits to call someone. Just a few minutes away, in the middle of 1st Ave North is number 1017: the 675 square foot house where Gucci was born in 1980. He was surprised I made the pilgrimage – “You went there? What did you think about that money green house?!” – but keeps his beginnings close. “Anytime I go to Alabama I try to go by that house,” he says. “It’s just a humbling experience.”
Meanwhile Gucci is working on himself. He reads Malcolm Gladwell, whose 2001 The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make A Big Difference is one of the books he discovered in prison, and still turns to for “daily affirmations.” He and Gladwell began chatting on Twitter after Gucci’s release in 2016, leading to a 2017 YouTube Space “in conversation” between the rapper and the New Yorker staff writer – whose Giuliani-era advocacy of hard policing for minor crimes in Tipping Point makes the connection all the more surprising. “When a lot of things are going crazy and it’s a hectic day, you read something that you know is going to be the truth tomorrow and was the truth yesterday. It will keep you going, and it keeps me focused,” Gucci tells me of his library – which also includes works by Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps to Living at Your Full Potential author Joel Osteen, and Rob Greene, whose bestsellers include The 48 Laws of Power, and The 50th Law (written with rapper 50 Cent). “I’m thinking about writing another book,” Gucci told me when I asked him if he has any new business ventures in the works. He’s half-joked about co-authoring something with Gladwell. If they share one secret, it’s the formula for a bestseller.