Whether he’s adding new additions to his own expansive catalogue or keeping up with new waves of hip-hop as they happen, Gucci Mane is never one to stay stationary. Instead, the man that’s often cited as a pioneer of trap music is always trying to push himself forward and bring an entourage of budding talent along with him.

Built from the ashes of the original, Mizay Entertainment-backed So Icey Ent, Gucci’s 1017 Records is now a well-established brand name and has an illustrious distributor in Atlantic. As Gucci told XXL in July 2020, his primary goal with the label is to equip new rappers with everything they require to escape adversity and succeed.

"I wanna share [with new artists]. I feel like I got a lot of knowledge," he revealed. "That what you can be charitable with.... I always embraced the hardcore rapper that don't nobody want to fuck with, that everyone blackballed or whatever. Those be the people I open my doors to."

Ollie Millington/Redferns/Getty Images

Prone to spotting potential long before it’s apparent to others, Gucci’s instinctual approach to A&R is exemplified by how Young Thug entered his orbit-- praise from longtime confidant Peewee Longway was all it took to seal the deal.

"I had a bag with some money and got $25,000 out and I signed Thug right there," Gucci recalled. "Never even heard a song from him."

Within a year of releasing 1017 Thug, the enigmatic Jeffery left Gucci’s label and broke out to craft his own legacy. But, as is the case with many stars that have gone on to reshape hip-hop in their own image over the past decade, an early co-sign from Guwop proved instrumental in legitimizing Thug to a wider hip-hop audience.

From helping Future to escape the shadow of The Dungeon Family ties and map out his own identity on Free Bricks and collaborating with an as-yet unseasoned Nicki Minaj, to alerting Coach K to the existence of Migos and instilling his insatiable work ethic in Young Dolph, Guwop has consciously and consistently used his platform as a launchpad for future mainstays in hip-hop.  

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Future and Young Thug attend Gucci Mane's album release party, 2017 - Prince Williams/WireImage/Getty Images

"Gucci’s definitely a mentor figure," production kingpin Metro Boomin told Noisey back in 2014. "He’s the big homie to everybody. In Atlanta, he’ll get anyone to shine… Gucci definitely has one of the best ears in the industry."

It seems that the East Atlanta Santa’s knack for spotting talent remains as attuned as ever-- even if it doesn't always work out in his favor. When that does happen, like when he missed out on the chance to sign Mulatto, he still featured on one of her early breakout tracks anyway ("Muwop"). Lest we forget when Gucci offered Gunna $1 million to sign to 1017-- although he already had a deal. Gucci never hesitates to make his admiration of a new artist known. Likewise, when he gifted Lil Baby with a 1017 chain for, as he put it, “saving the city,” it seemed totally natural. 

However, where these Guwop-approved artists have gone on to become paradigm-shifting stars in their own right, his actual label signees have seemingly failed.

Despite Gucci’s renown as a benefactor to generations of MCs, retracing his steps as both an informal tastemaker and an A&R for own his label highlights a sharp contrast between the two; between those rappers who've simply received a public endorsement, or a series of collaborations, versus those who've chosen to sign on the dotted line.

When it comes down to it, 1017 has always presented talent that impresses, but never necessarily inspires devotion or shakes the fabric of the genre-- or the culture-- in the way that many of the artists whose paths have more casually, or perhaps more briefly, intersected with Gucci, have been able to.

Now, tasked with overseeing the careers of a new crop of prospects in Memphis’ Pooh Sheisty, Foogiano, Big Scarr, Roboy and his So Icey Girlz, K Shiday, and Enchanting, it seems a fitting time to examine whether placing your eggs in 1017’s basket maximizes your chances of success or if, in reality, it’s best to avoid contractual ties to the ATL legend in favor of unofficial support and public co-signs.

To examine where things go wrong for 1017’s artists in comparison to those that are simply co-signed by Guwop, we need to first consider the reason that they put pen to paper. When you look at the rationale behind the deals, Gucci's track record doesn’t tend to come into the equation. Instead, these new artists tend to focus on their, either imagined or genuine, personal relationship with Gucci, perhaps even from a fan-level. 

"It ain’t no question Wop is a legend," New 1017 signee Big Scarr relayed. "He’s my momma’s favorite rapper…  It’s crazy I’m signed to him."

Similarly, Chicago’s Lil Wop, who has an ice cream cone tattooed onto his face in homage to Guwop, described signing with his hero as a "dream come true." 

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Lil Wop at the New York HNHH Office - Image by HNHH

Beyond simple adoration for Gucci, the fact that he isn’t frugal when it comes to the artists' paydays is also key to understanding why rappers will rush to affiliate themselves with his stable. Just as he’d offered Gunna two years prior, March 2020 saw him ink a million dollar deal with Foogiano, when he could’ve easily attempted to lowball the Greensboro, GA rapper. Yet in spite of what appears to be both parties’ best intentions, these high-powered deals seldom translate into successful careers for Gucci’s signees, and before long, either their hype simply peters out or they’re looking for the exit.

Far from a new phenomenon, this has been the case since the days where OJ Da Juiceman seemed to be on the rise as Atlanta’s next great hope and a cornerstone of the Icey Gang roster, only to be lost in the shuffle amid the stampede of artists that Gucci had co-signed at the turn of the decade. And when breaking down how almost every artist that’s hedged their bets on a deal with Guwop has gradually fallen by the wayside, OJ’s career trajectory serves as the blueprint for their misfortunes. 

Among the few artists to be present for the So Icey, Bricksquad, and 1017 eras of Gucci’s career, OJ migrated with Guwop when he severed ties to Mizay Entertainment and linked up with Asylum Records in 2010. 

“I’m taking control of all of my business properties and keeping the focus on my career, my music and my artists,” Gucci told AllHipHop.Com as the transition came to light. “All the pieces to the puzzle are finally in place.”

But in spite of Gucci’s assurances, OJ's most successful spell came before he followed his longtime friend to his new stable, with his 2009 debut album, Tha Otha Side Of The Trap, entering the US rap charts at number 9. 

Boosted in large part by the smash single “Make The Trap Say Aye,” OJ's prospects looked bright as he entered a new decade, and it appeared that, besides for Guwop himself, he was the man to take the label to the next level. Yet as he became a stalwart of Gucci’s camp, OJ gradually receded into the background, with a string of mixtapes emerging to a muted response before his 2014 sophomore album, The Otis Williams JR Story, failing to register on the same cultural level as his previous effort.

In OJ’s opinion, he and Gucci’s decision to part ways wasn't the product of anger or resentment. Instead, the man that Gucci would praise for his loyalty in 2019 argued that it’s a matter of Guwop’s priorities residing elsewhere. 

"Right now bruh on a mission. Bruh trying to get that bag. Bruh went and did a three piece. I respect the game," he claimed in 2017. "Even if y'all don't see us right now. Bruh gon' do him, Ima do me and when the time comes...what they call it, perfect timing is key."

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OJ Da Juice and Gucci Mane at Gucci Mane's Black Tie Gala, February 2020 - Prince Williams/Wireimage/Getty Images

Through this insight from OJ, a picture emerges of how, and why, so many of Gucci’s signees may seemingly ditch the label, or else get ditched. While they weren't torn apart by major ideological differences or beef, it was the business relationship between OJ and Gucci that ultimately frayed. 

Most of 1017’s past signees have watched on as Gucci teamed up with outside forces, such as Migos, Young Dolph, and Lil Uzi Vert while they gradually followed OJ’s journey into obscurity. 

In modern times, 1017’s first-ever female signee Asian Doll kept this tradition alive when she went from signing with the label after getting “family vibes” from Guwop and his wife, Keyshia Ka’Oir to asking for her release just two years later, forfeiting much of the buzz that she’d been building from 2016 when she was releasing mixtapes at a rapid rate. In January 2020, after publicly expressing her wish to be independent a year prior, Asian Doll revealed, "I ASKED GUCCI MANE TO RELEASE ME FROM 1017 A COUPLE DAYS AGO & HE SAID ‘OKAY’ IM OFFICIALLY AN INDEPENDENT ARTIST."

To this end, she’s by no means alone. Bursting out of the ATL with a hail of momentum, the twinned signings of Lil Quill and Yung Mal garnered a lot of hype out of the gate for their infectious on-wax chemistry. But soon enough, they too would be lost in the shuffle and disappeared from the roster with little fanfare or formal announcement. Instead of being broached by Gucci upfront, both Mal and Lil Quill were simply let out of the blueprint for the label’s latest rebrand, with Lil Quill hinting towards some sort of label-oriented limbo as he claimed to be ‘still under contract, but not in contract’ during a December 2020 interview with The Progress Report. Meanwhile, his rhyming partner Yung Mal has kept his cards similarly close to the chest in regards to where he stands with 1017, but has identified himself to be the CEO of a new, independent venture.

In the case of New Jersey’s Hoodrich Pablo Juan, 2019’s BLO: The Movie had all the makings of a breakout project and packed a punch in terms of high-powered features, but he ultimately failed to recapture the audience’s attention in the way that he’d once wielded it withDesigner Drugz 3’s smash single “We Don’t Luv Em.” Much like Yung Mal and Lil Quill before him, Juan is now operating under his own, Empire distribution-affiliated banner of Mony Pwr Rspct.

Despite these budding artists' deal with Gucci going sour, it seems that, apart from Lil Wop, each still parted ways on good terms. Quill even described their relationship as “cordial’ despite the confusion over his contract status. 

Where this laundry list of failures seems to suggest that Guwop can pinpoint talent a mile away, but doesn’t always know how to harness it, his rollout of the 'New 1017' indicates that this may no longer be the case. 

Scooped up by the label after Gucci heard one song, Memphis' Pooh Sheisty has already achieved more since he was signed in April of last year, than the entire previous crop of signees did during their entire spell.  

With his debut project Shiesty Season clocking in first-week units of 65k, it’s Gucci’s biggest success as an A&R that didn’t bear his name, since friend-turned-nemesis Waka Flocka Flame’s Flockaveli. It also suggests that there’s a new pace for 1017’s current class to try and match. And when you look at it from a sheerly numerical standpoint, this new wave of signees that he showcased on October’s So Icey Gang Vol 1 are already far outweighing what Lil Wop or Asian Doll were commanding in terms of views or sales, and are positioned as stars in a way that Gucci perhaps failed to achieve with his previous acquisitions.

Armed with well over a decade of experience as an A&R, talent scout, and label head, it seems that Gucci is learning from both the success stories that he’s played a part, just as much as the failures. By placing the New 1017 centerstage, alongside one flagship artist in particular-- Pooh Shiesty-- as he once did with Thugger, OJ Da Juiceman, or Waka Flocka, Guwop has given not only Pooh, but the artists that will take up the label's mantle afterward, a better chance at succeeding.

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The New 1017: Foogiano and Pooh Shiesty - Prince Williams/Wireimage/Getty Images