I didn't listen to each and every one of the 32 projects Gucci Mane released during his three year stint in federal prison, but I can say that of the 15 or so I am familiar with, none have anything approaching how heavy the majority of his first post-prison release is. Gucci had a ton of material lying around when he went away, most of it relatively close in character to what he was doing on 2013's uneven State Vs. Radric Davis II project, and none of it reflecting his mental state behind bars. When he was busy attending rehab in prison and writing new material on scratch paper, his label was still releasing tracks in which he glorified lean usage. This didn't necessarily affect the quality of that music (though most of it was subpar for other reasons), but it was strange to hear Old Gucci being touted as New Gucci, especially after learning of the immense changes he's gone through in the past three years. 

Compare GuWop's first bar on the last verse he put out before his release-- "Got your hoe in the scope, you know my Unc on dope"-- with the first bar on "1st Day Out The Feds"-- "I'm hearing shooters loading pistols while I'm brushing my teeth"-- and you've got all you need to know about those changes. (Even more striking is the difference between that track and the similarly-titled "First Day Out," the post-jail 2009 track that basically consists of him being overjoyed that he can get high once more.) On one hand, you've got nonspecific rambling that uses standard trap language for pretty aimless purposes; on the other, paranoia that continues to afflict a rapper who's now just trying to live a normal, comfortable life. Gucci made his name putting a deceptively friendly face and bright beats on rap's most explicitly violent genre (pre-drill, at least), and even though the recognizable charisma and handful of jokes that do show up on Everybody Looking are enough to prove that this is not the work of a clone, Gucci seems to have entirely different goals for his music. 

Maybe it's just the fact that there is a noticeable goal-- reclaiming his spot, staying out of trouble, and proving his legacy-- that sets this apart from the rest of Wop's discography, where free-associative, drug-enhanced freestyling led to baffling lyrical gems (sample: "Gucci Mane crazy I might pull up on a zebra / Land on top a eagle, smoke a joint of reefer") with little to no regard for concepts that lasted longer than a single verse. This scattered-but-smart, spontaneous approach has had as much of an influence on hip hop as a whole as Lil Wayne's slightly more linear style did five years prior, with droves of druggy rappers using Gucci's tasteful experiments with the bizarre as jumping-off-points for their own personal styles. Everybody Looking is your brain off drugs. There are startlingly fewer "He said what?!" moments than we're used to (except when the still-decidedly-not-sober Young Thug comes through with a "My teeth whiter than a toilet tissue" in his guest verse). Everything's allowed to coalesce into a more meaningful whole, especially with Zaytoven and Mike Will Made It's superb work as executive producers.

I imagine it was a major challenge to pair two producers with such contrasting styles-- Zay's day-glo tones and Mike Will's penchant for the ominous-- but you'd never know it from listening to the album. Mike tethers Zay's giddiness to a rock-solid foundation, and the latter never lets the former push the music into territory that's too stoic for Gucci's personality. Alternately conjuring up visions of Vangelis producing Savage Mode (Mike's "Pussy Print") and Bill Withers discovering 808s (their collab track "At Least A M"), this duo who've never officially shared a credit before give their close friend and benefactor a blend of styles that's just grown enough to mark a turning point in his career, but playful enough to appeal to his day-one fans. The pacing is deliberate, methodical, sometimes even plodding in a way that's unusual for Gucci. 

From the first words uttered on the intro, "I can't even sleep I got so much to say," we get about ten times the urgency we're used to from Gucci, who never once sounded like he was rapping because he had to, but rather because he enjoyed it. These days, he's enunciating like he's actually rehearsed his verses (even claiming "I mean what I say/I say what I mean"), and losing sleep over ideas for songs. The back-with-a-vengeance thread carries through to the next two tracks, the incredulous "Out Do Ya" and the single "Back On Road," and even when "Waybach" launches into a classically cartoonish Zay bounce, he's still on the defensive, comparing his stylistic offspring to Elvis impersonators and combatting those who claimed that he was on track to be dropped by Atlantic. As I said before, there's a definite through-line, and (unlike most of his other projects, including the law-themed but overly A&R'd State vs. Radric Davis) no mistaking that this album was recorded during a very specific time in Gucci's life, but it's also pretty clear that no one's lying when they claim that Everybody Looking was made in six days. 

Gucci Mane has always had a funny relationship with the word "lazy," because on one hand, he's in the same class as Lil B when it comes to prolificacy, but on the other, he's in the same class as Lil B when it comes to inconsistency and sheer number of lackluster songs. Sloppiness was an integral part of previous Gucci projects, leading to some brilliantly strange lyrics and a general DGAF attitude that served him well, but when the stakes are this high and he comes out the gate so ferociously, there's really no place for a word rhymed with itself here, or a gratingly repetitive hook there (Gucci, Gucci, Gucci please). Releasing Everybody Looking, Gucci's first major, well-promoted commercial album since 2010's The Appeal: Georgia's Most Wanted, within two months of him coming home is a feat and a half-- both from commercial and logistical perspectives-- but now that he's in this altogether new headspace, it seems like he could've benefitted from a different approach than the tried-and-somewhat-true "put Gucci in the booth for a few days and see what happens" formula.