Gucci Mane's "Woptober" is an excellent, back-to-basics counterpoint to "Everybody Looking."
Everybody Looking was an almost perfectly-executed comeback album. Everything about it, from its quick turnaround, to Mike Will Made It's elephantine stomp, to the clear changes in Gucci Mane's voice and rhymes, to his triumphant posture on the cover, painted it as a triumphant return of mythological proportions. But once Odysseus returned home to Ithaca and slaughtered all of his wife's suitors, once Jason slayed the dragon and acquired the golden fleece, where did they go from there? For GuWop, the only choice was returning to the basics. He's reclaimed his throne, but now he has to remind people why it was his in the first place.
Gucci didn't earn his legacy on the backs of big-budget albums like Everybody Looking, although The State Vs. Radric Davis remains an important touchstone. He did it with relentless mixtapes, light in concept and high-profile collaborations, but heavy on personality. Woptober sees him returning to his most successful formula with a reinvigorated sense of purpose, and winding up with something just as impressive as Everybody Looking, if for an entirely different set of reasons.
He opens Woptober similarly to how Everybody Looking began-- with a "fuck you"-- but it's more in-your-face this time. Unlike the call for pathos of "I can't even sleep I got so much to say/Fuck the feds, fuck the police, fuck the DEA," we get "I still don't give a fuck how a fuckboy feel," a direct shot at lames rather than the powers that be. This time, Gucci's main targets are the snitches and haters, not cops and imitators, and for them he's reserved the type of rage that's unfit for courtrooms and radio airwaves: "Fuck your Jam of the Week, I put grams in the street"; "I don't give a fuck 'bout a record, I got a criminal record." Everybody Looking was a public-facing triumph-- something record execs and pop listeners both could be okay with-- but now that they, as well as the casual-listening public, have moved their focus to the next big narrative, Wop's slunk back into the shadows and made a street-level sequel.
Gone is the benevolent ruler who spoke in a faux-British accent, only gently chided his "children," and made his biggest "fuck you" ("At Least A M") sound like a lullaby. As Gucci tweeted at the time of its release, "Woptober is one aggressive ass muthafuckin album." Instead of the flamboyant voices of Drake, Kanye West, and Young Thug, we get the bullish presences of Rick Ross and Young Dolph, who barrel through their verses without so much as a single change in pitch. Mike Will's more radio-ready pomp is replaced by Metro Boomin and London On Da Track's iciest beats to date, as well as reunions with two guys instrumental in shaping Gucci's original sound, Will-A-Fool and Drumma Boy. Zaytoven's still on hand for four tracks, but even his exuberant pianos and organs are downright wintry. In terms of its downcast, austere sound, Woptober is like a trap version of If You're Reading This It's Too Late, its hi-hats sounding like pebbles skittering across ice, its bass sounding like far-off avalanches.
True to Gucci's earlier career though, even the hardest tracks and sentiments are tempered with moments of sheer lyrical glee. He toned down his cartoonish impulses for Everybody Looking, but in keeping with this album's back-to-basics approach, he lets loose a few of those classic Gucci bars for old times' sake. Listen to the way his voice bounds around the incredible second verse on "Hi-Five," or how it slips back into old flows on the line "Right wrist glarin', but my left wrist glowin'" (every time I hear this I expect it to be followed by a line from "Pillz," "I'm ridin' in my drop, but I don't know where I'm goin'"). Although Woptober's lyrical content isn't as sunny on paper as Everybody Looking's, this is the stuff Gucci's excelled at for years, and he sounds like he has a lot more fun playing the menacing-yet-hilarious street titan than the repentant, honorable ruler. His last album was one he had to make, both for personal and career reasons; this one feels more natural.
Everybody Looking was rife with real-world clarity, moments that anyone even remotely familiar with Gucci's story could hear and link to what was actually going on in his life at the time. Woptober is lighter on those, opting for more standard generalizing, but in Gucci's continued focus on his personal story and current well-being, it's clear that this is a post-prison, 2016 Gucci tape, rather than an '08 or '09 project. There's cheeky nods to rumors like "Think I'm a clone but if they cut me then sauce gon' ooze out," but beyond that, the last two tracks form a sobering end to an otherwise ecstatic ride. "Out The Zoo" still portrays Gucci as savagely as the rest of the tape, but in a different, more derogatory light. The downside of calling yourself a savage is being called a savage by those who mean it as an insult; the downside of bragging about cheap bricks is the jail time that often follows; the downside of rap bringing you wealth, he says, is that wealth destroying your health. "Out The Zoo" and "Addicted" are the type of self-aware, soberly mature moments we never saw in Gucci's early days, and although they instantly kill the buzz of the preceding eleven tracks, they're powerful and necessary.
Woptober resoundingly answers the "What's next?" question many had after Everybody Looking. Of course Gucci's time in the national spotlight would be short-lived, of course he couldn't keep making each album more grandiose and big-budget than the last, so he needed to find a way forward that was as fertile as his old formula, but didn't feel like a soulless retread. He's accomplished that with an album that makes up for lower stakes with sheer aggression, and keeps him acting his age with its weighty conclusion. I'd be totally content with five more of these by the end of 2017.