Gunna come off his breakout year by auto-piloting his way through a well-manicured album.
When Gunna raps, "You gon' need a surfboard when it come to me and Wheezy wave" on his new album, it's not an empty boast. The past year has seen the rap, R&B, and pop worlds latch onto his and his close collaborators' styles, either by mimicking his now-iconic flow, buying into his "drip" slang and aesthetic, or granting him a guest verse. The glo-up is now evident in most corners of Gunna's life, but none more so than his album art. Compare the Rocket Power-riffing cover of the first Drip Or Drown, which came out just 15 months ago, to that of the series' second installment, and it's clear that the vision's increased just as much as the budget. As Earl Sweatshirt put it on Twitter last week, "This Gunna album cover is no joke 10/10 commitment to [water droplet emoji] respect bro."
Jumping into a pool wearing a bunch of expensive clothes and carrying an umbrella does indeed represent a clear commitment to the drip, and everything else about Drip Or Drown 2 is similarly indebted to Gunna's pre-existing artistic persona. The music connects to an aqueous, underwater vibe quite literally, with whale songs on "Wit It," a watery Rhodes and bubbly backwards loop on "Outstanding," rumbling bass undertow on "Big Shot," and rippling synth delay on "Same Yung N****." In this way, Drip Or Drown 2 is perfectly curated and geared towards Gunna's strengths. His production team of Wheezy and Turbo (at least one of whom is involved in every single track on the album) continue to turn in fresh, weird beats that perfectly suit Gunna's syrupy vocals. Better than any previous Gunna project, this album sounds like a Gunna album throughout, with no sonic outliers to mention.
It may have taken over a year for the hypnotic sound that Gunna, Wheezy, and Turbo dreamt up to manifest as a full-length without many concessions to other sounds, but Gunna's had his flow tightened up into something unique since at least the first Drip Or Drown. That, more so than Turbo's guitars or Wheezy's watery soundscapes, is what's proven most influential in the past year. It's bold then, for someone who changed the way plenty of rappers flowed in 2018, to kick off 2019 by bringing so few new flows to the table.
A year and a half ago, it might not have mattered if Gunna spent 16 tracks largely using the same delivery and cadence, as it sounded so new at one point that its freshness might've erased concerns about stagnation. But after a year spent hearing not just Gunna, but Drake, Travis Scott, and others gratuitously using the flows heard on Drip Or Drown 2, it's a tiring prospect. Gunna's lyric aren't devoid of vivid imagery and witty turns of phrase— "Carrots stuck in my teeth when I talk," "He so cap I bought him a real hat," etc.— but his verve has always come from his delivery and swag rather than complex rhyme schemes, metaphors, or eccentric lyricism. Hearing him and his mentor Young Thug trade four-bar bursts is always an exciting prospect, and indeed, "Three Headed Snake" lives up to the high bar set by "Floyd Mayweather" and "Unicorn Purp," but especially considering the song's place on Drip Or Drown 2, it only emphasizes that Gunna’s latched onto one (and only one) of Thug’s styles and run with it.
Gunna's at his best when he's getting mystically in-sync with someone else, whether that means finding pockets and harmonies within a Turbo or Wheezy beat, or playing the softer-spoken foil to Thugger or Lil Baby. On the album's best track, "Derek Fisher," he gets a chance to do both. Turbo's beat is a queasy masterpiece, enough to give most rappers sea legs, but Gunna rides the unorthodox synth swells with an array of perfectly-fitting melodies. Lil Baby then shows up, first mimicking Gunna's flow, then expanding upon it, something that happens all too infrequently elsewhere on Drip Or Drown 2. It's often hard to tell if Gunna's sparse, undercooked vocals are an intentional part of the package, as is clearly the case with his choppy flow on "Speed It Up," or if he’s just coasting. While the album's production's strong enough to allow a lesser rapper fall into the background and turn in some palatable mood music, we expect more from Gunna at this point.
The man behind the songs "Drippin'," and "Drip Too Hard," as well as projects titled Drip Season, Drip Harder, and Drip Or Drown has now found every possible way to say that he is, indeed, dripping ("Drip every day like a runny nose" is the latest). In doing so, he's squeezed the life out of the word. Similarly, Gunna's now found every possible use for the flow he created, and no one will ever dispute his claim to said flow. In this way, Drip Or Drown 2 recalls the stretch in Migos' career (roughly from Yung Rich Nation to Y.R.N. 2) that basically consisted of them claiming again and again to be innovators of the triplet flow and the dab. Everyone knows Gunna created something unique and influential, and although we can forgive him for resting on his laurels for much of the past six months, he's going to have to step up and evolve if he wants his rep to keep up. Migos certainly did it, and I have no doubt that someone as effortlessly creative as Gunna can too.