Available on: Mad Decent free download
The latest of Mad Decent boss Diplo’s extra-cool, super-now mixtape projects, Free Gucci features new remixes of the currently incarcerated Atlanta rapper – contributors include Flying Lotus, Salem, Zomby and more – and has already generated more than its fair share of internet beef, guaranteeing that the tape will be remembered more for the fuss involved than the music on show.
Free Gucci starts off with a big sweat whiff of mixtape ego, a car commercial voice announcing that no one has swaggah like Mad Decent, and that Diplo is the crunkest DJ in the world. Following this proclamation is a mash-up of Gucci’s ‘Danger’s not a Stranger’ and Mariah Carey’s ‘Can’t let Go’ instrumental. The satirical effect of the bootleg could have been played up or toned down – either approach would have made the track more interesting. As it is, it’s simply pleasant and easy on the ears, but nothing to write home about.
Following Bird Peterson’s unfortunate mix of ‘Dope Boys’ is an appearance by Memory Tapes, taking on ‘Excuse Me’. There’s almost no connection between Gucci’s vocals here and the instrumental, but the backing is brilliant and tightly wound. In fact, it’s possible that this would have been better with no Gucci at all, which is almost never true of anything. As one of the better instrumentals on this tape, it’s puzzling why its relationship to the vocal sounds so arbitrary – one wonders if Diplo requested the instrumental then tacked on vocals after.
Moving on, the Douster remix of ‘Frowny Face’ deserves credit for trying to recreate the sort of instrumental (a Bangladesh instrumental more precisely) that Gucci might actually choose, pulling the vocals and backing closer. Emynd follows with a remix of the same track and calls in a new verse from Playboi Tre, who really gels with the juked out instrumental. A DJ Teenwolf remix, minimal and timbre-conscious, follows, and leads us into mixtape’s sweet spot.
Dubbing out Gucci’s drawl to compliment the angular, hypnotic quality of his beat, the ever-prolific Zomby follows with a wonderful, swarming treatment of ‘Boi’, a creative take that conjures up images of a flock of Gucci birds circling a throbbing, dark glass pyramid. Free Gucci then slides into Salem’s beautiful re-work of ‘My Shadow’, the gem of this tape. Channeling and accentuating the deep-lying, emotional essence of Gucci’s verses, Salem produce a wholesome composition from a minimal set of elements, looping the track’s chorus to great effect. Diplo’s obnoxious tag at the end only partially subverts its beauty.
Flying Lotus’s remix of ‘Photo Shoot’ has been hovering around the barn rafters of the blogosphere for a while now. This beat is a bat scrambling wildly through the air, blinded and lost in sunlight like a dark demon spirit possessing Gucci’s voice, puppet-like, then swallowing it whole. Really there’s not even need for a vocal on this dizzy instrumental; Gucci’s choruses sound like smothered cries buried underneath it.
Meanwhile Mumdance’s remix of ‘I Be Everywhere’ is noticeable in the same way the Douster remix is, for sounding organic in relation to Gucci’s vocal. It’s got a slick sitar intro, and is way better than the next remix of ‘I Be Everywhere’; metallic dubstep afterbirth trash courtesy of DZ.
At this point the tape is limping, half-dead. Willy Joy and DJ Benzi offer up rhythmic accuracy, half-baked club references and not much else, while the last track is a Diplo remix with some mentionable percussion work, but not enough to make it stand out. Luckily someone had the great idea of calling in Lil B for a verse to save it; more kudos are given for calling in new guest appearances to compliment the old ones.
To summarise, Free Guci could have gone a lot better, or it could have not gone at all. There’s definitely no harm in downloading it, as it’s free, or you could just go after the full length versions of the stronger tracks (Zomby, Salem, Mumdance, Flying Lotus) if and when they become available. Credit’s deserved for Diplo et al taking on this project and giving away the results for free, but Free Gucci could have done with looking back on a long history of stale gangster rap remix projects, and rap remixes in general. Vocals that sound arbitrary, the familiarity of original instrumentals distorting our expectations of new ones, sound files that offer none of the impact of working with real live vocalists – it’s all here.
Still, as much as one might cringe at the idea of capitalizing on Gucci Mane’s jail term, I’m intrigued to hear if another similar project yields more evolved and creative results.