On a September day in 2013, Gucci Mane looked around his studio, The Brick Factory, and noticed that he had more firearms than friends. At that time, he was completely strung out on codeine and so alarmingly paranoid that no one wanted to be around him—even his now-fiancé, Keyshia Ka'oir.
"If I was going back to jail anyway, I might as well go find these niggas I'd been having problems with," he remembers. He'd decided to go after some old friends that had been sending threats his way, even if that meant killing them before they got to him. Those plans were railroaded when a cop noticed him storming around Atlanta's Moreland Avenue, eventually tranquilizing him for being armed and unwilling to cooperate. That was the last strike needed to send Guwop to prison for three years.
This scene, which reads like a drugged out crime thriller on A&E, is how the prologue of The Autobiography of Gucci Mane begins. The rapper's memoir, written with Neil Martinez-Belkin, is a thorough look into the experiences that molded one of rap's most polarizing figures in recent memory. It's out September 19 under publishing house Simon & Schuster.
The Gucci from that fateful day—who'd go on to serve nearly three years in prison before getting released in May of 2016—is not the one on the other end of the line during a recent conversation. At the beginning of our exchange, he is quick to thank me for calling. The less-congested and well-put-together Guwop that's been on screens over the past year sounds equally refreshed on the phone. He talks at length about a variety of subjects: his trips to Daytona Beach during his early hustling days, bumping Project Pat as a teenager, meeting Zaytoven before he ever thought about taking rap seriously, and more. "I appreciate you and wish you well on all you got goin'," is how he parted ways with me.
After reading his memoir, learning more details about the 37-year-old's life story, and considering his sophisticated wordplay, it's no shock that Mr. Zone 6 would make the leap to expressing himself in longform when given the chance to slow down. But as he describes in the book's prologue, he needed an outside force to initiate that deceleration. Before he began his sentence, Gucci admitted that he was on an assured quick route to destruction, by his own doing or another's. He wrote a series of memoirs during his bid about his origins in Bessemer, Alabama, how he got his first big look as an artist, and the legacy he's still building. Those reflections became his autobiography. It's the type of story you usually get when an artist isn't in high demand anymore but Gucci is currently experiencing more commercial success than he's ever had, without a ceiling in clear sight.
Noisey: A lot of artists have said that it took their whole life to write their debut albums. Would you say that writing your first book is comparable to that theory?
Gucci Mane: Yeah it is some parallels. When I made my first real album, which was Trap House, this reminded me of that because like, it's more to come. When I was making Trap House it was to let people know, 'This how I'm coming," and I'm coming with something else after that. With this book, I look at it like I want people to get something from this and say, "I can't wait 'til he do another one." This is talking about my origin, telling about my grandparents. I couldn't write that book right now. That was a time of me telling my story while in a place where it's just me and four walls.
Since it's been finalized have you gone back to read it or is it the type of experience that you don't want to revisit?
I read it a couple of times since I wrote it. When I got the hard cover made, I wanted to experience it like the average reader reading it for the first time. Even when I read it now, it's weird; it's gives me a crazy feeling. It kind of gives me goosebumps because it's scary. I went through a lot and every time I read it I remember all those feelings. I can remember. That's why I say it was a real trying time.
At one point in the book you talk about how Memphis rappers really influenced you in your younger years, specifically Project Pat. You mentioned being able to connect with his music on every level but as a listener, it seems like you picked up some stylistic things from him as well. When he first came out, his style was really unorthodox too.
It's the timing too. When I was hustling and I was trapping, Project Pat was super hot at the time. Life to me is just a bunch of time capsules. During those years of 18-23, that was my soundtrack to me hustling. I remember being in the car, playing Pat. We used to hustle all year and go to Daytona spring break. We'd drive down there, bring the cars down there. And I remember that's what we was playing riding up and down the strip, Ghetty Green and Layin da Smack Down. His career parallels mine; a lot of rappers respect me to this day because they be saying, "Man, I was listening to you when I was in college. I was in high school." That was their soundtrack and it's crazy. That's why I understand the fascination with me. I understand how people love my music because it's a part of those years of their life.
You also touch on how your "Black Tee" track launched your career once Bun B and Killer Mike agreed to hop on the remix. If you can remember, how much did that encourage you to keep pushing as a young artist?
It was amazing. I remember like it was yesterday 'cause it was Killer Mike and Bun B at the same time so I respected both of them. I liked Killer Mike but I was a huge—if Project Pat is my favorite artist then UGK got to be my favorite group. So to actually meet Bun B and he say he'll get on it, that was big! Somebody whose music I appreciate and who I respect as a person was down to do a song with me. Once I did the remix, Atlanta took to it instantly. Soon as I did the song I was pressing up CDs and putting it in the clubs the same night. The response was immediate. It was like damn, he got Bun, Killer Mike, and Scrappy? How did he pull that off? I was unsigned, still selling dope everyday at that time. So it was big for me to pull that off.
There was a part where you talked about artists not always taking to Zaytoven's production style because it wasn't popular in the city. Do you remember specific times of people not realizing what he was onto?
Atlanta loved "So Icy." They embraced it from the day it came out but once it kind of went nationwide, some people liked it, some people didn't. I still remember when it debuted on 106 & Park, way back when. You know how after the video is over and they asked the crowd about the song? Everybody in the crowd said they didn't like it. They were like "We don't like it," or "It sounds funny." That was the response. I was so happy that my video was on 106 & Park but for the whole nation to hear that feedback, they didn't understand it. It still went on to do great things but a lot of people didn't understand what we was doing back then. But I was doing so many mixtapes, we made them respect it.
What was it about Zay that really stuck out to you? Was it that his sound was so weird?
It's kind of destiny. God put us on the same path at the same time. Both of us was like 18, just getting out of high school. He was going to barber school and making beats. I'm selling dope and somebody I went to school with had a little artist and they was going to Zay and they needed help financing his first CD. When they brought me to Zay, we just hit it off. One day he told me, "Won't you try to rap?" That's why he's so important to me. He would say I shouldn't say it, but I owe my career to Zay because he opened the doors to the studio for me and if it wasn't for him, I wouldn't have took it so serious. He was the one saying, "You the dopest one out of everybody that come to my house." It got to point of him telling me he didn't want money from me. He just wanted me to record everyday. He would say, "You gon' be the reason I blow up." You gotta think, he got a million people coming to the studio and they just brought me to do the paper stuff. He had never heard me rap before. "You rap to this point, then you make a chorus," he'd say. "You stack your vocals." Of course I had my own pizazz and my own charm but he gave me the structure. That's why I'm so loyal to him.
It seems like you took the model that Zay took with you as far as really believing and investing in someone. Because if you look now, there's not many Atlanta artists that can't be traced back to you at their beginnings.
That's another thing I gotta give Zay credit for. I got that strategy from him because when I used to go to his studio, that's how I know Yung LA, Yung Ralph, and Bankroll Fresh. Zay had those guys in his studio when they were like 17 or 18. It got the point where I'd be like, "Damn, why every time I come over here you got different people here?" He'd say, "I don't even charge those young dudes. They so hard." That's his whole mentality; they so hard that he just like creating with them. He thought they made his beats harder. He'd rather give them the beat than sell it to such-and-such because they gon' snap on it. I would vibe with them. I was doing stuff with Bankroll Fresh when he was 17 years old. Nobody knew him. It was all because of Zay. So I started thinking like, if somebody dope, just work with them. That started to be my strategy. All I gotta do is think that they got talent. If I feel like they got talent then I feel like we could collaborate and make something that's dope. It's not like I'm saying I'm gonna help their career. I know I'm hard and everybody say you dope so let's go in the studio and see what come out of it.
Do you have a specified community or group that you hope this book ends up in the hands of?
Not at all. You just gotta jump out there. It might not be cool to write a book to some people but to those people, my job is not to change the way they're thinking. My job is to express myself creatively and doing what I feel is dope. I would love for everybody to enjoy, to get it, and get something out of it. But to each its own. You can't concern yourself with who it's gonna touch. If it's good enough, it's gonna touch who it needs to touch.
Lawrence Burney is a staff writer at Noisey. Follow him on Twitter.
Cam Kirk is an Atlanta-based photographer. Follow him on Instagram.