Photos by Paras Griffin/WireImage
The last time I saw a live Gucci Mane show was, coincidentally, the same day as the last time I attended an Easter Sunday church service. It was fitting, in retrospect. While the two events are at completely different ends of the spectrum of the black experience, both invoke the same type of joyous fervor from their followers. Gucci’s shows always reminded me of a street church service, with Gucci the charismatic pastor delivering street sermons and hood hymns to his faithful congregation. This congregation has only grown in recent years as Gucci’s federally mandated vacation has kept him physically absent from the rap world, where trap music, which he pioneered, is now a nationwide phenomenon.
From his start as hometown hero to the Trap God now known everywhere, strings of events involving the law or disputes within the industry have always kept Gucci one step away from claiming the rap game dominance for which he seemed destined. His latest incarceration came right as Gucci was piecing together what would have been the biggest Southern rap label this side of the 2000s. Besides Gucci’s affiliation with every hot young Atlanta producer, the list of artists that fell under the 1017 umbrella included a who’s who of today’s trap rap scene: OJ da Juiceman, Peewee Longway, Young Thug, Young Dolph, Migos, Chief Keef, Young Scooter, and Waka Flocka Flame. That eye for talent, mixed with Gucci’s business acumen and outstanding street credibility, had Mr. Zone 6 primed to be the next Master P. This was all halted by his three-year sentence, but Gucci’s impact and relentless work ethic allowed him to stay relevant. He continued to release new music during his imprisonment thanks to a stockpile of old verses, pleasing his diehard fans and gaining many more as the legend of the Trap God grew. When he returned home in May, anticipation couldn’t have been higher. He quickly set about giving fans what they were hoping for with a new album, Everybody Looking, which was released Friday, coinciding with his first proper show since his return.
The marquee for Friday night’s show, the grand culmination of the last few years, read simply “GUCCI AND FRIENDS.” Like a megachurch big tent revival, folks of all walks of life, creed, and nationality—Gucci fans old and new—showed up to share in the return of the Trap God. With the current social climate in America, it felt great—surreal even—to see everyone join peacefully for this event. There were Southern white college girls, yuppies, frat bros, working class black and white people, thugs, and everything. Police presence was a lot more lax than one would expect for any Atlanta rap show period, let alone Gucci Mane at the Fox Theatre. Will call was bedlam, but, again, everyone working was joyous, helpful, and patient. The staff was just as excited about the show as the concertgoers. One will call lady called out to the crowd in warning: “Y’all need hurry up and get your tickets so I can see my baby Gucci!”
This celebratory spirit would prevail throughout the night. I walked into the theater and was met with a cloud of every smoke you could imagine as soon as the doors opened. So while I missed the beginning moments of the show, I didn’t mind at all. “Lemonade” blared from the stage, and even from the entrance I could see Gucci’s diamond chains and sequined trap Michael Jackson blazer shining. I lost my wits for a minute, staring and standing in complete awe, trying to take it all in, and the usher had to double back and grab me to take me to my seats.
Left to right: OJ da Juiceman, Zaytoven, and Gucci Mane
Gucci being home definitely means there will be a shift coming in the economics of Atlanta trap music culture, and if the energy of the night was any indication, it’s headed in a positive direction. Seeing a man who has repeatedly beat the odds to grab his own success get to perform, celebrating his freedom and the fruits of years of labor with his adoring fans was a deeply moving experience. Having DJ Holiday as the resident DJ and hypeman for the evening only added to the spectacle: He never missed a beat, inserting drops of “Gucci’s home!” and “Holiday season!” at the exact right moments. After performing a few selections of classic material, Gucci brought out the first of his Friends, OJ da Juiceman. The crowd’s reaction was a more or less how I imagine the citizens of Pompeii reacted when that volcano blew up. It was a party beyond all parties. This would continue throughout the night. His ride or die Keisha Ka’oir (formerly Dior) joined Gucci onstage at various points as he performed trap love songs showing off their charismatic relationship, and she even chimed in and twerked during “I Think I Love Her.”
Gucci’s discography is enormous, and he plowed through tons of hood classics, fan favorites and radio hits, including standouts like “That’s My Hood,” “Freaky Girl,” and “Photoshoot.” Gucci has always been an amazing, larger than life performer, but tonight he was a new Mane, spitting every word flawlessly and barely taking a breath. The effects of the Gucci Clone workout regimen could be seen here, as Gucci laid into verse after verse with maximum energy. He worked the whole stage, dancing, vibing, and passing his enthusiasm onto the fans, who didn’t need much encouragement to dance and rap along.
Top to bottom: Young Dolph, Future, Drake and Gucci Mane
Gucci’s other Friends included 2 Chainz, Young Dolph, Peewee Longway, Fetty Wap, Future, and Drake. Each saluted Gucci and welcomed him home, saying a fews words about how much the trap kingpin meant to them and performing a few songs of their own before leaving, which only added to the festivities. Drake performed “Summer ‘16” and a few songs with Future before sticking around as hypeman ‘til the end of the show. I’ve seen all the acts who showed up perform before at various times, and I can confidently say they performed some of the best sets I’ve seen out of them; Gucci’s energy was obviously infectious. For his part, he seemed just as happy as the fans and rappers themselves to be sharing in these moments. It felt amazing to see Gucci happily dancing alongside longtime Atlanta rap legends and friends like he’d never left. Nothing seemed forced or put on, and all the guests’ performances blended organically into Gucci’s own.
Toward the end of the night, Gucci launched into material from his new album Everybody Looking, which a surprisingly large amount of the crowd already knew. He ended with “First Day Out the Feds,” the first song released following his return to the free world. It was a fitting end and almost a declaration of sorts: This was Gucci telling us that this is a new era.
It really did feel like exactly that, a beautiful awe-inspiring night in Atlanta that ended without any apparent fights and with everyone, by all appearances, getting home safely. For me and many other Atlantans, Gucci Mane shares a special place in our hearts. We’ve watched him grow from the bottom of poverty to a megastar and a true hometown inspiration. Gucci is well aware of this adoration, and he gave it all right back with his performance, thanking the crowd many times throughout the night. He’d been gone a long time, but, having been federally crucified, he arose after three years to collect his disciples and delivered a rousing returning sermon in his hometown, signaling a new chapter in the testament of the Trap God.
Richposlim is happily hanging up his "Free Gucci" shirt. Follow him on Twitter.