By Steve Weinstein
By Bryan Bierman
By Lindsey Rhoades
By Chaz Kangas
By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Jena Ardell
By Jesse Sendejas Jr.
By Katherine Turman
Upon first exposure to The Cold War—Atlanta rapper Gucci Mane's epic, globe-trotting mixtape trilogy, casually unleashed online at 10:17 last Saturday night—you are forgiven if you ignore the guttural, defiantly uncouth rapping itself and fixate entirely on the goofy accents he attempts during the skits. In your defense, Gucci's accents are fucking hilarious. He affects an aristocratic, Grey Poupon–coveting tone for a few seconds of Great BRRRitain ("Is anyone interested in, maybe, a game of croquette?") while BRRRussia sends him farther East: "I got a free concert tonight in Siberia," he announces in a delightfully ludicrous Nikolai Volkoff grunt. "Wear your longest, precious, and nicest fur." And later: "I'm rushin' like a Russian—to the bank. I got more check than a Czechoslavian."
I have cracked up about 300 times this past week just thinking about "I got more check than a Czechoslavian." And while such international chicanery accounts for maybe two minutes of The Cold War's nearly two hours—Guccimerica, though the best of the three free mixes, is dismayingly domestic—it manages the neat trick, within such a gleeful orgy of excess, of leaving you wanting more. What about a prequel trilogy? FRRRance! AustRRRalia! GuChina! Get this guy back on the plane! With accents this fantastically absurd, can a role on True Blood be far behind?
Gucci is a gruff, wheezing snarler in the vein of (sworn enemy) Young Jeezy; we join him now during another chapter of the Mixtape Avalanche phase of his upward trajectory. The 29-year-old's October output also includes The BURRprint, a blunt, robust "BRRR" being a popular exclamation of his, perhaps on account of all the ice. (Accessories are a major concern: His best insult thus far is, "Your jeweler is a loser," and his custom-made, mind-blowingly awesome Bart Simpson and Odie chains cruelly underscore the point.) Lyrically, he's less concerned with flaunting an outsize vocabulary than picking one word, naming the song after it, and doggedly bashing away until it achieves either meaninglessness or transcendence: "Gorgeous," "Awesome," "Wonderful," "Ridiculous." No one has yet had the heart to tell him that hip-hop is dead.
That single-word thing only happens once this time, on BRRRussia's "Foreign," and you quickly grow to regret it. Funny voices aside, The Cold War isn't a particularly conceptual affair, instead favoring a breathtakingly monochromatic wash of brutally dour but occasionally thrilling trap-rap dirges as Gucci fully explores the widening chasm between his jeweler and yours. Guccimerica hits the hardest: The beats themselves harbor the greatest potential for ribald surprise (greasy organ on "Street Cred," punchy horns on "Follow Me," space-age synth stabs on " '09 Bachelor Pad" that mesmerize through headphones). Plus the latter finds our hero inventing a new profession ("Ass like an ass-crologist/I need a telescope"), while he color-codes his gear during "Diamonds" ("Miley Cyrus diamonds on/Caucasian 'cause I'm not racist") and gleefully obliterates his remaining cash flow on the deviously catchy "Throw Money" ("Throwin' up money like we mad at the ceiling"). We end with "Danger's Not a Stranger," an anthemic, semi-melodic ode to streetwise menace and early-onset emphysema: "I'll put you in the papuuuuh/I'll send you to your makuuuuuuuuh/Then retreat to Jamaicuuuuuuuhh." No one involved in the recording of this song could possibly have been holding themselves upright at the time.
BRRRussia, conversely, is the weakest: The monotony of so many minor-key, tinny-drum-machine dirges finally sets in, and the headphones that allowed you to fully luxuriate in " '09 Bachelor Pad" sadistically betray you once DJ Holliday is dropping incomprehensibly loud "HOLLIDAY SEASON!!!" vocal cues you come to dread like 1944 Londoners constantly braced for V-2 rockets. (A different DJ for each mix here: DJ Scream takes the U.K.; DJ Drama, the U.S.) I suppose "Euphoria," with a femme-r&b hook and guest spot from Gucci affiliate Waka Flocka Flame (pronounced the way Fozzie Bear would pronounce it), is astoundingly melodically ugly in a way that's pretty impressive, but, really, you could trash the whole of this—if not for good ol' Czechoslavia.
Which leaves Great BRRRitain to split the difference. "I'm Expecting" gets us started with the entire project's smarmiest chorus: "I'm expecting/Like your girl when she's pregnant/(What you expect?)/I expect another check in." And "Timothy," though not exactly a rousing closer, is certainly memorable, a rare foray into narrative-driven storytelling and relentless suffering. (Timothy's mom is gunned down before the first verse ends.) In between is "Outta Me," a manifesto of sorts, either serving up straight clichés ("You can take me out the hood but not it out of me") or modifying them very slightly ("Ain't no I in team/But there's an I in win"). Another pronouncement carries a little more weight, though: "I'm not your favorite rapper's favorite rapper/But by far, I'm the most famous in East Atlanta."
The point, it would seem, is that anywhere that isn't East Atlanta doesn't matter. But people who don't live there are falling in love with Gucci Mane anyway; he has a long, complicated history with both the law and the record industry, but The State vs. Radric Davis, allegedly out on Warner Bros. in December, might be his most elaborate and highest-profile release yet. Yes, allegedly. Hopefully it won't be pushed back 200 times. And while The Cold War offers plenty of tropes to improve upon, hopefully its audacity and anarchic spirit aren't crushed by shinier, prettier beats and better-known guest stars. The man with the Odie chain won't so easily be deterred. His next concert in Siberia will not be free.