Gucci Mane aka Guwop aka Radric Delantic Davis aka one-half of the Wopsters is one of music’s most infamous icons. The Atlanta rapper is often credited as the king of trap, having popularized the genre of hip hop based on his own experiences as a young, drug-dealing hustler seeking money and status in the South. Back in 2005, as he broke into music with the release of his debut single “Icy,” Gucci had no idea his localized anthems for street entrepreneurs would lay the foundation for what is now one of most popular, lucrative styles of rap, inspiring and eventually mentoring rappers like Migos, Young Thug and Young Dolph.
Throughout Gucci’s career, trap has gone from a Southern hip-hop microculture to one of the most lucrative sounds in the world. And his prolific catalogue and slew of successful proteges have long established his legendary status, but following his release from a three-year imprisonment in 2016, 2017 may be his most successful year yet. He’s been on at least 10 different charting singles on the Billboard Hot 100 over the past nine months alone, including his first number one with Rae Sremmurd’s “Black Beatles,” and his highest-charting release as a lead artist with the single “I Get the Bag,” off his new album Mr. Davis.
In his new book, The Autobiography of Gucci Mane, Gucci processed the entirety of his life thus far, from his greatest successes to his biggest failures. He tells us the stories behind classic hits like Freaky Girl, Wasted and Lemonade (the last of which was recorded during a Las Vegas bender after Gucci challenged Bangladesh, the producer fresh off making “A Milli” for Lil Wayne, to give him a beat other rappers couldn’t touch) and details how he supported stars like Nicki Minaj as they ascended in the music industry. (Gucci never signed Nicki, but would put her up in Atlanta and give her studio time.)
Written along with Neil Martinez-Belkin, rap critic and former editor of XXL, the book thoroughly recounts Gucci’s life up until now, detailing the relationship between his music and his personal life — i.e., his album releases often aligned with his arrests or incarcerations, making his career a series of dramatic twists and turns, giving people opportunities to doubt his longevity and eventual legacy.
Gucci’s willingness to speak about his feelings is what makes the book so good; he talks about his murder charge and imprisonments, his addiction to sipping lean and his volatile relationships, including his highly publicized feud with Young Jeezy. But even more powerful is the way he reveals his evolving relationship with himself, indicating some of the shame and stigma he felt for years when treated, by both colleagues and the media, like a gangster rap caricature.
Gucci Mane is more than the ice cream tattoo on his face, his rap sheet or even his hits; he’s a creative and resilient entrepreneur who fascinates people. Case in point: Harmony Korine pushed back filming Spring Breakers just so Gucci could be in it. So, in an attempt to humanize the man behind the myth, we pulled some of our favorite parts from the book that speak to Gucci’s early life and career.
Radric Isn’t From Atlanta
Although Gucci Mane is considered Atlanta royalty, he wasn’t born there. He wasn’t even born in Georgia. Radric Delantic Davis is from Bessemer, Alabama, a country coal town.
“I was born Radric Delantic Davis, taking my mother’s last name. Like my conception nine months before, my first name, Radric, was a product of my parents’ union — half Ralph, half Vicky.”
He’s Not the Original Gucci Mane
While Radric was given his mother’s last name, Davis, at birth, his moniker was his father’s:
“Throughout the course of his life my father went by a lot of aliases. Slim Daddy. Ralph Witherspoon. Ricardo Love. For the purposes of this story, a nickname he received as a young boy matters most: Gucci Mane. That’s right. He’s the OG.”
The Gucci reference was thanks to his dad’s dad, James Dudley Sr., who taught radio and television at a local technical school until becoming a postman:
“James Sr. had always fancied himself a dresser. He loved him some nice clothes and expensive leather shoes. He’d spent time in Italy during his years in the service, which is where he fell in love with the Gucci brand.”
The original Gucci Mane had rhymes, too, little sayings he’d repeat to fuel his mojo:
“From Maine to Spain, I can play that thang, because I’m the original Gucci Mane.”
The Fashion Aficionado Sold Drugs For A Starter Jacket
Gucci’s father eventually moved to Detroit, but his love of style inspired Radric even from afar. In fact, it was his desire for clothing that got an eighth-grade Gucci Mane into selling hard drugs:
“Coming back from [Christmas] break was like the first day of school. Everybody would show up with their new toys, clothes, sneakers — whatever they’d gotten from Santa. That year, I had my eyes on some jeans, some Jordans, and a Starter jacket. But as Christmas neared my momma told me wouldn’t be able to get me any of it.
“I couldn’t go to back to school with the same old shit on while everybody else was fresh as hell. I just couldn’t. I tried to explain but my momma cut me off: ‘Look, here’s $50,’ she told me. ‘Get whatever you want.’ What the hell was I supposed to do with $50? I couldn’t buy that Starter for $50. I couldn’t get a pair of Jordans for $50. I couldn’t get any of the things I wanted. Frustrated, I took the money and left the apartment, walking toward the other side of Mountain Park. I knew that’s where the dopeman stayed. I handed him the money and he handed me two tightly wrapped $50 slabs of crack cocaine.”
His Gap Year Was a Trap Year
“I graduated from McNair [High School] in the spring of 1998 with a 3.0 GPA and a HOPE scholarship to Georgia Perimeter College. But I was doing pretty well for myself in the streets, so going back to school was the last thing on my mind. So I didn’t go. I think they call that a gap year.”
He Started Smoking Weed for a Girl
It wasn’t until years later, however, that Gucci would get heavily into using drugs. In high school, his friends begged him to smoke weed with them, but he refrained until he met a hot girl who asked him to roll a blunt:
“Not only had I never smoked, I’d never rolled a blunt either and I’d only picked up one. There was no room for error. Luckily I rolled that shit like a pro and fired it up, taking a deep pull like I’d seen folks do. … That girl became my smoking buddy. I still didn’t want my buddies to know I smoked, so she was the only person I did it with…”
Gucci Wanted to Be a CEO More Than an MC
Weed wasn’t the only thing Gucci was hesitant about. He didn’t give a fuck about rapping, either.
“As much as I was into rap, the idea of becoming a rapper always seemed lame to me… Even before Master P, I always gravitated toward the CEO, the person in charge. As a little boy in Alabama, I always liked Eazy-E more than Ice Cube…I had a friend whose younger brother decided he want to rap. He was 14 and his moniker was Lil’ Buddy. I saw potential in this kid and thought he could become a Kris Kross or Lil’ Bow Wow type. And I could be the money man pulling the strings. I decided to give it a shot. … Not only did I have the stigma that rappers were all broke and lame, but I had long ago convinced myself that people would never take me seriously if I started up rapping.”
Eventually, Gucci linked with his first producer, Zaytoven, who went on to become a longtime collaborator:
“There wasn’t a plan. We were just two men trying to find ourselves, in music and in life. We didn’t know the fun we were having gave birth to a whole genre and inspired a generation of artists after us. Trap music. To some it’s the subject matter. Stories of serving fiends through burglar bars. To others it’s a style of beatmaking. Shit, today there’s a whole audience of white kids who think trap music is about popping molly and going to a rave. In a way it’s all those things. But when I think about trap music I think about all those early days in Zay’s basement. … When I think about trap I think about something raw. Something that hasn’t been diluted. Something with no polish on it. Music that sounds as grimy as the world it came out of.”
Snap Music and “Black Tee”
Trap isn’t the only style of rap that put Gucci on:
“In the fall of 2003, a rap group from the Westside of Atlanta called Dem Franchize Boyz released a song called ‘White Tee.’ It blew up. … I liked ‘White Tee’ but it was tame and kid-friendly, so me and a couple of the guys from Str8 Drop came up with ‘Black Tee.’ We put a sinister spin on it, rapping about robbing and selling drugs. … I just happened to have the first verse on there and I plugged my name in it, so DJs started to credit it as my record. … Ever the opportunist, I ran with that and started going to clubs promoting ‘Black Tee’ as my song. For the first time, my name was buzzing in Atlanta. … A few days later Scrappy and I were at Patchwerk Studios doing the ‘Black Tee’ remix. As we were finishing up I saw Bun B and Killer Mike leaving Patchwerk’s other recording room. … Bun B and Killer Mike were both familiar with the song, and to my surprise, Bun offered to hop on the remix for $3,500. ‘Give me $1,000 and I’ll get on there too,’ Killer Mike added. … A few days later Jeezy asked if he could get on the ‘Black Tee’ remix too. … Suddenly everyone wanted a piece of Gucci Mane.”
The Weight of His Reputation
Not long after, Gucci met legendary producer (and cokehead) Scott Storch at the Hit Factory studios in Miami. Their encounter at Storch’s home later that night epitomized Gucci’s mistrust of the industry, a paranoia that would only become worse as he became addicted to drugs. At the time, Storch, like a lot of people in the industry, knew Gucci’s criminal reputation more than his music:
“This was early in my career, but to this day I haven’t really seen someone putting on the way Scotty was in that house. The guy was living like Scarface. Inside he had some friends come over when I came in with my girl. We sparked up a blunt and got to talking. Then he introduced me to his buddies. ‘This is the guy I was telling you about!’ he said excitedly. ‘The guy everybody don’t like. You know, the one with the murder charge!’ My jaw almost hit the floor. This was not the way I wanted to be introduced. I gave Scotty a look, hoping he’d realize his mistake and change the subject, but it kept going. He and his crew of yes men having their own conversation about my life while I was standing right there in front of them. … He had no idea what he’d done to offend me. … A lot of people were saying stupid shit like that upon meeting me. … I tell these stories just to show how people were looking at me then. Like a killer. I was having encounters like that all the time.”
Gucci was a prolific artist, but he didn’t know how to talk about the highly publicized — and stigmatized — parts of his personal life:
“I didn’t handle the questions as well upon my release, when I had to face them in person. I still hadn’t had time to process the events of that night let alone be able to discuss them with strangers.”
He wrote about the experiences better in poetry, like this note he wrote from an isolation cell in jail:
“… My homeboys truly miss me
I crying because I miss ‘em
I know they all can feel my pain
Them being victims of this system
Now as I write this poem
Tears are rushing down my cheeks
I want to be a respected black man
Like Big Cat and Frank Ski
They say I’m not intelligent
Because I have a speech impediment
But all this is irrelevant
Because my words are heaven sent
They say I’m a murderer
But I do not believe it
So pray tonight for Gucci Mane
And even pray for Jeezy.”