The Appeal is a perfect study in what it is that separates a street rapper on the cusp of extreme mainstream acceptance with a street rapper that has no interest in approaching that point. So many of the moves it makes can be traced to current pop radio or Gucci’s surprise success story, The State vs. Radric Davis, and the mid-section of the album so unlike any Gucci Mane that has come before, that it is fascinating for being such an audio train wreck as it is for Gucci’s charismatic persona. It’s a shame that all this happens, too, because the emphasis on brass and orchestral elements on the first portion of the record is a really interesting new big budget touch to his sound. While “Lil’ Friend” is entirely too long and Bun B continues coasting, the horns are blaring like perhaps nothing else in hip-hop. It’s intoxicating, and Drumma Boy goes for a similar feel on the next track. His other early contribution, “What’s It Gonna B?” is also much larger than life, with championship trumpet stabs rallying against a mournful piano riff that morphs into an even more sorrowful synth for a Dilla-lite coda.
Unfortunately, despite all this, it’s hard not to notice that these amazing beats have been topped off with some of the most pedestrian Gucci Mane verses in recent memory. It isn’t until “Makin’ Love to the Money” that we get something like a star performance, which is unfortunate for two reasons. First, it was already released for free as part of both Jewelry Selection and Mr. Zone 6—two of Gucci’s three full mixtapes released this summer—and second, the song was basically high-quality filler on the latter tape. The affect of the second point is two-fold: as the album concludes, you sit in silence stunned that nothing matches a track you’ve likely already worn out, and as soon as “Gucci Time” queues up, you begin to wonder how quickly this album could come off the rails.
Swizz Beatz very abrasively aims to print up a carbon copy of his work for “On to the Next One”, going as far as to sample Justice again. And it works, in so much as the basic rhythm of the track evokes the persistent chant of “On to the Next One” in your head. The original portions of the beat: a decent bassline, ‘80s style drum fill—these are fine. The awfully ugly sounds he puts in for the synths are just terrible on the ears, though, and when Swizz comes in for his token verse about nothing, you realize how hard this song would be to listen to without Gucci on top of it. And that says quite a lot, considering the caliber of rapper Gucci is (see: low-medium).
“Party Animal” can’t help but feel like another attempt at “Wasted” down to FATBOI on the production, though it thankfully takes a much different direction going for clean SNES synths, rather than those rusty violins. But like the next two tracks, the song does feel like more of a label concoction than a genuine move from the artist on the song. “Haterade” feels that way simply because Gucci + Pharrell has never been a positive formula, even during the rare times it has been attempted in the past, and Pharrell seems intent on giving his absolute minimum effort to a Gucci Mane track. But “Remember When?” is just a colossal misstep, as an A&R slyly inserts the aforementioned Ray J on top of a somewhat-psychedelic accordion-style beat marred by token 808 breakdowns and pulsing club synths to accompany Gucci Mane on a ballad about re-meeting a one night stand. Not only are both artists’ lyrics emphatically idiotic and unappealing, but the very nature of the song just doesn’t feel like it fits in the universe of Gucci Mane either.
Gucci’s protegé, Waka Flocka, is famously hollering “Fuck dis industry/Man I’m in these streets” across the Internet right now. It’s a real shame that Gucci doesn’t have the same attitude, but then again, he’s never been the sort of album artist to insist his voice always be heard. At this point, it’s especially clear that Gucci Mane saves his best for the mixtape circuit, and prefers to let his labels guide the direction of his albums. The Appeal is a fairly experimental release for him, and it doesn’t contain the revolutionary type of production found on The State vs. Radric Davis, but the budget is even higher. You’ve never heard the guy sounding so pristine. But when you take into account the ways he seemed to progress on free releases like Burrprint 3D, Burrprint 2 HD and especially Mr. Zone 6 and that the fact they were free, it becomes especially hard to support an album whose best line, “I’m in the hood like the mayor ‘round election time”, comes snuggled against an airy synth beat that sounds very much like Wiz Khalifa’s “Up”—which is to say, cheap and simple (surprise: it’s another Swizz beat). As such, in some ways The Appeal could feel similar to Eminem’s Encore, another album whose deal-breaking antics in the middle section rendered it unlistenable. The songs at the end, like that album, somewhat make up for the journey to get there, but not really. Especially after “ODog”, a Wyclef Jean showcase about which as little should be said as possible. Still, this album could be a reasonable sales success, which I suppose is all that matters: “I’m so fucking paid, I just bought the dollar sign”.