I’m almost ready to argue that Trap House III‘s existence is entirely justified by its opening title track, produced by Southside & TM88, both longtime curators of 1017 Brick Squad’s peculiar moral fiber. This song opens as quiet as most opening tracks do, muted through mixer filters, with Gucci Mane talking mean for about 15 seconds when all of a sudden the apocalypse is upon you. John Carpenter keyboards accentuate one of the most blindsiding, truly deafening basslines the Atlanta trap scene has seen in a while. Gucci Mane accentuates this ostentatious musical mean mug by whispering sweetly all the horrible things that might happen to you. It’s a move straight out of early ‘90s Memphis made even more amazing by Ross’ willingness to act along, playing a Big Bad Wolf whose words are way less important than the fact he sounds perfect in this context.
Trap House III remains a strange experience precisely because it aims to surprise at every turn. There has been a lot of music headlined by Gucci Mane in the past six months—by rough estimate, about six hours of music—and much of it has been remarkably focused on creating familiar comeback riffs over and over again. Despite a release schedule every bit as prolific as a Lil’ B or Curren$y, most Gucci Mane-affiliated releases end up feeling like comebacks, perhaps because he constantly seems on the edge of self-parody. That’s what’s so strange about Trap House III—it’s none of the things you’d expect from a Gucci Mane solo album, let alone a mixtape. This is large scale music executed with the kind of precision Gucci’s so obnoxiously felt eager to avoid his entire career. It’s an iTunes only release, thus rendering the rest of this sentence fairly moot, but in many ways Trap House III might very likely be the best product this Atlanta icon ever distributes.
The last time Gucci Mane truly attempted to expand his sound, 2009’s The State vs. Radric Davis, Gucci appeared to get caught between two separate epochs of the trap sound. The Lex Luger/Southside sound that’s come to define his label’s entire roster was in its infancy, and much of what made schizo mid-2000s drug music compelling in 2005 was beginning to wear thin, much as the Brick Squad sound feels today. However it happened—and considering Trap House III‘s digital-only nature, it’s easy to speculate a slapdash process—Gucci Mane has found a series of songs that take his brand of trap music into Graduation territory, a place where he can make “I won’t ignore you and I won’t divorce you” sound something like a threat because the rest of the track is about a terrible relationship (Trap God 2‘s “Nuthin’ on Ya”).
It’s evident that Gucci Mane is looser than he’s been in a couple years when “Hell Yes” kicks off, a track in the vein of T.I.‘s “Cruisin’” that finds an indomitably mean guy playing autotune crooner à la Kanye West atop a C-Note beat right out of the mid-2000s commercial soundtrack IDM scene. It’s a really goofy idea but the commitment is something to behold, especially however they got Gucci’s voice to sound like it was discovering decent melodies. Rappers have come a long way since the 808s & Heartbreaks experiment.
The risks that open this album are what immediately engage the ear, but it’s how the album settles into convention without losing any momentum that really takes it from just another fine Gucci Mane release to one of the definitive artifacts in his vast archives. That comes with a bit of a qualifier considering you have to feel the humor in how he delivers a line like “if you keep suckin’ dick like that you gon’ get famous” so that it simultaneously sounds like “don’t get famous”; in the way Gucci plays with his anger to mine humor, he’s rarely been on as high a form. Or just the absurdly casual way he (probably editorializing a bit here) pokes fun at the DMX myth with a “Gucci Man’s a dog/(woof)/she know the way I handle hoes” line. At least not at such high fidelity.
Trap House III is also aided by Gucci Mane’s smart development of talent; in some ways, the 1017 and 808 Mafia teams resemble the San Antonio Spurs, so fundamentally sound in every aspect of their chosen profession that whenever the star is given a rest on the bench any number of players are ready to step up. Rich Homie Quan is the breakout star of this album, but every guest feels both well-placed and aware of how great Gucci Mane’s camp intended this release to be as they deliver their best performances in a few months, from 2 Chainz to, surprisingly, Shawty Lo. Trap House III is both the album enthusiasts would have never expected at this point in his career and a perfect entry point for anyone who wasn’t spurred to give The State vs. Radric Davis a shot. At this point, Gucci Mane’s discography is certainly somewhat impenetrable, and Trap House III shines a spotlight on all the things that made him so exciting from beneath the stage these past five or six years. Having been following this trajectory across roughly 50 full length releases and seven years of repetition I can’t justifiably expect Trap House III to feel as revelatory to less familiar listeners. All I can say is, you might like to be open to the idea that it truly is a bit of a mind blower.