Kevin Gates is an interesting figure, someone who has both captivated the rap listening internet and built a vast, homegrown fan-base in his native Baton Rouge. In 2013, Gates released a mixtape (The Luca Brasi Story) and a self-released album (Stranger Than Fiction), both critically acclaimed efforts. He also appeared on songs with Migos, Starlito, Ty Dolla $, Pusha T, pushing his name into cities across the West and East Coast. Despite all that success, Gates did not have (to my knowledge) a single national radio hit and still has not released a major label album. In that sense, Gates is an anomaly in today’s national rap landscape, a financially soluble artist with a groundswell of support that still does not have that song or that album attributed to his name. At this point in his career, Gates might actually have more in common with Curren$y or Freddie Gibbs circa 2008. The next several years will decide whether Gates will take the Future route, evolving into an impressive radio monster that still retains a good deal of artistic integrity, or the Gangsta Gibbs route, a rapper with popular, yet a somewhat stultified career.
“Don’t Know” isn’t the song that will send Gates on either of the aforementioned routes, but it does represent his variegated skill set. He shows braggadocio (“don’t know no bitch I can’t hit”) and street solvency. He name drops Macaulay Culkin. He delves into his deeply troubled past, although it’s largely in passing and the storytelling is milquetoast compared to what he shows on tracks like “Neon Lights” and “430 AM”. The beat is pretty standard 808 Mafia and/or Zaytoven and/or Southside fare, acting as a more than capable backing for Gates’ boasts and strangled singing. Compared to Stranger Than Fiction, “Don’t Know” is a fairly straight-forward affair, lacking in both the production ingenuity and emotional affectivity the album offered. That being said, the song has the ability to draw in a wider audience, dispensing of all that damn storytelling that can bog down a good pop song. While “Don’t Know” will not push Gates into the world of radio pop, it does serve as indicator of how and where the Baton Rouge rapper will progress over the coming months and years.