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.
If you checked out Murlo’s recent contribution to Truants’ “Functions of the Now” mix series (or any of his other recent mixes), you’re privy to the London-based producer’s body moving, eclectic mixing style. Murlo operates in a number of unique spheres in both his production and DJ work, placing soca’s bright, airy melodies across grime’s spacious infrastructure and utilizing American hip hop and R&B to tie the whole affair down. Never one to hide away DJ secrets, he recently let loose a sublime blend of Kevin Gates’ “Arms of a Stranger” and Meleka’s “Go”, superimposing the latter’s aching vocals over the former’s (S1 produced) trance-informed melodies. The blend is a wonderful DJ tool and elicits quite a few feels as an original in and of itself. It’s also free so give it a listen below and jumpstart those creative engines.
The Luca Brasi Story is finally here and it might just be the clearest Kevin Gates tape to date. In the past, Gates’ dual growling/crooning sides have come into awkward contact with each other, but on Luca Brasi, the two styles meld perfectly. Gates’ gritty Southern street tales angle isn’t exactly the freshest hip hop around, but few artists can convey the dire nature of life (and life in Baton Rouge is certainly dire) quite like Gates. Curren$y and Master P add some classic Louisiana flavor in their features and should assist in bringing Gates some much deserved attention outside of his own state. The highlights of the tape are “Just Ride” and “Hero”, two conflicted anti-hero takes that offer up Gates as sensitive thug, community leader, and well, someone you probably shouldn’t fuck with unless you want to sleep with the fishes (I’m sorry, I had to). The production work from Maven Boys, Grizzly On The Beat and others is undistinguished, but generally stays out of the way and highlights Gates’ snarl especially well. Grab The Luca Brasi Story over at DatPiff and make plenty of Godfather references this week.
Kevin Gates is the biggest Louisiana rapper since Lil Boosie and prior to that, Lil Wayne. 2012’s Make Em Believe tape was one of 2012’s best and Gates has a certifiable radio hit in “Satellite”. Nonetheless, few outside of Louisiana have even heard of the Baton Rouge MC. Eschewing much of an internet presence, Gates has garnered a huge local fanbase that is something of an anomaly in 2013’s amorphous hip hop landscape. I’d expect Gates to gain some national recognition in the coming months, but even if he doesn’t, don’t expect his shelf life to expire anytime soon. There are a lot of awful “Love Sosa” freestyles out there, but Gates’ strained struggle rap is perfect for Young Chop’s minimalist production. As always, Gates is hyper-regional in his references and gives nothing but love for his hometown. The Luca Brasi Story coming soon…