Radric Delantic Davis is a man of many names. Gucci Mane, Gucci Mane La Flare, Guwop, Gooch, Trap God, Mr. Zone 6, among other AKAs for the legendary Atlanta rapper. However, despite being one of the most prolific artists in modern music, Davis’ transition into “Gucci Spielberg” is one of the few things he hasn’t quite yet managed to pull off.
Days after he received a 39-month prison sentence on federal weapons possession charges in May 2014, Gucci Mane tweeted on the status of his upcoming film career. According to his Twitter, “Gucci Spielberg” would finally release his self-produced film debut, The Spot, upon his release from prison.
Besides a trailer released back in December 2012, no other footage of The Spot has emerged to date. A LinkedIn profile made for Gucci Mane announced a release date of October 17th, 2015, and a soundtrack for the film was released as a mixtape on Halloween 2015, but no other updates exist and the project does not appear on Gucci Mane’s IMDB profile. While Davis was released from Indiana federal penitentiary in May 2016, three months ahead of his scheduled release date, the status of this project is still unclear.
Though production on The Spot appears to have stalled, Gucci Mane seems to be prospering in every other aspect of his life since his release from prison. Last November, Gucci Mane proposed to long-time girlfriend and The Spot co-star Keyshia Ka’oir at an Atlanta Hawks game, in one of the few cultural bright spots not affected by the contentious political climate that month. Last year, Gucci Mane also scored his first no. 1 Billboard Hot 100 single, as a featured artist on Rae Sremmurd’s “Black Beatles.” Later this year, Gucci Mane will also embark on his first tour and release his first book, The Autobiography of Gucci Mane, through Simon & Schuster.
Gucci Mane has also received credit as a leading influence on the sound of Atlanta hip-hop, in the city that arguably represents the epicenter of the genre today. “My city treat me like a king / I should wear a crown,” Gucci Mane declares on a victory lap verse on Kanye West’s “Champions.” In the two years since he was sentenced to prison, Gucci Mane acolytes like Migos, Young Thug, and even Lil Yachty have turned from regional Atlanta stars into full-fledged rap superstars. Migos’ “Bad and Boujee” even replaced “Black Beatles” at the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100 earlier this year.
Gucci Mane’s influence at the forefront of hip-hop is unusual for someone whose prolific output (Gucci Mane released 26 mixtapes in addition to The Spot soundtrack during his prison sentence) puts him closer to outsider artists like Jandek or Lil B than to Drake or Kanye. Only fellow Atlanta rapper Future comes close to matching both Gucci Mane’s influence and level of productivity, but not even he could dream of releasing Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner mixtapes on the same day, while still incarcerated.
This week, however, Gucci Mane also seems to have reignited interest in his stalled film career. In an interview with Atlanta hip-hop station V103, rapper Rick Ross announced a joint full-length feature project with Gucci Mane based on the video for their single with 2 Chainz, “Buy Back the Block”. It is still unclear whether this project will actually happen, especially when coming from someone whose relationship to facts is as tenuous as Rick Ross. “Buy Back the Block” was not included on Ross’ latest album, Rather You Than Me, and Gucci Mane himself has not yet confirmed Ross’ statement. However, if this project indeed comes to fruition, it could cap off the personal and career renaissance that Gucci Mane has gone through since releasing the trailer for the ill-fated The Spot in 2012.
The “Buy Back the Block” video reflects a considerably more optimistic outlook on Atlanta street life than what Gucci had envisioned for The Spot.
The intro skit for the eight-minute “Buy Back the Block” video stars Rick Ross and Gucci Mane as two frustrated, enterprising car wash attendants who decide not only to buy back the establishment where they work, but also to flat out “buy back the block” and everything on it: gas stations, Checkers restaurants, a duplex, a plaza, even a mall.
However, the ambitions present in this video goes beyond the escapist rap fantasies present in much of all three of these artists’ catalogues, and in much of hip-hop as a genre. These ambitions – of black business ownership, and of empowering black communities – take on a deeper political weight within the context of the video. As a radio host mentions before the song, “we’re here for the ‘buy back the block movement,’ where we raise up the community and support and love us.” In another context, 2 Chainz’s line about investing in property in the Hollywood Hills next to Kobe, or Rick Ross’ line about buying 10 Denny’s franchises and a Family Dollar could seem like little more than hollow materialism.
Director Ryan Snyder, along with the song’s three featured artists, work to emphasize the many aspects of racial and economic marginalization underpinning these fantasies of owning Denny’s franchises and living in the Hills next to Kobe. Before Snyder introduces the three rich and famous rappers flexing in front of a blacked-out Maybach, he opens with footage of several Miami police officers, followed by images of an abandoned house with tags that read “STOP BLK ON BLK VIOLENCE” and “BLUE LIVES MURDER!!!!”
Beyond these visual allusions to street violence and police brutality, the weight of which has historically fallen on black bodies in America, the song’s lyrics also contribute to the political significance of “Buy Back the Block.” Notably, the hook to the song not only mentions that “It’s time to buy back the block,” but also that “It’s time to buy back the hood.” Themes of drug dealing and the drug trade play a major role in the history of hip-hop, including in the work of these three artists (although the credibility of Rick Ross’ claims to this lifestyle have come into question). It is notable that the ambitions espoused in this song include that to move away from the drug trade and into more ostensibly legitimate forms of enterprise. As Gucci Mane says in the opening and closing lines of his verse on the song, “I sold 10 bricks a day but now I need 10 Chick-Fil-A’s,” and “God thank you for my punishment, it made me wise.” In fact, the full arc of his personal journey in recent years can be traced between these two lines.
As one of very few people to leave 2016 better off than when it started, Gucci Mane, post-prison, has come to represent a sense of hope larger than himself for many fans. Even for the most troubled among us, there is still hope to beat that case, get that dream body, shoot that shot with the person you love, maybe even find redemption regardless of whatever has happened to you in the past.
Radric Delantic Davis might not be “Gucci Spielberg” quite yet, but he’ll die before he stops trying.