Much has been written about the relationship between Gucci, who’s now considered an elder statesmen of ATL rap, and Waka, his young protégé. The two had a brief falling out in August of 2010 after Gucci fired Waka’s mother, Debra Antney, as his manager. Waka went as far as saying that he would never again speak to Gucci.

Tonight, however, all is well. Waka and Gucci display a familial bond—cracking inside jokes, discussing goings-on in the ’hood, making summer plans. Gucci tells Waka that he’s feeling the new music and that “I Don’t Really Care” is hard. Waka returns the compliment by saying he wants to get him on the remix. “I don’t know if that’s for me,” says Gucci. “Nah, man, you gon’ kill it!” says Waka reassuringly.

 

Gucci tells Waka that he’s feeling the new music and that 'I Don’t Really Care' is hard. Waka returns the compliment by saying he wants to get him on the remix. 'I don’t know if that’s for me,' says Gucci. 'Nah, man, you gon’ kill it!' says Waka reassuringly.

 

As Waka walks away to change for his next shot, Gucci tells me about his new mixtape. “It’s called I’m Up, ’cause that’s how I feel right now. I been away for a little while, but now I’m up; everything’s going good.” As Gucci begins to break the tape down song by song, Waka starts grumbling over the fit of his suit. “I can’t wear this shit!” he screams. “Look at my arms!”

“Those are the sizes I was given,” says his stylist, adding that Waka has to wear it because, well, the shot calls for him and Trey to wear suits. Again, Waka relents and begins to get dressed.

Gucci’s aware that things may have changed in his absence. For one thing, his former sidekick has become one of the hottest rappers in the game. But Gucci’s hoping to get back to where he left off before his two most recent jail stints with this new mixtape. He says I have to come down for the May 31 release party, that “it’s going to be all the way turnt up.”

“What’s going to be turnt up?” asks Waka, who’s now wearing a black button-down and black slacks.

“I was telling him about my mixtape,” says Gucci.

“Oh! When’s that dropping?”

“May 31st.”

“You know that’s my birthday, right, bruh?”

“Word?” Gucci replies. “Oh, damn—we gon’ have to have a birthday party and a release party.”

Three years ago, the fact that Waka’s birthday coincided with the release of Gucci’s mixtape wouldn’t have warranted any change of plans. But in 2012, the 26-year-old’s success has earned him top billing on the Mizay Entertainment roster.

Back in 2009, few people had any idea who Waka Flocka Flame, born Juaquin Malphurs, even was. All anybody knew was that Gucci Mane was rolling around with a young dude with a penchant for yelling his rhymes (and non-rhymes) over beats that could make a trap-house crumble.

At the time rap had begun trending away from the bass-laden party cuts that seemed to sprout from the South every few months. Lil Wayne secured his “Best Rapper Alive” crown with a dizzying string of tightly packed releases. Drake’s lyrical, emotional and melodic mixtape So Far Gone was the talk of the industry.

Then came Waka’s first smash: “O Let’s Do It.” Opening with the now famous, “I fucked my money up, now I can’t re-up” line, “O Let’s Do It” was an extension of Lil Jon’s crunk, only this time a trap star was the one throwing the party. As soon as the record came out it was suddenly everywhere, and yes, it was “all the way turnt up.”

Now, Waka’s working hard to go from being a trap star to a star—and it shows. Two weeks after the video shoot, he’s scheduled to stop by the Complex offices for a sit-down interview at 10 AM. Many rappers don’t even wake up until around 1 PM, so for Waka and his entourage to show up by 11 AM is as surprising as the guest artists on his new album: Drake, Nicki Minaj, and Flo-Rida, to name a few. Yes, Flo-Rida, the poster boy for rap’s dance-pop revolution, is trading bars with Mr. Bricksquad on the track “Get Low.” But, according to Waka, ain’t shit changing.

 

I respect Flo-Rida for what he do. He respects me for what I do. And we respect each other for bringing our music together. Nobody’s trying to be nobody.

 

“I ain’t tryna be no fucking cyberspace-rapping nigga,” he says while breaking down a Dutch. “I respect Flo-Rida for what he do. He respects me for what I do. And we respect each other for bringing our music together. Nobody’s trying to be nobody. That’s why I love the song.”

Think of it as Waka taking his career to the next level. While he doesn’t want to make as extreme a deviation as his friend Nicki Minaj—who’s also featured on “Get Low,” along with her YMCMB labelmate Tyga—he understands her need to push boundaries.

“Nicki’s just developing. She’s going through every genre of music,” he says as he breaks down his weed. “She’s trying to touch R&B, rap, and pop. That’s a lot of people in the world. People make it out be like she’s jumping from music genres—she’s conquering them all. If you can rap on pop, rap, rock and R&B, how the fuck somebody going to stop you?”

Fair enough. Being the “Queen of Pop” is a more than respectable goal for Nicki. But what about a rapper known for going “hard in the muthafuckin’ paint.” Surely Waka doesn’t plan on being the king of pop.

“My end goal? I’m just an artist working towards a catalog of excellent songs. I’ll have an angle when I have, like, 10 good singles. Then we’ll have a conversation about what’s my angle. If I don’t got 10 good singles, then what the fuck I need an angle for? I’m just a nigga making music.”

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