11. Gucci Mane
What Chief Keef is now, Gucci Mane was four years ago—at least as far as what he represents to haters. Regularly called "retarded," mocked for his accent, his potbelly, and his sartorial decisions, Gucci became a hero to his fans by embracing his status as an underdog. For many, Gucci was Lowest Common Denominator rap.
His behavior outside of hip-hop—problems with probation violations in particular—was further evidence that he was stupid, and his performance style, from the stuffed-nose flow to his improvisational, no-pad-no-pencil approach, reinforced this assumption.
Until you listened to his actual lyrics, which, as it turned out, were clever, ultimately shifting the entire direction of Southern rap lyricism in the late 2000s. The haters completely missed the boat with Gucci; not only was his rap style genuinely original, but he had bars. He was also one of the first rappers to adapt his actual rap style to the 2000s method of flooding the market. The demand for his verses was so high at one point that he stopped physically writing lyrics altogether and began building one of the largest improvised catalogs in hip-hop history, thanks to unflagging work ethic and vibrant originality. Plus, his sixth sense for hooks meant he didn't just rap, but became a songwriter as well, perfect for the post-superproducer era.
Of course, this isn't to suggest that Gucci didn't have problems. His recidivism issues ultimately sidelined his career, as did some bad label decisions (pandering to the East Coast on his lead singles, removing his early mixtapes from DatPiff). To say nothing of the ill-considered facial tattoos and collaborative album with V-Nasty, both of which suggested to some of his fans that perhaps he wasn't a self-aware man-of-the-people they had initially perceived, and was instead a genuine weirdo.
He remains one of the biggest rappers in the South, but the energy that once bore his career to the mainstream isn't quite what it once was.
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