Luca Brasi 2
Already a cult phenomenon in his native Louisiana and across backwater towns below the Mason-Dixon, Kevin Gates is one of rap’s most critically acclaimed acts, with an assembly line of mixtapes, songs, and street albums that are regularly heralded as some of hip-hop’s most compelling. While the widespread success of Gates’ music has been slow to gain traction commercially, Louisiana’s Luca Brasi seems destined for greater things in hip-hop than being a mere critical darling.
Despite signing a major label deal with Atlantic Records in 2013, Gates, an unapologetic gangster rapper with a criminal past, is a hard sell in an industry in which corporate sponsorships and branding are vital to sustained profits. Gates has only flirted with mainstream radio success, most notably with 2012’s mournful ballad “Satellites,” a minor regional hit. He has failed, however, to drop the type of bum-rushing single that would force the business to come to him.
In case you were wondering if Kevin Gates has grown complacent with his career in a state of stasis, his excellent new mixtape, Luca Brasi 2, reaffirms the Baton Rouge native son’s place amongst hip-hop’s vast untapped talents. Co-hosted by Gates' Bread Winners Association and Gangsta Grillz impresario DJ Drama and conceived as the sequel to Gates’s 2013’s breakout mixtape, The Luca Brasi Story, Gates delivers one of the year’s most compelling rap compilations right before the final buzzer rings on the year.
Gates delivers one of the year’s compelling rap compilations right before the final buzzer rings on the year.
As a turbulent yet artful MC, Gates’ two biggest strengths as an artist are his prodigious songwriting abilities and the ragged emotional truths that live within that writing. Both traits are omnipresent on Luca Brasi 2. Gates writes great songs that feel like an exposed nerve. His lush baritone goes from a hushed whisper at one moment before exploding into howling rage the next as if he were Bruce Banner on a coke-bender edge standing on a crowded train platform. Gates’ verses gradually froth over into a rolling boil like on “Out the Mud” where he raps: “No one repeatedly coming to get at me/Out of the mud? I'm the epitome.” The last half a bar is delivered with full-throated stomp as if to punctuate his verse for dramatic tension. Luca Brasi 2 is filled with the type of skull-crushing rapping that pounds your head until you develop cauliflower ear.
While other rappers feign emotional honesty, Gates is unafraid to appear flawed, even ugly on his songs. On “In My Feelings,” he’s near tears discussing the premature birth of his nephew before admitting that he’s been “hard on hoes” because of trust issues due to fears that he was abandoned in prison. “How you think you deserve part?/Child support court or get fought/All the best lawyers get bought/Let that other nigga take care of that/You be on his dick like his shit raw,” Gates raps. He can kick a woman out of a car for refusing to give him head, only to admit that a woman’s sexual appetite doesn’t change the fact that he still loves her. In fact, Gates might be secretly the world’s most sex-positive rapper. “Wild Night” is his ode to kinky sex in which he admits to wanting to fuck his woman with one of his friends amongst other sexual peccadillos.
Luca Brasi 2 isn’t all about the softer side of Kevin Gates, who's still as vicious and hardcore a gangster rapper as there ever was. His mixtape is stocked with throbbing, atmospheric trap beats that provide Gates the space to pen his tales of criminal exploits. He's a masterful gangster orator as songs like “John Gotti,” “Sit Down,” and “Talkin’ on Phones” are embedded with the type of grimy details that come from experiencing a less-than-legal lifestyle firsthand. He insists that you feel cocaine on the table beneath your fingernails when he raps, and you can’t be help but be drawn into the world of Gates' narration.
B.J. Steiner is a writer living in New York. Follow him @doczeus