Since Gucci Mane was released from United States Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Ind. on May 26, 2016 after serving three years for possession of a firearm as a felon, there hasn’t been a Snapchat or Instagram post from his account or from the accounts of those around him that didn’t show him enjoying life. Whether he’s shutting down Gucci clone rumors or eating kale, the 36-year-old rapper is in a better place now in every sense. He looks healthy, happy, and hungry. His upcoming album Everybody Looking drops July 22, ending a very long drought for brand new Gucci tunes. It’s a joint production from Zaytoven and Mike WiLL Made-It, and Mike WiLL has already deemed it a classic on the level of 50 Cent’s Get Rich or Die Tryin’.
Behind the boards on the album is Gucci’s longtime engineer, Sean Paine. Working alongside Kori Anders, Gucci’s OG engineer before Paine, the team recorded and mixed the album in just six days at Gucci’s home studio in Atlanta. Paine was largely responsible for keeping Gucci’s name relevant when he was away, doctoring a ton of verses together to produce official albums, mixtapes, and EPs for his fans. These days, Paine gets to work with Gucci hands-on again, executing the MC’s vision instead of imagining what he would have wanted.
We spoke to Paine about the Everybody Looking studio sessions, how Kanye and Guwop linked up, his boss’s new eating habits, and if it is truly over for these Gucci clones.
How many albums have you worked on for Gucci?
I’ve mixed and mastered 30 albums since he’s been locked up. [From] The State vs. Radric Davis II: The Caged Bird Sings all the way up until he got out. I was going in. Before that, I mixed that Jeezy diss, that “Truth” record. I also did all [Young Thug’s mixtape] 1017 Thug, like “2 Cups Stuffed.” I was mixing for a minute.
You kept Gucci’s alive musically while he was away.
You gotta think about it like this, though: In order for me to drop 30 albums in two years, what does that mean he had to do prior? That man was recording six or seven songs a day. Without the material, there wouldn’t be nothing [for me] to do. People gotta realize that. This guy is a fucking machine. Ain’t nobody outwork Gucci in the studio, period. That’s where a lot of people get their work ethic from.
Did you ever get burned out putting those mixtapes together?
I was at first, but nah. [Back] then it was under my timing. I didn’t have to record. I was just mixing. I still got to live my personal life. Now, I’m more of his personal assistant. He calls me the glue.
Did Gucci bring back all of his original collaborators for this album?
He’s going all the way original. Mike WiLL, Zay, Kori [Anders], and me.
Walk me through the day Gucci got out.
It was exciting as fuck. Thirty minutes in, we just went in at the studio, recording. Right when he got out, it was like straight up: “Where the studio at, SP?”
Who was the first producer who reached out?
Mike WiLL and Zaytoven were already working with him. Prior to getting out, he knew that he wanted to do a whole album with Mike WiLL and Zay. They were all talking via CorrLinks [from prison]. He would discuss what he wanted, the kind of sound he’d be looking for. When he got out, he was like, “What’s your email?” Send an email, and boom, they’d send over 50 beats. Zay was out of town, but he ended up pulling up two days later. Mike WiLL pulled up that day.
What are his studio essentials? What does he need?
An engineer, a mic, ProTools. A hard-ass beat. You know, he drug-free so he don’t need no drugs or nothing.
He’s been eating healthy lately. Does he encourage everyone else to do that too?
Hell yeah! He always tell me, “SP, you better stay away from them noodles!” I be eating noodles and shit. He eats all healthy, like a basketball player. If I’m going on the road, I gotta be in shape too. So I gotta cut out the ramen noodles. It’s impressive just watching [him]. It’s not just physical—it’s a mental thing. That’s what’s most impressive.
Mike WiLL tweeted that he did nine songs on the album. How many did Zaytoven do?
About the same. They produced together on a lot of the songs. It’s the first time ever where you get a combination of Mike WiLL and Zay on the beats. There’s a couple of other producers. Murda Beatz did “Back on Road” with Drake. And Drumma Boy did “All My Children.”
Describe the energy in the studio.
Shit, like old-school Gucci, but slicker than he usually is. He kept saying slick shit, like every line. I ain’t even heard him go all the way in like that. This man can perform his whole verse in one take. It’s a whole ‘nother energy. Instead of waiting about four, five minutes until the verse done, it's like, “Nah, the verse done. He went in there and just [blacked out].” Each song, we be like looking at each other with the big eyes. Every song kept getting better and better. Even now, the songs just keep getting better and better.
What’s the feeling like working with Gucci now compared to before?
It’s less intense. It’s more fun. It’s more hits than misses. When you hear the album, it’s just from a different angle. I don’t know how to describe it, I can’t even lie. It’s better. Gucci on a wave right now.
Are you relieved that you got new material to work with?
It’s not like I have to work with it. I don’t have to put nothing together. I don’t have to reach out to get features or nothing. It’s less off my shoulders. I like it that way, too, because it’s his vision. That’s what everybody wants to see.
Are there still hard drives full of old Gucci songs?
Yeah, definitely. I don’t have them all, but I’m pretty sure he has a stash tucked off.
Did Gucci and Drake make “Back on Road” together?
Drake had made him a hook or something like that. When they hit each other up, when he heard he got out, they put that play together. I guess Drake put that together for him. Drake ended up sending it and that’s how that worked out.
What about “Champions?”
That was Kanye. Kanye reached out and wanted to get with Gucci, and he made that play happen. [He] called me over, “SP, I need you over ASAP.” Boom. As soon as I pull up, he’s ready to do it. I get over there and knock that motherfucker out.
How did Kanye get on “Pussy Print?”
You know, him and Kanye be talking. Once they reached out to Gucci, they got his line and exchanged information. That’s them working.
Now that he’s home and he’s about to drop the album, do you think it’s over for these Gucci clones?
It’s definitely over for these Gucci clones. Straight up. I want to say it’s the best album he ever did, to be honest with you. It’s the realest album he ever did. I mixed 30 of them motherfuckers, and I say this is the one right here.