Welcome to the latest edition of Books on GIF, the animated alternative to boring book reviews. This Sunday's selection is ‘The Autobiography of Gucci Mane’ by Gucci Mane with Neil Martinez-Belkin.
Before I get into this review I want to take a second to apologize for not sending a newsletter two weeks ago. That Sunday was the culmination of two pretty bad weeks. First, my identity was stolen and my checking account was cleared out. The bank will make me whole again, but recovering my money and my identity has been frustrating. Then, my father’s best friend, who I’ve known my entire life, committed suicide. Shortly after that, my wife learned that her brother had died of cancer. With all that going on, I decided to give Books on GIF a break, support my family and just:
I didn’t know anything about the rapper known as Gucci Mane when I picked up this book a few months back. I’ve never heard any of his songs, and I haven’t really kept up on rap music personalities since the 1990s. But I had heard this book was good, and figured I’d give it a shot. For those of you who don’t know Gucci Mane, here he is sitting in a Rolls Royce with a pretty nice watch and bracelet combo:
Gucci Mane, born Radric Davis, is the luckiest guy in the world; he’s lucky to be alive, out of prison and wealthy. He could have been shot by the police when he violated his house arrest and was walking the streets of Atlanta armed, abusive and strung out on a variety of drugs, particularly a cough syrup-based concoction called ‘lean.’ He could have been killed in some beef back when he was dealing drugs before he became a famous and influential figure in rap, pioneering a genre called trap music. He could have died in a plane crash when on his way to a gig he flew past a tornado. Or he could have been killed in prison when fellow inmates thought he was hanging out with a snitch. I was like:
Gucci offers a candid look at his life and career that includes his struggles with addiction, mental illness, poverty, violence and incarceration. His story also offers a glimpse into several worlds that I knew little about. I got to see a bit of the history of black communities in the rural South as he traced his family roots from Atlanta back to Alabama in the 1850s. I learned a lot about the southern rap scene, particularly in Atlanta, and how hits are made and marketed. I had no idea, for example, how instrumental strippers are to the promotion of rap music. The right dancer who gets a track played at the right club can make or break a song. I was also fascinated by the transactional way many rap songs come together: a few grand here and there, and you’ve got a beat and several guest appearances from rappers more famous than you. Gucci was in and out of jail A LOT, and the book took me as close as I ever want to get to prison, with its shackles, strip searches and shanks. And I learned more than I ever wanted to know about the mechanics of opiate addiction, and how much weight you can lose detoxing on a prison toilet. Seriously, I was like:
‘The Autobiography of Gucci Mane’ follows the standard sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll format of other biographical books about musicians I’ve read before, including ‘The Dirt’ by Mötley Crüe and ‘Hammer of the Gods’ by Stephen Davis. But unlike those books, I felt that Gucci isn’t glorifying his excesses with women, drugs, guns, money or the streets, nor does he seem overly ashamed of his missteps. He is as matter of fact about getting his ice cream cone face tattoo as he is about his start in drug dealing. As he is about the various prisons and jails he’s been in. As he is about a violent incident that ended in someone’s death. And as he is about discussing his father, the original Gucci Mane, who went from a job making dynamite at a chemical plant to becoming an alcoholic and professional con man. I found Gucci’s tone refreshing and honest. It was as if he was saying:
I really enjoyed this book, and I think you will, too, whether you’re a Gucci Mane fan or not. The lyrics to his songs sprinkled throughout the text left me with no burning desire to hear his music, but I was inspired by his story. Gucci has worked hard to move beyond his troubled past to stay alive, clean, married, successful and physically fit. His life story reminds us that everyone has demons, and that the path to overcoming them is difficult and unending. I’m rooting for him.
How it begins:
September 13, 2013
The police had taken my pistol the day before but I wasn’t without heavy arms. I’d been stockpiling weapons at the studio. Glocks, MAC-10s, ARs fitted with scopes and hundred-round monkey nuts. All out in the open for easy access. I was in Tony Montana mode, bracing for a final standoff. I didn’t know when it would happen, who it would be, or what would force its occurrence, but one thing I did know: something bad was going to happen and it was going to happen soon.
I looked around my studio. The Brick Factory. It seemed like just yesterday this had been the spot. Everybody would be over here. At all hours of the day for days on end. But now the Brick Factory looked more like an armory than a place where music was made. I’d seen the looks on people’s faces when they came through. My studio was no longer a fun place to be. Onetime regulars started dropping like flies until I was the only one left. Alone.
Everyone was scared again. Not just scared of what was going on with me but scared of me. Scared to call me. Scared to see me. Keyshia had tried to be a voice of reason. She tried telling me things I was stressing over weren’t as bad as I was making them out to be. That my problems were manageable. That we could figure them out together. But I was too far gone and even Keyshia had her limits. A few days earlier I snapped on her and she’d hung up the phone. She’d had enough.
A paranoid mess, I went and checked the CCTV monitor for any activity outside. None. The parking lot was empty. The gate was secure. If that brought me any peace of mind, it disappeared as soon as I looked away from the screen, down at my feet.
The ankle monitor. I was a sitting duck. Everyone knew I was here. And they knew I couldn’t leave.
‘The Autobiography of Gucci Mane’ by Gucci Mane with Neil Martinez-Belkin was published by Simon & Schuster in 2017 and 2018. 286 pages, including index. $14.40 at Strand Book Store.
In two weeks you’ll get a review of ‘The Secret Life of Plants’ by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird. Also in the queue are ‘Sing, Unburied, Sing’ by Jesmyn Ward, a roundup of novellas featuring ‘McGlue’ by Ottessa Moshfegh and ‘Kudos’ by Rachel Cusk, among others.
In case you missed it: Books on GIF #107 featured ‘The Seas’ by Samantha Hunt.
Shoot me an email if there’s a bestseller, a classic or a forgotten gem you want reviewed.
Thanks for reading, and thanks especially to Donna for editing this review!
Until next time,