"This is my way of showing them I’ve changed, I’ve matured..."

The story of Gucci Mane will remain etched in rap lore for decades to come. While the East Atlanta veteran’s 12-year career hasn’t yet spawned any household hits of his own, and his discography doesn’t boast an undisputed classic LP just yet, his cultural influence is unmatched. The destruc-tive duality of a life balancing entertainment and crime has plagued Gucci’s career: whenever it looked like he was on a home run musically, the street life would strike him out. Since the turn of the millennium he’s been incarcerated at least 10 times.

When we meet up with Radric Davis to interview him for this cover story, he’s still not permitted to enter the UK. Instead we’re invited to join him at K Club, a luxurious golf and leisure complex just outside of Dublin where he’s residing ahead of a show at Longitude Festival. It’s the 37-year-old’s first time outside of the United States, and he isn’t too cool to reveal how much fun he’s having. Pulling up a chair in the corner of the closed restaurant area, he’s unable to hide his gleaming white veneers as he reaches out for a handshake.

After emerging last year from his longest prison sentence yet - three years for possession of a fire-arm by a felon, which at one point looked as though it could be ten times as long - the transforma-tion of his appearance has been written, tweeted, commented upon and memed thousands of times. Just days before our interview, Rihanna posted a before-and-after shot of his 75lb weight loss on Instagram along with the caption “If you can’t handle me at my 2007 Gucci Mane, you don’t deserve me at my 2017 Gucci Mane,” which he laughs about during our conversation. However, Gucci’s biggest change lies beyond the surface.

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On ‘1st Day Out Tha Feds’ - a track that was penned in prison then recorded and released a day after he regained his freedom in May last year - he describes the plague of thoughts that had been troubling him; paranoid, numb, violent and impatient as he struggled for survival. “I did some things to some people that was downright evil,” he raps. “Is it karma coming back to me? So much drama. My own mama turned her back on me, and that’s my mama.”

Today, overlooking the K Club’s vast golf course, Gucci is thankful to have overcome that self-destructive internal narrative. “I just monitor what I think,” he explains. “I didn’t know that what you think all the time is really what you end up doing. I always used to think that everybody was against me. Nobody really wanted to see me win.”

This couldn’t be further from the truth. While inmate #65556019 was holed up in Terre Haute, Indiana, he received countless letters from fans around the world, and read every single one. With “Free Gucci” ringing off around the globe, his trusted engineer Sean Paine kept fans fed, releasing countless mixtapes from his expansive stash of unreleased music. And when news spread that he’d be being released a few months early, Drake and Kanye West were lining up to work with him.

A year on and Gucci is truly appreciative of how his life and career have progressed. Two months after his release from prison he dropped ‘Everybody Looking’, his most successful album to date, followed by ‘Woptober’ and ‘The Return Of East Atlanta Santa’ both before the end of 2016. In August last year he joined Rae Sremmurd on their viral hit ‘Black Beatles’, which would be his first number one single on US Billboard, and his Drake-featured single ‘Both’, released in December, would become his first platinum single as lead artist.

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Right now he’s particularly happy to have made it out of the US for the first time. “It’s been a challenge being away from my family for three weeks,” he admits. “But at the same time, I’ve been waiting all my life to tour internationally. It’s a dream come true.”

The majority of his downtime has been spent much like any other tourist. He’s been making enquiries at each hotel about the nearby attractions and sight-seeing opportunities, then wandering out to explore. “I just want to get out,” he grins. “I like to take pictures, I’m an adventurous person.”

However, not all of his activities have been quite so ordinary. Yesterday he flew out to Belgium last minute to fill a gap at Dour Festival for an absent Solange, and he’s just returned from Conor McGregor’s house in Dublin where he was shooting a music video. “Man, this shit…” he shakes his head. “It’s unrealistic!”

Gucci is adapting quickly to European festival crowds, admitting that while many of the attendees are unlikely to know his music bar-for- bar, it’s not something that bothers him. “Trap music is the biggest music in the world,” he declares. “I didn’t know that ’til I did these festivals. I was telling my wife the other day that it’s almost like reggae; they don’t know all the lyrics in these different places, but they know the beat. They do the mosh-pit. They time it. They know when the beat gon’ drop. When I hear reggae music I don’t know all the lyrics that person is saying but I still love the music. I have an instant connection with the festival crowd.”

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Trap music is the biggest music in the world...

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Since adorning the door of his grandfather’s two-bedroom house in Bessemer, Alabama, 1017 has been an important number for Gucci. It’s followed him through mixtape titles, social media handles, gleamed from the jewellery across his chest and the name of his label 1017 Records, so it makes sense that he has big plans for 10.17.17. Following his newly published autobiography, the date will see him release his 11th studio album, ‘Mr. Davis’, and a signature shoe with Reebok. But most importantly it’s the date he’ll be marrying the love of his life, Keyshia Ka’oir.

Gucci first clapped eyes on the beauty and wellness entrepreneur from XXL Magazine’s Eye Candy pages while he was serving a prison stint, and after being released he’d ask her to appear in his ‘911 Emergency’ video. A spark would develop into a strong relationship, and she’d provide vital emotional support throughout his prison sentence, assisting him with his health regime and looking after the scrawled verses he’d mail to her on yellow legal-pad paper. In November last year, Gucci popped the question with a 25-karat diamond ring in front of an arena full of Atlanta Hawks fans. An overwhelmed Ka’oir responded affirmatively.

While he’s brushed off the big day as “for her” and something he just “has to show up” to in multiple filmed interviews, during our conversation he describes the event as the biggest thing that he’s excited about this year, explaining: “Marriage is a public announcement that ‘This is who I’m spending my life with. This is the love of my life.’” It’s difficult not to notice the sparkling diamond ring that already adorns the fourth finger of his left hand. “I feel like it’s a special woman to hold my attention. [The fact that] I met her is how I know I’m doing something right. God set me up.”

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‘The Autobiography Of Gucci Mane’ was born from a personal therapy he identified while behind bars. Although he’s loved reading from a young age, thanks to his mother who was a teacher, Gucci rediscovered the passion during his sentence, devouring a menu of self-help books along with the autobiographies of icons from Malcolm X to Johnny Cash. “You know about all these things that went on in they life, but you don’t know how they felt during those times,” he says. With his book he intends to reveal the feelings that came along with the extreme ups and downs of his former lifestyle, as a deterrent to his contemporaries. “You know Gucci’s in the jail. But what was the feeling like when you’re facing the judge and you don’t know if you’re going to get 30 years or 30 months?” he asks.

Seeing his influence on the youth, Gucci feels responsible for correcting some of the negative habits they might have picked up from witnessing his actions. “There’s so many young artists that look up to me and so many I’ve had a hand in. A lot of things that they doing, they saw me do. I taught them the wrong way,” he admits. “This is my way of showing them I’ve changed, I’ve matured, I’ve evolved. I want to share that with them. I want to share that with everyone I can share it with.”

Against the ruthlessly competitive nature of rap culture, Gucci’s selflessness in assisting new talent has always set him apart. “I always felt like I’m the ultimate outlier,” he says, while discussing one of his favourite authors Malcolm Gladwell, who would interview Gucci a week before the release of his own book. “I’m the ultimate maverick, the ultimate connector. I’ve always been a magnet for talent. I never aspired to be the best artist; I just wanted to be rich. I wanted to be financially free and I knew I could work the rap game to do that.”

He explains that the tribal mentality of street life meant that he never thought twice about surrounding himself with other talented artists. “It’s easy for me to crew up. I always get artists and help them,” he offers. “That’s what I want to be remembered for: ‘Gucci, he helped so many people. He brought us the Migos, Young Thug, Waka Flocka Flame, OJ Da Juiceman. He introduced us to DJ Holiday and Zaytoven, a 19-year- old Mike WiLL Made-It.’” He takes a sip of water allowing the list - which he could easily have made three times as long - to marinate. “Ain’t nobody else who ever done that in the history of rap music.”

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I’m the ultimate maverick, the ultimate connector.

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Despite the storms that Gucci Mane has constantly had to weather, he’s proud to have remained relevant 12 years into his career; longevity, he says, is his greatest achievement. While he acknowledges that every artist is in a unique situation and should strive to find their own path, he de-scribes his own journey as one of endurance. “My work ethic came from all the doors that was closed,” he states. “It made me realise I had to believe in myself.” He recalls a trial and error approach, where if one mixtape didn’t hit, he’d return to the drawing board like some Silicon Valley start-up, making alterations and returning with his next iteration. “I just kept force-feeding them over and over, and that’s what got me my cult-following.” This method preceded an approach that has become industry standard, with release schedules accelerating to feed streaming services; the new paradigm is tailor-made for Gucci’s success.

With his new lease on life, timing is everything: had he achieved recent accolades prior to the sentence, he says that he likely wouldn't have been mentally prepared to reap the benefits. “I really didn’t value anything,” he confesses. “I took everything for granted.” He pauses, gazing across the golf course. “I hate to say it, but [prison] helped me because it humbled me. I was arrogant.”

Although Gucci has often claimed that he doesn't have any regrets, as he looks towards his future as a married man, he admits that one thing has been preying on his mind. “I regret some of the things I said about women,” he says, forehead furrowing as he recalls a particularly graphic Twitter rant from 2013. “Like Nicki, Monica and Tiny, the things that I said about them… They’re beautiful women and I hate that I disrespected them like that. I didn’t want to be known for it. That’s one thing that I regret.”

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‘Mr. Davis’ marks the next stage in his evolution, welcoming listeners to celebrate his current successes alongside a star-studded line-up of guest appearances including Chris Brown, Nicki Minaj, Migos and The Weeknd. “It’s like a time capsule,” he describes. “I talk about travelling internationally for the first time. I talk about getting married. I talk about trying to work and have a real career while you’re on probation. And I talk about trying to do the right things and the challenges I go through.”

But not everything is delivered with his Colgate smile. “You hear a lot of good, but at the same time I talk about my dad died last year. I talk about my situation with me, my mom and my brother growing up and how humble our beginnings were. I talk about people I lost, like Bankroll Fresh and Shawty Lo, close friends of mine. I’ve never shared these things, my first time talking about them is on this album.” It’s impossible to address the good in Gucci’s life right now without addressing the darkness that it was born from. The cocoon of prison is inseparable from his metamorphosis, and it feels as though both yin and yang will spill into everything that Gucci touches for some time. “I went to a maximum security prison with nothing but lifers and killers, and that changed my life,” he states plainly. “The majority of people in that prison were never getting out. They’re going to die there, and I needed to see that.”

Already a cult hero drenched in his own mythology, the legend of Radric Davis isn’t just one to in-spire musicians or even fans, it’s a tale that talks to the human condition in general - battling through extremes and emerging victorious. As Gucci and his two-man entourage gather their modest collection of luxury baggage, ready to make the drive to Marlay Park where he’s due to take the stage in an hour, he leaves us with a final wish. “I want people to learn that nothing is insurmountable. No matter what obstacle is in your way you can jump it,” he offers, earnestly. “Always believe in yourself, never let nobody doubt you. If the odds are against you, keep pushing. That’s my life story.”

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Words: Grant Brydon
Fashion + Photography: Simon Rasmussen

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