After Gucci Mane was released from jail in May of last year, he returned to the public with not only a leaner physique but a warmer, more open personality toward the music industry that surrounds him. It was such a drastic shift from the paranoia and introversion that marked the previous phase of his career that the internet speculated that this Gucci might actually be a clone. It turns out, Gucci is still very obviously Gucci, but with a renewed sense of focus — besides scoring his first No. 1 single on the Billboard 100 (from Rae Sremmurd’s “Black Beatles”), he earned his first No. 1 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart with Everybody Looking. He also wrote a book, The Autobiography of Gucci Mane, about his life, marking the first time he’s ever been so candid about his past. Over the phone, Gucci spoke to Vulture about his humble beginnings in Bessemer, Alabama, his highs and lows throughout his life and career, his artistic process, and hopes for the book.
I wanted to begin by asking you about your father, who was the original Gucci Mane. In the book you mention that, like him, you had a speech impediment, you loved music, and you had a habit of looking sharp. You were always referred to as Gucci’s son. Are there other ways you’ve emulated your father?
You know, I never really was aware that I had a speech impediment. I don’t know if I would call it a speech impediment, but being as how I was from Alabama, I spoke differently. When you’re a child, they point it out to you that you speak differently than other kids. It was something that made me stand out and made me realize that I was different. I was always referred to as Gucci Mane or Lil’ Gucci Mane but I always resented that growing up ’cause you’re trying to find your own identity. When I made it up in my mind to be a rapper and professional recording artist, I couldn’t think of a good moniker. All my life people called me “Radric” or “Ray.” They would call me “Gucci” and I decided to take it on because I grew up hearing it. As soon as I made that decision, I started to take rapping seriously. As I grew up, I started looking more like my dad. I didn’t see it at first but I look just like my dad looked in his 30s.
You also mention that as a kid you had an interest in poetry, and displayed a writing talent early on. You were teased in the beginning. Is writing is a form of escapism for you?
It was something that came easy for me. My mother was a schoolteacher, and growing up, she taught me how to read early on. Reading and writing, as long as I could remember, was a way to show off. I wrote better than those my age because she was teaching me before I got to school. When I got to Atlanta, it wasn’t that kids teased me, it was more that they pointed out that I was different. I made friends super fast when I got to Georgia. We’re still friends to this day and they helped me adapt to the Atlanta lifestyle. So, even in my circle of my friends, they were a huge influence on shaping me to be who I am. I was running with people who taught me a lot.
There’s an anecdote in the autobiography where you’re working with Zaytoven and he tells you to go in the booth and start freestyling. You try it and everyone is shocked at what you’re about to do. Rapping was a way of showing off, but were there any moments where you needed that extra push from someone to build that trust in what you could do?
Zay was a huge supporter. He encouraged me. Once I started, even though I had people telling me that it was amazing with the first record that I recorded, I was always a big fan of rap music in general. There were rappers in my neighborhood who I thought were way better. Once I started letting them hear my music, I was a fan of them. I wouldn’t even call them local or underground. They were rapping for themselves. But they had so much talent and I wanted to be better. It wasn’t, like, competing, but I wanted to be doper than them.
I noticed in the book that you reiterated how competitive you are. I’m dying to know about your work ethic — it’s insane. In the mid-2000s, it wasn’t as common for rappers to churn out songs, whereas now, it feels like it’s expected. How did you become so prolific? What’s your schedule like?
A week ago, a young rapper asked me, “Gucci, how do you do it?” He didn’t even know me. “How do you do what you do? How do you keep winning like that?” I told him that I’ve had so many doors closed and I was blackballed for so long back then that I had so much to say. I had so much on my mind and I wanted to record. I went into the studio and vented. That’s what drove me. If people didn’t like this song, they’ll like this song. If they don’t like this mixtape, they’ll like the next one. People wrote me off like I was going to fail. The recording process is about me being resilient. If nothing else, I can go to the studio and make the dopest song anybody ever heard and I would feel like that every day.
I guess you don’t get writer’s block?
I never had writer’s block. But looking back on my career in my hindsight, there’s times where I created doper music at doper time stamps. During this time, I was making hit after hit. And during other times, I wouldn’t say it was mediocre, but I would say I may have made better music the year before.
When you got out of prison, you received a very warm reception. You got a profile in Vogue. You came back and you didn’t have to build yourself up. People were waiting for you. Do you find it hard to self-improve?
It took me going to prison to be able to sit down, write, and reflect on my life. I always knew that I was an amazing person, and I’m saying this as humbly as I can, but a lot of artists are super talented, but they’re not fascinating. There are artists who I listen to and look up to like Marvin Gaye or Michael Jackson or Tupac — their lives are fascinating. They turn out hit record after hit record. That’s the whole thing with me. I’m like a mystique. I’m like an enigma. People are fascinated with me. That’s why I wrote the book. I want people to know the reason why people are fascinated with me. I have led a life doing things that most people have never done. That’s what separates and makes me different, and I embrace it.
You wrote vividly about how the media liked to make you out as a villain. You wrote about how, when you got the ice-cream cone tattooed on your face, you depicted that as a way of succumbing to what the media expected of you. Do you feel like with this book, you could better control the narrative of your life and career?
Not necessarily. This is just how I was thinking. I want people to know how I was feeling throughout my entire life, not just my career. I want to share that with the world in order to help somebody. A lot of things that the media said about me — not saying that it was true, but I gave them reason to think like that. It ain’t like they were out to get me. I may not have been a villain but a lot of stuff I was doing was against the law, so I was a criminal. You know what I’m saying? [Laughs.] It ain’t too many ways you can paint a criminal. I respect journalists. I know they have to ask the tough questions. If you want to be a rapper, you have to put yourself in the public eye. You subject yourself to the praise, ridicule, and insults. There’s no other way around it. You got to be responsible. I had to be responsible for what I did. If it turns into a negative narrative, it’s kinda my fault.
You’re responsible for grooming so many rappers’ careers — Young Thug, Migos, etc. — at the Brick Factory. Music is such a competitive industry but you’ve looked out for those younger than yourself. Have you always maintained this mind-set that as you succeed, you must lift as you climb?
My whole mentality with the rap game 100 percent came from my mentality with trappin’ and the streets. When I came up trappin,’ there was a crew. You had people in the crew who got a lot of money and you had people who were just trying to get on their feet. But you never looked down on ’em. If you brought something to the table, we tried to help you. That’s what I brought to the rap game. I never looked down on Young Thug or Migos even when they came into the game at their lowest point. What I’m super proud of is giving them the best advice I could: Conduct yourself with class. Be the boss of what you do no matter who you sign with. Respect the money you makin’ even if it’s $1,000, until it gets to $20,000. I never tried to steal nothing from them. I always looked out for them. I know I did bad in my life but I know I did good behind all those artists.
Another part I want to get to is how you expressed your life for your fiancée, Keyshia Dior Ka’oir. She uncovered all of these strong emotions in you, but she came at a very turbulent time: lean addiction, run-ins with the law … How significant of a role did she play in your resurgence after you were released from jail?
She played the most significant role to be honest because a lot of people — even those who were super close — they turned their back on me. And I don’t blame them because I was destructive and disrespectful at the time. She was one of the main people who wanted to stick by me regardless, even though I disrespected her, and so many [other] people. She knew that I was going through something and decided to ride it out with me, and she didn’t have to do that. I was facing a lot of time and we didn’t know what the outcome was going to be, but she knew it was going to work itself out. She showed me true loyalty. Everybody needs somebody. She was the only person who I was really reaching out to, and she was a beam of positivity. Every time I reached out to her, she was never negative. I had time to weed out all the people that didn’t need to be there and she was the last person standing.
So how did the book come about? Was this something you always wanted to do or did you need some convincing?
I always thought about writing a book. I actually wanted to write a screenplay. While I was in prison my friend Harmony Korine [director of Spring Breakers, which Gucci acted in] was sending me books and telling me to write a screenplay. Then one day, my engineer told me that I should write a book. I wasn’t even in prison yet. I was waiting to be sentenced. I was like, okay, let me try it. Then one day, I wrote 30 pages. Then Neil [Martinez-Belkin, co-author of the book] wrote me in prison, and I remembered him from interviewing me for XXL. He told me that I should write a book and left his number. We connected and I told him that I wrote 30–40 pages. I mailed it to him and he told me it was amazing and I should send him more and he’ll put it in book form so it would come out by the time I got out. That’s how it came about. I went so far down that I couldn’t do anything but go up. I couldn’t do a lot but I had time to write, so why not do it?
In your book, you’ve mentioned other authors that you’ve read — Deepak Chopra, Malcolm Gladwell, the autobiographies of Jimi Hendrix and Mike Tyson — who is on your bookshelf right now?
I read Steve Harvey, Joel Osteen, T.D. Jakes. I try to read a book a week. Every time I’m at the airport, I’m at the bookstore. Every time I’m on the plane, I’m reading, you know?
So what do you hope your fans get from this book?
This book is not a tell-all. I didn’t want to air out nobody else’s business. I want people to know that even though I came from a humble beginning, look what I did and look what I’m doing. Even though I bumped my head a couple of times, you know, I dusted myself and I’m still pushing. I want everyone to read and think that if Gucci did it and the stacks were against him — some were my fault, some not — he still did it. I want people in prison to know that Gucci came out and did something with his second chance.
Do you think you’ll write another book or get around to that screenplay?
I’m 100 percent writing another book and I’m definitely going to write that screenplay.