MIXTAPE REVIEW: Diplo Presents: Free Gucci (Best of The Cold War Mixtapes)
by Marcus K. Dowling
The nature of this mixtape in principle is to explore what Gucci Mane would sound like over musical styles unfamiliar to his typical dirty South productions. Instead, this just sounds like a bunch of ideas that Gucci can explore when he gets released from prison.
The concept of “genres” is dead.
The most important lesson learned from the Free Gucci: Best of the Cold War Mixtapes release by Mad Decent Records is that there are a ton of young production minds in this world now available to the world of hip hop. Now that Snoop Dogg and Nicki Minaj freely flow over dubstep, Pitbull has made a career on electro, and reggae emcees have already been on the dub and reggae tip for quite some time, we’ve reached a musical equilibrium. The nature of this mixtape in principle is to explore what Gucci Mane would sound like over musical styles unfamiliar to his typical dirty South productions. Instead, this just sounds like a bunch of ideas that Gucci can explore when he gets released from prison.
Literally one year ago, Diplo and the gang at Mad Decent released a mixtape taking Alabama’s Paper Route Gangstaz into the underground club scene. At the time, that album sounded fresh, odd and entertaining. Fast forward after 2009, and the same concept with Gucci Mane sounds like his latest mainstream album release. This says a lot about the saturation of electro in mainstream top 40 music, and if anything portents the same expectation for dubstep in the year to come. Instead of reaching far, this mixtape sounds like an amalgamation of competing B-sides for Warner Brothers to choose from for inclusion on white label releases of singles. Music is an odd place, and with this release, we begin to see where the separation of styles of music actually ceases to exist, and the invocation of a fertile, genre-less musical atmosphere can occur.
In just under 53 minutes, some of the brighter young production minds in electronic dance music, alongside a select few veterans attempt but often fall short in creating awe inspiring remixes of Radric Davis. However, there are a few standouts that require spotlight. Chicago Ghetto-industrial band Salem’s take on Gucci’s “My Shadow” is dark, bleak and completely frightening, adding tremendous depth and meaning to the track that clearly was not there prior. The weaving and meandering synths and frankly depression inducing bassline is fantastic. The band has prior experience in the realm of Gucci Mane remixes, so their success here is in no way shocking at all. Chicago’s Willy Joy and DJ Benzi go bonkers on “I’m the Shit,” crafting a fun and funky house remix with Daniel Bedingfield’s “Gotta Get Through This” as a winning track to lay the vocals over. The doubles on the chorus are a particularly entertaining touch, creating some fun UK 2-step type instrumentation.
But the champion here is Diplo. He’s weirder than ever now, and in his fertile imagination lies such far reaching freedom for innovation that by comparison, though everyone here is more than talented, Diplo sets the bar so far above and beyond that it’s truly impossible at this moment to reach. Take for example the mixtape opener “Danger’s Not a Stranger.” I can’t imagine anyone else in the universe re-interpolating Mariah Carey’s “Can’t Let Go” and blending in Gucci’s vocals to create a mid-tempo, drive time radio banger. Mixtape closer “Break Yourself” goes from being a hood anthem about women to being an Ibiza trance inspired bottle service club crusher when Diplo injects the familiar synth lines of ATB’s “9PM (Til I Come)” into it, changing the emotion and expanding the hit potential of the song.
The issue with the mixtape is that many of the younger producers on the album violate the nature of the vocals in attempting to take an acapella in a particular direction seemingly as a route to attaining mainstream acceptance. As solid as Douster and DZ are at providing dubstep for the masses, Gucci Mane’s cadence really just does not lend itself well to deep basslines. Veterans Bird Peterson and Emynd show and prove here, Peterson’s take on “Dope Boys” a downtempo and intropective track that is acceptable, and Emynd gets southern vet Playboy Tre to drop 16 bars on Frowny Face, creating a high hat, bass kick and 808 laden ATL strip club style remix that certainly passes muster as expected.
In final, this mixtape is more than solid. However, it speaks much more to the proliferation of underground musical styles succeeding in the mainstream than to any advancement or celebration of Gucci Mane as an artist. On the strength of Diplo’s, Salem’s and the Willy Joy and Benzi remixes alone, this is a must download compilation, but certainly not a contender for the best compilation of the year.