“These niggas lying in their rhymes/ You can stop pretending…And if you disrespect me nigga/ You gonna have to kill me/ Bitch I’ma die about it/ I’m from where niggas get it on/ We don’t cry about it,” Kevin Gates raps over the minor-key trap instrumental of “Die Bout It”. For over two decades, the gruff-throated vocalist sat front row for a Baton Rouge-based street-level education. Two years removed from a prison stint for trafficking narcotics, Gates’ debut major-label release, Stranger Than Fiction, arrives from a man that has graduated from the violence and depression of his home-base. “Die Bout It”, and the misogynist “Thinkin’ with My Dick” (feat. Juicy J), provide a look back at Gates’ vice-laden adolescence; but the 18-track release serves more as a bandage for interpersonal afflictions than dagger for now-forgotten adversaries.
“Money Magnet”, “Change on Me” (feat. Percy Keith and Mista Cain), “Tiger”, and “Smiling Faces” make for a vignette on incarceration. Whereas, many of his Southern hip-hop contemporaries remain infatuated on the riches of the drug game, these four tracks follow a man that had it all, only to lose his friends and his future in trade for a deep mistrust for all those he once loved: “They say they love you and therefore would do anything/ But I find it awkward their eyes don’t say the same thing/ Lately…beware of smiling faces”.
Only 27 years old, Gates’ verses contain an unexpected wisdom. However, growing up in a neighborhood where friends end up killing friends (“4:30 A.M.”), old-age is certainly no guarantee. Still suffering from the pain of former bullet wounds and childhood loss, Gates has erected a hardened exterior, yet his heart seems incapable of protecting itself. Even with the respect that a major-label contract offers, end of album verses on “Don’t Know What to Call It” and “Angels” attest that after coming from nothing, Gates still can’t shake the feeling of nothingness.
Looking back at Kanye West’s 808s & Heartbreak, there is much strength to be gained in weakness — Gates current momentum is fueled with that power.
Essential Tracks: “Thinkin’ with My Dick”, “Smiling Faces”, and “Don’t Know What to Call It”