The Lowdown: Kevin Gilyard spent a year behind bars on assault and weapons charges, chomping at the bit to prove that incarceration had not caused him to lose precious ground in the race to the top of the rap pile under the moniker of Kevin Gates. A multi-platinum Baton Rouge-bred rapper with the hit-making ability to chart parallel to Drake but streetwise enough to stand on his own alongside rappers like Jeezy and 2Chainz in a field that hosts a dwindling population of talent with actual trap house experience, Gates embodied Luca Brasi for the entirety of two full mixtapes. He occasionally channeled the heavy in real life. Incarcerated in 2017 for assault and felony gun possession, Gates was jailed as his music garnered critical acclaim. On his first full-length since being released, Gates overrides The Godfather-inspired hitman persona anticipated ahead of his return to form on the Luca Brasi 3 mixtape. He all but buries the alter ego with bars that elucidate the internal and interpersonal conflicts and legal impediments endemic to keeping one foot on the road to massive commercial success and one foot in the street.
The Good: Though a self-professed veteran hustler, Gates is not some amoral, unrepentant killer with whom few can relate. He refers to his sinister inclinations but leads with the charisma that oozes from his melancholic Gulf Coast drawl. Doubling down on the “I Don’t Get Tired” mantra and tireless work ethic that first made him a social media darling, Gates reasserts his presence as an intersectional force adept at representing the South and gangsta rap. Luca Brasi 3 is full of allusions to his widely publicized struggle with depressive disorder (“Ridiculous” opens with the line “I’m not happy, but I’m peaceful at all costs”), heartfelt messages to his children, and “ashy to classy” incantations that suggest his success and failure are abundant fuel for his faith. The lyrics play with clarity over booming slappers sporting prodigious amounts of low end and club bangers punctuated by harps that nudge trap drums.
Gates grapples with mistakes and imperfection on opener “Discussion” and relishes hardship in the atmosphere of gross self-indulgence that finds many of his peers more overcome by rap’s traditional relationship with excess than he seems to be, diamond encrusted teeth notwithstanding. The thing that is most impressive about Kevin Gates by Luca Brasi 3 is not lyrical dexterity or showmanship. He isn’t much for an alliterative flourish. Instead, his everyman hustler persona, charm, and vulnerability are his most valuable assets. He is clear by the close of LB3 that nothing can stop him, which should be a balm for listeners eager for what’s to come.
The Bad: Producers DJ Chose, RockBoy Beats, Yung Ladd, Yung Lan, Will Major, and Go Grizzly contribute just enough bass, bounce, and suspense to the final mix to buoy Gates’ verses when the crooning becomes monotonous or he dives into cloying braggadocio on a hard sell of his sexual prowess, adherence to the G Code, or his pull in the streets. All topics that are so Kevin Gates they lose efficacy in the mix and play better as business card fodder than thoughts worth repeating. “Me Too” is Gates’ sex-positive spin on the catchphrase for an active movement to acknowledge survivors and bring perpetrators of sexual violence to justice. Though the two are not thematically tied, the title was not the best creative choice. Gates reserves the closing tracks for his comrades behind bars or in the trenches trapping. The acknowledgement of a demographic that is rarely lauded outside of standard-issue rap lore is understandable, though a little curious considering Gates’ recent release from prison and what seems an overwhelming desire to avoid doubling back. The tip of the hat is hopefully an innocuous shout-out to the yeoman hustlers that keep the blocks humming in every major city and less a harbinger of missteps to come. Flaws and all, the world really wants Kevin Gates to win, and he is steps away from doing just that.
The Verdict: Two years after the release of his 2016 full-length album, ISLAH, and one year removed from the release of By Any Means 2, Kevin Gates returns with a body of work that suggests the most complex and interesting voice on Luca Brasi 3 is the one belonging to the man behind the fearsome character. Notorious for his candor and vulnerability, Kevin Gates puts himself out front and places Luca Brasi on the shelf to unpack the mortal man he may have been trying to get to all along.
Essential Tracks: “Discussion”, “Money Long”, “In God I Trust”, and “Don’t Know”