Gunplay, ‘Living Legend’ [ALBUM REVIEW]
Gunplay's debut album, Living Legend, is a project that feels like it has been in the making for an eternity.
The rapper was a stand-out member of the Rick Ross-supported group Triple C's, and soon began releasing material by himself. He started making a name for himself on the mixtape circuit and proceeded to have a remarkable year in 2012, bodying every track he delivered on his own and through collaboration.
He outrapped the then-rising star Kendrick Lamar twice. First on Kendrick's "Cartoon & Cereal" track and then on the Maybach Music posse cut "Power Circle." His Bogata Rich: The Prequel and 601 & Snort mixtapes from that year remain some of his best efforts. His solo track "Bible on the Dash" from the latter tape really started to turn heads. Gunplay seemed destined for greatness.
And then nothing happened. Sure, Gunplay kept grinding on the mixtape circuit, dropping gems like "Pyrex" and "Bet Dat," and he continued stealing the show on other peoples' songs, but his career as a whole began to stagnate. As time went on, each mixtape release seemingly had less hype. People wanted the album, but it didn't seem to be coming anytime soon.
In 2012, he announced his debut album, Bogota. Delays started piling up (likely because of an October arrest on armed robbery charges and subsequent house arrest) and Bogota became Medellin, which eventually became Living Legend. Meanwhile, labelmates Wale and Meek Mill were releasing multiple studio projects as Gunplay tried to maintain traction. Now we finally have Living Legend, and while Gunplay might not have the same hype he had three years ago, his skills haven't missed a beat.
Gunplay commands attention. He's the prototypical no-nonsense gangsta rapper, somebody who you know is the real deal just from how he delivers his lyrics. The album opens with him saying, "Let me tell you who the f--- I am," and you know he's not going to spare any detail from his experiences in the hood. Gunplay is the real deal and he's not one to be trifled with. His delivery is cocksure and aggressive, whether he's threatening some punk or getting introspective. He's a natural star on the mic.
Yet throughout the run time of Living Legend, something feels incomplete. The album has a decent length: 11 tracks and over 50 minutes of music, but it's not entirely satisfying. The production fits perfectly well with Gunplay's lyrics; the beats bang despite the credits not boasting many impressive names outside of DJ Mustard (who provides one of his best beats ever on the YG collaboration "Wuzhanindoe"). Gunplay's skills are on full display and he never takes a track off, yet the album ends up largely forgettable.
Watch Gunplay's "Wuzhanindoe" Feat. YG
The reason for this underwhelming feeling may be because of the features that abound on the album. A variety of guests show up on Living Legend, including YG, Stalley, Curren$y, Yo Gotti and Gunplay's Maybach Music Group boss Rick Ross. Yet most of these guest features feel phoned in. Ross sounds like he's just going through the motions. Stalley and Spitta are usually very consistent in their quality, but "Chain Smokin'" goes in one ear and out the other. It sounds like every other weed-smoking anthem that's been released since the dawn of hip-hop.
The Triple C's collaboration on "From Da Jump" just shows us why Gunplay is the member of the group with the solo career as the other members don't even compete with him on the track. Don Logan sounds hungry all throughout Living Legend, but his supporting cast feel like they're just there for the paycheck. Only YG manages to complement him well, and the two rappers showcase a very natural chemistry on the standout track "Wuzhanindoe."
This all makes sense in the context of Gunplay's career. He first gained his hype from outshining even the most celebrated of lyricists on tracks, after all. His best mixtapes barely waste their time on guest features, and when he does get help on a track, it doesn't feel forced. That being said, it's no surprise that outside of "Wuzhanindoe," the hardest hitting tracks on Living Legend are completely unassisted.
"Tell 'Em" serves a great intro; "White Bitch" is one of the most ridiculously fun brag tracks of the year. "Dark Dayz," the penultimate track on the LP, is Gunplay at possibly the most emotional we've ever seen him. It closes with a phone call between him and his mother, and it hits hard and feels like an incredibly natural moment. "Leave Da Game" is an adequate closing track, but ending on "Dark Dayz" would have been the perfect time to close.
Living Legend is a solid debut from the Miami rapper, nothing more, nothing less. It holds its own against other recent Maybach Music Group recordings from the likes of Meek Mill and Wale, but at the same time it doesn't make as many personal statements as those albums outside of a few tracks. Gunplay's an incredibly talented rapper and is one of the most exciting people in the game when he's at his peak. Unfortunately, his albums can't reflect that when much of the length consists of by-the-numbers verses from featured guests while waiting for Gunplay to show up again and kill the track.
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