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Kevin Gates - Luca Brasi 3 Music Album Reviews

At last out of prison, the Louisiana rapper returns with his hard-hitting verses and endearing croon—and lots of new stories to share.

As Luca Brasi 3 begins, Kevin Gates has even more to dish than usual. The new mixtape is the gabby Louisiana rapper’s first major project since he was released early this year from a longer-than-expected prison stint. He’d finished serving 180 days for kicking a fan in the face from the stage when authorities discovered an outstanding weapons warrant against him, costing him another nine months.

True to his reputation for candor, Gates gets right into it with “Discussion,” which documents the ins-and-outs of his negotiations with the D.A., the respectful glances of his fellow inmates, and his long hours in the weight room. But what he lingers on the most is the frustration of the sidelines. “Got some niggas who love me, they outta reach,” he raps. “Got some children who coming up, gotta teach/Got some family who mad ’cause they tryna leach.” Then there’s the toll on his marriage, which he captures with emotion on “Find You Again”: “This is a burden that none of us want/The judge broke us up when I went back to court/Sentenced the time, and it tore us apart.” Gates’ storytelling is never entirely linear, as he writes in impressions, not scenes. But the crumbs he allows here frame an admission that the two nearly didn’t make it.

Before his incarceration, Gates’ career had been playing out like a dream. He followed a run of outstanding mixtapes with 2016’s Islah, his Atlantic debut and the rare major-label effort that did blockbuster numbers without making obvious commercial concessions. It quietly became one of the best-selling rap records of that year, behind only Drake. Gates’ subsequent projects have been strong, too. Even last year’s stopgap prison release, By Any Means 2, felt mighty given the circumstances.

Gates doesn’t let his time away knock him off his stride. Luca Brasi 3’s subject matter trends heavier, but Gates is such a gregarious presence that he instinctively makes room for levity. On “Kung Fu,” he brags that he’s “a great example, great sex-haver/In shape for the Met Gala.” During “Shakin Back,” he somehow turns a urine test into a flex: “I’m pissing clean for my P.O./I’m a living legend.” His hearty warble remains a thing of wonder, too. He croons like a guy on the bus singing over his headphones, fully aware that everybody can hear him. Gates is like a pitcher with just two pitches, his hard verses and that chesty singing. But he mixes them so effectively that he can carry an hour-long project by himself.

If Luca Brasi 3 feels less necessary than its predecessors, though, that’s mostly because the hooks aren’t quite as titanic. Few linger in the head like his best; some that actually stick do so for all the wrong reasons. Even without its unfortunate title, “Me Too” (decidedly not a #MeToo statement) crosses the line into snickering silliness. The song exhausts its conceit in its first chorus: “I like fucking you in public, she say ‘Me too’/She don’t like using no rubber, I say ‘Me too.’” And “M.A.T.A.”—short for, as you feared, “Make America Trap Again”—should be the mantra for a far lazier, lamer rapper than Gates.

He is much better when he’s painting with shades of grey. On “Shoulda,” he offers a more mature spin on the trendy you-missed-your-chance takedown of an ex-girlfriend, epitomized by Post Malone’s “Better Now” and Juice WRLD’s “Lucid Dreams.” Those hits have a petty, juvenile posture, where the ex is always the villain. Gates’ spin on the subject matter spares us the indignation and animosity. He wishes his ex happiness and even admits his stubbornness denied them a second chance. As always, on Luca Brasi 3, Gates serves as a corrective to a rap landscape that favors absolutes. In his world, everything is always a little less clear-cut.

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