Gunplay: Will Hip-Hop's Loose Cannon Ever Hit?

Is Gunplay hip-hop's insane genius, or just insane?
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Is Gunplay hip-hop's insane genius, or just insane?

When Gunplay announced he was changing his name to Don Logan I immediately assumed the moniker switch was inspired by Wolverine. Unlike the other mutants in X-Men, Wolverine (real name Logan) wasn’t born with his abilities, it was an experiment that altered him into an immortal weapon whose only purpose is violence. No recollection of his past, unable to receive solace through death, he was only built to destroy.

Whether you call him Gunplay, Don Logan or Jupiter Jack, that’s an accurate description of Richard Morales, Jr.’s hellraising mentality as well. His loose cannon antics and his stupefying drug abuse has made him one of hip-hop most explosive and unpredictable rappers. Unlike his Bawse, he isn’t a caricature portraying a lifestyle, this is a rapper that’s been to the edge and back, entered the jungled and decapitated the lion, filled his nose with enough drugs to kill a normal man and is still standing at the center of chaos. Even if you never listen to a single one of his songs, his seemingly careless dive into the heart of havoc is entertaining, the allure of madness has always been fascinating. I think about Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight, literally losing his sanity to deliver a career defining performance, now haunting the movie with his eventual death by overdose. Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s madman behavior will live on for an eternity even though his body didn’t. To the public, the crazier the better, until an artist reaches a point of no return.

When video of the altercation between Gunplay and his accountant hit the internet in 2012 it was passed around like celebrity nude photos. While the internet laughed until it wheezed like it was some calculated stunt for views, praised his realness, the pistol whipping rapper was facing life in prison. That same year, prior to the accountant fiasco, Gunplay fought with 50 Cent and five bodyguards at the BET Awards, a royal rumble that ended in pepper spray. This was during the same time where he was doing cocaine on camera in Columbia, his 601 & Snort mixtape was named tenth best album of the year by Spin Magazine, and he broke the internet with the immaculate guest verse on Kendrick’s “Cartoon and Cereal.” Was he on the verge of blowing up and becoming the acclaimed rapper some were predicting, or on the edge of self-destruction, doomed to end up in prison or worse? For a moment either fate seemed equally plausible.

Sit and listen to his verse on “Cartoon and Cereal.” It’s a verse that sends a wave of chills stampeding across your skin. The intensity, the pain, the passion, it’s almost like the spirit of Tupac possessed his vessel and spoke through him. It’s a moment of pure clarity, rappers barely ever tap into this level of honesty. “Salt all in my wounds, hear my tears all in my tunes, let my life loose in this booth just for you, mufucka hope yall amused!” That opening is raw as it gets, a call back to the self-immolation as entertainment dynamic I mentioned earlier. His name is Gunplay and he says, “Nobody can mute me, but I never said nobody can’t shoot me.” My favorite moment is when he asks his mother, “How much trauma can I sustain?” In that moment I can feel him reflecting on his life and all the choices he has made. Race, the justice system, personal responsibility, pain, the rapper we hear on “Cartoon & Cereal” is a rapper I’d line up to buy an album from.

Now go listen to “Bible On The Dash.” His flow is without flaw, he’s a locomotive blazing down a track with broken brakes. Every line is raw, buried in honesty, everything I want from a Gunplay record. When he’s in this mode, he’s one of MMG’s best rappers. Meek, Wale, Ross, Stalley, they would struggle to overshadow the Gunplay that’s rapping in the second verse of “Power Circle.” And yet, listening to the bulk of Gunplay’s catalog you get much more stepped-on than pure raw. His recent self-titled Gunplay mixtape is a cavalcade of predictable freestyles, the voice of a rapper going through uninspired motions. If “Bible on the Dash” is his high, the bulk of his more recent music has been the hangover. You start to wonder if he’s a tragic figure, a potentially great artist drowning in the drugs and violence that simultaneously make his art enticing and keep him from being great, or if he’s an average rapper who’s stumbled into a few great songs, a character that will be remembered for antics over music.

I’m still trying to understand who Gunplay really is. The man that uses coke and Molly to muse his music, that tattooed the swastika as a declaration to all his haters, what will stop that man from imploding on the next shady accountant that might dig into his pockets? Yet, all the flaws, the questionable actions, is what makes him Gunplay. There isn’t another rapper quite like him. From his personality to the potential, there’s no way you can box him in. In his latest Breakfast Club interview, Gunplay says he’s completely sober now. All of the vices he used to indulge have been flushed from his system and he’s more focused than ever. If that’s true good for him, but as far as the music industry is concerned it might not matter. Has his window closed? The buzz that was accumulated in 2012 and early 2013 has subsided substantially. Timing is everything, especially in music, and Gunplay may have run out of time.

Or maybe not. Gunplay just released his new single “Wuzhanindoe” a few days ago, featuring production by DJ Mustard and a verse from YG. It has Mustard’s signature house party drum pattern, hypnotic claps, and the kind of bassline that fills your head with images of palm trees and low riders. Out of the countless singles, freestyles, and loosies Gunplay’s fired off over the last two years, this is the one that has the most potential to break the barrier that’s confined Gunplay’s career. After years of promoting, yelling, and foreshadowing an album, this is a possible sign that his solo, Def Jam debut album might truly be coming soon, in July if reports are to be believed. If he stays away from trouble, keeps the drug use recreational, he might still have a chance at a promising career. But since when does Gunplay stay away from trouble? Since when does Wolverine sheath his claws and dedicate himself to pacifism? We are who we are, maybe someday we’ll finally find out who Gunplay is.

[By Yoh, aka Don Yohgan, aka @Yoh31]