The Starter’s Guide to Gunna

A starter's guide to Gunna, a trap alien who has come to bless us with some hustle anthems.
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Welcome to Starter's Guide, the series where DJBooth gives you the need-to-know details behind the genre's most promising new acts. We tell you why he or she is buzzing, why they might blow up or fizzle out, and what records you need to hear. It’s quick, it’s easy, it's (mostly) painless, and regardless of your familiarity level, it’s everything you need to know to determine whether you are a fan or you need to steer clear. 

Who Is Gunna?

Gunna is an Atlanta rapper who got his first taste of national acclaim in 2016 when he appeared on Young Thug’s “Floyd Mayweather.” Following Gunna’s standout performance, Thugger officially signed Gunna to his YSL label and two months later, Gunna dropped the first arc of his Drip Season project series. Drip Season 2 dropped quietly in 2017, but the middling attention it drew did not discourage Gunna in the slightest. Soon after, Gunna’s 2018 hot streak began. 

Through the first six full months of 2018, Gunna has released Drip Season 3 and racked up feature credits on tracks with Future, Playboi Carti, Lil Baby (with whom he reportedly has a collaborative project in the works), NAV, Shy Glizzy, Yung Bans, Hoodrich Pablo Juan, and more. On the whole, Gunna’s feature work has played a big role in his success on a mainstream level, with Lil Baby’s “Life Goes On” and Young Thug’s “Floyd Mayweather” both breaking into the Hot 100.

Why Should You Care?

Gunna makes the kind of trap music you haven’t heard. If that sounds exciting and impossible, you should press play. He embodies the ingenuity and boundary-breaking spirit of his city. His ear for beats sets him apart, opting for more varied percussion and range of textures than your standard trap record. Gunna prowls about snappy soundscapes with an admirable precision and swagger. Not to mention, your trap favorites already love him. Gucci Mane took to Twitter to offer Gunna one million dollars to sign to his label.

Gunna is able to create a vibe with ease because he has to. Rap is do-or-die for Gunna, who, following 10 months in prison in 2015, began giving the art form his all. Drip Season is not just the title of a mixtape series, it’s a life mantra. Swagger, securing bags, staying wavy—all of these things are essential to have too much drip, which, as Gunna proves, you could never have too much of.

Essential Songs

“Floyd Mayweather” ft. Gunna, Travis Scott, Gucci Mane (2016)

The track that put Gunna on the national map and under Young Thug’s wing. Situated among industry heavyweights Travis Scott and Gucci Mane, Gunna holds his own with a grip of vocal tricks and proves that he is an upcoming artist worthy of our attention.

“Sold Out Dates” ft. Lil Baby (2018)

Gunna and Lil Baby’s introspective banger and hustle anthem. With an indie-ballad air to the production, Gunna’s otherworldly crooning takes on a fresh and evocative form on “Sold Out Dates,” and suddenly, dripping never sounded so aching and rewarding.

“Oh Okay” ft. Young Thug and Lil Baby (2018)

When Gunna and Thugger come together, the duo summons each other's most eccentric vocalizations. Gunna takes us to the upper recesses of his register and Young Thug takes us to space. With a grounding assist from Lil Baby, this track makes good on the potential we saw with the earlier success of “Floyd Mayweather.”

"Phase" (2017)

"Phase" is the evocative standout on Drip Season 2. While Gunna can make crooning sound extravagant, here his delivery is dripped in sorrow. Rapping about poverty, taking care of his mother, and the heavy losses that permeate his life, Gunna simultaneously humanizes himself and extends a hand to his listeners. 

“Cop Me a Foreign” ft. Young Thug (2016)

Melodic, toasty, and anthemic, “Cop Me a Foreign” was early proof that Gunna deserved the coveted spot as Young Thug’s protégé. The production carries an air of bright luxury and balmy days cruising down the highway in your foreign whip. Between his delivery and ear for beats, Gunna paints pictures like few others in his lane.

Why He’ll Blow Up

Gunna understands the value of a feature—it’s what got him this far. Gunna’s writing is absurd in the best way, resulting in sprawling bangers that are damn near cerebral in how they wander from theme to theme and image to image. In an era where artists are churning out playlist showstoppers in hopes of catching some buzz, Gunna’s most erratic tracks turn the idea of a banger on its head.

While it could be daunting to come up alongside a superstar like Young Thug, Gunna takes their relationship in stride, telling Billboard, “He instilled in me that you gotta to keep working. Of course, you'll get achievements, but shit, we just gotta keep working.” Often, up-and-coming acts coast on the strength of one big single (see Desiigner and "Panda"), but Gunna shows no signs of slowing down or easing up his effort.

Why He Might Fizzle Out

This is no one’s fault, but Gunna sounds a lot like Young Thug. To the untrained ear, it would be easy to confuse the two artists until you pick up on Gunna’s tricking cadence and unique brand of eccentricity. Yet, Gunna doesn’t seem to know how to fully cash in on his potential. As Pitchfork wrote, “You’d think that a guy who came up under Young Thug would understand the last place you ever want to position yourself is in the middle of the road.” Perhaps this critique undersells Gunna’s energy on Drip Season 3, but it does hit on the core of what could stagger him.

Music is moving too quickly for Gunna to only add a handful of new elements to his subsequent projects. When it came to crafting Drip Season 3, as he told Billboard, there was no switch up in approach; Gunna simply tripled his work ethic. This is noble, but evidently not enough. The rapper does not need a complete reinvention with his next album, but he will need a leap in his delivery to stay on our minds and grow to be known as more than Young Thug’s protégé.

TL;DR

Gunna is an Atlanta rapper who broke out with his feature on Young Thug’s “Floyd Mayweather” in 2016. Shortly thereafter, he signed to YSL and nestled himself under Young Thug’s wing, dropping a slew of mixtapes in the Drip Season series. Gunna croons like an alien and delivers a smorgasbord of bangers, hustle anthems, and introspective pain music.

With his name attached to some of the biggest songs of 2018, Gunna’s rise to fame has been steady and well-executed. If he can maintain his tactical approach and keep pumping out organic trap music, Gunna will find himself in the upper echelon of trap before the year’s end, but if he struggles to evolve and loses steam in his own lane, he might fizzle out before year-end lists drop.

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