Kevin Gates is a rap star. The 33-year-old rose from the murk of rap’s underground to the bright lights of commercial prominence without compromising his weighty, reality raps. Alongside YoungBoy Never Broke Again, Gates is the face of hip-hop in Baton Rouge, Louisiana—a market most closely associated with Lil Boosie and Webbie.
Nine months after the 2016 release of Islah, Gates’ major-label debut on Atlantic Records, a 180-day jail stint brought the momentum he generated by the critically acclaimed release to a halt. The misdemeanor battery charge stemmed from a performance in Lakeland, Florida, in which Gates allegedly kicked a fan. Further legal woes stretched his incarceration until January 10, 2018.
Gates’ release from prison came with one question: How long until Kevin Gates makes his long-awaited return to our streaming services?
After releasing two EPs and a mixtape, Gates is back with his sophomore album, I’m Him. The album, just like Islah, is without features. Gates isn’t using his celebrity to attract high profile friends. He’s betting on himself. Based on his prior, double-Platinum success, I wouldn’t bet against him.
In usual 1-Listen album review fashion, the rules are the same: no skipping, no fast-forwarding, no rewinding, and no stopping. Each song will receive my gut reaction from start to finish.
1. “RBS Intro”
The return of Kevin Gates. By far one of the most arresting voices in rap, made for trap music. This bassline is a sea monster, shaking with the force of a raging, red Gyarados. If you know, you know. This is really good. Gates doesn’t waste a second setting a strong tempo. “I’m a real big speaker.” That describes Kevin Gates perfectly. A few different flows keeping this one exciting. Gates is a master of vocal acrobatics.
Guitar melody. Black cowboy music. “This my healing process.” He is peaking on issues with a woman. There’s brilliance in how emotion is flooding the music. He codes his voice with feeling. Kevin Gates is a rapper you believe. The passion behind every lyric fuels this sense of authenticity. If you go into this record not knowing Kevin Gates, you’ll want to trust the speaker. The high-pitch switch was unexpected. “I know my purpose now.” “Taking these journeys I’m going to need an interpreter,” I like that line, a lot. Love the production and the hook, too. The verses are good. An all-around enjoyable record.
3. “By My Lonely”
“Killers in my hood know me by my first name.” Sheesh! That’s an opening line. The build-up is incredible. The production is bursting through the speakers. Man, these are the beats T.I. needs in his inbox. I wasn’t sure about this hook, initially, but it’s gold. If Post Malone sang this hook, it would be at the top of the Hot 100. Gates is full of fire. You can feel the flame behind every bar. These songs have such good momentum. They move and strike, full of electricity and without overstaying their welcome. “By My Lonely” is my current favorite.
This build-up foreshadows a banger. Gates’ energy is infectious. He leaps out of your headphones. The drop wasn’t the powerbomb I wanted, but the song is still arresting. Kevin doesn’t fumble him flow, and the melody is just sweet enough to catch the ear. The bars are raw enough to give “Bags” a sharp edge. Rick Ross must regret not having Kevin Gates on MMG. He would be the perfect street rapper for that empire. This song is so good.
He is on a run. Take A Daytrip drop. Oh yeah, this is the club-shaker. Gates is a true original. No one has his voice. No one has his cadence. Also, the writing is so pointed and sharp. This is Three 6 Mafia “Tear da Club Up” energy, but without the chaos. The buck without the knuck. This record hits so hard; it’s full of aggression. Not quite fight music, just something that makes you wish you had dreads to shake. Kevin Gates knows how to make a street banger. The concrete will tremble.
6. “Fatal Attraction”
Kevin’s energy isn’t slowing down. He doesn’t give you room to catch your breath; each song bursts into the next. Another Take A Daytrip beat. The flow is more melodic here. The most melodic Gates has been yet. It’s catchy. Crazy how such a heavy voice can also sound so light. It’s hard to transition from a song like “Facts” into “Fatal Attraction.” This is practically a love song; a song for quiet storms. The storm is never quiet for Gates. A rapper hasn’t found a momentum this good since Young Thug.
7. “Say It Twice”
Let’s see if Kevin can keep it going. I like the build-up here. A complete switch up. He’s singing on the hook as if he’s trying to serenade the woman of his dreams. The hook is simple, a little too simple. Kevin Gates is such a romantic. He writes about women with admiration and nothing else. I can see this one having radio potential. This beat is pleasant. It’s like floating in the ocean during the golden hour. Not my favorite, but not a skip.
8. “Walls Talking”
A change of pace. These piano keys are heavier. Richie Souf drop. Richie’s drums are some of the strongest. They pop with personality. I love Kevin’s melody on the hook. “I’m a prisoner in my own mind, I feel like the walls talking to me” shouldn’t sound anthemic, but they do here. Personal bars. There’s a gift in pouring out your past, being this honest, but not losing such an infectious flow. Kevin Gates never forgets he’s making a song. No matter the subject, he writes knowing someone will listen to this. “Walls Talking” might be my favorite track yet.
9. “Let It Go”
This album is a rush. The chords here remind me of Mustard. “Let It Go” is running at a great BPM count for Gates, but I’m not in love with the singing on the hook. He’s pulling out so many tricks. Shapeshifting. Technically, this is one of the wilder songs on the project. I’m not entirely gripped, though. I wonder how he found these pockets and melodies. A bit overwhelming, but there’s a lot here worth returning to.
10. “Face Down”
I wonder how old these songs are? I can’t imagine them being made during the same session. Singing-rapping Gates. He has a great tone. I can hear some cool similarities between Gates and 03 Greedo. Both are inventive and unafraid to sing without baptizing their vocals in Auto-Tune. Gates went full Pretty Ricky with this one. It’s like the trap version of “Love Like Honey.” I’m partially kidding. He has a knack for crafting songs around sexual lyricism that most R&B stars would give up a kidney for. Another strong record.
11. “Push It”
Gates sounds like a giant. Too large to be pushed over; a brick wall of fury. The production brings back the punch. This is a good place to turn the heat back up. Man, O.T. Genasis has to be on the remix. The swing is great. Gates can rap over any beat. The flow doesn’t lose steam, and he’s in and out of pockets like a gold digger. The adrenaline here could take down a linebacker. Pure energy. Another strong one. Eleven songs in, with maybe one skip.
12. “Have You Ever”
I know when the keys are this serene a song with some depth is coming. Real talk music. “Have you ever been treated like you wasn’t shit?” Oh yeah, this is down bad music. There’s a nice emotional texture to his tone. Gates is talking from a place that’s familiar. He understands the streets how Van Gogh understood paint. “Family telling you to pray but you so sick and tired.” The production hasn’t let me down thus far. A blistering thumper with the sweetest keys. I’m Him is a strong collection of trap-driven beats.
Oh man, this one is shifting. He’s basically whispering in a woman’s ear over a trap beat. “Stalking leads to a prison sentence.” Sir, of course, it does. Hahaha. This song is crazy. It’s a love triangle story. The flow is ridiculous. How is he able to keep this narrative going with so many styles? How is it being done so effortlessly? Does Kevin write his raps? I can’t imagine these songs are freestyled. Keeper.
14. “What I Like”
Oh, man! My eyebrows are on the ceiling. This beat is a ground-shaker. Such a disgusting bass. He’s saucing the hook. This is the first song where Kevin doesn’t have the biggest presence. He’s not intimidated or drowned out by the production, which says a lot about the way his voice and style can cut through the most explosive beats.
15. “Betta For You”
There’s like three producer drops on this track. “I wish I could be betta for you.” Is this about his daughter? He’s rapping from the heart. These lines mean a lot to him. Instead of a letter to his unborn, this is a letter to his living offspring. It’s touching, genuine. I imagine being incarcerated, away from my family. A record like “Betta For You” must mean the world. It’s beautiful to hear a father express to their child he will be better.
16. “Funny How”
A song about people who didn’t show Kevin Gates love. “I wish I could’ve been Chance the Rapper.” Sheesh. He’s pouring it out. “Shoutout to the disbelievers.” I haven’t heard Post Malone’s latest album yet, but I’m sure Kevin rivals his melodic delivery. All these songs, even though they aren’t pop-targeted, have pop appeal. Off melody alone, I can imagine them in radio rotation. A good record.
17. “Fly Again”
Initially, 17 tracks looked like a lot of tracks, but this album hasn’t felt long at all. I don’t believe there are any third verses. No skits, either. Let’s see how Kevin closes this one out. He has a lot of bars about not being embraced or supported. The black sheep is now a rap star. A touch of soulfulness on his vocals this time around. This is an outro. “I’m not human, I’m humanlike.” Hahaha. I like this guy. A spoken word closing. Real, real. Whoa. This ended a bit deeper compared to how it started.
Final (First Listen) Thoughts on Kevin Gates' I'm Him:
Kevin Gates doesn’t get tired. Five years later, his famous mantra remains true. Signs of fatigue are nonexistent on I’m Him. This album is a one-man-show, and its author has plenty to say.
For fans, I’m Him is a reminder that, along with being a proficient rapper and songwriter, Gates has one of the best ears for contemporary trap production. Although some tags are more recognizable than others, the assortment of producers he recruited for I’m Him excutes. The kicks are elephant-heavy, the snares all snap like firecrackers, and each bassline surges with a bombastic vibrancy.
I’m Him isn’t meant to play quietly. Gates is loud—a rapper with a juggernaut’s heart and the sound to match. With an electrifying sophomore album, Kevin Gates solidifies his return to hip-hop.
By Yoh, aka I’m Yoh, aka @Yoh31