By me and originally written for Passionweiss
Heavily inked, emotionally scarred and fresh out of the slammer, Kevin Gates returns with 16 bi-polar bangers. By Any Means is less personal than last year’s Stranger Than Fiction and The Luca Brasi Story, but the Louisiana’s rappers remains one of the best young gangsta rappers this side of the Mississippi. Gates has the hooks, the singing, the story and the passion. Of course, it helps that he’s been blessed with the rare combination of versatile vocal chords and awareness of how to use them. From his threatening croak on standout “Homicide” to the palpable sincerity on “Movie,” KG is as far removed from one-dimensional MCs as it gets.
The 28 year old also defies the tradition that rappers need to be invincible. His willingness to showcase flaws is a large part of what makes his music compelling. Gates covers depression, anxiety, self-doubt and a slew of other pitfalls rarely touched on in rap. Add in his penchant for including vivid real life details from his turbulent past and you’ve got a killer combo. Whether it’s because he’s attempting to make a mainstream friendly project or because he’s saving material so that the relentless mixtape circuit doesn’t end in creative burn out, these details aren’t quite as apparent on this record as they were on his 2013 output. There are no epic tales of attempted murder by best friends like “4.30am” or cinematic true-life tales of crime ala “iHop” on here. You’ve got to listen a little closer, but it’s worth the effort.
Gates adds humanity to what could have been a generic hustling theme on “Wish I Had.” Instead of lazily attributing his motivation to the American Dream aka wanting to get rich, he phrases the chorus in a more relatable way and it takes on a redemptive quality. “Out my window, I see everything I dream about and wish I had.” During the song, he also acknowledges his self-consciousness at being a two-time felon, desperately wanting to write a hit and being a good person that can transform in the wrong circumstances.
Later on “Sposed to Love” there’s more mention of this duality of character and the imperfection he’s willing to display on record. Gates is passionately in love and deeply offended when his partner doesn’t answer the phone, but he’s also bordering on the obsessive and admits to hitting her in the heat of the moment. The realistic portrayal of domestic violence undoubtedly makes it the most divisive track on the album. Some listeners may feel he’s condoning this behavior as he comes across as cocky rather than apologetic, but references to Chris Brown, stalking and jail make it clear he’s aware of his moral wrongdoing.
Musical psychoanalysis aside, this tape is also trunk rattling. Get Em Gates understands the quandaries presented by turning down for no good reason. As one of the chosen few who isn’t overshadowed by Juicy J and 2 Chainz on his own jams, he can rap with the best from planet Versace. Despite his currently unproven mainstream appeal, “Don’t Know” and “Arm And Hammer” have the type of hypotonic hooks you’ll find yourself accidently reciting during work meetings or on the subway. Along with his chameleon vocals and a healthy dose of neuroticism, part of what makes Gates listenable is his varied delivery style. He’ll switch flow several times, moving within seconds from Migos inspired double-time to shouting threats down your ear canal.
With a hulking audio presence, Gates doesn’t need to rely on features and thankfully he hasn’t succumbed to this cheap tactic. For the most part, the guests are used sparingly and fit in nicely. The late Doe B in particular shines with his effortless flow during “Paranoid,” making it all the more obvious the world was robbed of the 22 year old’s potential. Then of course, there’s Plies. He doesn’t quite ruin “Keep Fucking With Me” by spitting a marble mouthed verse, but he definitely comes close.
Being locked up on a three-year gun charge partially derailed Gates’ career during the mid-2000s. But he also claims long periods in jail gave him the opportunity to form his unique rhyming style. In an interview with HipHop Dx, he said prison changed his attitude toward music too “I want the Rap game when I come home. You never know how much something means to you until you can’t do it. “Personal issues have made him both great and imperfect. Few have a darker past than Kevin Gates, but few have a brighter future.