Could the dissonant production techniques of Tyler and his Odd Future crew already be wheedling their way into mainstream rap? The first track on Gucci Mane’s new album almost seems to suggest so, initially stark and confrontational, opening with a ghostly, ringing anti-beat. But as The Return of Mr. Zone 6 quickly and repeatedly proves, the rapper is a long way from the genre’s cutting edge, wallowing in canned horns and tired imagery.
Gucci attempts nothing here, either via production or his own lackluster rhymes, to challenge his second-tier status. It’s a sluggish attempt at a comeback, one which seems especially wan with a much bigger homecoming, Lil Wayne’s The Carter IV, just on the horizon. Tattooing an ice cream cone on his face on his first day out of a mental institution, Gucci seemed poised to own his madness, finally capitalizing on the shaky instability that had granted his character flashes of weird promise, but The Return of Mr. Zone 6 mostly finds him fixated on the same rote ideas, pushing a character and style that might be intriguing if it weren’t so half-assed.
The result is tracks like “Mouth Full of Gold,” which feels like a gimmick song without a discernable gimmick, circling on a tired “rich-ass nigga with a mouth full of gold” refrain. Of the various guests here, including many from Gucci’s Brick Squad stable, only the up-and-coming Waka Flocka Flame contributes any spark. With the strong Flockaveli and a robust mixtape released in the last few months, Waka seems poised to fulfill the weirdo promise his mentor has failed to capitalize on.
Unlike Gucci, who sounds mush-mouthed and lethargic, Waka has an insistent style, a clipped, staggered flow that emphasizes the measured spaces between his words, using birdcalls and the repetition of his own name as corollaries to the beat. He takes over “This Is What I Do” and adds a further odd touch to “Pancakes,” which, overrun with avian sound effects, is the only sublimely strange song on the album.
With Charlie Sheen setting new standards for self-conscious ownership over mental instability, Gucci’s slightly touched act, which finds him fixating on bizarre things like feces and his unshaven face, is a pale effort that doesn’t go far enough, leaving his material feeling both queasy and boring. In this way, The Return of Mr. Zone 6 proves to be not just a return to making music, but to the same damning patterns that have left him content with his own mediocrity.