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Kevin Gates’ “Islah”

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Kevin Gates’ “Islah”

James Finn

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kevingatesWEBThe term “vulnerable” is rarely used to describe gangsta rappers.The likes of Mac Dre, Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, and 50 Cent, all of whom pioneered the genre, hardly provided a template that encouraged their successors to wear their emotions on their sleeves. But on his major-label debut, “Islah,” Baton Rouge rapper Kevin Gates manages to retain his signature deft rhyming and gritty sound reminiscent of the aforementioned rap pioneers while introducing an element of vulnerability that hasn’t been widely present in rap of Gates’s type.
   Gates was married in 2015 and has a young daughter after whom the album was named, and tracks such as “Kno One” and “Not the Only One” all paint an image of Gates as a  tender romantic who is more interested in treating his family well than he is in selling cocaine and drinking lean (a frequent  focus of his early work). “Think about you all the time… no one love you like I, hope our love ain’t expire…. one day I’ll get over my pride,” Gates proclaims to his wife on “Pride.” Gates’s transformation makes “Islah” an interesting listen — it’s an anomaly in itself to see a rapper veer from the conventional machismo and chest-pounding that is so present in the genre, but it’s even more unusual to see one do so after he has established a name for himself by proscribing to that very archetype.

    On his prior releases (such as the successful mixtapes “Stranger Than Fiction” and “Luca Brasi 2”), Gates’s style was decidedly harder, more shaped by a past that included a prison stint for drug dealing and firearm offenses. Earlier tracks such as “Narco Trafficante,” “4:30am” and “Trap Girl” gave jarring and occasionally boastful accounts of Gates’s experiences as a drug dealer in his hometown. Certain tracks on “Islah” suggest that he hasn’t changed much — “La Famila” presents a description of a family drug-dealing enterprise, and “Thought I Heard (Breadwinner’s Anthem)” provides a narrative of Gates’s struggles prior to the mainstream musical success he eventually achieved.

     If you want to hear more of the old Kevin Gates, if you’re hoping for a sound reminiscent of “The Luca Brasi Story,” don’t worry — “Islah” will not disappoint; the gritty Gates sound that listeners have become accustomed to is still present on his latest release. But what makes “Islah” worth listening to is the degree to which Gates retains that style while opening up and expanding his style to include a vulnerability that isn’t often heard in modern rap.

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