The hood feels rapper Kevin Gates in the same way that the hood felt Mike Tyson, Allen Iverson, and the movie “Paid in Full.” Kevin Gates is a man that unabashedly represents the ghetto mentality in an era in African-American culture where the black bourgeoisie seems to have taken center stage. Let me explain. The reigning king of hip-hop is a half black Jewish kid from Canada and the Black Lives Matters Movement—though very admirable in both their pursuits and organizational skills—is very far from being a movement that is based in the ghettos of America. Contrarily, The Kevin Gates Movement is.
Any person that was raised in the hood is going to be intrigued by a man that shouts “Penitentiary Rules!” as a means for setting the protocol for an interview he was about to begin with The Breakfast Club on Power 105.1 in New York. An interview, like all Kevin Gates interviews, that had everyone from hip hop heads to candidates for PhD’s in Psychology buzzing for days. Kevin Gates is ridiculously forthcoming about his incarceration, his open relationship with his wife, being shot, his father dying of AIDS, not vaccinating his children, and everything else that most other human beings would keep to themselves; and that is why the hood absolutely adores him. Kevin Gates holds the unofficial distinction of being the realist man in the music business right now and at times I wonder if he truly realizes his power and is he ready to deal with the pressures of leading the most feared group of people in this country—the young, black, criminal class.
In January at the People’s Choice Awards a delusional aspiring rapper named Zacari Nicasio crashed the stage and interrupted the acceptance speech of cast members from “The Talk” to, among other things, give a shout out to Kevin Gates and tell people to buy Gate’s album. On February 18 in Easley, South Carolina three teenagers were being arraigned for murder when they broke from the proceedings in order to ask for followers on social media. One of the suspects said “Follow me at Luca Brasi Jr.” Luca Brasi was Vito Corleone’s most reliable hit man in The Godfather movie. However one should note that Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather was released in 1972. Teenagers only know who Luca Brasi is because that is the name of two of Kevin Gates mix tapes. He even has an image of Luca Brasi being strangled tattooed on his body. So when the young brotha chooses Luca Brasi Jr. as his Instagram handle it is fair to say that he is naming Kevin Gates as his father.
The young suspect in the South Carolina murder case has probably never respected anyone as much as he respects Kevin Gates. He didn’t decide to name himself after his pastor, or his teacher, or Tavis Smiley, or Lil Tunechi, or Barrack Obama, or Drake or Alicia Garza or K-Dot. He chose to follow in the footsteps of a man who he feels speaks for him. And in the most precarious moment of his life he showed his allegiance to a man who he more than likely will never meet.
The aura of Kevin Gates, unlike rappers from past generations, seems to emanate more from his prowess on social media and his consistent presence on the interview circuit than it does from his actual music. On his Instagram page it isn’t uncommon to find him walking comfortably through the housing projects in Memphis, TN (Gates was born in New Orleans and raised in Baton Rouge), hanging out near the Eiffel Tower, riding in a car with some of the grimiest looking dudes you’ve ever seen, or getting married to his longtime girlfriend who he often describes as a real ride or die chick that accompanies him almost everywhere.
Kevin Gates has the down chick, the face tattoos, the money, the game, the reputation, the jewelry, and the international ghetto pass that every young hustler desires. For anyone that follows him on social media or youtubes his videos or downloads his music it would appear that Kevin Gates is living a real life ghetto fantasy. He is a successful trapper who survived the lifestyle that kills thousands of black men every year. To the young black criminally inclined individual Gate’s is one of very few genuine people in a world full of phonies. Kevin Gates is the unofficial King of the Trap and in the same way that young white college kids made pilgrimages to the home of a reclusive J.D. Salinger after reading The Catcher in the Rye in order to seek advice or shake his hand or just to simply see him; young black men who feel as though they have been forced to live a criminal lifestyle cling to Kevin Gates.
There is something mysterious and dangerous about the bond between those that are misunderstood and the artist who understands them. For a young child who grows up experiencing the daily degradations of having a drug addicted mother and an absent father only to grow up selling the exact same drug that his mother is addicted to and living the exact same lifestyle that caused his father’s absence, life is often completely miserable and failure often feels predetermined. This state of mind is further exacerbated by the lack of having a voice. For there is no group of social activists that represent your needs, no successful politician that speaks directly to your experience, and even the form of music that was supposed to be created to tell your story has largely abandoned you—but not Kevin Gates. Kevin Gates is to the hood what the republican national convention is to the white upper-middle class—he represents their values.
The question that Kevin Gates must grapple with is does he have any obligations to his constituents other than making money and providing entertainment. Should he attempt to educate the masses of black people that school systems around the country routinely fail? Should he use his highly coveted position as King of the Trap to lead his people and to inspire righteousness or should he only continue to depict the gritty underworld that shapes his character? As a brilliant mind that made it out of the prison of the ghetto and the actual penitentiary, does it behoove Kevin Gates to somehow change the mentality of young hopeless black teenagers around the nation? The answer depends on how one views the role of the artist in society. What is not debatable however and perhaps is most frightening to the power structure is if Kevin Gates wanted to start a revolution then he absolutely could. For the hood feels him that much. He is that powerful. He is the King of the trap.