On October 26th, 2016, Kevin Gates was convicted of kicking a female fan. The fan and her friend admitted that they were trying to grab the rapper’s attention and Gates admitted to using force, once he believed security was not going to intervene. He attempted to use Florida’s “stand-your-ground” law in his defense. He was sentenced to 180 days in jail. In May of 2018 he was additionally sentenced to 30 months in prison due to a felony weapons charge stemming from a failure to appear in court back in 2013. He was only let out on parole this past January.
2016 feels like a decade ago; “2 Phones,” “Really Really,” the critical and commercial success of Islah feel even more distant. A lifetime. And that’s just for us, on the outside, dealing with all of this. Abruptly displaced from the great heights he had achieved during his breakout year, it’s not hard to imagine why the once booming voice of Gates – responsible for over a dozen candid mixtapes to date – is now being delivered in a more introverted package these days.
Chained to the City is a humble three track offering. It’s a calculated glimpse into the mind of a scorned man. On the intro “Change Lanes” Gates opens, “Been through a lot of pain in my life and I pray the Lord take it all away/I got family doing life, never see the sunshine again and pray it all away,” before spitting, “I ain’t never been a gang member/Illinois labeled me a gang chief.” As confessional as ever, Gates measures each word carefully and never wastes a syllable. He knows the weight of his accusations and he’s acutely aware of how the public perceives him (outright mocking TMZ and the pop culture news cycle we all digest so vigorously on “Let It Sing”).
Despite a catalogue full of soul bearing confessions, the second track “Vouch” still plays like one of his most autobiographical passages to date – a plaintive introduction to the turbulent life of Kevin Jerome Gilyard for new and old fans of Kevin Gates alike. “I do it for me, I feed myself, fuck who not willin’ to help me” he cries, drowning in mournful pitch correction, but the sentiment rings hollow amidst the selfless undertones that hold up the rest of the record. He’s become doubtful, distrustful of his surroundings and jaded by his brief stint with superstardom.
“Let It Sing,” the closer, has the most unbothered hook of the three, actually allowing Gates some room to destress from his current woes. The verses, though, exist in stark contrast. They are pained and full of stress, the first one climaxes with Gates shrieking, “TMZ I’m fightin’ with Dreka/We cannot do this in front of the children/Lovin’ this shit, she gon’ go get a pistol/Know this so crazy, probably wanna kill me/How could you leave me?” By the time the outro fades in, by the time Gates tries to explain himself and barter for our patience, we’ve all but already conceded to his demands. It’s hard to judge a man in the midst of his penance.
Kevin Gates is currently stuck between a rock and a hard place, with a GPS monitor strapped to his leg. However, ever the resilient hustler, I doubt he’ll have any trouble finding his footing in the months to come. Based on these three records – which are pitch-perfect in execution – he hasn’t missed a step and is still highly capable of tackling the pop charts (especially if he starts connecting with a younger crowd through celebrated underground music director Cole Bennett).
If we are to believe a full-length follow up to his breakout debut is finally on the way, it’s only a matter of time before we get an even more revealing peek into the never-ending Luca Brasi saga.