For a long time I was convinced that I would never hear a song worse than LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem.” Maybe it was a form of denial, but I just couldn’t see how anyone could possibly conceive something more irritating and with less artistic merit than this audio abomination. But then I heard Lil Pump’s “Gucci Gang” and realized that no matter how bad things get, they always can, and they inevitably will get worse.
Although “Party Rock Anthem” is marginally more painful to listen to than “Gucci Gang,” there’s something about the latter that feels like a collective nadir for human civilization. “PRA” is pretty run-of-the-mill pop garbage cynically thrown together by an algorithm that turns music into money. It’s so obviously manufactured and insincere that it has no meaning. “Gucci Gang” on the other hand reflects everything that’s wrong in Western society today. It’s easy to dismiss Lil Pump’s lyrics as a constellation of inane babble, but that’s only because he makes them sound so dumb. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying they aren’t inane –they definitely are– but they deserve a lot more scrutiny than they receive.
Ask yourself: what exactly is Lil Pump saying here? “Gucci” and “gang,” mainly – that much is obvious. For those old enough to remember Dexter’s Laboratory, it’s impossible to listen to “Gucci Gang” without dredging up memories of that episode where Dexter can’t seem to say anything but “omelette du fromage,” It’s also obvious that “Gucci Gang” is a celebration of unbridled consumerism. Titular brand aside, the chorus contains only five key nouns: racks, chain, bitch, cocaine and wedding ring. On a lyrical level, “Gucci Gang” is more akin to a shopping list than a song. Of course there’s a long materialist tradition in hip-hop and if I’m going to slate Pump for this, then I’m going to have to attack everyone from Biggie to A$AP Rocky, but unlike in “Gucci Gang,” this materialism had some sort of context. For these rappers it’s a celebration that follows a triumph over poverty. Nouveau riche gaudiness, something that most rappers have in abundance, is like an extreme compensation for their disadvantaged past – it’s anchored in something.
Now I don’t know anything about Pump’s socioeconomic background, but there’s no story in “Gucci Gang.” He just randomly shouts “Balmains”, “red bottoms” and “private jet” in a staccato frenzy. This is fundamentally different to when The Game namechecked Nike Airs in “Hate It or Love It” to illustrate his ghetto upbringing. Lil Pump shouts “Gucci gang” because he has nothing to say. When he blurts out “rather go and buy Balmains”, the brand serves as nothing but lyrical filler. This doesn’t only reveal his creative and intellectual bankruptcy, it gives us an insight into his value system.
For rappers like The Game, the products that they list in their songs are physical evidence of their success. They represent something. In “Gucci Gang,” they expose Pump as a consumeristic buffoon who name drops brands and purchases because they’re the central components of his life and what defines him as a person. When The Game (of which I’m not necessarily a fan, by the way, he’s just a useful illustrative example) raps lines like “been bangin’ since my lil n*gga Rob got killed for his Barkley’s”, the sneakers are a device used to illustrate his lived experience rather than a celebration of the product itself. This is fundamentally different than Pump’s random word salad, which suggests that his days consist of primarily of scrolling through Instagram street style shots.
The sad thing is that Lil Pump is completely unremarkable in this regard. The world is full of kids whose identity starts and finishes with the things that they own – they’re usually called ‘influencers.’ The fashion influencer is only remarkable for showing off the clothes that they wear; it’s what earns them followers and, by extension, influence. “Gucci Gang” is the musical equivalent of this new form of aesthetic-driven career. The song isn’t just a portal inside Lil Pump’s head, it’s a mirror that reflects the current state of the world.
There has never been a more commercialized point in all of human history. Targeted ads have more relevance to our lives these days than CD covers. 20-odd years ago there was space in the charts for bands like Rage Against the Machine – and even ones as trite as Papa Roach had enough political consciousness to slate materialism on MTV, as hypocritical as that may be. Today, the whole notion of “selling out” is so antiquated that it’s barely even mentioned anymore. Even the so-called “underground” has been colonized by brands, and, as the Guardian so astutely pointed out “superficiality aside, the commodification of counterculture seems like less of a problem when anti-consumerism is no longer a major tenet of the underground. Representation and identity politics are instead the causes du jour, and, theoretically, commercialism is not anathema to social justice.” It should come as little surprise that a generation of kids raised under the mantra of There Is No Alternative quietly sidestep the economic argument.
But it’s not only Lil Pump’s hollow message that makes “Gucci Gang” so worrying, its delivery is a cause of concern as well. Just look at his inarticulate, disjointed lines that swerve between subjects like a drunk driver: “Fuckin’ my teacher, call it ‘tutory / Bought some red bottoms, cost hella Gs / Fuck your airline, fuck your company / Bitch, your breath smell like some cigarettes”. They read like the internal monologue of someone utterly incapable of focusing, such as, Donald Trump’s stilted speech. His moronic outbursts are well documented, but the way he says them is equally problematic: “they built a hotel. When I build a hotel, I have to pay interest. They don’t have to pay interest because they took the oil when we left Iraq, I said we should have taken. So now ISIS has the oil.”
Numerous commentators have argued that Trump’s election marks the beginning of a dumbed-down, post-literate age. To quote Bloomberg’s Joe Weisenthal: “the invention of reading and writing fundamentally changed human consciousness … the written word wasn’t just an extension of the spoken word, but something that opened up new ways of thinking — something that created a whole new world … here we begin to see how the age of social media resembles the pre-literate, oral world. Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and other platforms are fostering an emerging linguistic economy that places a high premium on ideas that are pithy, clear, memorable and repeatable (that is to say, viral). Complicated, nuanced thoughts that require context don’t play very well on most social platforms.”
If Trump is the first post-literate president, then “Gucci Gang” is the barely-literate soundtrack of this new era. Both represent the intellectual decline of Western civilization: rather than stringing together thought-through verses, Lil Pump barks out random sound bites that, when clustered together, read more like Trump’s Twitter feed than the rap songs of the past. This makes sense, though: the platform launched when Pump was six years-old. There’s a good chance that he has consumed more words from Tweets over the course of his life than he has in books or newspapers. According to Snapchat co-founder, Evan Spiegel, non-literate communication is standard for kids these days: “People wonder why their daughter is taking 10,000 photos a day. What they don’t realize is that she isn’t preserving images. She’s talking.”
This is why “Gucci Gang” shouldn’t simply be shrugged off as some braindead pop hit. Sure, Lil Pump’s novelty will soon wear off and he’ll slide into irrelevance alongside LMFAO, just as The Donald will one day be replaced by a Democrat. But that doesn’t mean that we won’t continue to suffer the wider cultural currents that Trump and Pump embody.
The views and opinions expressed in this piece are those solely of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of Highsnobiety as a whole.
For more “Gucci Gang” goodness, read what one writer’s thoughts about Lil Pump and Latino identity in hip-hop right here.