by Bernadette Bruu, WRUC Senior General Manager
(Originally published in the Union College Concordiensis on February 28, 2019.)
“To drip is to be a king…to drip is to be a winner,” says Sauce Walka, half of rap duo Sauce Twinz and alleged pioneer of the modern use of the word “drip” in hip hop. Thought to be a derivative of the slang term “sauce,” drip has been a constant theme in the music and marketing strategy of Atlanta rapper Gunna, from his chart-topper “Drip Too Hard” with fellow Atlanta scene hero Lil Baby to four mixtapes between 2016 and 2018 whose titles all feature some use of the word. On February 22, Gunna extended the motif with the release of his first solo studio album Drip or Drown 2. This project acts as Gunna’s professional introduction vis-a-vis the general public, with all the perks of studio recording at his disposal. Drip or Drown 2 is smoother and more calculated than past mixtapes.
The album opens with “Wit It,” a powerful genesis that provides a context to “Outstanding,” the melodic self-congratulatory anthem that follows. A vertigo-inducing amalgamation of strings, synth, and hi-hats backs the line “I still got vintage garments as old as my granny / Got my interior almond and outside candy,” resulting in an entrancing listening experience. The speed at which Gunna delivers lines suggests the title “rapper,” but his inflection is that of a singer, not an emcee. Like his mentor Young Thug, he explores his full vocal range over the course of a single song, with a bit of help from autotune.
Unimpressive tracks to skip are “Richard Millie Plain,” “Baby Birkin,” and “Big Shot.” Drip or Drown’s weaknesses don’t count against its strengths, they just decrease the album’s replay value (it does, however, have excellent shuffle potential). The other obvious pitfall is a lack of diversified beats, a production misstep which seems to have shoehorned Gunna into using many of the same flows throughout the album.
Album highlights include “Outstanding,” “Cash War,” “One Call,” “3 Headed Snake (feat. Young Thug),” “Same Yung N—- (feat. Playboi Carti),” and “Who You Foolin.” Promotional single “One Call” has darker tones that Gunna matches with a lower vocal register. Unequivocally catchy, this song is Gunna’s boast of his hit-making abilities.
The penultimate “Same Yung N—-” makes use of layered vocals, putting it in the running for the album’s best song. “Who You Foolin” is another strong contender — driven by a simple snare and a nuanced harp, it’s a blissful listen. “Who you think you foolin’? We not new to it / We countin’ fluent,” Gunna grumbles before immediately and expertly launching into falsetto: “We don’t need no one vouching for us.” It’s a brief but triumphant ode to self-made success and the unique pride that comes from having to watch your own back.
The title of Gunna’s studio debut implies a choice: one drips, or one drowns. At first it seems as though Gunna has won this uphill battle, with all his talk of foreign cars, designer clothing, and social climbing, but by the last song, it becomes clear that “drip or drown” is a perpetual struggle experienced by those like Gunna who navigate the music industry and life itself without pre-established, inherited connections. In this framework, Gunna is not a deity but a guide, his fluid delivery the map that will lead us to drip equilibrium.