“Gucci Gang,” Economic Scarcity, and Upward Mobility

Once we start looking for it, we can find examples of speed, velocity, and pace everywhere. Let’s take rapper Lil Pump’s hit, “Gucci Gang” and break it down as an example.*

The track opens with 2 layered sounds at two different paces. There is an airy synthesizer playing chords (several notes at once) that changes from one chord to a second very slowly. On top of that, there is a piano-ish instrument steadily playing notes that set a recognizable beat. A third layer is then added featuring another, higher pitched piano-ish sound that plays much faster notes. All three layers are looped, aka repeated (over and over and over). Finally, ignoring Lil Pump/s vocals for a moment, the drums drop in as well.

Bighead, the producer, is giving us a sense of these layers with their relative speed and pace to make a point:** life operates at different levels with different speeds. There’s a clear hypnotic drug reference going on here as well, but let’s wrap it all up in this awareness of these levels. The drums, which drift between paces (steady and stuttered, fast and slow) are the common bridge between all of them. They take the familiar hip-hop drum sound and unify what would otherwise only match in harmony.

Let’s pause for a moment and consider the purpose of those drums as an external metaphor. Hip-hop drums (808s, the claps, the hi-hats) automatically give us context in the same way that we can instantly tell a rap song from an orchestral performance. The drums are part of what defines the genre, just like the way the sound of an orchestra might define classical music. Similarly, when we look at the various levels a person, business, or project operates on, we need to understand those genre binding context clues like the drums in this track.

Now we’re ready to discuss the lyrics. For brevity’s sake, we’re just going to focus on the hook (“Gucci gang, Gucci gang, Gucci gang, Gucci gang…”)

We’ll start with the concept of Gucci itself. Gucci is a maker of luxury goods. In economic terms, a luxury good has scarcity. Scarcity means there are only a few of something so we ascribe a higher value to the item. For a specific example, consider that the world may have a million Walmart plastic bags, but there is a finite supply of $3,000 Gucci bags. While they both serve the same practical function (a bag holds stuff), they send VERY different “signals” to other people (for example, potential mates might see your bag as an indicator of social status that implies producing offspring with you will ensure higher survivability, etc. – yeah, we took it there because it pretty much all leads back to that point).

By talking about “Gucci Gang” in a fast and repetitive way, Lil Pump is telling us that his gang, which owns/wears Gucci luxury goods, is sending these elitist signals. To tie this all in with pace, you’ll notice how fast the hook and expression goes by. Lil Pump is making a statement about what it takes to keep up with and be in his “Gucci Gang.” Despite all the layers, they’re on the top – the most admired, the most elite, and the most special. Therefore, the part of this song that exhibits velocity – a change in location or status – is in the lyrics. Lil Pump is bragging about all of the accomplishments of his gang, which now you are associating with luxury goods, and telling you what behavior it takes to break ABOVE the cycle to (theoretically) join them. There’s a very aspirational quality to what otherwise is a somewhat nihilistic song.

I could go on much longer, but we’ll stop this here. “Gucci Gang” captures how the instruments at varied speeds create an awareness of pace, culminating in his voice calling to attention his position at the top of the chain. The style of rapping and the drums, are the glue that tells us what the genre and familiar points are supposed to be, inviting a broader audience in to listen.

The big takeaway is that we can dissect the structure of anything – even Lil Pump – and find the common themes that tell us the story behind the story. When we want our own message to resonate or have an impact, we can apply these structural tools to increase our own odds of success.

*If you’re really interested, the Switched on Pop podcast recently covered this song and will take you a bit more in depth on it musically. Like them, I should also mention that I don’t support the subject matter of this song in any way, shape, or form. However, I am anti-censorship in the sense that I do think there is value in applying a critical eye to all popular things. If a lot of people are drawn to something, we should seek to understand why (and not just try to shut it down a la Tipper Gore / “Family Values”).

**I don’t necessarily think this is all intentional, but it could be. Under the assumption that it is not, I would argue that the subliminal points we’re talking about here are part of what drew them into creating this song in the way they did. I feel very strongly about this point.

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