AILSA CHANG, HOST:
The rapper Gucci Mane is one of hip-hop's most prolific artists. Is it Gucci Mane or Gucci Man (ph)?
GUCCI MANE: Gucci Mane.
CHANG: (Laughter) I still don't know. Is that Man or Mane?
MANE: It's Mane.
MANE: But, you know, I'm cool with Man, too. It's just - some people pronounce it different.
CHANG: At 37, Gucci Mane has eight studio albums, dozens of mixtapes tapes. And now he has a memoir out, "The Autobiography Of Gucci Mane." He's also the founder of a rap genre known as trap music.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TRAP HOUSE")
MANE: (Rapping) In the trap house, in the trap house...
Trap, by definition, is a hustle or a spot or the act of just grinding. When I came up, trap was criminal. Trap mean that was, like, in a drug-infested place, neighborhood, house. The music was about that lifestyle, anything pertaining to that lifestyle. But like, right now it's kind of like hard-hitting beats and just talking about the drug culture.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TRAP HOUSE")
MANE: (Rapping) Bricks going in, bricks going out. Made a hundred thousand in my trap house.
CHANG: But before Gucci Mane was the king of trap, he was Radric Davis, watching his dad hustle people on the streets of Atlanta for money. In Gucci's words, his father was a con artist.
MANE: You know, he had all kind of, like, gangs and just scams - like, three card molly, shaking the pea, pigeon drop. All these are kind of, like, little scams that he learned, you know what I'm saying, tricks of the trade that he learned in the streets.
CHANG: Gucci Mane learn these tricks, too, and took them to his own trade - dealing drugs.
MANE: I just watched his nature, and I watched as his mannerism. And it's, like, he didn't really teach it to me, but I kind of adapted to it because I seen it.
CHANG: You imitated it.
CHANG: So back then when you were, like, barely 13, 14 years old and you started dealing drugs, it sounded like you were already really obsessed with money. Why was that?
MANE: I think I was obsessed with money definitely coming up because I seen so many people not having money. I seen so many people, you know, staying in shotgun houses or not really having good shoes on their feet. And I went to sleep hungry. I know what it was like to be poor. I knew what it's like to, you know, have your lights off or, you know, have to boil water to take a bath. And that never left me.
In my mind, it was always like, try to make yourself not be a burden on nobody. Try to keep yourself at least financially independent enough where you're not a burden on your family 'cause they don't got it.
CHANG: And no matter what it took - I mean when you were quite young as an adult, you were breaking into houses, robbing, expanding your drug dealing all over Georgia. Did it feel justified in your mind because at least you were making a living and you were not depending on other people to feed you?
MANE: It wasn't justified. I think that it's kind of, like, ignoring myself from thinking of, you know, who I was hurting or the chance - or how risky it was, the chances I was taking. It was kind of, like, I just want to get to a point where, you know, I'm comfortable; I'm straight; I'm well-off. And at that time - in hindsight, looking at it now, that's what I thought was the way to get there.
CHANG: When you started your rap career, you would brag about these exploits in your music...
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WASTED")
MANE: (Rapping) I'm so wasted. She's so wasted. Tell the bartender send me 20 more cases.
CHANG: ...Which in a way only strengthened your reputation on the street as a drug dealer. So I'm just curious. Did you live the lifestyle for the music, or was the music a way to enhance your image as a drug dealer back then?
MANE: To be honest, once I got my first charge at, like, 20, 21, music was, like, this what I'm going to do. I don't want to sell drugs no more, you know?
CHANG: Did you feel like you could get out of it, though?
MANE: Yeah. But at that point, it was like, I want to be a professional rapper, you know what I'm saying? I want to get in the music business. But at the same time, it's like, I still need money to pay for studio time. I still need money to get myself out there.
CHANG: Did you feel like your life was precarious, that this wasn't sustainable indefinitely?
MANE: A hundred percent. I felt like selling drugs was going to have a terrible consequence at the end if I kept going.
CHANG: You had this looming dread.
MANE: It was just - it just was facts, you know? It was just like, I seen how bad it can be.
MANE: I seen people who got serious cases and did serious time at a young age. I seen people getting robbed. I had friends or people who was getting killed. So I already knew once I had that first charge, like, I got to do something. And I kind of made a conscious decision, like, I'm going to be a rapper. And I'm going to be serious about it. No matter what happen, I'm going to make it happen.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ADDICTED")
MANE: (Rapping) Hi. My name is Gucci Mane. I'm addicted to everything - bad, fast cars...
CHANG: So you were living a trap life as you were releasing these albums. And part of that lifestyle was this drink called lean, which you were hooked on for many years. Tell us. What is lean, first of all?
MANE: Lean is cough syrup. And it's how we drink it...
CHANG: Yeah but not just any cough syrup, right? We're not talking about Robitussin.
CHANG: This is Codeine, like prescription cough syrup.
MANE: Codeine with Promethazine - like, definitely with a prescription.
MANE: I was addicted to that for several years, and it derailed my career. I was doing a recreational drug when it was time for me to be a hundred percent dialed-in.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ADDICTED")
MANE: (Rapping) The third week out of rehab, he forget the - they teaching him. Like, why you smoking blunts and sipping - you a millionaire.
CHANG: You were in and out of county jail for much of your young adult life. And then in 2014, you were convicted of firearms possession, and you entered federal prison for the first time - federal prison. And it was at that time that you decided, this is it. This is going to be a turning point for me.
And I'm just curious. Why at that point - because all of your problems with law enforcement up until then - that was just part of your image. It was part the image in your music. It was part of the image your fans connected with in some ways. But what made your time behind bars in 2014 suddenly different?
MANE: So I actually made, you know, the decision, you know, to try to, like, change my life in 2013 when I was first arrested before I even got the time.
CHANG: Why was that?
MANE: Because I was facing a bunch of time.
MANE: So that right there is what made me come to the decision, like, I need to change my life. No matter what the outcome or the sentence is, I'm finna start doing better.
CHANG: And why did you decide to write a book while you were in prison, a book about your life?
MANE: I just had time to sit down and reflect. And I was reading books. I had read Johnny Cash's biography. I read Mike Tyson's biography. I read two biographies on Jimi Hendrix. And then when I read the two biographies on Jimi Hendrix, I was, like, let me tell my story myself, you know? And they just came up with the idea. And I just started writing. And I wrote, like, 30, 40 pages my first time when I sat down to write the book.
CHANG: Well, what is the story that you wanted to write about yourself. I mean is this a story - is your book a story about redemption, or is it a story about kind of glorifying the guy you were before federal prison - because honestly, it doesn't seem like you regret a lot of the things that you had done.
MANE: I think it's just a fascinating story. It's not a regrettable biography. It's just the truth, you know what I'm saying? It's, like - it's the underdog story because I just - I've been jumping hurdles my whole life. I done made a lot of mistakes.
MANE: And I feel like I'm more resilient person. I shook off them, and I kept going. And I just want to let people know - I hope when people read my book, that's what they get out of it. Like, OK, well, Gucci went through a lot. He's doing something that maybe a lot of people would love to do. But at the same time, he took it for granted at a time and made mistakes. But he bounced back from it, and he better for it. And let them know, hey, if he can do it, it's never too late for me to turn my life around because look what he did.
CHANG: Gucci Mane - his new book is called "The Autobiography Of Gucci Mane." Thank you very much for talking with us.
MANE: No. Thank you. I really appreciate you.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LEMONADE")
MANE: It's Gucci.
UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) Lemons on the chain with the V-cuts, lemons on the chain with the V-cuts...
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