After generating some serious buzz with a series of snippets played over livestream, one of Young Thug’s YSL label’s biggest superstars releases his sophomore full-length project. The album’s title is supposedly based on some kind of half-baked “alter ego” concept, loosely defined by Gunna as a “more spontaneous” version of himself and never addressed on the album, but Gunna certainly does lean into the softer-toned sides of his voice here, sinking into the vibe much like his label boss’ tendency to use his voice like another instrument. While it’s not quite as aggressively bland and boring as frequent collaborator Lil Baby’s last project, WUNNA is just about exactly what you expected if you’ve ever heard a Gunna feature verse before. With a series of near-indistinguishable tracks and the odd highlight of a surprisingly experimental beat, excellent feature verse or Gunna suddenly waking up out of his dazed stupor to finally command the listener’s attention, WUNNA is Gunna at the best we’ve heard him so far, but he still has a long way to go.
Gunna actually gets some of his absolute worst tendencies out of the way in the album’s first couple of tracks. Over the kind of summery trap-guitar beat that’s quickly becoming extremely stale after getting me excited only a couple months ago, Gunna’s garbled vocal attempts to cram quite a few words into a speedy chorus and ends up slurring all the rhythmic enjoyment out of it on the track “ARGENTINA.” Most of the production here is handled by one of the most in-demand trap producers at the moment in Wheezy, whose consistency has seriously dropped off as he has appeared on some of the worst tracks on albums by Lil Baby, Lil Uzi Vert, Nav, Future and others this year. He throws a completely unlistenable beat onto the track “GIMMICK,” the hi-hats stuttering awkwardly against the bass in what sounds like all the elements of a basic trap beat showed up but failed to get in sync. Gunna insists in a repetitive, strained vocal on the chorus that what he does isn’t a gimmick – truly, there’s nothing unique or interesting enough about him to be considered so. It makes a beat like Tay Keith’s more energetic hi-hats and chopped-up triumphant horn section on “FEIGNING” really stand out, Gunna’s hook one of the catchiest here as he echoes the instrumental’s melody in a surprisingly pleasant higher singing register – Gunna might honestly do a lot better experimenting more with more melodic tunes, his voice has a natural singsonginess to it that gets a little lost in his endless procession of straightforward triplet flows. You’d think Gunna would try harder on his lead single “SKYBOX” and title track “WUNNA” as well, but he reserves one of his most low-effort flows for one of his most atmospheric and dynamic instrumentals on the former and goes even more into auto-pilot on the latter, featuring only short bursts of two syllables for most of the song.
Gunna is as massively popular as he is for a reason, and there truly is quite a bit of untapped potential in the smoothness of his vocals and how well they are able to glide across these instrumentals at times. He sounds like he approaches a flex track like “MOTW” with trepidation, his voice at a near-whisper over a lower-key instrumental as if he’s so confident in his achievements he doesn’t have to shove them in your face – I just wish the track wasn’t so devoid of energy. Gunna does reach this potential on a few tracks here and it’s the main reason why my hope in him as an artist isn’t completely obliterated like many of his peers. The track “DOLLAZ ON MY HEAD” is easily the strongest here, Gunna’s voice not as buried in the mix and sounding strangely great juxtaposed with a pitched-up vocal sample that usually annoys me. The unconventional verse-chorus structure of the track is a nice diversion from copy-and-paste trap music formulas as well, Gunna bringing back the hookier parts of the track at unexpected times. The weirder musical world just paves the way for a knockout Young Thug feature. The injection of energy into Gunna’s vocals and music continues on the track “ADDYS,” which glides over an electrifying video-game synth line as Gunna alternates between a breathless triplet flow and a repetitive hook that’s just slightly too underwritten to be as exciting as it could be – at least one rhyme would have been nice, but it’s one of the better tracks here. “NASTY GIRL/ON CAMERA” is another highlight, Gunna once again demonstrating his speedier flow on a more aggressive and persistent trap instrumental before a nice instrumental transition into the second half of the track.
Then there are the tracks with quite a few good elements to them, but there’s something about how much you can hear Gunna squandering some of the great assets that have been provided to him that just kill all of the enjoyment. Gunna’s gone on record saying that he believes “ROCKSTAR BIKERS & CHAINS” will become one of his biggest hits, which is interesting because it’s the most experimental beat he’s ever chosen by far. If Gunna has such an appreciation for this heavy, glitchy and industrial beat, why did he take the exact same boring approach to it, or explore more new sounds like it? The standard doesn’t fit at all with a beat like this. “MET GALA” is another great beat, with a dreamy soundscape that feels like flying through the clouds, but Gunna’s monotone delivery on a single sung note for most of the track once again makes me wonder what could have been with the slightest bit of added effort. For how psychedelic Gunna’s vocals and spacey arrangements can be at times, you’d think a collaboration with Travis Scott on the track “TOP FLOOR” would be a lot better than it is, but placed later in the tracklisting after you’ve had quite a bit of time to hear Gunna’s old tricks over and over again, it feels like he’s not doing nearly enough to adapt to the style.
The underwhelming filler returns in a big way as the album comes to its conclusion – you know it’s particularly bad when some of the only tracks here that extend past the 3-minute mark start feeling excruciatingly long, like the cookie-cutter “DON’T PLAY AROUND” and the disappointing “COOLER THAN A B*TCH,” which adds an uncharacteristically bland Roddy Ricch feature onto another couple minutes of Gunna doing the same flows we’ve already heard earlier in the album. By the time I get to tracks like “I’M ON SOME,” “DO BETTER” and “FAR,” I find myself running out of criticisms that I haven’t already used, the album’s runtime stretching far past its welcome as Gunna plays directly into the streaming era by making all of his tracks flow together indistinctly, adhering to the same background-music style sound and adding nothing attention-grabbing to any of them.
As far as the scores of wildly popular yet mostly uninspired trap albums of 2020 go, WUNNA is one that shows the most promise, but is no less exhausting to get all the way through. In the meantime, I’m just going to be waiting for the next innovator to shake up the popular sounds of the rap game. Any time now with that rock-inspired album, Mr. Lamar.
Favourite Tracks: DOLLAZ ON MY HEAD, FEIGNING, NASTY GIRL/ON CAMERA
Least Favourite Track: GIMMICK