One of Wun

Let’s be real: You knew what One of Wun sounded like before you pressed play. Gunna’s motor-mouthed tales of the high life here, his dreary piano ballads there. His last album a Gift & a Curse wasn’t a whole lot different; neither was the one before that. Glazed, melodic raps about clothes and girls and whatever jewelry he wore to the studio that day are Gunna’s bread and butter. That is the formula that has made him one of the biggest Atlanta rappers of the last decade. Though these days it feels like even Gunna is getting bored, spicing it up risks derailing the money train.

Despite his considerable success, in the last two years Gunna has been unofficially shunned from the inner circles of popular rap by hip-hop cornballs who have interpreted his plea deal in the YSL RICO case as “snitching.” (Kendrick recently made him the butt of the joke on his Drake diss “Euphoria” when he said, “I know some shit about niggas that make Gunna Wunna look like a saint.”) The situation hangs over One of Wun, clearly weighing on Gunna even as he tiptoes around those frustrations to keep the good vibes intact. He’s trying to have the best of both worlds: An ol’ fashioned light and fun Gunna flex-a-thon, sprinkled with a reflective bar or wistful tune every now and then. Tonally, it’s confusing. Nobody wants Gunna’s pain rap album or his Me Against the World, but I do want him to be real with us.

Back in the day, when Gunna sung about the way his “Fear of God pants match his Fear of God Vans” on Drip Season 3’s “Almighty,” or his “AP blacker than Akon” on WUNNA’s eponymous track, he sounded as if nothing else in the world mattered to him more. Now his boasts of having the sharpest outfit at the Met Gala (“One of Wun”) or a new Balenciaga crop top (“Prada Dem”) feel obligatory. I don’t doubt that he still gets fits off regularly, but we all know he has so much more at the top of his mind. It comes off as a deflection.

He’s making songs that sound like catchy Gunna songs of the past—he’s still able to float on these laid-back, skittering ATL trap variants while reading straight off his SSENSE receipt—but they don’t feel like them. He’s going through the motions. His rapidfire flow on “Hakuna Matata” is clean but the energy is flat (he should have saved it for the soundtrack of Barry Jenkins’ upcoming Mufasa movie). He’s made “On One Tonight,” with its humming beat and limp croons, a dozen times before. I do still get a kick out of his latest sexual escapades (at the gym, on a yacht, in an orgy) and luxury car purchases—the extremely chill “Back in the A” is a standout, especially when he says, “My car is a half million dollars/I came a long way from Impalas”—but he’s so checked out that a couple of vivid bars can’t hide that he’s wearing a mask.

Tucked away at the back of the 20-track album are some signs that Gunna is figuring out how to address his disenchantment without losing his spark. There you’ll find a few slower, piano-driven ballads (“Life’s Changing,” “Conscience,” and “Today I Did Good”) that probably won’t be chart-toppers but go deeper than surface level. The mood he captures is that of someone who has spent months on the couch devouring cheese puffs and binging sitcoms after a breakup until suddenly reaching an emotional breakthrough. The revelation comes in the form of lots of talk about self-care and working out (“I ain’t been eatin’ no bullshit/And fitness, I wake up, I feel fit,” he croons on “Today I Did Good”), which is admittedly not the easiest stuff to make interesting in a rap song, but it’s his way of acknowledging that public ostracization from hip-hop has beaten him down, and that he’s come out on the other side stronger. On “Collage,” he manages to work in his lifestyle changes in the most Gunna way possible: “I spend 50 racks on a trainer/My payroll ain’t missin’ a payment.” This all may turn into him sing-rapping about an Erewhon smoothie on his next album, but you know what, at least it will be honest.