Photo: Scott Dudelson / Getty Images
  /  11.27.2018

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organization, employer or company.

Is Gunna using Auto-Tune or is he not? That’s the million-dollar question ringing in the ears of streaming service swear-byers clutching their headphones into their earlobes. Is that a faint, robotic moan of tinny or is it just damn good voice control? For the better part of 11 months, Gunna, born Sergio Kitchens, has confused the curious peeking into the make-up of his voice while simultaneously entrancing the corner of hip hop that throws new rappers into the yearly spin cycle. 2018 was Gunna’s, 2019 may be. Or may not. What’s clear is that his voice could soundtrack the ball dropping for 2019 and will damn sure be included in some form of the yearly rap round-up when it inevitably happens. His feature list makes Genius’ page-loading algorithm jitter like a vibrating PlayStation controller. It’s hard to pinpoint which 11 of his features were his best. But it’s a daunting task taken on by someone wholly invested in the power of the slinky Auto-Tune moan that has not once devolved into grating caterwauling.

With that said, here are Gunna’s best verses of the year.

“Yosemite,” Travis Scott feat. Gunna and Nav

Fresh from a morning breakfast at Cracker Barrel, somewhere in the faint stretches of town decorating the landscape of Northern Montana, “Yosemite” beckons the beginning of a toilsome day. Travis Scott’s Astroworld masterpiece begins with Gunna’s thick-with-morning-dew voice singing silky smooth non-sequiturs while simultaneously sounding like he needs to hock an enormous hairball. The song may suggest that this passage be keyed in Georgia typeface, a bold-style and at size 16 font, but Gunna’s tantalizing vocals herd it back to Arial size 11. He rap-sings with an air of confidence suggesting that we may not know what’s going to be said next, but we know exactly what it’ll cover. “I eat her flesh, you know the rest,” he says. He smiles and winks through lines like he’s spotted us down the hall in a rosy dress; he’s the moussed jock with the angry red varsity jacket.

“Life Goes On,” Lil Baby feat. Gunna and Lil Uzi Vert

Gunna’s presence on the cheating anthem of the year makes little sense when digging into the thick of his content, but next to his frequent collaborator Lil Baby, its purpose begins to take shape. The two go together like macaroni and cheese and yams on the Thanksgiving plate. Their styles often touch and overlap too, making their appearances on the same track feel like extensions of the same verse. Gunna sneaks in once Lil Baby’s bleak chorus ends for a drum-solo consistent chorus of his trademark gloats and assorted “cool” verbiage. “I like when that white on her toes” appears as the anchor of his verse which serves as a winking nod to Twitter’s rampant foot fetish. Gunna watches his social media channels like a hawk.

“Space Cadet,” Metro Boomin feat. Gunna

Coming off some much-needed down time after the fiasco that was Big Sean’s Double or Nothing, Metro Boomin sounds like he unlocked a hidden corner of creative potential that’ll do his, somewhat familiar, beat palette wonders. “Space Cadet,” from his sundry new album Not All Heroes Wear Capes, is proof that the doom and gloom sound doesn’t have to be a producer’s only calling card. The song stops and moves. It plods with a slight mechanical keypad noise. The bass drum is ignorantly loud with gigantic, artery clogging ability. Gunna turns in two verses of inspirational bragging that sound especially haunting with the backend’s nerve-racking world-building. Hans Zimmer ain’t got shit on Metro. Leonardo DiCaprio doesn’t have shit on Gunna.

“Do You Understand?,” Shy Glizzy feat. Tory Lanez and Gunna

Sunny nights and purple skies, pink clouds and a creeping paradise. Shy Glizzy’s sensual celebratory opus is catapulted into “best of discography” talks strictly from the strength of guest spots courtesy of Tory Lanez, delivering the kind of scorching energy evident reminiscent of his own single “Shooters,” and Gunna, who wisely plays it opposite and whispers his thoughts elegantly. Gunna has a range in a way that differs from our interpretations of typical rapper runs; he can sing, he can rap, he can whisper, in that order. The differences aren’t that easy to discern so you have to trust and listen. A sneaking emotional couplet sneaks in at the tail end: “It’s hard paintin’ a picture without all the paint / I look in your eyes and I can’t see the pain,” he raps somberly. He scratches at emotional depth that digs a little deeper than his Swiss army knife flexing capabilities may initially suggest.

“Drip Like That,” Reese La Flare feat. Gunna

Gunna slinks into the couch and smokes a cigar on Reese La Flare’s self-titled album cut “Drip Like That” that exists in an atmosphere of post-club functions at the Devil’s hour. Reese wisely steps back on the album’s centerpiece, making room for Gunna’s open-legged, cross-armed, hijacking of the song’s bosom. He rhymes “candle wax” and “camel back” at the beginning with all of the effort of a bread sandwich, yet it slapsticks together like fresh refrigerator magnets. He flings “yet,” and “text” and “wet” together like he’s playing with wet clay; “socks,” “wafflehouse,” “drop,” “bop,” top,” “mop,” and “flops” are a little harsher to congeal and inevitably falter ever so slightly.

“No Time,” Playboi Carti feat. Gunna

If Playboi Carti were a cartoon, he would be purchasing all kinds of traps and dangerous doohickeys from the ACME Store. He speaks with a villainous strain and raps like he’s plotting world domination. “No Time” sounds manufactured by the always absent ACME Store Clerk; they handed Carti a hypnotizing agent disguised as a rap song. If Carti’s the magus, then Gunna’s the soothing agent. Carti gets more cartoonish than ever on the Die Lit album cut, seemingly jumping as he raps, tickling his throat as he quips. Gunna sounds more level here than on much of his own solo work, keeping things remarkably restrained to balance out Carti’s jaws and jumps. Gunna drawls out certain end rhymes that just hit different.

“Stay Long Love You,” Mariah Carey feat. Gunna

Mariah Carey and Gunna together on the same track is peak 2018. If not for quality alone, “Stay Long Love You” is legendary for that same reason. How can these two vastly different rhythmic worlds exist together in the same sonic space for three minutes? Turns out that when the song plays, these differences largely melt away—save for singing ability, of course. Mariah’s world of cotton candy bliss seldom changes; it’s up to Gunna to match her innocent energy while bringing the silky sexual zest that makes his music sound both cunning and conniving. He plays things a bit different, a bit more understated. The rapper keeps things raspier, somewhere between rapping and whispering in rhythm. Even his verse has a larger, connected, thematic meaning. It’s iconic.

“MiAMi,” Tory Lanez feat. Gunna

Lil Baby and Gunna aren’t the only two that share a superlative chemistry. Gunna’s silkiness easily grafts into place with an artist like Tory Lanez who’s a little rougher around the edges yet manages to populate R & B spaces. Gunna appears on Lanez’s LoVE me NOw cut “MiAMi” and carves up the grimacing beat with a surgeon’s touch. There’s a ton of extra bass puffs that make Gunna flex his flowing abilities a tad more than he typically does. Together, the pair’s subtly different styles contrast enough to create an experience that magnifies the extent of their abilities. We already knew Tory was a multi-gifted singer and lyricist; Gunna’s now been revealed as an equally adept threat.

“Drip Too Hard,” Lil Baby x Gunna

Peak Lil Baby and Gunna together can find cures to Polio and the Measles. They’re scientists with bedazzled goggles in the laboratory synthesizing the answers to questions that we need to know the answer to. Just how tightly are they wound? “Drip Too Hard” is the latest answer to come from the pair’s laboratory. The lead single from their debut collaboration album Drip Harder is funky, wonky and, of course, brutal (courtesy of producer Turbo who has a degree in Gunnology). What makes Gunna’s verse work so well is that Lil Baby frontloads the track and preceding chorus with an introductory anticipation that makes the second half a blistering train ride. Gunna matches Baby’s intensity and inflection with ease, starting and ending an extended verse with an invitation and denial of entry into a life of debauchery.

“Home Body,” Lil Durk feat. Gunna and TK Kravitz

Lil Durk’s tantalizing cut “Home Body” has sex musk hanging in its thick air. Its beat is a minimal affair, relying on the tenacity of the collective crooning to establish its atmosphere. Gunna here leans more heavily into the Auto-Tune like a drunken Billy Bob Thornton in Bad Santa attached to a bottle of spirits. His words sound equally as intemperate and slurred. In the wider context of the high on lust aesthetic of the song, the sexually explicit sonnet rings true.

“Lesbian,” Metro Boomin feat. Gunna and Young Thug

Next to his obvious inspiration, Gunna’s Thug-isms are hard to miss. His ping-pong flows dart back and forth like his predecessor, his emotional lines are often delivered with straight face, sullen ebullience. Both Thug and Gunna make Metro Boomin’s “Lesbian” a slick, cautionary tale of unrequited love. Gunna’s oil-slick chorus and verse, complete with fresh punches of Thuggian ad-libs, starts things off sexily and establishes a necessary atmosphere of vivacious angst. There’s an unexpected genius in “I wan’ ride the new Rolls or that Bentley B (That Bentley B) / Yeah we gon’ cop some Chanel, the double C (That double C).”

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