The people who showed up at SOB’s in New York last night were not Gunplay’s people. A human firecracker, Gunplay makes music to start riots; there, then, he could barely get a head-nod. While the Miami rapper spun circles around himself, the crowd stood as if waiting for a train to arrive. His face did jumping jacks, his hair did bicycle kicks, and they registered curiosity at best. Arms were crossed or in pockets; two kids in the middle of the room held what seemed to be a private Tae Bo session. And still, Gunplay soldiered on. He brandished a water bottle at his hip, imitating Rambo, killing motherfuckers with a closed-top Poland Spring. He hopped out from behind a life-size cardboard cut-out of his own body, rapped Rick Ross’ lyrics on his “Clique” remix, biting the words off like pieces of a Snickers bar. When New York MC Vado came out, Gunplay rapped Vado’s lyrics better than the artist himself. Over an hour into his set, Gunplay briefly looked as if he just realized he’d been running up escalators for no reason. If one had left early, that might’ve been it: a lot of unreciprocated energy and underappreciated barnburners.
Gunplay used to be most known as the guy who took up space on Rick Ross’ stage, looking as if he’d bought the pharmacy out, his eyes threatening to roll out of his head. While Meek Mill, Wale and even Pill were welcomed into Ross’ inner circle, dust somehow collected on Gunplay: he’s had an album “coming soon” since at least 2010. Like Tony Montana into a desktop mountain, he plowed forward: He and Waka Flocka Flame debuted “Rollin,” a caps-locked street anthem to clear the sinuses. Not long after, he upstaged Kendrick Lamar on 2012’s “Cartoon & Cereal” and everyone on MMG’s “Power Circle.”
But there are two sides to Gunplay. A video of him at Six Flags went viral, showing him to be wacky, fun-loving. And then, a second video came out, that appeared to show Gunplay attacking his accountant with fists and gun-butt, allegedly stealing $150,000 in the process. Miami police placed him under house-arrest; prosecutors pushed for the maximum punishment, which would have Gunplay living out the rest of his days in jail. Somehow, by miracle or otherwise, he beat the charges – the victim left town and refused to cooperate with the authorities. (Acquitted, the title of his mixtape released earlier this week, might be a bit of an overstatement, but sure.)
And so Gunplay was back onstage, energized and seemingly unchanged. An MMG rep screamed from the DJ booth, “My n***a just beat a life sentence.” Gunplay quickly added: “Don’t get it twisted, n***a, I’ll still drop a tint on you.” (This led into “Drop Da Tint,” a new song that unapologetically makes drive-by shootings sound as routine as a round of mini-golf.) He trilled his r’s, ratatating like a machine gun. His shirt featured Che Guevara’s face with an NWA-styled Compton hat atop the graphic.
For much of the night, Gunplay threw himself against the proverbial wall, and – at a certain point – the wall gave in. How could it not? A slew of guest features – “Power Circle,” “Cartoon & Cereal,” A$AP Rocky’s “Ghetto Symphony” – cleared the way for “Cocaina (Que Linda),” where he wiped his nose with flourishes, and “Pyrex,” which had him doing Arrested Development’s version of the chicken dance. When “Rollin” came on, the floor practically ate itself, marking the first time it felt like Gunplay and the crowd were in the same room.
“Bible on the Dash,” the finale, came on to cheers. What had been a slow burn suddenly felt insistent and relentless. Gunplay thanked everyone for being there, as he had several times throughout the night. He saluted with the whole of his body, slamming his fist into his heart. He started to leave the stage. Once again, no one in the crowd moved. The MMG rep looked puzzled. “Oh, now you rock with us?” Gunplay looked around for a moment. “I got too many homeys here to do that once.”
Even still, the man by the DJ booth seemed unable to believe how quickly the tide had turned. “You . . . you want an encore?” Once again, “Bible on the Dash” dropped in; Gunplay performed with the same urgency, if not more. For a second time, he shook hands and saluted, this time clenching his eyes shut as if not to forget the feeling. No one moved, again. Surprising even Gunplay, the DJ put on another song. He kept going.