There are few musicians who can claim to have put out a full-length mixtape from prison — and even fewer who can say that it is among their finest works. But Baton Rouge, La. rapper Kevin Gates’ latest mixtape, “By Any Means 2” has proven to loyal fans and new listeners alike that the longtime hip-hop artist is not letting his time in prison stop him from producing authentic, powerful music.

Since his career began in 2007, Gates has been one of the most prolific artists in the hip-hop industry. Over the past decade, he has released 15 mixtapes, countless singles and a full-length studio album — all in addition to creating his own record label, Bread Winners’ Association, in 2010.

Gates’ recent run-ins with the law have threatened to put a stop to that legacy, though, as he is currently serving a 30-month sentence for a previous felony gun charge. Despite this, the rapper has not let this prevent him from bringing new music to the masses.

In July, Kevin Gates’ wife and business partner, Dreka Gates, announced that she was putting together previously created tracks to make her husband’s newest release, “By Any Means 2,” with full executive control over the mixtape.

Although Kevin Gates is best known for hard-hitting songs like “I Don’t Get Tired” and “2 Phones,” these tracks do not showcase the full extent of his talent. Gates’ greatest skill is his ability to blend all the ambient effects of trap music with capable lyricism and emotional clarity, a trait that many modern trap artists are lacking.

Unadulterated honesty is central to Gates’ music, with references to his criminal past and his struggles with mental health and depression occupying an important place in his lyrics. He layers deeply confessional lyrics over well-developed Southern-style beats, making his songs both meaningful and catchy.

“By Any Means 2” stays true to Gates’ signature sounds and attitudes, with the first words of the mixtape, “I’m a hell of a n—a, I’m still in charge / I can get you from here or behind the bars,” setting an assertive tone and reminding listeners of his dominant position in the industry. The tape also incorporates catchy hooks, creating a more commercial sound than previous projects.
With only one feature on the mixtape, from Philadelphia singer PnB Rock on “Beautiful Scars,” Gates has the space to express his whole range of talent, driving songs from start to finish with effortless flows and control.

The central theme of the tape is Gates’ rise to success, despite the wishes of those around him to see him fail. He expresses profound sadness over losing close friends and reflects on his lack of trust in new people in his life.

The sorrow is best represented by his hook on “Imagine That,” as he raps, “I came up from nothing, just imagine that / Now I got my own, just imagine that / Tried to take it from me, I went and got it back / I lost day ones, just imagine that.” He smoothly and adeptly delivers sorrowful bars discussing the disloyalty of the people closest to him, whether it be his uncle, past girlfriends or even producer DJ Khaled.

On “GOMD,” Gates raps about how these difficult relationships have caused him to turn to drug abuse. He raps, “Pouring syrup in the drink, depression hurt me every way,” and expresses regret over his drug use on other tracks on the tape, rapping, “What we sippin’ on, we never said it give you wings” on “Imagine That.” Unlike many artists who glorify their drug use, Gates discusses his past mistakes with a more realistic perspective.

Gates converted to Islam during a prior prison stay in an attempt to find peace, completing his Hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca, in 2016. His newfound religion and struggles with spirituality play prominent roles in this mixtape.

On “What If,” he sings, “What if God is one of us / just a thug like one of us,” and talks about how he places calls to God every night but never receives a response. Gates raps about his depression and wonders why God will not grant him reprieve from heartbreak and the haters who constantly try to hold him back from success.

Overall, “By Any Means 2” is a successful project, although not Gates’ strongest work to date. As his wife, Dreka Gates, put it, every song is “fire,” but the tape sounds as though it was made for commercial purposes, departing somewhat from his signature hard-hitting trap sound.

As one of the most talented rappers in the music industry today, Kevin Gates entertains listeners with powerful lyrics and cadence, as well as endears himself with open displays of emotion and vulnerability. He does not hold back from divulging tales of crime from his youth, expressing grief over both his past mistakes and wrongs that have been done to him. Despite his anger toward those who attempt to steal his spotlight, Gates has found his own brand of success through his sheer talent. His 2018 release from prison is sure to bring more of the same powerful music.

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