Two influential people pushing boundaries through art, Gucci Mane and Judy Blume have a lot in common (besides their February 12 birthday).
It seems like a stretch that a children’s author who directly addressed the uncomfortable aspects of puberty and a rapper who helped invent trap music would have much in common, but you might be surprised…
Introducing the Trap God and Judy the Great, two forces of nature born on February 12 (although 41 years apart) who have made huge strides in their respective industries. Judy Blume, an acclaimed author best known for her controversial children’s books on the gritty side of growing up. Gucci Mane, an infamous rapper who has released thousands of songs and whose recent autobiography made it to the New York Times best-seller list.
Challenging Standards and Odds
If there’s one thread that connects Gucci and Blume, it’s their insistence on challenging their genre and form.
Gucci is best known for helping establish trap music. Coming from a drug-dealing background and a low-income, high-crime neighborhood in Atlanta, he wanted to create lyrics, beats and an overall sound that conveyed where he was from. His goal was to speak to people like him, to create music unique to the reality on the streets of Atlanta. “I always had something to get off my chest. I was always thinking about how I could phrase things in a way that would connect with folks,” Gucci wrote in his autobiography.
“Trap music,” he wrote. “To some it’s the subject matter. Stories of serving fiends through burglar bars. To the others it’s a style of beatmaking…. When I think about trap I think about something raw. Something that hasn’t been diluted. Something with no polish on it. Music that sounds as grimy as the world it came out of.”
And it wasn’t just the sound of the trap house that made him identifiable. It was his determination. Despite the odds constantly stacked against him (frequent trips to the big house and fighting drug addiction), he kept recording. Frequently meeting with his career-long beat maker, Zaytoven, he recorded for hours, and sometimes several days, at a time. His relentlessness put him on the map.
While Judy may have operated out of suburbia rather than the trap house, she was also relentless. During her early entry into writing, she was told she was a “nice girl” but not a writer. This type of backhanded motivation fueled both Judy’s and Gucci’s respective work.
While Gucci helped launch trap music, Judy invented a literary genre. As a child, she found that the only books available for children were naysaying moralistic tales that made growing up seem like a punishment. Instead of shying away from that reality, she embraced it.
When she was a stay-at-home mom wishing for something more than a housewife role, Judy wrote stories late into the night. Her tales were based on vivid memories of the uncomfortable aspects of adolescence. She wrote for kids who didn’t have a spokesperson yet, producing a huge body of work on topics like puberty, bullying and divorce. She overtly addressed racism in suburbia through one of her earliest titles Iggie’s House. Her approach to writing was the same as Gucci’s: talk to real people experiencing real life.
Both Judy and Gucci moved away from their original childhood homes at a young age and experienced a distinct culture shock that informed their work. Judy moved from New Jersey to Florida. Gucci moved from small-town Alabama to Atlanta.
Although by different circumstances, both Judy’s and Gucci’s fathers ended up away from home.
Judy’s father volunteered as an air-raid warden during WWII.
Gucci’s grandfather was also active in the military, and his love for the Gucci brand started in Italy during WWII. This earned him a nickname that stuck and was passed down for two generations, resulting in the Gucci Mane moniker we know today.
Themes of life transitions, death and their father’s (and grandfather’s) influence are present in both Blume and Gucci’s largely autobiographical work.
Controversy and Confrontation
Some call Gucci Mane the rapper who got away with murder. Regardless of the truth related to his murder charge, he has done some time and has more than one nemesis. At the very least, there’s been bad blood between him and others simply because his sound and life have stirred tensions. Aside from, and perhaps due to, this upstir Gucci has been able to produce a huge, widely recognized body of work with loyal followers and astronomical record sales.
Judy may hide behind a sweet exterior, but as a staple author on the banned books list, she’s had to be tough as well. After she had a few published novels under her belt, she was becoming known for pushing the envelope and putting out books that challenged the norm. Her books were published during the sexual revolution hippie movement through to the 1980s era of book burning, when her titles started getting stored behind locked cabinets in the library. Nevertheless, she persisted and continues to write on subjects many cannot tackle with the same grace and integrity.
Both Judy and Gucci simply allowed their art to mirror their lives, but it isn’t easy being an innovator pushing boundaries. For both of these influential people, every praise was met with a criticism.
Gucci has always had a way of noticing new talent and helping jump-start careers. He opened his own recording studio called The Brick Factory where he took young artists like Migos and Young Thug under his wing.
Similarly, Blume has looked out for young people through books like Letters to Judy: What Kids Wish They Could Tell You. Here she acted as an advocate for young people who had trouble connecting to a world that seemed to ignore them.
A Rage to Live
At a young age Judy was eager to read A Rage to Live by John O’Hara, partially because she wasn’t allowed to consume such scandalous things yet. The idea behind the book is captured perfectly by its publisher’s description: “a gorgeous pageant of idealists and libertines, tradesmen and crusaders, men of violence and goodwill, and women of fierce strength and tenderness.” There doesn’t seem to be a better way to characterize Judy and Gucci. To both influential people who continue pushing boundaries: happy birthday.