Released: 2014

Kevin Gates’ “Perfect Imperfection” is an extensively detailed narrative, pulling back the curtain on the struggles and trials of a life dedicated to the pursuit of survival in an unforgiving world. The Baton Rouge emcee examines his own life with a critical lens, revealing his vulnerabilities, his resilience, and his complex mentality. From hardships in the streets, emotional trauma, to the pressure of maintaining authenticity in the hip-hop game, Gates lays it all on the table in this song.

The track opens up with Gates expressing his openness, asserting his propensity to be upfront about whom he associates with. Here he also brings forth the tough realities of street life, referencing the detrimental impacts of the drug trade, “Breaking down a key of coke, I ain’t never seen a boat.”. This line is a nod to the drug trade that exists in his community, using ‘key’ as slang for a kilogram of cocaine and ‘boat’ as a reference to large drug shipments. This theme of gritty street survival is prevalent throughout the song.

Gates continues to showcase a fierce determination to break free from the shackles of his circumstances. He references his desire for education and his determination to evade life imprisonment, arguably another grim reality in marginalized communities. The raw imagery of violence (“My nigga brains blown out layin’ in my lap”) and his intimate encounters (“She looked like Nala when she got on top me”) enhance the narrative’s authenticity. Simultaneously Gates manages to tackle the emotionally charged subject of loss and grief, “Praying till I’m prayed out won’t bring him back”.

Kevin Gates Perfect Imperfection

The chorus is particularly telling of the struggle between Gates’ public image and his inner reality, “I’m a perfect imperfection / My craft has been perfected / I just need affection”. He acknowledges that while he might appear ‘perfect’ in his craft, he is a flawed human dealing with internal battles that often surface as aggression. Gates, thus, seeks understanding, yearning for true connection in a world quick to judge.

Meanwhile, the later verses shine a light on the dark side of the hip-hop industry, with Gates criticising artists who rap about experiences they haven’t lived. He throws in a reference to Drake acknowledging his authenticity (“Drake said Gates do his thing, he don’t bullshit”), highlighting the respect he’s earned in the industry.

Ultimately, “Perfect Imperfection” is a sincere, complex portrait of a man who’s had to balance a challenging life with his pursuit of greatness in the music industry. The song is a testament to Gates’ resilience and honesty, breaking down the facade of flawlessness often perpetuated in hip-hop, and in doing so, allowing his listeners to resonate more deeply with his real-life struggles.