On his last album DS4Ever, Gunna’s main concerns were what fast car to drive and pair of designer jeans to throw on. Now, he’s got the weight of YSL’s RICO case on his shoulders. Since he was released from jail in December, the generally tiresome social media conversation—driven by salacious Instagram and YouTube rags, plus a few rappers looking for attention—has focused on whether he “snitched.” But Gunna’s priority isn’t really responding to internet jokes. Instead, on his new album a Gift & a Curse, he’s trying to describe the emotional strain of a case that has torn apart brotherhoods and changed his outlook on life. He’s also attempting to keep the fun and lighthearted spirit of his prior music. The result is an album that is too vague to have much depth and too absorbed in real-life drama to have the feel-good vibes he wants to preserve.

Lead single “Bread & Butter” sets the tone, balancing anger at friends who have turned their back on him with wistfulness for the old days when none of this was on his mind. It’s the kind of confessional, melodic pain rap that is popular in the Deep South, but the AutoTune-heavy singing is too monotone and polished for it to be effective; listen to how a crooner like Tampa’s T9ine lilts to make up for not having a big voice. Gunna could also attempt lyrical vulnerability, emulating the blunt poetics of an artist like Jacksonville’s Lil Poppa. But he is mostly still caught up trying to puff out his chest.

I get it. He rose to the top of the Atlanta hip-hop ranks by being cool; it’s hard to dig in when he’s never really had to. Still, it’s frustrating when you can tell that he’s not being entirely real with you. Such is the case on the overly guarded and painfully slow “Paybach,” where he alludes to friends accusing him of betraying Young Thug by taking the Alford plea: “Switching on my brother are you serious?” he coos. I can assume that he’s wounded and confused by that accusation—but I have to assume, because instead of letting us in, he follows up with the flex “Nigga ain’t gon’ touch me and that’s period.” Similarly, “Idk Nomore” avoids all feelings with threats and hollow platitudes. At one point he sings, “Wanna know how Wunna feel? then listen to my music”—as if that isn’t what we are doing.

He’s better off on songs like “Fukumean,” where he goes back-to-the-basics—smoking good weed, thinking about boobs—deploying the explosive, run-on flow he nailed down around Drip Harder. Or on “Ca$h $hit,” where he continues to be nondescript emotionally but exhibits some imagination in the countless ways he describes getting fits off: “I drip like sweat in the sauna” and “Pop out, when I drip it’s a puddle.” The breezy beat of “Ca$h $hit,” with its low-key woodwinds whirling in the background, is one of the rare instrumentals that has any life to it. Notably, both of these songs come in the middle of the 15-track album, smashed in between lots of seriousness. They’ll be solid singles, but here, they really tear you from the moment.

Gunna is yet another rap star struggling with the expectation that if you hit a low point, you have to be prepared to let it all out by the next annual release date. Of all the tracks on a Gift & a Curse, “Rodeo Dr” feels truest to where he’s at right now. The beat is brisk, the flows switch, and luxury goods are still in sight but he airs some frustration: “Fuck this shit, you know I’m still doing it for Jeff and Lil Keed,” he raps, and that “Fuck this shit” is more moving than any part where being moving is the point. Clearly, Gunna isn’t ready or willing to fully pull at his emotions. I’d rather hear the album he wants to make over the one he feels like he’s supposed to. Maybe now that he’s gotten a Gift & a Curse out of the way, he’ll feel free.