From "Freddie Gordy" to "Skinny Suge," Freddie Gibbs' most compelling work is rooted in emotional vulnerability.
Rapping and gangbanging aren’t mutually exclusive activities. There are a lot of parallels between the two, though. But the term “studio gangster” has aged like a fine wine since Eazy-E’s day. Rappers have often positioned themselves as if they’re about that life but as we’ve seen in recent times, many fold under pressure. Right-wing pundits have often criticized “gangster rap” for rotting the minds of the youth. But, like any other medium, the best art comes from the darkest places. Artists who’ve experienced the most have used it to their advantage in pushing the genre forward and keeping fans at the edge of their seats.
Some may have not heard about Freddie Gibbs until two weeks ago when he kicked off the #FuckAkademiks campaign. Mind you, Akademiks’ seemingly shares a fanbase with Tekashi 6ix9ine so we can’t entirely blame suburban 14-year-olds who were introduced to hip-hop through memes for their ignorance. After all, they probably spent that same week Freddie and Akademiks’ went back-and-forth streaming “TROLLZ” to the number one spot. Gibbs, however, has a core fanbase that matured alongside him. Though some may have fallen off with the decline of the blog era, those that stuck around are the same ones willing to drop $40 for a t-shirt featuring a meme of Akademiks’ head on a Teletubbies body.
Freddie Gibbs is technically proficient like no other. A rapper’s rapper, and a producer’s rapper, who has continuously challenged the trajectory of his career in the face of numerous setbacks. He was dropped by a major label at the early stages of his career, “blackballed,” and then signed a deal with Jeezy that went awry. Just as he was reaping the success of Pinata and Shadow Of A Doubt, he was locked up in Europe over false rape allegations. Two years prior, he was shot at following a show at Rough Trade in Brooklyn. His immediate response? “They tried to kill Tupac. They tried to kill me.” ‘Pac and Gibbs both share commonalities in that sense, right down to their polished scalps and unapologetic personas.
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Gibbs’ stone-cold presence, near-death experience(s), and legal troubles have shaped his artistry and refined it over the years. The technical prowess in which he approaches his craft is hard to come by these days. He thrives in any sonic environment, even if it’s unfamiliar. But when Shadow Of A Doubt dropped, Freddie Gibbs honed in on a vulnerable side to himself that has only been scattered throughout previous projects. He never presented himself as immune to pain but his demeanor made it seem like it didn’t weigh on him as heavily as others. Every subsequent project he released, he made a concerted effort to have at least one song where he confronts his demons on wax. That’s a difficult task for anyone; present the honest truth, even if it doesn’t come across in the best light. SOAD had a few moments like this but perhaps the most compelling is on “Freddie Gordy.” With pain riddled in his voice, Gibbs details the volatile and unpredictable lifestyle that comes with the streets. The losses that come with it and the dire need to be removed from it.
I hope my daughter never lives this type of lifestyle
Creeping under streetlights as a night child
My uncle still can't put the liquor or the pipe down
Meanwhile, I'm in this kitchen whipping up the white gal
Plus I got addictions of my own, boy
The pills into laced blunts got me gone, boy
The Oxycontin and heavy syrup got me looking in the mirror
Saying, "Is you a dope fiend or a dope boy?"
The brutal honesty he presents is a part of growth. Acknowledging the pain, its effects, and the steps needed to heal. It’s a song like “Freddie Gordy” that allowed Gibbs to present these deeply revealing thoughts. There’s power in speaking one’s truth. The ability to, as Freddie Gibbs mentioned, look into the mirror and ask those difficult questions. He similarly shares those personal moments on “Homesick,” the closing track on You Only Live 2wice.Following his tumultuous arrest in France, Freddie’s comeback album was riddled with intimate moments, though the pitfalls he describes are addressed with the strength of a survivor. He describes coming home to police taking pictures outside of his home, as he balances being knee-deep in the streets while also attempting to revive a rap career sullied by the sexual assault allegations. Friends that were once ready to ride with him nowhere in sight. Reflecting on nearly being taken away from his daughter and issues with the mother of his child due to the weight of being falsely accused of such a heinous crime. And ultimately, the trust issues that linger through these relationships and experiences.
“Skinny Suge” is arguably the most potent showing of Freddie’s ability to mesh lyrical depth with emotional potency. The internal dialogue is unfiltered. Even as his professional career has gotten increasingly better in the years, the remnants of street life are prevalent. After acknowledging his commitment to the street code, he expresses that his fear of going broke and returning to his past life is far deeper than his fear of death. “Harry on my line, I ain't got his bread, I can't call him back/ Plus I got a show, the promoters ain't got the dough for that/ These losses set me back, man, I'm literally sellin' dope to rap,” he raps with pain fueling his gruff delivery. Beyond the financial strains, he delivers one of the most sobering moments of his career through a flurry of bars.
“Man, my uncle died off a overdose
And the fucked up part about that is I know I supplied the n***a that sold it
Put a pistol to my head, I was way too scared, drunk off emotions
I'm drinkin' and takin' these drugs 'cause I can't numb the pain with smokin'
Loner but I hate to be lonely
I fuck a bitch, she fall in love, but I just wanna be homies
If I fall off or get locked up she might just fuck on the homies
Most n***as die over love for a bitch or havin' trust in they homies”
The release of Bandana marked an official transition into this level of maturity that Gibbs hadn't fully committed to yet. He was rapping from an overhead perspective; vividly describing the trauma in retrospect on songs like “Fake Names." A father of two, Freddie Gibbs’ is having one of the best runs in rap right now while his social media suggests that he’s equally as content with his personal life. Though there might be a day when Gibbs runs out of euphemisms for a brick, there’s evidently still a vault of stories for Gibbs to unpack at the right time. There comes a time in every rapper’s career when they’ve told every tale of their street legend. But there’s also a beauty in watching people like Gibbs grow in front of their audience, especially when they allow their art to reflect that accurately.