Freddie Gibbs is for real. Sporting viciously vivid street tales delivered with a rapid-fire flow, this Midwestern spitter is fresh off the UK release of his debut EP 'Str8 Killa'. DJmag spoke to him on the phone in Gibbs’ hometown of Gary, Indiana about his influences, the idea of authenticity in hip-hop, and lions. Yes, lions.
Where are you right now?
"I’m in Gary, Indiana right now. My hood."
What is the importance of retaining your ties to there?
"I’m a street nigga, so I mean I’m always going to be tied to the streets. And so [In background: friend greets Freddie, they say, “What up!” to each other]. See? I’m on the block right now, that was just a motherfucker stoppin’ and hootin’ the horn at me. But this is my family, my friends… I am Gary. I’m always going to be a Gary boy."
A lot of your work gets compared to Tupac, Pimp C, Bone Thugz-n-Harmony…I think you were even compared to Eddie Van Halen at some point?
"Haha, Freddie Van Halen… I love that, because those people that you named weren’t afraid to branch out and do their own thing. They didn’t go with the norm, the status quo…And I do what the fuck I want to do and I’m a product of that musical era. I could definitely see the comparisons and see how their music shines through mine. I don’t set out to be none of those people, but I definitely draw inspiration from all of them."
Speaking of Pimp C, you’ve done work with Bun B before.
"Shout outs to Bun B, he one of the good guys in the game."
A lot of your work has this vivid quality to it. How much of that is lived experience versus what you’ve seen second hand or heard about, even?
"All of my work is my real experience (laughs)."
Well then. How do you feel about rappers who don’t necessarily adhere to that?2
"I mean, it’s entertainment, man. You’ve got that movie shit, and it is what it is. Some guys do what they do, but my lane is me doing me, and I’ve got to rap about my life just being a regular nigga. And in light of being a regular motherfucker, fuck those guys. But if people want the movie and the bad guys winning and all that shit, then they can listen to that shit."
What do you look for in beats you’re selecting?
"I just look for a dope beat. I just have to be able to feel it – no matter who made it, what type of sound, if I can do something great to it then I’m definitely going to gravitate to it."
Who are some producers that you’re into right now?
"I like a lot of the older guy, y’know? Like Traxter. I wish I would have gotten a chance to work with J Dilla, but I’m really fucking with DJ Burn One right now. And Statik Selektah – I think he one of the most underrated dudes in the game – that’s it right there."
Going back to the ‘real experiences’ thing, is that something that’s so necessarily true now?
"I mean, like I said, I’m a Gary boy (laughs). I do what I gotta do to survive, you know?"
What inspires you to write?
"Boredom, man. I just wanted an outlet for my negative energy that I kept pushing out of my soul, so I had to put it on paper."
How did you get into seriously recording?
"One of my homeboys was just going to the studio and I just followed him up there. I was up there hustlin’ and I decided to rap."
And what was your favorite lyric of your early days?
"I have no clue, man (laughs). That’s the toughest question in the world, because I write so much, I don’t know what’s my favorite. Everything I do, I put five thousand percent into it. I love them all; they’re like my babies. I can definitely see the growth, though, from beginning to end."
One more question: If you could be any type of animal, which would you be and why?
"I would have to be a lion – I don’t see nothing that’s gonna kill a lion."
Meat-and-potatoes gangsta rap sketched in shades of Tupac
Freddie Gibbs is the real deal, a rapper with a flow that bounces between a menacing lilt and effortless speed-rap with astonishing ease, complete disdain for commerciality in any form, and most importantly, heart, discussing his life in the streets with startlingly frank detail, sugar-coating nothing and acknowledging the contradictions inherent to his lifestyle.
The very strong beats here range from defiant and anthemic (the appropriately-titled “Fuck The World”) to the blunted (the soulful spliff ode “Personal OG.”), forging a sound that manages to maintain a certain level of fealty to the archetypal model for what hardcore rap should sound like, while subtly pushing the musical envelope and moving the genre into the future. Take, for example, the inclusion of The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach on the sublime posse cut Oil Money. However, this release feels thematically incomplete – there are odd moments to this EP that suggest that things weren’t fully thought through, such as when guest rapper Bun B mentions putting on t-shirts in both of his guest verses, an oddly specific detail that will be sure to raise an eyebrow or two. Still, a promising release that serves as a harbinger of great things to come.
Review and interview by Drew Millard
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