Freddie feels like a pure and reckless purge from Gibbs, a collection that finds him at his wildest and most essential.
The trailer for Freddie Gibbs’ latest tape felt beamed in from the half-lucid world of late ‘80s dead zone TV—the kind of commercial that roused you from the couch at 3 a.m. with Luther Vandross’ face superimposed on a sunset. “Are you ready… for Freddie?” Gibbs purred, rapturously stroking a keyboard as a toll-free number flashed. (I called and found myself taking a survey to win a Caribbean cruise.) Over his prolific past decade, the Gary, Indiana rapper’s made just about any style work for him, from Madlib’s weirdo breakbeats to MoMA PS1-core bangers. But Freddie, whose impeccably campy cover art nods to Teddy Pendergrass’ 1979 self-titled album, came straight out of left-field—was Gangsta Gibbs really about to go full quiet storm?
Well, no. And while that may disappoint those who’d envisioned a full album of “Slangin’ Rocks,” it’s hard to be mad: Freddie is the hardest Gibbs record in years, and the most fun he’s sounded...maybe ever? Back when he first emerged, Gibbs quickly earned a reputation as a gravely serious rapper in terms of skill and of subject matter; Eastside Gary served as a perfectly bleak backdrop for his sobering narratives. Writerly but straight-shooting, his gangsta revivalism earned its share of critical acclaim but at the expense of personal style. In the nearly 10 years since, Gibbs has gotten looser, more experimental, without sacrificing the graphic imagery or razor-sharp wordplay—and in a weird twist, it’s wound up taking him closer to the sounds of popular trap than ever. But Freddie is hardly a bid for crossover appeal: it’s a capsule collection of Gibbs at his wildest and most essential.
At 10 tracks, nine of them under three minutes, it’d be tempting to chalk up Freddie’s slightness to this year’s trend of short songs and micro-albums. But Gibbs was ahead of this curve with last year’s eight-track You Only Live 2wice. (“I want you to keep playin’ this shit back-to-back-to-back-to-back,” he said in an interview last year. “Short, concise projects is what you’re gonna get from here on out with me.”) I imagine part of that impulse comes from an urgency sparked by three months in an Austrian jail in 2016, for which he was ultimately acquitted; he wrote YOL2 in his cell. That album, a clear-eyed stock-taking of his post-jail surroundings, felt like a fist slowly unclenching. Freddie, a year later, is a triumphant counterpoint—a record that feels like pure, reckless release.
For that, Kenny Beats is due significant credit; the producer, who contributed to half of Freddie’s tracks, has had a hand in some of 2018 rap’s best releases, from Key!’s 777 album to Rico Nasty’s mosh-inducing “Smack a Bitch.” Here, his beats exist in a similar universe as the blown-out productions of Pi’erre Bourne or the trap-noir of Southside circa 56 Nights, but rawer and hollowed-out. On “Automatic,” Gibbs clears a path through bass as immersive as fog, and “Toe Tag” is the tape’s most sinister moment: “Fuck the club, I’m in the basement with the pack, bagging up,” he spits over a gunfire-laden, sing-song melody that had me subconsciously gritting my teeth. Kenny’s best work, and Freddie’s highlight, is “Death Row,” a brilliantly unsubtle “Boyz-n-the-Hood” homage with L.A.’s just-incarcerated cult hero 03 Greedo in the role of Eazy-E. Through all of it, Gibbs’ delivery feels more in-the-pocket than ever, rowdy and limber but never veering off-course.
Which isn’t to say that fans of Gibbs’ subdued side will come up empty-handed here: “Triple Threat” dips back into his smoky, soulful mode, its hook half-sung in that familiar Midwestern baritone. And while Freddie might be lighter on standout lines than usual, Gibbs saves the album’s lyrical gut-punch for its last track, “Diamonds 2”: “I can’t lie, still get high on prescriptions/Sometimes I go weeks without no sleep, I’m in the fifth dimension/I just caught a body, Luca Brasi, he sleep with the fishes/Fucked up part is when I go to sleep, I see this nigga image.” Those are four incredibly loaded bars, the kind of writing that reminds you that very few people are rapping on the level of Freddie Gibbs right now. And none of them while wearing a “Miami Vice” suit.
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