By Thomas Johnson, June 27 2018 —
Gary, Indiana sits about 15 minutes from Chicago’s dicey south side. About a third of its homes are vacant and its cultural exports can generally be grouped in three categories — headlines, The Jackson 5 and Freddie Gibbs.
Gibbs has been living in Los Angeles for about a dozen years now, and despite his complete integration into rap’s coastal mecca, the entrenched grit of the Rustbelt is a constant in his music. Freddie, a 10-track follow-up to last year’s stellar You Only Live 2wice, strikes a perfect balance between both locales.
While burgeoning among career stick-up artists in Gary, Gibbs honed the stylistic elasticity that propelled him to an elite echelon of mavens. His fundamentals as a rapper are all but unmatched, a product of the do-or-die concrete from which his rose bloomed. With an established brand, he transplanted to L.A. where a wicked humour permeated his already airtight rapping. Piñata, a collaborative album with producer Madlib, is the best example of the quirks he drew from the weirder coast.
On the surface, Freddie sounds much like a standard Gibbs joint, keeping in mind that a ‘standard Gibbs joint’ means the most reliable rapper alive puncturing beats with a staggering mastery of flows and cadences. He remains cutthroat on mic and takes the serrated, bass-rattling production as open invitation to bare his fangs. Mild parsing, though, reveals a trove of hilarity. Freddie is preceded by a shitty VHS-quality infomercial promoting Gibbs as a quasi-R&B sleuth, a gag magnified by the cover’s blatant homage to Teddy Pendergrass’s 1979 album Teddy, and the priceless “FLFM (Interlude),” where Gibbs puts his ‘chops’ to the test.
The most striking example of his West-Coast affinity is on “Death Row” — another homage, this time to the titular legendary L.A. label that housed all-time greats like 2Pac, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg and The D.O.C. Here, he accompanies 03 Greedo, the now-incarcerated poster-boy for California’s current batch of luminaries, over an interpolation of Eazy-E’s “Boyz-n-the-Hood” beat. It’s maybe the most perfect blend of the regional eccentricities Gibbs has had a large hand in abolishing from rap’s currently non-territorial landscape. There is an underlying irony in Eazy-E and his label, Ruthless Records, having been a perennial thorn in Death Row’s side, but Freddie is a noted student of the game. It’s probably just another joke he’s in on.