When news first surfaced in 2011 that Madlib would be collaborating with a single rapper for an entire album, a la ‘Madvillainy’ (Spotlight feature), it came as a surprise that the artist in question was Gary, Indiana’s thug poet, Freddie Gibbs.
While Gibbs’ skill and talent was never in question, the two felt worlds apart. Madlib, The Beat Konducta, with his psychedelic sample-based production, versus Gibbs, rap’s last real gangsta rapper, spitting ruthless, nihilistic street tales.
The combination of Gibbs and Madlib traces back to Ben “Lambo” Lambert, the former’s co-manager, who was working at Stones Throw. He introduced the pair to each other’s music and soon Gibbs found himself the owner of eight beat CDs.
“He started sending me beat tapes and I was like, alright cool, I can f*ck with it,” Gibbs tells Clash. “But I wasn’t up on it before though, I’ma be honest. Once I got up on it I mastered it though, so to speak.”
In fact, other than the beat tapes sent for ‘Piñata’, the pair’s eventual collaborative LP (review), Gibbs avoided listening back to his partner’s previous work. When Clash catches up with him it’s the 10th anniversary of Madlib and DOOM’s cult classic ‘Madvillainy’, a record that Gibbs has only begun listening to recently.
“I didn’t listen to it when I was making mine, because I didn’t want no remnants of that record on my record,” he explains. “I ain’t want nobody to think that I was jocking that record in any type of way, because I wasn’t. I was trying to make something totally different. I was trying to make something better than that.”
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Freddie Gibbs and Madlib, 'Shame'
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In terms of making something totally different, Gibbs has undoubtedly been successful, leaving his second goal impossible to define. Since completing ‘Piñata’ though, the rapper has gone back to ‘Madvillainy’ to see what he’s competing with.
“That’s some old outer-space, far-out type shit,” he says. “He’s (DOOM) definitely not rapping about what I’m rapping about! I thought it was dope. It’s definitely something that’s unique. There’s nothing else that sits alongside that.”
‘Piñata’ and ‘Madvillainy’ are obviously completely different records, but they both play their part in furthering Madlib’s tradition of making incomparable albums. Gibbs attributes this to the beats that Madlib sent him to choose from, as well as an authentic and unmatched knowledge of his subject matter.
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“If J Dilla was alive today, I think that he’d be proud of the record I did.”
Freddie Gibbs on 'Piñata'
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“I’m rapping about the streets,” he explains. “There ain’t too many guys that can cover that, front to back, like I can, in the way I do it. There’s a lot of street n*ggas, but they’re not as talented poets as I am, and there’s a lot of f*cking poets and they’re definitely not as street as I am. I bring that shit together the right way.”
Gibbs has received acclaim prior to ‘Piñata’, possessing a back catalogue full of critically celebrated releases including 2010’s ‘Str8 Killa’ EP, 2011’s ‘Cold Day In Hell’ mixtape (Madlib's first time hearing Gibbs), and last year’s ‘ESGN’ debut proper. But working with the Beat Konducta has opened him up to an entirely new audience.
Madlib’s presence in the indie rap scene is untouchable, having worked closely with the late J Dilla as well as the aforementioned DOOM. He was vital in the success of Stones Throw records, one of the genre’s most boundary pushing labels. He has garnered a strong cult following, a lot of whom likely aren’t listening to the brand of street rap released by Gibbs.
“I’m putting them in the streets with me,” Gibbs says of the crossover. “If J Dilla was alive today, I think that he’d be proud of the record I did.”
“They say it’s a classic, man,” he tells us of the reception to ‘Piñata’ so far. “I really put hard work into it. I think when it comes to street rap, gangsta rap, I think I got it down to a science. I don’t think nobody do it how I do it. I mean, I know you got Rick Ross and Young Jeezy and guys of that nature, but I think I can have my own lane in it.”
With mainstream rappers often questioned for their authenticity, this isn’t a challenge ever made to Gibbs’ material, “Because there ain’t nothing on that shit [that’s] outlandish. I’m not saying nothing you can’t believe. [When] Ross and Jeezy tell you they got 100 bricks, you don’t believe that shit. That ain’t true.”
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Freddie Gibbs and Madlib, 'Thuggin''
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Despite the undeniable quality and authenticity on ‘Piñata’, some may question its classic status, given that it has only been available less than a month. But Gibbs sees the content as strong enough to justify the claim.
“I think it can instantly be a classic, because it definitely has to do with the content,” he explains. “Now will it stand the test of time? That remains to be seen. I think that it is timeless content.” This seems likely – the first track to be released from the record, ‘Thuggin’’, came out back in 2011, and yet it still falls into the sequence of the record, sounding as refreshing everything else.
With the attention on ‘Piñata’, Gibbs anticipates imitations arising in the near future. “There’s definitely going to be some guys trying to mimic this process in some type of way,” he says. “But you know, it is what it is. That’s what we’re here for, to set trends, [so] I hope they do. I’m raising a nation of rappers, man. Somebody gotta do it.”
Despite not being a household name, Gibbs has been a name discussed in hip-hop circles for a decade, since the release of his debut mixtape ‘Full Metal Jackit’, and yet his influence on the new generation is rarely discussed.
“A lot of mother*ckers trying to take my technique,” he says of the way that newcomers look up to his complex flow patterns. “Any of these young mother*ckers coming up, I’m the person they wanna work with to give them instant credibility, lyrical credibility, street credibility. So I definitely don’t get my just due when it comes to the rap game. There is definitely guys using my techniques and my motions, and if they say they’re not, they lying!”
Where many new releases go from trending topics to trash folders in what seems like a period of days, ‘Piñata’ stands out as a well-crafted release that demands time and attention. Gibbs has previously spoken out against the idea of releasing projects every few months, wanting his work to have a more lasting impact.
“I might not do another album for a while, I might go all Jay Electronica on y’all n*ggas or some shit,” he jokes about his future release plans. “Nah, I’m going to just put out music when it’s time to. I’m not about to rush it, but then again there ain’t going to be too huge a gap, either. I’m going to stay consistent with my shit. You’re going to hear something from me every year in some capacity.”
Following up ‘Piñata’ will be ‘Eastside Slim’, a project nearing completion, although it’s not likely we will be hearing it any time soon. Not wanting to rehash what has already been achieved with Madlib, Gibbs returns to working with a variety of producers on the forthcoming album, release date still strictly TBA.
“It’s more of a futuristic-type sound,” he describes. “But Madlib is going to piece it together for me. He is going to have some production on there, and he’s going to sequence it and all that shit.”
Before that though, Gibbs is embarking on Tech N9ne’s Independent Grind Tour, hitting over 70 cities across the US. Having been in and out of major label deals throughout his career, the most recent one with Young Jeezy’s CTE – which is documented on ‘Piñata’’s much-discussed ‘Real’ – Gibbs has been flying the flag for the independent approach for the past couple of years, and hopes to learn a few things touring with Tech.
“I’m definitely going to go on tour with Tech and try to learn some things to enhance my business,” he tells us. “Tech’s a good guy to work under for a while.” However, to Gibbs it is not particularly important whether a future deal is with a major or an indie, just that he retains his artistic integrity. “I’ma keep creative control regardless of what type of situation I’m in,” he confirms. “Whatever happens happens, but I’m definitely going to maintain mine.”
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Freddie Gibbs, 'Deuces', from 'ESGN'
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Words: Grant Brydon
Freddie Gibbs solo photo: Peter Beste
‘Piñata’ is out now and reviewed here.