Freddie Gibbs: Three And A Half Stars Out Of Five

by | Aug 11, 2010 | MUSIC

Freddie GibbsStr8 Killa EP (Decon)

In the last three years, Freddie Gibbs has run and completed a full horrific lap of the mainstream music industry rat race. After establishing himself as one of Indiana’s finest underground artists, he signed a deal with Interscope, endured a painfully typical raw deal at the hands of the media giant, culled together the “failed” efforts from his major label sessions, and released them the next summer as two juggernaut mixtapes–The Miseducation of Freddie Gibbs and midwestgangstaboxframecadillacmuzik. He is an unquestionably talented MC, indeed the most fresh and lyrically tight prospect in recent memory, and it’s very cool, as a fan of rap music, to watch an artist come up under hype so huge as to have the New York Times claiming he’s one of the singular MCs “keeping rap alive.” But doesn’t that feel pretty huge? The guy doesn’t even have an LP out yet, but this year he’s rap’s last, best hope? How do you get to this point of hysterical praise, and is it deserved?


Freddie GibbsStr8 Killa EP (Decon)

In the last three years, Freddie Gibbs has run and completed a full horrific lap of the mainstream music industry rat race. After establishing himself as one of Indiana’s finest underground artists, he signed a deal with Interscope, endured a painfully typical raw deal at the hands of the media giant, culled together the “failed” efforts from his major label sessions, and released them the next summer as two juggernaut mixtapes–The Miseducation of Freddie Gibbs and midwestgangstaboxframecadillacmuzik. He is an unquestionably talented MC, indeed the most fresh and lyrically tight prospect in recent memory, and it’s very cool, as a fan of rap music, to watch an artist come up under hype so huge as to have the New York Times claiming he’s one of the singular MCs “keeping rap alive.” But doesn’t that feel pretty huge? The guy doesn’t even have an LP out yet, but this year he’s rap’s last, best hope? How do you get to this point of hysterical praise, and is it deserved?

Certainly, Gibbs deserves credit for being more than nice on the mic. Any casual listen to his material reveals how truthfully in love with the game Gibbs is, how reverent he is toward his artistic forebears—but in many ways he is still not ready for prime time. Str8 Killa is an EP that, while much stronger than virtually any other major rap release this year, still has its fair share of drastic missteps, each of which provides something of a glimpse behind the curtain, an aural snapshot of how difficult it must be to manage this kind of career while still maintaining an authentic viewpoint. As hip-hop fans, this is both good for us and bad for us.

Bad how? Primarily, I mean that Str8 Killa‘s existence is redundant. Gibbs released a mixtape entitled Str8 Killa… No Filla several months ago, and while there’s enough brilliant material between these two releases to justify a strong, singular, well-tracked album, there’s not enough to keep two separate releases afloat. The EP is higher quality sound-wise, but that’s about it, and complaining about industry bullshit while simultaneously playing marketing games like this is not only sort of stupidly self-damaging (‘cause you’re lucky to get people to pay once in this day and age,) but it also undermines Gibbs’ otherwise unimpeachably righteous stance against the severely immoral and cynical phonies who dominate the world of hip-hop today.

On “The Ghetto,” the “single” for the mixtape that preceded this release, Gibbs resurrects the ultimate 90s sleeper beat: the Miilkbone “Keep it Real” beat, the beat that Hov and L legendarily rocked on Stretch & Bobbito in ’96—and it’s perfect, magnetic, exactly the kind of blunted, woozy 3’30” gem that makes heads sweat and crate diggers get itchy all over. If you played this shit for someone who didn’t know better and told them it was DITC, they would probably believe you. It’s that good. Yet it’s not on the actual release—and its omission is an example of the inconsistency lurks throughout Str8 Killa.

Another example is the titular track of this EP/mixtape combo, which, all things considered, actually bangs pretty hard right off the bat–a classic, trunk-shaking, stuttering 808 rhythm provided by Huntsville, AL’s Block Beattaz, each break punctuated throughout by delayed, hollow tom accents, the melody strung together on percolating, robotic keys and perpetual stabs of ghoulish church organ…Gibbs sounds choice, predatory, ready…when suddenly you’re assaulted by the single worst guest verse in the recent history of rap, provided by Big Kill, whose flow and rhymes conjure the mental image of a deranged, drank-glazed muppet who’s caught too many Chappelle reruns. I know, I know, you gotta put the whole team on, but how did this make the cut for this EP, let alone as the first track? Nobody told you that this cat sounded bad? I find that incredibly hard to believe—this goes double for “The Coldest,” which suffers from its hook being lashed to the vocal stylings of BJ the Chicago Kid–as a result it never really transcends to be more than a shallow, sort of trancey fuck jam you might hear heavily edited for play on “The Quiet Storm.”

Despite these notable lapses, when Gibbs is really on, it’s otherworldly. Just before he begins to get autobiographical on “Rep 2 Tha Fullest,” he frankly admits over a lush piano arrangement, “I hope this rap shit saves me,” and the ensuing verses are urgent, directly personal; his hypnotizing flow suturing together couplets, repeatedly flashing his whole hand briefly before burying grief and whatever else deep beneath the grand catharsis of Hustle and mountain ranges of braggadocio. “24/7 on some survival shit,” a thrilling level of performance which he maintains throughout the supremely triumphant single “National Anthem (Fuck The World),” which will more than likely have second-rate trap rappers trying to replicate its simultaneously impossibly catchy and unbearably nihilistic chorus for years to come.

The back end of the EP, which features not one but two appearances from Bun B of UGK (who, fresh off of Trill OG, is with every verse making more of a case for his being the Greatest Of All Time, but I digress), is equally as excellent—Gibbs seems far more of a peer to Bun than one would expect for a newcomer, which speaks volumes. The production’s also more a little more consistent (Block Beattaz’ third contribution, “Live By The Game,” is probably the second-best song on the record), and the EP’s melancholy closer, “Oil Money,” which features Chuck Inglish of the Cool Kids and a soulful vocal cameo by Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys, is almost nauseatingly radio-ready and genre smashing.

So where does that leave us? I really like Str8 Killa quite a lot despite its flaws—and I’ll certainly be ready to listen to the LP that’s coming down the pike from Freddie Gibbs (especially with rumors swirling that The Alchemist may be producing), but right now it’s safe to say that certain things about this release show that Gibbs needs to fire whoever the fuck is advising him on how to “get over” in the industry and focus on putting out a legendary, no-frills album of legitimately excellent rap music. No skits, no bad guest spots, no bullshit.

To that end, Str8 Killa is an interesting study because how Freddie’s next release comes together will ultimately define its worth to me. I’d like to believe this is a shot across the bow at the occupying forces ruining rap, a clarion call preceding a revolution in which the old guard seizes back the discourse from the dilettantes and lyrics again reign supreme—but we can only wait and see.

Marilyn Drew Necci

Marilyn Drew Necci

Former GayRVA editor-in-chief, RVA Magazine editor for print and web. Anxiety expert, proud trans woman, happily married.




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