There are duos who have shaped rap, couples who we thought were stuck in another temporality, who no longer produce or whose members have disappeared. There’s OutKast, Gang Starr and Mobb Deep, pioneers of 90s hip-hop who, working in tandem, understood that unity is a strength and leads to cult albums. Freddie Gibbs is their spiritual heir. Originally from Indiana, a former dealer who found salvation in rap music, this son of a police officer and a postal worker has understood the importance of surrounding himself with gifted producers: with them at his side, he imagines music that is both complex and joyful with surprising and iconoclastic albums on the frontiers of hip-hop and jazz.
1. From Madlib to The Alchemist
First came Madlib, a loyal collaborator of MF Doom and J Dilla (a member of Slum Village who died in 2006) with whom Freddie Gibbs created two albums. The first, Piñata, both a commercial and critical success, was released in 2014, while the second, Bandana came out last year, having been composed by the American rapper while he was serving a prison sentence in Toulouse - accused of rape in 2015 and cleared four years later. With this jazz and hip-hop producer, Freddie Gibbs has changed the codes of contemporary rap all together. No longer about big boobs and fast cars, these lyrics have meaning, dealing with betrayal, politics and meritocracy. And they were composed with the biggest names in urban American music, from Black Thought and The Roots to New Yorker Yasiin Bey – previously known as Mos Def and a member of the Black Star duo.
Freddie Gibbs & The Alchemist - Something to Rap About (feat. Tyler, The Creator)
2. Drugs, faith and nostalgia
Often thought out by a lyricist and a beatmaker, hip-hop records tend to be signed only with the names of those who compose them. But Freddie Gibbs prefers to mention the prodigies with whom he collaborates. That's why he co-signed his album Alfredo with producer The Alchemist. Together they’ve imagined an opus of ten tracks, whose sweet melodies lead us into a tender rap territory: from Something to Rap About - a ballad caught in hip-hop limbo composed with Tyler, The Creator - to Skinny Suge - a dazzling piece, where rhymes follow each other against the dulcet sounds of an electric guitar - Freddie Gibbs’ rap is made up of memories and tributes. With Baby $ Hit, the 37-year-old rapper reminds us of a time when records crackled on a turntable, where the lyrics were demanding and served as an outlet for burning wounds (“Got a pocket full of dead slave masters ”). In contrast, 1985, the man who survived an assassination attempt after a concert in Brooklyn in 2014, goes back to his early days, as a crack dealer saved by music and by his faith (“I can smell the 'caine burnin' ”)
Freddie Gibbs & The Alchemist - Skinny Suge
3. Ultra referenced texts
After Fetti, an album released in 2018 and composed with New Orleans rapper Curren$y, the duo formed by Freddie Gibbs and The Alchemist delved into serious subjects and sharp melodies with a record surfing on a wave of references to pop culture and US sport: Scottie Pippen - former Bulls winger, is quoted in Scottie Beam; in duet with Rick Ross – he rubs shoulders with Joe Exotic – the American zoo operator seen in the Tiger King series, recently broadcast on Netflix. With his political rhymes bursting with allusions, like “You niggas is sweeter than Joe Exotic, On the run like Assata, so fuck the police”, Freddie Gibbs combines seriousness and lightness. Better still, he dares to bring a figure from American real TV up close with an activist from the Black Panther movement.
With Something To Rap About, Freddie Gibbs, a fervent disciple of Allah, gives us one of the most transcendent, ethereal and powerful pieces of rap of 2020. By confiding, “God made me sell crack, so I’d have something to rap about” against a sweet melody, The Alchemist’s collaborator takes us to a higher place with complete sincerity. He reminds us all that before becoming commercial, rap music served as an outlet for oppressed souls.
Alfredo [ESGN/ALC/EMPIRE], available now.