[Photo Credit: Lucas Zielasko]
Before Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five released “The Message” in 1982, rap music was predominately pushing a heavy party vibe. That classic track was one of the first exposures that many people living outside of the inner city ever got to the everyday lives and turmoil within it. In 1988, 2 more gritty, groundbreaking, and genre defining rap albums were released: Public Enemy‘s It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back and Straight Outta Compton by NWA. Chuck D and PE introduced a militant, politically-charged lyrical stance with a focus on racial issues and media propaganda. NWA, on the other hand, addressed the issues by being gangster as fuck, ignoring more of the high level political figures and directing more of their attention on the immediate plight facing their local community of Compton. Also released that year was the Boogie Down Productions album, By All Means Necessary, which found KRS-One moving in more of a political direction himself. BDP‘s previous album, Criminal Minded (1987), was much more violence oriented and is credited by many as supplying the blueprint for future East Coast gangster rap. Whether they were focusing more on activism and education or murder and crack deals, there was one huge similarity between these hardcore groups, beyond their uncanny abilities to scare the shit out of White people. Embedded in every one of these efforts was an authenticity and sincerity that came through in the music. One look at the Black Eyed Peas or T-Pain, or any other “hip-hop” disaster that would proudly try to rock a velour top hat, and it’s pretty clear that this legitimacy has gradually evaporated during the last 2 decades. Now there’s a rapper by the name of Freddie Gibbs who’s determined to not only make rap “gangster” again, but also hopes to return some credibility to the art form.
Over the years, there have been occasional artists that have managed to set the rap game on it’s ear in a similar way, but that scenario has become increasingly rare. 2-Pac and Wu-Tang are prime examples of creative forces that paired actual skill and amazing story telling abilities to provide an engaging, 3-dimensional aspect to the street-life subject matter spotlighted in their tracks. Gangster rap used to overcome it’s subject matter by displaying itself as an undeniably viable art form and providing a necessary format for voices that were silenced elsewhere. Eventually, the idea/label/marketing of “gangster rap” actually became the most important element in it, above quality songwriting or even skill. Even the”backpack” rap movement of acts like De La Soul and Tribe Called Quest has mutated into “conscious” rap which, at this point, is just as much of a diluted concept as anything else. People like 50-Cent sell vitamin drinks, wear fur coats, and rap about dancing at clubs, showing much more concern with becoming celebrities than with creation at all. Ice Cube makes childrens films and Snoop Dogg is like Ronald McDonald to suburbanites these days. These issues of lost credibility are something that Freddie Gibbs is trying to counteract with his music.
Freddie grew up in the city of Gary, Indiana, an area which is a hell of a lot more violent and impoverished than the tune that Ron Howard performed in The Music Man would imply. Gary is also the town that the Jackson 5 originated from and the reason that they put so much effort into their musical careers to help them finally get the fuck out. It’s gotten a whole lot worse than that and Gibbs‘ path was a lot less thought out than Gary‘s most famous former residents. The gangster rapper went to Ball State on a football scholarship. He was kicked out. He went through a court-ordered boot camp and joined the Military. He was discharged. Like many others, he hustled on the street, supporting himself with proceeds from both pimping and crack dealing. His lyrics reflect this past as well as more personal issues, such as experiencing the miscarriage of a child and the death of his grandmother. Along with all of this loss, the rapper was also signed to Interscope Records and lost that deal as well. Still, his fan-base has continued to grow and, although he has stated and exhibited a focus on quality over quantity, Gibbs has been pumping out a shit ton of mixtapes and material. Just last December, he released the mixtape, The Labels Tryin To Kill Me, which boasted a ridiculous 81 tracks on its own.
Even with the amount of material that he is capable of producing in a short period of time, he still claims to have a strong focus on creating work that is “all killer and no filler“. His tracks feel honest and Gangsta Gibbs, as he is often referred, makes numerous comments which attack other artists for appropriating and marketing themselves as part of a lifestyle that people like himself have actually lived. The Indiana native makes it known that he thinks that the majority of rap music today is pure “bullshit”, while giving props to strong musical influences like UGK and Geto Boys. He doesn’t have a flashy rap moniker and Gibbs isn’t covered in chains or sporting a grill. Rather, he is generally shown rocking simple caps with t-shirts and preaching the importance that honesty and determination play in his music. His flow is tight and his lyrical content is solid, but I’ve noticed something more intangible throughout the limited amount of work that I’ve heard from the artist so far; something about Freddie Gibbs‘ work just feels legit. There’s an earnest quality in his voice and message that ties him to artists like Tupac that he has so much respect for. His tracks don’t come across so much as a glamorization of the struggles of ghetto life or as a condemnation of it, but simply as a vivid presentation of the landscape. As of yet, I have only heard a limited amount of his work, but I’ve really enjoyed what I’ve witnessed so far. Most of all, I can respect his mission to make rap gangster again. Historically speaking, scaring white people has always been a vital part of the evolution of music in the United States, after all.
Freddie Gibbs definitely made his rounds at the recent SXSW festivities, appearing as part of 8 separate showcases in a time-span of only 4 days. The video below is of Gibbs performing his song, “Murda on My Mind” live on March 18th. It was filmed for us by John Backstrom and took place at “The Rumbler Room” in a bar called Peckerheads on Sixth. According to John, Freddie requested a blunt from the audience and was obliged when a man passed one up to the stage. Apparently, this action was followed by countless shouts of “FUCK THA POLICE!” from the crowd. The hilarious part is that the rapper didn’t even smoke the blunt during his set, he just pocketed it for later.
“Murda on My Mind” can be found on the album Midwestgangstaboxframecadillacmuzik