Review: Freddie Gibbs Channels Tupac on Soul-Bearing ‘You Only Live 2wice’
Freddie Gibbs almost lost it all―his career, his life, his freedom. Everything he built almost fell apart like a paper mache castle left out in the pouring rain. Allegations of sexual assault in Austria placed him in a cell for three months and if convicted could have meant a 10-year prison sentence. A severe sentence for severe charges, it was a fight for his name and innocence, the risk couldn’t be any higher.
I couldn’t help but draw parallels to Tupac―who swore innocence when accused of sexual assault, but guilty is what the jury found him. Pac swore his innocence until the day he died; I worried Gibbs would face a similar verdict, and there would be no Death Row to come aid his escape. Thankfully, the court was on his side and freedom didn’t cost him his soul―I could continue listening to his music, trusting that a rapper who carries himself with morals and integrity didn’t commit such an act.
I knew he wouldn’t be the same―jail changes you, deception affects the psyche, and knowing the door to ruin was almost stepped through does something to a man’s soul. The return of Freddie Gibbs would be the rebirth of a man who didn’t die but saw how quickly it could all end.
A second chance at life is embodied in the title of Freddie’s first post-acquittal EP, You Only Live 2wice. The first single, “Crushed Glass,” placed listeners into the introspective mind of a man who is reflecting on an uncertain time―touching on his past, present in jail, and even looking into a future with Trump as the leader of the free world.
There’s an eeriness to how much he sounds like Pac, it’s the cadence of his voice, the paranoia in his lyrics, and even the way his words are articulated feel as if they were mirroring the legend himself. There’s a tenseness, a spellbinding uneasiness that gives the song a piercing grit. Gibbs is a warrior, a true fighter, but “Crushed Glass” paints the best picture of his battles in and out of prison, a father and rapper, Gibbs the gangster and Freddie the man―raw and unfiltered.
Tupac’s Me Against the World was considered confessional, reflective, and soul-bearing by Steve Huey―it was true to a man who was balancing the world on his shoulders. Confessional, reflective, and soul-bearing are words I would use to describe You Only Live 2wice, a short but earnest collection of songs that gives you Freddie Gibbs at his most thoughtful―he isn’t joyous or melancholy―offering musings on the life he lived and the life he's still living. Comparisons to Pac are unavoidable, especially when the album intro begins with, “My ambitionz as a ridah nigga,” it’s obvious that the spirit of the late icon is alive throughout the project.
From the moment you press play the atmosphere is heavy with truth, brutal honesty, and reflective brooding. There’s no hook, no break, just straight-forward word vomit from one of rap’s most raw wordsmiths. Magic can be felt when the beat switches, it’s like the second-half of Drake’s “Furthest Thing.” Freddie’s soulful transition feels like resurrection music, returning from the grave instead of being buried. The appearance of Gerald Johnson, better known as Black Jesus, truly takes the song to spiritual heights.
Hearing Freddie rap is like watching a basketball player return to the court after a year-long injury―there's a feeling of excitement seeing him back in his element, finding his rhythm, but there’s a noticeable difference to his form. His delivery feels far more anxious as if he’s trying to rap his entire soul out. For almost three minutes he raps tirelessly on “Alexys,” another deeply reflective stream-of-consciousness full of his history off the block, untrustworthy friends, and fast life living that matches the rushed flow.
“Dear Maria” is a rapid portrait of a young hustler who is deeply entranced in an illegal life but also a letter to the woman who gave love to a man who didn’t know what such a word meant. It’s a strong song, the rich details truly bring the lyrics to life, but he also seems to be lost in performing this lyrical blitz.
“Amnesia” sounds like vintage Freddie, it could’ve easily been placed on his Shadow Of a Doubt album from 2015. This is Gibbs giving you banging trap music while still being an electrifying emcee. The hook is a bit ridiculous―I don’t know how money can result in a loss of memory―but playing this in the club will encourage couch jumping and headbanging. It’s a reminder of Freddie's adaptive nature, being able to exist within the time while making music that has the chance of being timeless.
“Homesick,” the EP’s closing record leans closer to being a song that will be remembered long after the eras change. This is Gangster Gibbs return home, confronting the man in the mirror, and having to truly see how much is at risk. Cops are lurking around corners, friends haven’t dialed his number, and the heaviness of almost losing it all weighs on his chest. His daughter is the apple of his eye, but also his driving force to do better, no longer putting himself in predicaments to risk his freedom.
“20 Karat Jesus,” “Crushed Glass,” and “Homesick” are three different paintings that complete an image, a portrait of an artist trying to capture his transition from losing it all to reclaiming his freedom. He admits as the song closes that he’s back and that he isn’t going away again.
You Only Live 2wice is the proclamation of an artist returning from a bleak situation, a reminder to fans that he hasn’t lost it, and also a time capsule of life altering events, memories, and moments that shaped who the artist. While it’s short in length, appetizers aren’t meant to fill the belly, but to satisfied the starving until the main course is prepared.
Gibbs didn’t craft too many hooks, most of the album is driven by rap drenched in real life and the production bangs. As for the highlights, there's the second-half of “20 Karat Jesus,” the trap-driven “Amnesia, and mellow “Andrea,” which has an unexpected, yet brilliant switch up. The instrumentals don’t truly stand out―Gangster Gibbs is what truly stands out.
This album will satisfy fans who have wanted nothing more than to hear something new and refreshing but it also feels like a project that’s meant to build up desire for what’s around the corner.
By Yoh, aka Gangsta Yohbbs, aka @Yoh31
Photo Credit: Facebook