Freddie Gibbs has never been one to bite his tongue, in a song or in an interview. The man's seemingly allergic to telling anything but the complete and unwavering truth, so it’s only right that in his new interview with NPR’s Microphone Check podcast, he didn’t hesitate to put himself among the best in the rap game.
When asked by Mic Check hosts Frannie Kelly and Ali Shaheed Muhammad if he felt like his music got the recognition it deserved, he responded:
"I don't feel like I get the recognition for being as innovative that I am musically, you know what I mean? I don't think that I get put up there with the J. Coles and the Kendrick Lamars and guys of that nature when I definitely think that I'm rapping on they level and definitely higher."
On one level Gibbs is absolutely right. I’m hard pressed to name another rapper with a better flow, an often under-appreciated facet of rap skill in its own right, and his lyricism, storytelling and versatility are absolutely on an elite level. If we’re talking about rap ability in the pure sense of rap ability, emcee vs. emcee, any conversation that includes the names Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole also needs to include the name Gangster Gibbs.
Terms like “under-rated,” “under-appreciated” and “recognition” can be a tricky business, though. I’d say that the more hardcore rap community, the ones who are passionate about the pure emcee ability I mentioned above, often do praise Gibbs. And while it’s true that Gibbs has gone largely unrecognized by the more mainstream hip-hop community, he’s also intentionally removed himself from the more mainstream hip-hop community. Being a purely independent artist has undoubtedly been the right move for his career, but severing ties with the major labels also means cutting off your access to the mainstream, and regardless of who Gibbs is or isn’t signed to, there’s just not the same size audience for his dark tales of drug deals gone wrong as there is for J. Cole’s puppy videos. (And for the record, Cole’s fans often argue that he’s underrated himself.) It’s a dynamic Gibbs acknowledges later in the interview.
MUHAMMAD: ...one of the things you stick to your guns, which is in terms of sound and style: I feel you consistently deliver a edge to your music, but you not playing the radio game.
MUHAMMAD: See, if you would do that, maybe —
GIBBS: Definitely not.
MUHAMMAD: Maybe then —
GIBBS: I'm just all about the music, man. I never really chased radio singles. And I think that if I start doing that, then I'm going to fall off. I think that my method, the way I've been doing things, has served me greatly. So I think that I just gotta just keep doing that. The radio'll play something eventually. If not, then whatever.
So on balance, I would argue that Freddie Gibbs is a relatively properly-rated artist, a term that doesn’t have nearly the same sizzle as under or over-rated but is probably more accurate. In fact, a better template for Gibbs career than Cole and Kendrick, who have had music industry titans Dr. Dre and Jay Z in their corners for years, is someone like Tech N9ne, who’s managed to build an independent empire bigger than most major label artists’ careers and did it entirely his way, and sure enough, later in the interview Gibbs says that touring with Tech N9ne really opened his eyes to the possibilities inherent in following the Strange Music blueprint.
And because I don’t want to entirely boil an hour long, nuanced and in-depth interview down to a controversial quote, I also want to note that Gibbs talks powerfully about how being a new father has changed his life, his thoughts on drug legalization, the trauma of surviving an attempted murder, the toll police brutality takes on the black community and much more. The entire interview is required listening for anyone who loves hip-hop and Freddie Gibbs, a rapper who, yes, is without a shadow of a doubt one of the best alive.
Photo Credit: NPR