“My sentiments exactly, niggas can’t out rap me"
The opening line of “Crushin' Feelin's” took me by surprise like the bang of a car backfiring. It was the first time I had ever heard a song by Freddie Gibbs, all the blogs I followed swore by his rhymes. The first bar grabbed me, I don't know if it was exaggerated self-confidence or an inflated ego that possessed him to make the proclamation but he had an entire song left to prove his boast. By the final “fa sho” my hand was reaching for the rewind button, one listen wasn’t enough.
The more I listened, the more I recognized his talent. Freddie approached rapping with an unfiltered rawness, his lyrics put you on the corners, the blocks, the bandos, surrounded you with shootouts, starving fiends, and enough drugs to bring Pablo Escobar from the grave. But there was a level of depth to his gangster rap that showcased a wordsmith who could make these familiar settings feel new and refined. He wasn’t just another rapper portraying a lifestyle, he’s a lyricist who lived the life and survived to tell about it. This was my introduction to Gangster Gibbs.
It’s been a little over six years since that first song sent me spiraling for more. In the time that has passed Gibbs has put out countless mixtapes, went back to school as a XXL Freshmen, entered a promising deal with Jeezy that went from hopeful to tragic, released three albums (one produced by the mastermind Madlib) and has consistently toured to the applause of his adoring fans. As a rapper he’s sharper than ever, growing more lyrical and somehow becoming even more technically precise. He never lost his edge, he still has the hunger of a starving wolf and is as raw as a throat suffering from strep. Gibbs is guaranteed to give you something worth hearing more than once. With his growth as a rapper evident, his visual representation of these stories depicted in the music has improved tremendously. He’s come a long way from "What It Be Like." Music videos may no longer be the focus of MTV but we are living in the era of visuals and anyone not stepping it up will surely be stepped over. Freddie Gibbs isn't in this business to be stepped over by anyone.
The video that caught my attention and really showed me that Gibbs was stepping it up is "Fuckin’ Up The Count” from his Shadow Of A Doubt album. It starts off by showing a playground, like a small neighborhood water park for kids, a shot of innocents before plunging us into the underworld. Next you see two teenage boys, no older than 14 or 15. Too old for the playground but still young enough you wouldn’t view them as adults. One is even carrying a bookbag, a schoolboy perhaps. He isn’t carrying books but the latest earnings from a busy night on the block. They head to make a pickup and are greeted by the usual drug dealer precautions. Seems to be a small operation but they’re making money and Gibbs is the big boss. The boys remind me of Ant from ATL - young, naive and growing up too fast. Just like Big Boi’s character Marcus, Freddie has no problem feeding their ambitions with drugs and money but he reaps the big benefits. The video takes a twist when a third boy is introduced, he comes to the house after a scene transition, does his drop off but as he leaves the boy with the backpack robs and kills him. The jump is made from hungry dopeboy to cold blooded killer.
Robbing and running off on the plug has consequences, Gibbs shows what Plies doesn’t. After picking up the other young man from the corner, they drive off, parking somewhere inconspicuous. When the trunk is popped, you see his friend, the robber tied up in the backseat. Freddie taps his temple twice, letting it be known that he expects him to kill his friend as he passes him a gun. It’s a tiny gun that looks heavy in his tiny hands but there’s no sign of emotion in his face. The lighting from the street light hits him perfectly, very cinematic. The final scene changes from third-person to a first-person perspective and we are now staring down the gun. He closes his eyes before the trigger is pulled. There’s always something about seeing kids lose their innocence that just punctures your soul. There's no going back once you kill.
It’s fitting that a clip from The Wire is used at the beginning, it’s from an episode from season one, a dialogue between Wallace and Sarah on the consequences of “fucking up the count.” On a deeper level, Wallace was also a casualty of being young and trapped in the drug game. His demise was also brought upon by a gun held by a friend. He isn't the focus but it's by far one of Freddie's best videos. He's also credited as the writer, while Jonah Schwartz handles the directing.
He was really smoking crack in that video but we weren’t trying to just sell it on that angle. We just wanted to give you a vivid interpretation of what really goes on. Had to have a guy smoke crack. He liked it. It was good crack. We put our good mix on it - The People Vs Freddie Gibbs
In “Fuckin' Up The Count” Gibbs is the kingpin, a commander with enough soldiers where his hands are never stained with blood. You see a different Freddie in “Thuggin,” where he is completely immersed in raising hell and havoc. The opening scene is the kind of robbery that Bunz from “Belly” would be proud of - quick and violent. From there we see Freddie visit the dope house - you get the vicious dog, the lookouts looking more lazy than alarmed, Buds are sipped and crack is being cooked and also snorted, and of course a beauty in skintight leather has to visit and drop the bankroll off. It’s at the 2:10 mark that we see a man who looks like he’s too malicious to be some casted extra, this guy has been on the block more than a few times. We see him take a serious hit from the crack pipe that doesn't appear to be a prop. He rolls his head back as if he’s receiving a blow job from an invisible video vixen as a thick cloud of smoke escapes his nostrils. Freddie always seemed to be a guy that lived his lyrics and in this video it honestly all feels authentic - the robbery, the drugs, purchasing enough guns to start a turf war with Russia, and ending with Freddie stepping into the studio. It could easily be seen as Freddie’s rendition of Snow In The Bluff, a movie that was fake but meant to be watched as if it was real or a day in his actual life/former pre-rap life. We may never know. Jonah Schwartz is also credited as director for this one, it may not have the story line of "Fuckin’ Up The Count” but it delivers a look into the lyrics.
One of Gibbs' most visually daring videos has to be for “Pronto,” the quality is sharp, shot completely in black and white while taking place in a bathtub with Freddie lying under a pool of serpents. They cover him like a Fear Factor contestant but he never shows any fear, he makes it look like he’s bathing in gummy worms. He starts his verse with, “Thug life never die nigga,” which makes me believe the bathtub is inspired by the picture of Pac in tub covered in gold. DMX also has a pretty iconic bathtub picture that could've mused the concept as well.
I love the scenes when he has the giant python around his neck, a menacing look. Something like a super villain from Mortal Kombat or DC Comics. Who knew that gangster rappers could also be snake charmers? I find it interesting that snakes are used, in rap and in life snakes are depicted to be crafty, disloyal and untrustworthy. I wonder if the video is a metaphor for how he feels in this industry, a place where backs are stabbed and illusions are casted more than reality is represented. For someone who is an advocate for the real, he is in a very fake business, in a way he's the elephant in a room full of snakes. Nick Walker is the director that help make this one happen.
Another interesting video that has a deeper, more cryptic meaning is "National Anthem." Now this is rapping, by far one of my favorite tracks from the Gary, Indiana native. In the video Freddie starts off by sitting on a bench, selling without a worry, but he’s being watched and photographed. It turns into a classic chase scene, Freddie runs like it’s the reaper on his heels and it might as well be. He escapes into his apartment building, but the video makes an unsuspecting rewind back in time to the days of slavery. There’s a sepia-esque tone that really makes it feel vintage. Gibbs is now in the field, straw hat, picking cotton with two other black men while two white slave owners keep a close eye on them. The older man grabs his chest, likely a heart attack or a stroke, falling to the ground in agony. Freddie takes this as his chance to run. He’s booking it, the slave masters are on his tail. Usain Bolt has nothing on 1850’s Gibbs. In both instances you believe that he's going to get away but at the end of in both videos, Freddie is caught. There's no break for past or present Gibbs. It’s an interesting concept when you look at the modern-day prison system as a form of slavery especially with the high incarceration rate of black men and minorities. Simply to run is to be caught in any time, place, or circumstance. No matter how fast you may be, there's no escaping.
On “Deeper,” a record from the Madlib Piñata collab, Freddie flexes his storytelling muscles, a love story to be exact with a gangster twist. It’s not exactly Romeo and Juliet, more like a PG-13 Bonnie and Clyde except Clyde goes to jail and Bonnie gets her a Kevin. It starts with a room full of gangsters, guns, Gibbs and his woman. They look happy, the kind of couple people would hashtag as a goal. It quickly switches to metal bars and an orange jumpsuit. When Gibbs gets out of the pen, he sees his former flame has found her a new beau with a child. When the song ends, it’s discovered that the baby is Freddie’s.
When I first heard the song, I joked that it was subliminally about Future and Ciara because of the line, “All to a nigga that don't got nothin' that I ain't got / Only difference is, he tryna be a fuckin' astronaut.” Future and Gibbs are both rappers with street backgrounds except instead of being a gangster Future’s image for a while was an astronaut that was plotting on Pluto. Piñata dropped in 2014, the same year that baby Future was born. All of these are coincidences, I was hoping the Kevin to Gibbs' Clyde would resemble Future, but he looks more like Chris Bosh before he cut his hair. It’s still a great video, the scene where he dreams of confronting the man outside the barbershop is gold. Another Jonah Schwartz direction.
The recently released visual for “Freddie Gordy” is unlike anything else in his catalog. There are no guns, no coke, no homies, most of the video is just him and a few scenes in bed with a woman but her role isn’t major. There's a monologue at the beginning that really paints a picture of where his mind is at the moment. It’s an introspective record, confronting more than a few demons that he rather leave in the rare view. His solitude is perfect for this song, especially the shots in the bathroom. You can’t avoid yourself when looking in the mirror. The mood is serious and it can be read all over his face. It’s an intense record and he enters that mindset without breaking character. The blue in the bathroom, the red and purple hues on the woman while she smokes are an excellent use of lighting.
Jonah Schwartz outdid himself as a director and Freddie is once again cited as writer and concept creator. The two are quite the duo. I love the way it goes in reverse at the end, everything moving in slow motion, a very cool extra touch. The shot of The Jacka’s mural is touching. Homage to his fallen friend and fellow emcee. It's only fitting since the video was shot in the Bay. Simple can work when the idea is right.
In the booth Gangster Gibbs has always given the raw and the real. He’s also bringing that to life in his videos. He’s an artist that truly cares about authenticity, really taking an idea and making it realistic as possible. He doesn’t want you to feel like you’re watching a movie but seeing a piece of reality. You never know if guns are props, if the crack is sugar, if the dopeboys are actors, the same realness that oozes from his music is right in front of you to witness. His dedication to detail is a testimony to the kind of artist he is. He isn’t here to lie or fabricate, Freddie Gibbs is from the school of the real and the raw and that’s what you can always expect from him, whether it's on the mic or in front of the lens.
By Yoh, aka Peaceful Yoh, aka @Yoh31.