Things haven't always looked this clear for Freddie Gibbs. The Gary, Indiana rapper could have ended his career as another major label casualty, stuck in a deal that didn't have his best interests in mind. After failed stints with Interscope and Jeezy's CTE World, Gibbs set his sights on the independent route, allowing him the freedom to give his loyal fanbase new music how and when he wanted.
Last week, Gibbs released Shadow Of A Doubt, his second full-length release for his ESGN label, and first LP since his the celebrated Pinata project with Madlib. Where Pinata was a shared vision of its rapper-producer team, Shadow is Gibbs through-and-through, giving him the freedom to explore a large range of sounds throughout the project's 17 tracks. Having already established himself as one of rap's most technically proficient voices, Gibbs takes the opportunity to further hone his abilities as a songwriter, focusing more on melody and further challenging himself with his production choices. It's also his first full length since becoming a father, something he says has made him a more "delicate" man.
The result is Freddie's most assured material yet, proving that there's no one better to guide the rapper's career than Gibbs himself. Describing his place in rap as that of a "silent killer," the hard-edged emcee is willing to be the artist lurking in the shadows of the industry, just as long as when he's done, people recognize that there was never anyone like him -- but don't worry, he's not even at his peak yet.
We spoke to Gibbs about his region-less sound, putting on for Gucci Mane while he's locked up, and looking to Pimp C for songwriting inspiration. Read our conversation below.
Pinata found you working with Madlib for an entire project, whereas Shadow Of A Doubt hosts over a dozen producers. Did you make an effort to work with as many people as possible?
I was really just trying to expand. Get out there and just take risks musically. I pretty much fine-tuned my sound, working with a lot of the guys like Pops, Mikhail, Murda Beatz, and Kaytranada. I kind of stumbled on to something that I just wanted to keep going. I worked with Mike Dean -- he really helped me prepare for this project. I wanted to be really diverse. I just picked the beats that fit the best, that made the project cohesive. Someone today said my project wasn't cohesive and I was like "what the fuck you talkin' 'bout?". That shit sticks together like glue.
You recently did a Canadian tour. What was the reception like?
I love it, man. They always show love when I come up to Canada. Every city from Montreal to Calgary to Victoria. All the shows are crazy in Canada. I love it up there, it's like my second home. Everywhere I go they show me love.
There are a lot of Canadians featured on the album (Tory Lanez, Frank Dukes, Boi-1da, Kaytranada, etc.). Did any of those collaborations come together during the tour?
We were all just working and it just ended up happening. I think I was in Toronto when I was working with Tory Lanez. I was doing TIME festival or something like that. Everything happened organically for the record, nothing was forced whatsoever.
How did the track with Gucci Mane and E-40 come about?
I'm definitely a big Gucci fan. I didn't really wanna do a record with him while he was locked up, but he was perfect for the record, so I reached out. I just looked at it as a way for me to help keep his name going while he's sitting down. Kind of like my tribute to him.
So did they send you a Gucci acapella? How did that work?
Aww man, I'm not at liberty to say that [laughs]. I don't want nobody getting in trouble [laughs].
Fair enough. Speaking of Gucci, he's been releasing great material for years but it seems like the excitement around him peaked when he went away. Do you ever feel consistency can lead to being underrated?
It definitely can, but I don't even worry about that. However motherfuckers rate me, they're gonna rate me regardless. I just look at it like, I'm just staying sharp. I don't need to get locked up for five years, or go away, act like I'm quitting rap for n---as to get excited. My fans are my fans, they're gonna be there regardless. I try to always make the best music possible, that''s just what I do. I don't worry about how other people rate me, I know how I'd rate myself.
You've recently been releasing albums independently rather than putting out free mixtapes. Is that how you plan on dropping music for the rest of your career?
I think that's probably the course that I'm on. For one thing, I'm totally independent. I'm spending money to make these records and make these projects. Of course, you definitely want to see a return on your own investments -- that's with any business. I'm running a business, so I ain't giving away nothing for free. Not anymore. I think I'm passed that stage in my career. I just want to run a real record company, and you definitely can't do that taking losses. And I've got that fanbase, that's my support. I'm not an artist that's gotta put out free shit just to get your attention.
There's a lot more singing on this album. What made you want to pursue a more melodic sound?
I think that rap overall has gotten more melodic. I wouldn't say that I'm conforming with that or anything. I think I did that in my music on some of my earlier tapes as well, and that shouldn't go unnoticed. With records like "Bout It Bout It," and "Stay Down". People are seeing me rapping so much. I think people are kind of in awe of it.
My goal with this project was to either make people either love it or hate it. I want you to either love the singing or hate it, love the whole project or hate it. Mixed reviews is bad. Right now, where I am in my career, I gotta be up there with the best, or you gotta totally shit on me -- and you can't totally shit on me because the ability's there.
Even though a lot of rappers are singing these days, your vocal style is pretty original. Who do you look to for inspiration on melodies?
Pimp C for sure. I look to him. Seeing the way he constructed the melody around his records. Of course the OGs; Bobby Womack, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Rick James. I mean, rap comes from all of that music, so it's only right for me to flesh the roots of that out on my project. I listen to a lot of Rick James. I read his book this past summer, and that really made me want to get into some more melody. I want to push myself to the limit. When I put out Pinata, I already knew there ain't that many guys who can technically rap better than me. So what do I have to prove? I could easily put out 12 joints with me rapping for 64 bars, but at the end of the day, I want to prove that I'm just as good a songwriter as the top songwriters out there.
I think I'm kind of creating my own lane. I don't think there's anyone making rap like I make rap. That's what I pride myself on. Whatever I do is gonna be totally different than anything else that's out there. That's what I really aim for. I definitely study the competition, but it's all healthy and it's all love. I love what guys like Drake are doing for music, and I love what guys like Future are doing for music. It's inspirational -- J. Cole as well. They make you want to stay on top of your A-game.
You sampled a segment of your GGN interview on the album where you talk about the sound you created. Would you describe it as a Gary, Indiana sound, or something completely region-less?
I think you described it perfectly, I think it's a region-less sound that's mine. I'm kind of like a rap nomad. It's kind of historical, if you think about it. You can go back 30 years in rap... When I'm done -- and I'm not even done yet. I'm not even at my peak yet, that's the scary part -- when I'm done, people will say there was never another rapper like me. I guarantee that.
There are songs on the record that hint at the sounds of other regions like Atlanta, but you always manage to bring it into your own world.
That's always the goal, making everything my own, even when I'm on records with other people.
You recently became a father. How has your life changed since the birth of your daughter, Irie?
It's definitely made me cross the street looking both ways, so to speak. Now I've got a daughter I've gotta be here for, so I can't live as recklessly as I used to, but that's anybody becoming a father. You make changes. Having a daughter has definitely made me a more delicate man than I probably would've be if I had a son. I'm blessed, man. I feel like I won. I never thought that I would have a kid, and now that I've had one, my outlook on life has definitely changed, because I'm not just living for myself, I'm living for her. It's a great feeling, I love it.
You posted a hilarious clip on Instagram where Irie spit up on you. Are you just used to that kind of thing now?
Yeah man [laughs]. She spit up on me this morning! It just happened the other day that she did it on cue [laughs]. That's just a part of being a dad, it comes with the territory. I'm down with all the way.
Billboard's recent list of Greatest Rappers has hip-hop fans up-in-arms. Do you aspire to be part of someone's top 5?
Yeah definitely. I feel like Kevin Durant right now -- the Slim Reaper, the silent killer. I definitely think that I'll get there. If I just stay on the path that I'm on, remaining a beast on the mic, and beast as a songwriter. I'm only getting better. I haven't peaked yet. I definitely aspire to be on someone's top ten list.
What's next for Freddie Gibbs?
Right now, just staying in shape, working out everyday, staying healthy... Staying out of trouble, being a good dad -- just enjoying the success of this new project. I think people are really taking a liking to it. I think it's gonna open some doors for myself and my family. I think the tour's gonna be sold out. I'm just trying to make this ESGN thing grow. I've got a lot of years of music still left in me. I've got a lot of ideas -- musically, visually, cinematically. I've got Dana Williams that I'm about to put a project out for at the top of the year. I've got a whole lot of room to grow, not just as a rapper, but as an executive. I love the position that I'm in. I'm in total control of everything I've got going on, so I can't complain.