Freddie Gibbs and the Return of Gangsta

Part of the Alpha Male Music Week at True Genius Requires Insanity.

You could probably write a thesis on the alpha male in hip-hop (if be_gully hasn’t already written said thesis, there should at least be an abstract on the subject here soon). Some combination of money, women, drugs, and guns are lyrical mainstays of rap for a reason. Reveling in such pure id is escapism of the highest degree. When it comes to lyrics that are exciting and engaging, transgression is better than introspection.

Which brings us to the class of 2009. The much-debated freshman class of hip-hop as editorialized by XXL (alphabetically: Ace Hood, Asher Roth, B.o.B., Blu, Charles Hamilton, Cory Gunz, Curren$y, Kid Cudi, Mickey Factz, and Wale), for the most part, are big into beta. So, for fans of hip-hop that demonstrates both street authenticity (Gucci Mane) and rapping talent (not Gucci Mane), who is out there fighting the good fight?

Enter: Freddie Gibbs. Born and raised in Gary, Indiana, the 27-year-old is out to prove that gangsta isn’t dead. After being dropped by Interscope Records, Gibbs produced and released two mixtapes within months of each other this year: The Miseducation of Freddie Gibbs and midwestgangstaboxframecadillacmuzik (a third, The Label’s Trying to Kill Me, is a compilation tape that cuts-and-pastes from both). Right off the bat, the title references touch on a desire to be a part of the pantheon of rap classics rather than on the level a mere mortal.

Gary, Indiana is fucking hard. The crack age coupled with the decline of American industry have left Gary harder hit than either East St. Louis or Baltimore. There is no silver lining. And this is the crucible in which Gibbs has been forged: “Sixty percent unemployment / Why you think we sellin’ dope?” The facts of his environment are inescapable, physically for many and mentally for all. Gibbs’ lyrics are unapologetically about this life, not to glorify or to educate, they just exist, familiar stories that are so outrageous they seem fictional. The themes are classic alpha male rap: dealing drugs and smoking weed (“Boxframe Cadillac”), scamming chicks (“Bussdown”) and killing dudes (“Murda on My Mind”).

Stylistically, Gibbs’ hardened voice and smooth flow take many forms: at times, it’s the Southern syrup of UGK, at others the rat-a-tat of Midwesterners like Bone Thugs-n-Harmony. The beats range from pure g-funk (“Talkin’ Bout You”) to trap-hop (“Summa Dis”), paying reverence to a by-gone era with tasteful samples (Biggie’s “Beef” shows up on “Standing Still”). Contrast this with the constant, braying namedropping of the Game: which is a better (and more alpha) tribute to the golden age of gangsta?

For a song that encapsulates Freddie Gibbs the artist, take this alpha male manifesto from the chorus of “Womb to the Tomb:” “From the cradle to the grave / the womb to the tomb / Imma get it win or lose / I’m just out here making moves / from the womb to the tomb / the cradle to the grave / till I jack up out this bitch / I’m out this bitch / get paid.” Sure beats “Man, I love college.”

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