An Interview with Freddie Gibbs

“Rolling a blunt as we speak.”

That would be Freddie Gibbs, on the phone from California, right before doing an interview with TGRIOnline on – of all days – 4/20.

As we’ve written before, true fans of hip-hop need to get familiar with Gibbs, an MC whose talent far exceeds his growing buzz. Gibbs is an unapologetic gangsta rapper, a throwback to an era that seemed to end with the back-to-back deaths of Biggie and 2pac. Repping Gary, Indiana, Gibbs weaves together real life tales about one of America’s toughest cities with a slick cadence that is always on-point, whether with a Pac-like staccato or Bone Thugs-influenced rapid fire.

Gibbs has already had a career-making 2010, being named to XXL’s Freshman Class and burning up SXSW. And his star continues to rise: his next mixtape, Str8 Killa No Filla, is slated for a late May, early June release, and an EP with The Alchemist (The Devil’s Palace) will follow. For an artist dropped by a label – and not looking to make another deal – XXL and SXSW are essential parts of making his own way in the game. “It’s vital. Without that, without blog exposure, I wouldn’t exist,” he confides.

Getting asked to play SXSW was a “blessing,” one that Gibbs didn’t take lightly: he played three shows a day and even did two studio sessions (one with DJ Burn One, and an exclusive for Ruby Hornet). His grind paid off: Entertainment Weekly put him in their “5 bands you should know” – the only rapper in their list. Gibbs enjoyed his first time at the Austin festival: “It felt like Woodstock or some shit… There were shows everywhere. It was trill.”

Now based in California, Gibbs insists it won’t affect his writing. “I’m Gary all day. Born and raised in Gary. Ain’t nothing bout my music will change.” He attributes this to a universal sound that defies regional pigeonholing: “Most people can’t put their finger on it.” While a lot of peers only listened to Midwest rappers, Gibbs became more well-rounded by listening to everything, guys like Rakim and Scarface.

The strength of Gibbs’ mixtapes is that they sound like fully-formed albums. “I do that shit on purpose. I sequence in a manner that tells a story, so you can let that shit ride.” Str8 Killa looks to be another one you can just let ride. “Crushin’ Feelin’s,” produced by Statik Selektah, is a piano and guitar driven slab of Southern-fried g-funk, where Gibbs coolly and confidently dismisses the rest of the game: “Rap ain’t nothing but talking shit, I’m just the best at it.” “Ghetto,” over the beat from Milkbone’s classic “Keep It Real,” Gibbs gets political: “Government funds fill my city up with guns and drugs.”

Rather than the self-described “bullshit” that most rappers put on mixtapes, Gibbs would “rather give a cohesive piece of music that tells a story.” For a reason: “Not enough people know me. I still have to tell them who Gibbs is. Whether it’s about robbing and jacking, or pussy, I incorporate the story in the rhymes, like you could put it to a movie.”

On 4/20, the subject of weed was bound to come up. A few live performances have been scuttled when the MC reached for a blunt on stage. “I’m used to smoking on stage, in hole-in-the-wall clubs. All these grimey-ass clubs in Gary… everybody be in that motherfucker smoking.” Smoking on stage is “taking it back to the crib,” so while some cities will pull him off stage, it doesn’t sound like he’s gonna stop. He even dropped a new track at 4:20 on 4/20 for weedsmokers, “Personal OG,” that he was putting the final touches on when we spoke.

In 2010, Gibbs will keep grinding. “I’m not dead or in jail for a reason,” he says. “As long as I keep my integrity and represent my area, the checks will come.” Apart from the mixtape and the EP, he’s also working on a project with Bun B, Chuck English, and Chip the Rippa. “I’m willing to work with anyone who has hard shit that I respect.” Gibbs will also continue collaborating with fellow XXL Freshmen Pill and Jay Rock. He has some shows in the works for this summer, and will be at the Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago. But this is just the beginning of a journey for Gibbs. “I’d rather have a twenty year career than a two year career in this shit.”

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