Doc Zeus is the blog game, Roger Dorn.
Things seemed so promising in 2008. Rap blogs had seemingly democratized how new artists were heard and a generational shift of new stars was ostensibly on the way. A Zeitgest-capturing XXL cover hailed these “diverse” Internet-incubated rappers poised to lift hip hop out of the doldrums — replacing a milquetoast generation bloated with mixtape MCs, auto-tune and sing-song soft gangsta rappers.
Of course, that didn’t happen. Kid Cudi got lost in space. B.O.B. went from ridin’ dirty to flying on airplanes with moppet rawk girls. Meanwhile, Wale is so much of a cornball punchline that it would feel cruel to pick on him if he weren’t such an unlikeable diced pineapple. And then there is Jay Electronica… I mean… Jesus, Jay Electronica. Nobody reached their potential. Nobody fulfilled that generational defining potential we hoped when we heard The Mixtape About Nothing or “Fuck You” or “Exhibit C.” Everybody failed. Everybody except for Freddie Gibbs.
From the jump, Freddie Gibbs wasn’t your prototypical blog-rap star. Freddie was a gritty Gary, Indiana-raised dope boy who rapped about the life he’d escaped — not Murakami penis sculptures and custom day-glo footwear. In an age of infinite navel gazing and 360 deals, Gibbs was viewed as an anachronism – the rare artist whose technical mastery of the craft was equal to his ability to write compelling songs and narratives. He was a throwback to the 90s in the sense that his artistry matched the artists he once looked up to (Scarface, Z-Ro, Bone Thugs, Pimp C).
Once upon a crime, Gibbs was signed to Interscope and unceremoniously dropped after he refused to swap his tales of sleeping in sock drawers for the “fast food pop flow” the label wanted him to adopt. He had integrity. He believed that if you’re going to rap about the street life, you should have lived it. That’s why he openly loathes Rick Ross, who somehow managed to be both a street rap king and a punchline on the street. What ultimately separated Gibbs from his peers was that he thought it was more important to be “real” than successful.
Flash forward four years: Freddie Gibbs is the last man creatively standing. Baby Face Killa, Freddie Gibbs’ ostensible reintroduction into the major label orbit, fulfills every solitary promise the man has shown since “Midwest Malcolm” popped up in your inbox. It’s his most accomplished and complete record to date, encapsulating the full range of his artistry.
Gibbs has always been a skilled songwriter with a deceptive eye for melody in his flows and an underrated gift for slyly titanic hooks (think “4681 Broadway” off Str8 Killa, No Filla). But his recorded work has never been tighter or more complex than on BFK. Instantly memorable songs like “The Hard” and “Stay Down” are anthemic monsters that find Gibbs delivering choruses as big and threatening as his sinister baritone. He takes time to punctuate songs with rich harmonies that make him feel like an force of nature even when he hands the track over to his numerous A-List guests.
The early party line criticism of Gibbs rap career has always been that he’s too dogmatically beholden to a bygone era of gangsta rap to ascend to anything beyond street rap “comfort food.” But Gibbs displays the diverse musicality of 2001-era Dr. Dre or early Kanye without any unnecessary indulgences. He often builds choruses upon choruses like on the trippy “Kush Cloud,” where evil chants blend into the beat and give it the hazy feeling of smoking mind-altering buds. Fuck your dogma and criticism — no matter how stoned this gets, it’s subtly sophisticated songwriting.
While Gibbs homicide baritone, songwriting chops and hard lyricism rightfully take center stage, the stellar production also helps make it his best work yet. Baby Face Killa is the latest entry in the Gangsta Grillz series. The idea is that DJ Drama supposedly curates beats provided by mostly unknown producers to give Gibbs a diverse backdrop for his hard boiled crime narratives and melodic rapping.
Gibbs’ previous mixtape on Young Jeezy’s CTE label, A Cold Day In Hell, fell occasionally flat as Gibbs didn’t gel with Jeezy’s monolithic trap beats like he did with G-Funk. But he’s cracked the code here. Trap beats are still the bread and butter, but Gibbs raps over everything from cloud rap to ratchet.
Album standout “Boxframe Cadillac (’83 Deville Mix)” finds Houston underground king, Z-Ro, channelling the ghost of Pimp C himself while the breezy jazz of “My N****a” conjures images of Lord Finesse without the unfortunate modern association with fratty white rappers or other Bada$$es. The only real misstep on the record is the lame R&B slow jam, “Middle Of The Night,” that seems to have been materialized through the malevolent will of some synergizing corporate suit. Operate the skip button on your iPod freely.
Baby Face Killa should be a deeply satisfying experience for old fans of Freddie Gibbs as well as serving as the perfect introduction to new ones. Ever since 50 Cent found himself trapped into the Negative Zone after his infamous sales defeat at the hands of Kanye West, classic gangster rap has fallen completely out of vogue. It’s baffling that after two successful decades of marketing street rap to the masses, the major labels still can’t figure out how to blow up somebody as authentic, successful and talented as Freddie Gibbs. Being good at what you do shouldn’t be a detriment to your chances to make it in rap. He might be the best rapper alive. And if you disagree, tell him otherwise.
ZIP: Freddie Gibbs – Baby Face Killa (Left-Click)