If you’re a longtime Freddie Gibbs’ fan, you definitely detected a slight difference in his demeanor while he was with Young Jeezy’s CTE. One could say that he was a bit “friendlier” and it was reflected in his music – which wasn’t a bad thing, given that one of the goals was to attract a wider audience. But it’s safe to say that shit is over now; “that shit” being the diplomacy. A shockingly early leak suggests that Gibbs has indeed managed to attract something approaching a good-sized fanbase. Put it this way: this is the first time any of his projects have leaked in this fashion, so I presume there’s a demand for that gangsta shit. Then again, it would be hilarious if Young Jeezy was behind that shit. But don’t mind me, I’m just a troll.
Initially, the split appeared to be diplomatic and that was somewhat comforting since I’m a fan of both artists. But in recent weeks, Gibbs started hinting that the time for diplomacy had passed and bridges were about to be burned. I’m still not entirely clear as to what happened between the gentlemen other than the typical broken promises shit, but I’m more inclined to buy Gibbs’ version of the story since Jeezy has a history of similar drama with a lot of his old/ex-friends.
So I figured it was safe to expect ‘ESGN’ to be one long “fuck you” to anyone who’d ever even looked at Gibbs the wrong way. And the first quarter of the album suggests that I wasn’t wrong; it’s all brutal bass and Gibbs’ trademark lyrical intensity, culminating in one of the most irresponsibly gangstarific songs in recent memory – ‘Lay It Down’. Excuse the descent into adjective overload, but that writing last sentence is easily the most benign thing I’ve done since I heard that song. That shit sounds like a felony even before Gibbs gets involved. Just when you think you’re about to get an album that’s sonically similar to Flockaveli, or somewhat ironically, Young Jeezy’s ‘The Recession‘, Gibbs pivots and provides some nuance in the form of the sorta Scarface tribute ‘I Seen A Man Die’. Then it’s on to a pair of songs that pass as “singles” on what’s easily the HARDEST rap project of the year: ‘One Eighty Seven,” a song that employs murder as a metaphor for dope vagina and ‘Eastside Moonwalker’, a song that rivals ‘Lay It Down’ as the hardest shit on the album and on which Freddie describes Young Jeezy an old friend as a “fuckboi” with nary a fuck given. This is all really entertaining stuff to a bloodthirsty rap fan like me and it makes for really good music regardless of subgenre.
But things aren’t all peachy for ‘ESGN’. To put it plainly, 20 songs is too many for any rapper, even if you have a microphone personality and technique as impressive and varied as Freddie Gibbs’. Shit, even ‘Life After Death‘ doesn’t hold up as well as it used to for me and that’s BIGGIE! I appreciate wanting to give fans a ton of material and giving crew members the opportunity to shine on some Jigga ‘The Dynasty‘, but it’s telling that within hours of the official product dropping, internet niggas had created a version of the album that excised every guest verse from within the ESGN family and rightly so. Most of the verses are competent yet rote gangsta shit and Big Time Watts’ (Freddie’s infamous drug addled uncle and Vine superstar) rant halfway through the album is infinitely more entertaining than ANY guest on the album. Well, maybe not Big Kill’s delightfully awful non-rapping ass rapping, but you get the idea: half as long, twice as strong and that goes for everyone. And speaking of guests, it seems I’ll be getting my wish for fewer of them on Gibbs’ projects since a lot of established rappers are allegedly scared to work with him nowadays. Fucking lames.
The latter half of the project consists of Gibbs doing that thing he does where he proves that he can do pretty much anything he decides to – musically. Basically, things get a lot more melodic without losing any of the edge exhibited during the first half of the album. A particular highlight is his reworking of the hook from KRS-1’s ‘9mm Goes Bang’ into a slightly remorseful celebration of murder. I hope reading that sentence troubled you just as much as I was after I wrote it. Because sharing is caring. ‘Lose Control’ with BJ the Chicago Kid further cements the longstanding chemistry between the artists, even if it exists as a bit of an afterthought on ‘ESGN‘. And I could be wrong, but it’s possible that the official closing track (if we ignore the bonus one), ‘Freddie Soprano’, contains some of Gibbs’ best rhymes to date. The pair of verses on this song are on par with universal favorites like ‘Rob Me A Nigga’ and ‘Scottie Pippens’. That’s high praise.
So where does ‘ESGN’ stand in what’s rapidly becoming a pretty impressive discography over the last half-decade or so? I’m not sure I can make that call just yet. It’s certainly his most intense project – at least sonically – and it’s clear that the split with Jeezy lit a bit of a fire underneath Gibbs. However, despite the absence of any bad songs coupled with a few career highlights, one can’t help shaking the feeling that compared to past efforts, this is Gangsta Gibbs on cruise control. In my opinion, that still makes ‘ESGN’ better than about 97% the albums you’ll hear this year, but I know that there’s another level to the madness that’s missing for swaths of the project. Ultimately, ‘ESGN’ is a less rounded effort that probably does more to consolidate his existing core fanbase than it does to recruit new converts. As a member of said core fanbase, this will do just fine until we get that ‘Cocaine Pinata’…