Freddie Gibbs is one of “gangsta rap’s” finest, serving as a pillar for the genre. While many artists today continue to push the boundaries of “coke rap,” Gibbs is easily discernible from the pack. His braggadocious tone, polished delivery, provocative lyrics, and, above else, remarkable consistency at age 40, have defined the Indiana-born rapper’s niche in today’s era of hip-hop.
Gibbs delivers his major label debut under Warner Records with $oul $old $eparately ($$$). He recruited both contemporary and old-school artists such as Offset, Raekwon, and Scarface, and infused production from the likes of Kaytranada, Boi-1da, and DJ Dahi. Coming off the success of collaborative albums Pinata, Bandana, and Alfredo, all of which were produced by either Madlib or The Alchemist, Gibbs detaches himself from the legendary producers, and succeeds — to an extent. The critical acclaim of his previous projects, while much to do with the abrasive and expressive Gibbs, is equally owed to the brilliance of the two producers whose chemistry with the rapper is like a needle in a haystack in today’s music scene. In $$$, not having a dedicated producer is both a gift and a curse for Gibbs; he is able to carve his own lane in his sound, but many beats fall short of those on the aforementioned projects.
While still grounded in his signature sound of soulful instrumentation accompanied by his suave flow and staccato-heavy cadence, Gibbs also delves into mainstream trap with cuts such as “Pain & Strife,” in which he gives fans a taste of his versatility. Such tracks are by no means transformative, but add an element of modernity to which newer fans will be receptive. On “Dark Hearted,” Gibbs experiments with a more melodic delivery, presenting another layer of skill to his fanbase. Gibbs recognizes the growing popularity of trap and expands his sonic range accordingly, but his technical proficiency and introspection simply shine brighter within the circle of gangsta rap. His recent collaborative albums are all examples of Gibbs committing entirely to an individual sound—in $$$, there is both trial and error when it comes to the overall soundscape. Still, Gibbs manages to gift fans with a body of work that does not deviate much from his “thug” persona.
Gibbs does not fail to provide fan service in his latest project; $$$ radiates opulence, arrogance, and ferocity at every turn, evident especially in “Blackest in the Room” where he raps: “Black Forces, so his brain ain’t leave a stain on my shoe / Uh, this GOAT talk, bet they put my face on that mountain too.”
On “Couldn’t Be Done,” he employs Kelly Price to create a triumphant introductory track and samples underground soul sensation Normal Feels, paying homage to the genre that has defined his taste. The inclusion of Anderson .Paak as a feature and producer on “Feel No Pain” is welcome. His lo-fi style works extremely well within the tracklist, and Gibbs is able to piggyback off of .Paak’s talent: “Sh*t heavy, but I carry it with ease / Like a high school janitor, I’m carryin’ them keys.”
His subject matter remains unchanged, adopting a double entendre to exhibit his proficiency in the cocaine business as well as show the disparity between him and the ordinary worker when it comes to lifestyle. In $$$, Gibbs sticks to his roots; he is unapologetic in his lyricism and delivery.
A specialist at sequencing, Gibbs paints a vivid picture of an upscale hotel lobby that emanates privilege and wealth. The imaginary “Triple S Hotel Resort and Casino” in Las Vegas is managed by the soothing voice of a British female concierge backed by jazz music that presents itself continuously throughout the album. She takes calls from numerous guests who are easily recognizable, from Jeff Ross to Joe Rogan to Jesus Christ, himself. Gibbs doesn’t need to tell the listener about his way of life or his sense of humor; instead, it is done cleverly through his implementation of these guest cameos. He seamlessly flows from track to track; from the vociferous “Too Much” with Moneybagg Yo to the luxurious “Lobster Omelette” with Rick Ross, $$$ does not lack concision nor coherence. As if it wasn’t clear enough in his lyricism, the progression of the album and its added component of the “Triple S” symbolize Freddie’s penchant for hedonism and self-indulgence that older fans are already so familiar with.
$oul $old $eparately is one of the most carefully crafted and impressive albums of the year. While not up to par with his strongest projects, Gibbs’ performance on $$$ is memorable and a breath of fresh air for not only himself but the hip-hop landscape as a whole. With original wordplay, quality selection of sound and features, and masterful sequencing, Gibbs drops yet another memorable project that attracts fans, both old and new, to his music. The album art of $$$ perfectly encapsulates how Freddie Gibbs feels about his place in the world. While everything around is crashing and burning, the “Big Bunny” pays no attention to what’s behind him, instead focusing on continuing to build an untouchable legacy in gangsta rap.