Gangster rap betrayed us. At its birth, gangster rap was the voice of the voiceless. Black people, particularly those living in cities devastated by violence and crack, were invisible. The truth of their lives, their struggles, their suffering, were ignored by the mainstream media. Gangster rap was that truth. It was, as Chuck D said, the black CNN. And then, slowly, that all changed. Rap’s penchant for escapist fantasies became the music’s driving force, and as the focus shifted away from the cold reality of the streets and onto the warm glow of private jets, …
DJBooth Album Review
Freddie Gibbs is currently the people’s greatest hope. As the line between rappers and actors shatters (yeah, I’m looking at you Rick Ross), Gibbs remains stubbornly insistent on telling the story of his life without embellishment or exaggeration. Out of all the XXL Freshman, he is the least likely to sell out. After all, he’s been there before. Once signed to Interscope, and then dropped when it became clear that he terrified mainstream radio, Gibbs vowed to hold tight to his Gary, Indiana roots, no matter the cost, and the result was his breakthrough mixtape midwestgangstaboxframecadillacmuzik, a project that began to get hip-hop heads talking about this young emcee with the surgically precise flow and the unflinching lyrics. That momentum continues to build as Gibbs releases his Str8 Killa EP - a higher quality, tag-free version of his Str8 Killa No Filla mixtape – a project that already feels like we will one day look back on as less of an EP, and more of an arrival.
Everything you need to know about Freddie Gibbs you can learn from National Anthem (F**k the World). We could really stop at the revealing title – even on the EP’s most likely contender for widespread airplay Gibbs insists on raising a middle finger – but since it’s my job to write about music, we’ll delve further. With L.A. Riot Music giving National Anthem a soothingly symphonic and even sometimes childlike beat that juxtaposes with the track’s dark topic, Gibbs drops a flow that lays bare Gibbs younger years, years that seemingly inevitably lead to a life of hustling, and then speeds up as it approaches the chorus, reaching a rapid fire crescendo. Although the tempo’s slightly quicker, there’s essentially no difference between National Anthem and Rock Bottom. On Rock Bottom Gibbs wastes no time delving into the struggle, explaining to the pregnant mother of his child that he can’t even afford food: “all I got left is this gun on my belt, if I can’t feed myself how I’m gonna feed you?” Both musically and figuratively mainstream rap’s mission is to get as far away from Rock Bottom as possible. It’s a good thing Str8 Killa isn't mainstream rap.
While Gibbs never philosophizes or gets political – the scope of his music never extends past his vision – his music is at its most compelling when it contains elements of introspection, a fact that’s revealed most tellingly when those elements are missing. Ironically, the title track Str8 Killa No Filla is both the EP’s hardest and weakest track. Even then, it’s not Gibbs that’s the track’s failing, although his flow here isn’t as vivid as elsewhere, it’s the inclusion of guest rapper Big Kill. There’s no disputing that Big Kill is, frankly, bad, and because I can only assume that Gibbs included him out of a sense of loyalty. He certainly wouldn’t be the first rapper to put on his friends, even if they’d never make it on their own. While Jay Rock is by no means in Big Kill territory, their track Rep 2 Tha Fullest is also, ultimately, subtraction by addition. That doesn’t mean Gibbs can’t collab, he works well with Bun B on the aforementioned Rock Bottom and flows seamlessly with three other emcees on posse cut Oil Money, but on an eight-track EP every second matters, and there are unfortunately too many wasted seconds to make Str8 Killa flawless.
If rap had a fantasy league like baseball (fantastic idea, by the way), I’d still make Freddie Gibbs one of my top picks. When you listen to Freddie Gibbs you’re listening to his life, and by extension the lives of everyone he represents. Gangster rappers have become indistinguishable from the wealthy, elitist and untouchable people it once battled. Here’s hoping Freddie Gibbs can lead us all back to the truth. The true truth.
Listen to More: Freddie Gibbs Written by Nathan S.
First DJ Booth Appearance:
"Bobble Head" (2007)
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