Freddie Gibbs is your quintessential Midwest gangsta rapper. He possesses a unique style of spitting, similar to those who are both his contemporaries and his idols. The rapper’s native Gary, Indiana, isn’t very different from Detroit or Cleveland these days. While it isn't nearly as big or illustrious as nearby Chicago, the country's Fourth Coast is still on full display. Its rust belt character only tells half the story of a hollowed-out manufacturing town deeply neglected for decades.
Gibbs represents the other half. He may no longer live near his hometown, but that doesn't stop him from remembering his roots. 2014's Cocaine Piñata quickly became Freddie Kane's magnum opus. Teaming up with legendary producer Madlib, Gibbs and Co. were able to put together a film, not just an album. Remember Richard Roundtree in Shaft? That was this project, only set in the Midwest.
One of the noteworthy elements from the collaborative LP was "Real," a track revealing internal issues between Freddie and Jeezy during his time signed to the Atlanta rapper’s CTE imprint. The two had a very public falling out when he left the label in late 2012. The song, along with subsequent interviews where he accused the Snowman of lying about business they conducted, eventually escalated the beef to new heights. Things got so ugly, death threats began to float around, with instances of gun violence happening since. It's a saga Gibbs now regrets.
Flash forward to the end of last year. He released his third solo studio album Shadow of a Doubt to much surprise and fanfare. It marked Freddie Gibbs's transition from street rapper to poet to both. Growth is fully represented on the project, but so are some of his old ways.
During an exclusive interview with BET.com, the man they call Gangsta Gibbs reflected on his time at CTE and why he wishes he would've handled things differently. It may have something to do with his one-year-old daughter, Irie, who he says gave him a "newfound perspective on life."
He also detailed his history as an independent artist and the steps he's taken to truly remain the “Freddie Gordy” character he bestows upon himself. While our interview took place before Gibbs officially announced his forthcoming Bandana LP with Madlib, he did hint at another possible MadGibbs LP – something we’re glad he chose to make solid. Oh, and we asked him about Birdman's interview with The Breakfast Club, because it's at the highest peak of funny.
How’s the tour life been?
It’s good man. It’s real cool. All the shows been good so, I’m workin' man. I can’t ask for much [more].
Would you say primarily most of your income comes from touring? Because that’s the case for a lot of artists these days.
I don’t know. I own all my records, so I would say from the sales to touring. I own everything, so I reap all the benefits off of everything that got something to do with Freddie Gibbs – be that touring, merch, projects – I’m definitely going to maximize the worth of everything I do.
Your videos are a lot of the reason I think people really mess with you. They’re extremely well done, especially “F**kin’ Up the Count.” How much do you contribute to the creative direction and how much is that on Jonah Schwartz or the other directors you work with?
When it comes to my videos, I know what I want. I know the storyline, I write it out, lay it out and Jonah’s such a good director. He just takes my vision and brings it to life. I just tell him a real story or something I seen, something that happened and just bring it to life in the video. I always want everything I do to be somewhat cinematic. I don’t want to be the rapper that’ll just post up and shoot a video anywhere with no real meaning to it. When I shoot my shot, I want it to hit because I’m not on a major label; I can’t just throw money at the wall and hope it stick. So when I do something, I put my time and effort and funds into it and I want something good.
Toward the end of your video for "Freddie Gordy," you walk up on a mural commemorating The Jacka. How much did he and Mob Figaz in general mean to you?
That’s the Mob. We the Mob. I moved to California 12 years ago, and guys like him, PK, my homeboy Chosen, they always show me love. It’s a family thing, deeper than music or anything else. If I’ve got nowhere to stay, I can stay with one of those guys. If I don’t have money for food, one of those guys will feed me. It was a family thing. I didn’t have just a rap relationship with Jacka. It wasn’t just we did a song. I miss him. It’s sad he don’t get to continue what he was doing and the world don’t really give you credit ‘til you’re gone. You don’t get your roses until you lying in a tomb. I just wish he was here to see everything I was doing and how I’m progressing. I know he see it, so it’s all good.
I guess it was just family then that brought you together on “Cherry Pie” with Freeway and Jynx.
It was just like, "Hey, get on the song." "OK" [laughs]. It wasn’t nothing crazy about it. Freeway’s the homie, too. Him and Freeway got a lot of projects and work together and I just happened to be there that day and we did it. Nothing to it. That’s one thing about me, man, I don’t really get into the whole industry politics and all of that. If I link up with someone and we do records, it’s usually organic, not forced. I’ve done some records with some people, it was like, “Aw man, I don’t wanna deal with the hassle. I’m not really big on doing collabs with people and having to deal with all the industry politics. When it happens organically it’s great, and you can see it in the music when things happen organically. What Big Sean and Jhené Aiko is doing. I think that’s an organic thing. I think they’re really cool to make that music.
Do you see what you believe to be fake or “industry” collaborations happen a lot more these days?
Yeah, man. It’s a whole lot of flim-flam relationships in this industry. I just try not to engage in those. I don’t need a bunch of rap friends. I didn’t come in this thing to make friends. The people that know me and respect me, we’re good. A lot of this is like who’s sitting at the cool table. It’s kind of like a popularity contest. I don’t indulge in that. I just try to make the best product.
Do you see the structure of someone new poppin’ every other minute in hip-hop changing at all?
I think rap is a steadily changing thing. It’s a constantly evolving thing so you have to stay ahead of it. I think the whole major label structure is not the same. I think it’s cooler to be independent, to look independent. It’s a lot of artists that are signed to majors but they won’t say it. There used to be a time where if you signed to a major label you’d have a party for that. Nowadays, they’ll sign somebody on the low, make them, take them through the process, make them famous or whatnot and it looks like they got famous on they own, but they really didn’t. I’m the only guy that got to this point on my own, or one of the only people. It’s like 100 percent independent. It ain’t a lot of that in music right now.
When I was trying to get a record deal I couldn’t get one. Nobody would sign me, so I took it upon myself like, “Alright, I’m ‘bout to market myself like an indie rocker or something. I’m just going to do a bunch of shows, sell a bunch of merch. I’m going to put my music out how I want to, not being worried about what DJ or radio station are playing my music, just get it directly to the fans. Cut the middleman out and get it directly to the fans with no hesitation or block. And that’s worked for me. I think me being so personal and so interactive and connected with my fans is what keeps me afloat.
You really remind me of Raekwon. You’re a street, gully gangster rapper but everything is presented, as you mentioned, in a “cinematic” way. That was really evident on Cocaine Piñata with your series of videos representing street life in like a movie sort of way. Do you see it that way and, if so, what brought you to that?
The approach I take with visuals man. It just gives me a certain feeling and I know I want that warm, movie kind of Scorsese-type of look to my visuals ‘cause I believe in quality over quantity. I would rather have five amazing videos that you’re talking to me about right now than 30 mediocre videos, 30 mediocre songs, 30 mediocre projects. It’s all about quality over quantity. You got to walk a fine line with that as well. Music is a steadily, constantly changing thing. So to stay ahead of the curve you constantly have to put out music.
I wasn’t going to put out Shadow of a Doubt at first. I was just going to ride out through the end of the year. I wasn’t really tripping on putting out any music. I was doing shows, but then I felt like my fans wanted something, they needed something more. It’s artists that put out 10 projects a year type-stuff and you like, sometimes you get burned out on that.
I can do a whole project with Madlib and turn around and do a record with Gucci Mane. Gucci Mane, E-40 and Black Thought on the same record. I like all those rappers so why can’t I work with them in some type of capacity? It just speaks to my versatility. I don’t just listen to one type of rap. I listen to all of it so I can make all of it.
I think you picked up some fans with Cocaine Piñata that maybe weren’t as privy to you prior to its release. And a lot of that is because of Madlib. How would you assess the prowess of that album two years later?
I think that Piñata album is going to stand the test of time. It’s going to be a moment in hip-hop whether people know it or not. It’s nothing else like that in rap. It’s going to forever hold its place.
I always feel like the underdog. I always feel like people underrate me or don't give me the credit I deserve, so that record, I just wanted to show people how good I could rap. I wanted to rap on the level of how Jay Z rapped on Reasonable Doubt. I wanted to rap how Raekwon rapped on Only Built 4 Cuban Linx. I wanted to rap how Tupac rapped on Me Against the World. I wanted to show people I’m one of the best lyricists in the game – still is and going, too. I’m going to be here for the next 20 years.
I remember when you went on tour with Tech N9ne. He’s definitely a standard bearer of how to run an independent label in hip hop. What have you learned from him and how have you been able to navigate your career as an indie artist since leaving Jeezy and CTE?
I was already doing what I was doing before the CTE thing came into play. I think that everything you go through in your career and life period just teaches you something new. When I went to CTE, it might not have panned out the way that I wanted it to as far as how we put the records out. We didn’t quite agree on the way we wanted to roll everything out, but at the same time my time over there was well-spent because I learned a lot from Jeezy. I learned a lot of little things that I could implement into my records, little things I could implement into my business.
I figured if you hang around somebody for over two years and you don’t pick up something that’s going to be beneficial to you, you messing up. I seen a lot of guys come around him and lose out and be bitter. When I first left, I didn’t want to be that. I look back on that stage in my career, that’s probably like one of the things that I regret, the way I left that situation. I should’ve just stepped off and just did my thing and let my talent and music speak for itself, because that’s what I’m doing right now. I walked out the house angry. It was a learning experience, but to say that my time there was a waste would be a lie. I eventually learned how to be a boss from Young Jeezy, and if I said anything otherwise I’d definitely be lying and I got to be real with myself.
How’s fatherhood treating you?
It’s great, man. It’s definitely a humbling experience; I got a daughter. They always give us young players daughters [laughs]. It’s given me a newfound perspective on life period. I can’t move the same way that I used to move. I can’t do the same things that I used to do. I got in an issue a couple of years ago, or about a year ago, when my daughter was on the way, when my girl was pregnant with her. I was like, I just can’t keep getting in these shootouts. I need to elevate myself past this and raise my daughter. Sometimes I forget where I’m at with my career because the street element, I’ll never forget. That’s something forever present in my life because of the element of people that’s around me, but at the same time I need to remember who I am and where I’m at in life, so I definitely can’t go backwards.
Do you feel you’ve kind of hit that reflective stage of your career where your music reflects the lessons you’ve learned rather than some of the things you used to represent?
Yeah, definitely man. I’m definitely in a point in my life where I’m past a lot of the drama. I’m trying to run a seven-figure company and just trying to be the best artist and executive I can be. I’m getting into the executive stage of my career. I’m about to start developing other artists, starting to develop films. I’m getting into the acting thing. Big shout-out to my agency ICM. They’ve really been getting me on the right track to doing those things, and like I said really developing my own – not just video content, but film content as well.
Speaking of label executives, did you see Birdman’s interview with The Breakfast Club?
The times I’ve seen you on there, it didn’t turn out like that…
I’ll share a fact with you. I think I was the first person on Breakfast Club.
Really, like in the format they do now?
Yeah. I was the first person on Breakfast Club. I think I was their first interview.
How long ago was that?
That was a while ago, maybe like three, four years ago. I want to say I was the first one. Ang, correct me if I’m wrong, but I think I was the first one on Breakfast Club. I definitely got love for Breakfast Club. I’m about to go to New York next week, hopefully I stop by there but the Birdman thing was hilarious [laughs]. Oh my God. I love Birdman, I’ve been imitating Birdman since I was in high school so —
The hand rub?
Ah man, the hand rub. Even before the hand rub when they was wearing the bandannas around they neck and on they belts and everywhere. I love the Hot Boyz, I grew up on Cash Money [Millionaires].
Prince recently passed away. How big of a figure was he to you both musically and/or as a luminary figure?
I think Prince was a big figure to everybody. It’s crazy man, a guy like Prince, guys like that don’t come around that often. I live in Los Angeles and I remember – I think it was three or four years back – before they was really doing all of this stuff in The Forum. You know where the Lakers used to play at? Prince did like a concert every Thursday for like a month. I think he did it to save a church and it was only like $20 to go see him, and that was crazy to me that you could go see Prince for like 20 bucks and he was donating that money to the church.
It just showed me where his heart was at and the type of guy that he was. It’s no other human being like Prince. The way he approached making music. You could see the fire, the tenacity, all the elements of emotion that he put into the music. There’s no other artist like him. He probably the flyest light skinned kat of all time (laughs). Big shout out to Prince. He definitely left his mark on the game. He probably up there with Michael Jackson making Thriller/Purple Rain collab album.
A bigger superstar Watch The Throne…
Right. That’s the real Watch The Throne. That’s the throne you need to watch right there (laughs).
Paul Meara is a Columbus, Ohio native and resident and BET.com staff writer/columnist. He's also written for Billboard, Complex and HipHopDX, among others. Follow him on Twitter: @PaulMeara
(Photo: Brad Barket/Getty Images for SKYY Vodka)