Ambition, like cocaine, is a helluva drug. It’s stimulating and a rush, but can leave you feeling down and out during the come down if you fail to achieve your goals. Plenty of people believe they have “it,” though few would ever give “it” a shot. “It” of course being jargon in the industry for next-level talent capable of being lucrative by entertaining the masses. Of those that do, hardly any get to where they [should] want to be —self-sustaining and growing as an artist while maintaining creative control.
Fredrick Jamel Tipton, better known by his stage name Freddie Gibbs, has a hell of an ambition problem. Gibbs is from Gary, Indiana most famously known for being the birthplace of Michael Jackson. His charisma and talent, like Michael’s, were bigger than small-town Indiana could ever contain. He has known this for a long time. It’s why he never stopped doing what he knew: serving bass and spitting rhymes.
Gibbs has been at this for a long time. After a short stint in the army at age 19 that led to a Dishonorable Discharge due to smoking weed, he was rapping and slanging. At age 24, he was briefly signed to Interscope before his debut album was ultimately shelved before being turned into the 2009 mixtapes, The Miseducation of Freddie Gibbs and midwestgangstaboxframecadillacmuzik. From 2011-2013, he was signed to Young Jeezy’s CTE label in 2011-2013 that led to some minor success, but mostly beef and diss records in a fall out with the Snowman.
After 8 years in the industry, Gangsta Gibbs had yet to release a debut studio album or any music on a major label. Still selling crack cocaine to make ends meet, it would have been a very stereotypical urban American story for Gibbs to drop the rap and focus full time on the streets. His ambition, however, did not allow it. In 2013 Gibbs formed his own label Evil Seed Grows Naturally (ESGN) and released his debut album ESGN. It is dark, dense, and underrated, and sadly overlooked by many of Gibbs’ biggest fans. The album was upstaged quickly in 2014 when Gibbs teamed up with legendary producer Madlib to release the instant-classic [Cocaine] Piñata.
Gibbs’ career can be looked at two-fold, pre and post Piñata. Freddy Kane’s niche sporadic storytelling and Madlib’s eccentric soul and jazz centered chaotic beat switches that often pushed Gibbs out of his comfort zone. He had always been driven, but Piñata showed the music industry the type of artist that he could be. Legendary hits such as “Thuggin’”, “Deeper”, and “Harold’s” show off his versatility and are still staples at his live shows. The gang banging “Thuggin’” allowed Gibbs to reflect on the street life that he was still involved in, rhyming, “Cause in the past, my low-class black ass would serve my own fucking family members.” The emotional Deeper detailed a missed and ultimately fucked connection with a former love insinuating years later her child with a new partner is actually Gibbs’ child, and “Harold’s” is the definition of talking shit and having fun the old school rap way. Freddy Kane had arrived and announced himself as one of the best storytelling rhymes with a strong ear for beats and melodies.
Like any independent artist, Gangsta Gibbs had to keep his foot on the pedal and literally eat off the success of Piñata. The quick 2015 follow-up Shadow of a Doubt was another solid and successful album, though it never stood a chance of living up to the hype set by Piñata. In summer 2016, Gibbs’ momentum hit a snag when he was arrested in Europe for an alleged sexual assault. Right before the #METOO movement really took off, through the use of a $600 an hour lawyer, his best friend and manager Lambo, as well as the support of his former fiance Erica, Freddie Corleone was able to avoid a maximum sentence of up to 10 years in prison after charges were acquitted.
A big he said, she said case with no physical evidence, in 2019 it is unlikely Gibbs would have walked away with his reputation mostly intact. Gibbs’ life and career has been about hard work, undeniable talent, but also a lot of luck. More so than ever, Gibbs is constantly reminding his myriad of Instagram followers, between hilarious and raunchy content, that he prays to the higher power of Allah and subscribes to Islamic faith. It is through this belief in a higher power that he believes he is “blessed” and destined to be one of the greatest MCs of all time. Having seen Gibbs perform live pre and post-rape allegations, I can assure you there is a stronger sense of urgency and dedication to his craft that was almost taken from him.
With Bandana, the second in a planned trilogy including [Cocaine] Piñata and Montana with producer Madlib, Freddie has dropped the second certified classic in his career (though last year’s collaborative FETTI EP with Alchemist and Currensy is 100% classic). A product of the Reagan era and its failed War on Drugs policies, Freddie Gibbs has been greatly affected by the drug trade. His family members, friends, and community have been subjected to over-policing and drug abuse that comes with failed laws and policies like those that came out of the War on Drugs. Like many rappers born in the ‘80s, Freddy Kane raps about selling cocaine. Album closer “Soul Right” spits, “Brother and my sister got degrees but I got the yayo, baby”. Freddie’s sense of ambition is often associated with education, money, and drugs. On “Gat Damn” he spits, “A million in the bank, I used to dream about it” while admitting on “Education” that, “A million fuckin’ dollars a year just won’t suffice”. Freddie is chasing something greater than a large bag and an escape from the traumatic youth that took the lives of his friends and family members. His ambition may be pushing him beyond proving himself as a rapper, towards redeeming his reputation as a man and a father.
Freddie has spoken about writing Bandana while locked up in European prison, fearful he would lose his freedom, his daughter, and rap career. This dread can be found all over Bandana between braggadocious raps and emotional confessions. On the simmering first song, “Freestyle Shit” Gibbs repeats what he will many times throughout the project which is, “I want it all, nigga, all leather”. His passion and assurance in his abilities leads to one of the most relaxed, but truthful refrains of his career flipping, “’cause when this music shit wasn’t movin’/ man I said I might as well be movin’ thangs, uh” into “that’s when this music started movin’, man / But I still proceed to move them thangs.” His ambition to have it all is apparent. Despite being a famous rapper in the California Hills with a classic album, he still struggled to leave the street life, selling drugs in South Central. Though he often speaks of the shame that comes from this lifestyle, Freddie Corleone embraces this role as best he can. Like Michael in the Godfather series, Gibbs knows he cannot avoid his destiny. On “Half Manne Half Cocaine” he spits, “nigga, I deserve big old house and two thick bitches bangin’ out,” for all the troubles he had to overcome to get to where he is. Bandana works because Gibbs is in tune with exactly who he is and what he has done to get there. If Piñata was the come up, Freddie’s version of killing Sollozzo and McCluskey, Bandana is the middle ride that finds Gibbs giving the kiss of death to those who have betrayed him on his way to the top.
Madlib does a great job supplying soulful jazz beats with a touch of trap. He is a pure genius who can go to work on any medium, famously tweeting out days ago that he made this album on his iPad, in the same manner he made Kanye West banger, “No More Parties in LA”. With mind numbing beat switches like those on “Fake Names”, Gibbs is able to reveal, ““Most my dawgs got life in jail from conversations on the phone” and how he, “bought [his] first mansion, told [his] mama leave that dope alone”. The drug trade has been Gibbs’ life, even to this day. It’s something he wants his daughter to avoid. Generational trauma is found in other places on Bandana as well. On “Situations” Gibbs confesses, “1989, I seen a nigga bleed / Uncle stabbed him in the neck and hit his knees / Turned the arcade to a stampede / I was playin’ Pac-Man, Centipede / Put me on some shit I never should’ve seen / Robbin’, killin’, drug dealin’ in my genes.” 30 years later, the damage is obvious. Gibbs has carried this scar on his memory as he moved through the street life hoping to avoid a similar fate.
It’s much easier to root for the everyday man, Gibbs, than over the top absurdists and clear industry clones. He isn’t concerned with being overtly political, though lately he does throw shots at Trump in his rhymes. He is unconcerned with the moral implications of the choices he made, given his socio-economic position, to work in the black market. While the world does not need any more apathetic folk like Gibbs, his presence is a reminder of the dark undercurrent that is a reality in our society. Violence, drug abuse, and criminality are a part of everyday life for many in the U.S., especially in regions where most people live below the poverty line. Gibbs makes the listener feel as if they can have their own one up and escape their circumstances. His comedic sensibilities are natural and relatable, but his passion for storytelling and rapping are what set him apart.
Bandana expounds on the Freddie Gibbs mythos, allowing him to rap on hard soul beats that every rap great will at one point need to kill to be considered in the GOAT conversation. With Madlib lacing him with intricate and psychedelic beats allowing Freddie to vent his frustrations and ambitions, Gibbs is clearly one of the best in the game to do it. With immortals Killer Mike, Yasin Bey (FKA Mos Def), Black Thought of the Roots, and Pusha-Cocaine-T also contributing to the album, Gibbs can finally say that he is getting the respect that he rightfully deserves. From witnessing murders, pushing weight, and killing every verse he lays his vocals on, Freddie Gibbs is one of the last rap greats still releasing classic projects with an ear for storytelling, no gimmicks. Gibbs always knew he would make it this far. The only question is will he have a tragic or heroic ending when the trilogy is complete. With Madlib by his side, one can only hope he’s due for some salvation.