You’ve all seen the Chappelle’s show skit When Keeping It Real Goes Wrong, correct? Of course you have. Well, Freddie Gibbs is when keeping it real goes right.
In an era of hip hop pocked by industry-manufactured artists, Twitter beefs, and wanna be dope boys, Freddie Gibbs’ reality-backed, unapologetic thuggery is a breath of fresh blunt smoke.
The Gary, Indiana born emcee embodies a brilliant mixture of street life chronicles and Tupac-esque wisdom, but make no mistake, he is in a lane of his own.
After a well publicized falling out with Young Jeezy’s CTE imprint, Gangsta Gibbs is a free agent and is ready to fuck the game up on his own terms, so we couldn’t think of a better introductory piece for our new “Indie Spotlight” series.
Here’s our exclusive Strange Music “Indie Spotlight” interview with Freddie Gibbs.
I read an article in which a high school cross-country runner said that the three songs he never skips on his iPod while running are “Piano Man” by Billy Joel, “More Than A Feeling” by Boston, and your song “Stay Down”. What would you say makes your reach so wide?
I think that maybe because the type of music I do is kind of like nostalgic to people because it reminds them of that old gangsta rap feel that they’re used to kind of. It’s not like the normal run-of-the-mill things that people make nowadays.
I know you talked about performing in an art museum and at a Pitchfork showcase, so you’re obviously aware of your music’s appeal beyond the streets, so how does it feel that there’s suburban white kids who roll around singing tracks like “Rob Me A Nigga”? Is that weird?
It shows me that I’m reaching far beyond the ghetto – and it was never my intent to be a hood artist. I wanted to make people feel like how Tupac made them feel.
In your opinion, what do you feel is the appeal of your style of music to people to where it resonates with them even when they have no experience with the things you’re talking about? Where do you think this worldly appeal of gangsta rap comes from?
It’s the same reason you watch the Scarface movie. It’s fascinating to you. It’s something that’s foreign to you. That’s the whole point of art, period. Just making somebody relate to something they don’t know about whether you do it in a painting, music, or anything. Making you feel comfortable, putting you in my world for a minute, that’s what it’s all about and I think I do that the best out of most people. I think a lot of these guys these days just want to make you dance around for a bit and then shit, you forget about them. There’s not that many cold artists rap-wise in the game right now.
How do you maintain a balance of staying true to your origins and keeping shit real and at the same time not coming off as glamorizing the lifestyle and perpetuating the cycle? Is that something you even concern yourself with or do you just do you?
You know what man, I’m definitely well-aware of things that I say and do in my music, and I definitely try to keep an eye on the message that I portray through that, but at the same time I definitely do have to keep it 100 and tell people the real story and how things really are in the game or what not. So, I just think that when I get in the booth I just make what I feel. Sometimes I’m not feeling like talking about that, some days I’m not feeling like robbing or killing or all that. There’s days where you might want to talk about your mother or something like that. It’s just trying to bring the point across and I don’t think I’ve had the best opportunities to get my point across with my music situations, but for the most part I’ve been able to garner a good following because I’ve stayed true to what I do and I don’t think that I reach, and I definitely step outside of the box musically. That’s another thing that separates me from – I don’t wanna name names, but you know, the regular guys of the rap world. The norm. The people you see on TV all day, on the radio. Last night I went to a party with Little Dragon, just because I listen to that shit and I fuck with them.
I try to do things differently than a lot of rappers in my genre and that’s gangsta rap and that’s what it is, but I think I’m the only one really doing gangsta rap. You got a lot of guys talkin’ about it right now and, “Oh yeah I’m bringing gangsta rap back”, but they really not, cause if that was the case then they just desecrated everything I’ve been doing for the last 10 years, and I definitely think you can’t do that. All in all man, I just think that I’m in a good zone musically, so I don’t think I can be stopped, period.
I think your realness is a lot of your appeal as well, because when you hear people that just sound like…that make the street shit sound fun, that’s the dudes that have never really done it.
Yeah, I mean it’s definitely fun sometimes, and in the music I’m gonna talk about some fun things. “I Get Around” was a fun song, in that aspect of our lives we have fun, with the bitches and drinking and smoking, just chilling… but it’s not fun being on the block selling crack my nigga. It’s not fun doing a drive-by. It’s not fun having to kill your close homie, or bury your close homie, that shit is not fun.
So we’re gonna rep our shit and make that shit sound fun, but we’re gonna keep it 100. We’re gonna make you enjoy it, like I got a new song called “Still Livin’ Pt. 2”, and one of the lyrics I say “Fresh up off a pack of powder, my life so sweet you niggas sour.” I’m not saying, “Oh, go sell drugs”, I’m recalling an incident of me selling drugs and the euphoria, the feeling of getting some money off that and going to buy something like, “Sweet!”, and the moment where those events happen you immediately get the hate. So in a simple line like that I try to convey a complex message. It’s not just about – I get a lot of rappers and they like, “Oh son spit, spit, spit!” I’m like “Get the fuck outta here I rap better than all you backpack niggas too.”
I rap better than all these niggas that rappity rap, and all these niggas that say they gangsta gangsta. None of them really impress me, so I’m like “Okay cool,” so when they want me to go on that level and just lyrically slaughter, get super complex, I can do that as well, but it’s like – I effortlessly do this shit. A simple line like that “Fresh up off a pack of powder,” I can take you into a Gary crack house, and you gone believe me.
Speaking of which, I’ve seen you say “I’m the voice of Gary” in reference to your hometown of Gary, Indiana. How did the city influence you as a man and as an artist?
That’s definitely a great question. I was born and raised there on the east side you know, 17th & Virginia Street, that’s where I came up if you go there and look at that you’ll be like “Okay cool. Somebody coming out of here.” You can damn near guess the mentality that I would have living there my whole life. It’s definitely a hard mentality. You’re definitely hardened by what you’re seeing every day. You’re waking up every day and it’s slums. There’s people outside: there’s hustlers, there’s crack dealers. You can choose to ignore all that shit on your way to school and graduate and do the right things, or you can pay attention to it and make it become a part of you. I definitely went to school and got my diploma and all that. I didn’t let the streets deter me from accomplishing certain things, and that’s what my whole journey is about. Of course there’s gonna be bumps along the road. I definitely hit a lot of bumps along the road, being in the streets doing things that I definitely shouldn’t have been doing, but it’s about redemption. This music was redemption in me. I was going through some things and I didn’t know how I was gonna make it out of them, and this is therapeutic for me. When I started doing it, I couldn’t’ stop.
After that I was like, “Okay, if I’m going to do this, I’m going to be the best at it. I’m going to make some money off it,” and I just started with the competition level in my city. Once I saw that I was far beyond that, I was like “Man, I can take this to bigger heights,” and that’s what I’ve been continuing to do.
I’ve been following you on Instagram for a minute now and there were two images you posted that really drove what you just said home for me. I saw that billboard you posted that you used to see on your way to school –
Yeah man that was a real billboard bro, and my father was a police officer at the time. That was the crazy part. So I seen it firsthand in my household. That billboard posted the salaries of police officers at the time, and at the time my father was a patrolman and if you look at that billboard post it says they make like 19K a year. Now 19K a year, three kids, you do the math. What’s going to happen? They had police corruption all over the city because a lot of those guys didn’t make enough money to sustain – it’s just bad. So when you got niggas in the street against you and the police, what do you do? So it’s just like Gary is one big free-for-all. It’s like every man for himself.
That’s insane. Yeah man it was seeing that image, and then in contrast the one you posted a while back of you buying new shoes for your entire high school football team, it was just like, “Damn..”
Yeah man I had to do that. I mean we got guys from my football team that go home to nothing, you know? So I know what that meant to me, getting out of school everyday at 3:30, going over to that football field and just to have an outlet – just make you forget you’re in Gary for a minute, and make you feel like you’re in the NFL or something. That means a lot to a child, and I want that experience to be as comfortable as possible for the kids so I took it upon myself and went and got 100 pair of shoes.
That’s incredible man. Now, you recently broke out on your own and started creating your own musical entity, what ultimately made you want to go the independent route?
With me man it was just…mainly a financial thing, ya know? I know what I’m worth and I’m not willin’ to give it up for pennies, so when I left my last situation I was like man, I’m far enough in the game to do this on my own and that’s what I started doin’. So the next people I partnered up with, I have more knowledge of the game and more things to bring to the table.
How is the independent route treating you so far? What would you say are the advantages and disadvantages of not having the machine behind you that other artists have?
The advantages are the freedom. That’s the main thing, artistic freedom, that’s what every artist cares about. You want to get your point across and you want to do it your own way. When you sign to a label you want that, but you just want everybody to get on board with you. When they get on board with you and everything’s great, it’s a happy marriage, but if they’re not it can’t be a happy marriage. That’s one of the cons to it, just getting people to believe, to see what you see. That’s the difficulty of it. When they’re on board it’s beautiful.
The good parts of being independent is the freedom, not chopping up your money with anybody else, but with that machine you can also bring more money in, so it just depends. It depends on how you work it. I mean I go all around the world and all over the country, so I get the same looks as these guys on the majors, I just maybe don’t get the same radio spins or whatever, but other than that I think I got a solid fan base.
Where did you come up with ‘Evil Seeds Grow Naturally’?
Really man, to be honest it just started out as me just fucking around, cause I watch ESPN all day long, and I wanted to put my twist on it, and I just created an acronym for it. I think that basically ESGN – pretty much the mission statement behind that is dealing with what society laid in front of you. They planted the seed, they sparked this, so this what they gotta deal with.
Can you elaborate on ESGN as an entity? I know you’re taking it beyond the name of your album. Are there other artists involved?
Yeah it’s me, the homie that was featured on the album G-Wiz, my homie Fleezy and my homie Skrewface, so far. We all from Indiana. I’m definitely about to branch out and work with some more artists, females and things of that nature, but right now I’m just working on this Eastside Slim project and the ABK project. Just working on music right now, and the people that’s coming around are comin’ around and it’s goin’ cool.
G-Wiz had some shit on that ESGN project.
G-Wiz, you definitely gotta look out for him. He got a dope voice, he got a real nostalgic voice.
What do you think is the most important trait for an artist to exhibit to be successful in this business?
Really man I think it’s like….you either gotta be totally you, or you gotta have a gimmick, you can’t be in no middle ground. You either gotta have a solid gimmick which, you know, I kinda choose to lean away from, or you just gotta be you. And I think that when people buy into it, you just gotta get people to buy into you.
What’s something you are never willing to sacrifice in the name of being successful?
My integrity. I’m not going to do anything that I deem something that’s going to be a detriment to my integrity. I’m not going to do anything to disgrace myself. If I do something and I can’t look in the mirror the next morning, I don’t need to be doing it. That’s kinda how I feel about my last situation. I was like “Man, what am I doing?” So I had to do this shit the right way. I was caught up in the industry shit like, “Okay, if I do this, then maybe I can do this…if I fuck with this guy…”, but now I’m like man I don’t really need nobody but myself.
I know your falling out with CTE was really publicized and I found it refreshing that you were willing to fucking keep it real and name names, and not just in the name of record sales. It wasn’t a PR move.
Man, it was bloggers even telling me like “Ay man, why are you doin’ this? You don’t need to do that, you look desperate,” and I’m like “Why does telling the truth look thirsty and desperate?” I don’t want anything from them. I don’t want a thing. I walked away. Nobody owes me anything, I’m going to get it. I’m saying “This is my bad experience and this is what I’m doing now.” I got that out my system, and now this is what I’m doing.
I had writers and bloggers and motherfuckers like – off the record like, “I don’t know man…I don’t know if you should go against him”, and I’m like “Fuck that! Motherfucker cross me, I’m going to speak on it.” This music…it’s competition.
Absolutely man. I think part of it is as bloggers we tend to be jaded by the “WWE” aspect of rap with fake Twitter-beefs and shit like that.
Right, right. With all this gay, dick-sucking, buddy-buddy shit in rap, 15-people-on-one-song type shit – I’m sick of that shit anyway. Somebody gotta draw a line in the sand somewhere like “Hey…”
You stress always getting better with your music. How do you maintain a constant progression?
Working with different producers – new and fresh guys. I’m really just staying ahead of the wave on the production. I think that that’s the key to it: these beats and the music. A lot of the times we get away from that, the actual music, so staying fresh and having the dopest beats – I think I pick good beats for the most part, so it’s just like rapping on good beats, that keeps me going. Shout out to all the producers I work with and that work with me. It’s all love.
I know a lot of people were taken off guard by you working with Madlib.
Yeah, it took me off guard too. I didn’t really know what Madlib was until my manager was cool with them, so he put me on game. So still, even when I listened to it was like “Yo, what’s this? This is weird,” so I listened to the beats and I was like “Yo, what if I did some gangster shit over these beats?” Straight street shit because I don’t think no street rapper ever really rapped on his beats, so I was like “Let me step out the box. Do something different,” and it garnered a whole bunch of different fans for me.
Punch from TDE recently talked about how Ab-Soul has his Grammy speech written already. How pre-meditated is your shit at this point, and how far do you plan on taking this? I know you’ve hinted at dabbling in film in a few of your interviews.
Yeah, I’m definitely into film, definitely doing some auditions as well as writing some scripts and things of that nature. I don’t have no Grammy speech written, really don’t give a fuck about winning no awards. I definitely want to be a full-faceted entertainment entity with ESGN – with the film, with the music. I already pretty much do all the concepts for all my own videos, so I’ve been getting into that as of late. It’s no limit to what I can do. Visually I can definitely paint pictures, so I want to continue that.
Did you have any artistic influence on Danny Brown’s “Dope Song” video? I noticed your cameo, and it was kind of reminiscent of some of your videos.
Nah, actually I just showed up and was getting high. That Danny Brown shit, I was just there. Danny Brown my homie so you know, I just showed up
What can we expect from you in the future?
Some big records man. You know I’m workin on some big things right now. Like I said I got the Madlib project I’m working on. I’m going to drop this ABK mixtape before the end of the year just to give people something to rock to during the holidays. And man, Eastside Slim, I’m still working on that album, so I mean I got a lot of good work in with that right now. Things are going good man. I’m in a good place musically, mentally, so I advise these young rappers to watch what they say and watch what they do cause they’re staring right in the face of their competition.
Is there anything else you wanna say?
Get ESGN man. That’s all you need to know. ESGN, evil seeds man. We coming. I’m not stopping. I feel like Lebron is in his prime. That’s the point in his career that he’s at right now. I think that’s where I’m at and I think I’m in a real good spot because to some people I’m still fresh, so you know they’re not burnt out on me at all, so I still got a whole world of people to present this shit to. I’m real excited. There’s guys like you that’s been following me for years and there’s guys that don’t know that’s just new fans. So for the new fans or for the people that don’t know me, I’m going hard and definitely satisfying the day-one fans as well.
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