freddie-gibbs-shadow-of-a-doubt

Review written by Zane T. (@zaneomaxbaby).

Freddie Gibbs is a serial killer.

No, not a killer of people — a killer of tracks. Too corny? You’re not understanding. I don’t mean like, “Yo he just killed that beat — murdaaaaaa.” I mean Freddie Gibbs approaches a song like a serial killer approaches a murder. Methodically, single-mindedly, humorlessly, brutally. A Freddie Gibbs song is air-tight. Any slip, any hole is a dead giveaway.

Freddie Gibbs raps like he knows one mistake will leave him exposed — done for.

When you think about Freddie Gibbs’ discography, which you should do often, you think about the technically sound flow. At least I do. It stands out in an age where a tight flow has mostly been replaced by airy, spaced out freewheeling.

If you look at a rapper’s flow like poetry, Freddie Gibbs is Shakespeare, and Chance the Rapper is Langston Hughes. With Gibbs, there are no empty spaces, no room for interpretation. It’s almost flamboyant in its rigidness. It’s OCD. It’s Mobb Deep meets Eminem.

On his most recent album, Shadow of a Doubt, Gibbs continues that growth he wonderfully exhibited on 2014’s Pinata, a near-perfect album from technical and artistic standpoints. Shadow of a Doubt is not a perfect album, but it’s solid. It takes chances, but stays true. There are pleasant surprises, but at the same time, it’s tried and true Gibbs from start to finish. Shadow of a Doubt is still mean, it’s still relentless, it’s still cold-blooded.

Gibbs is not a new artist. His first mixtapes, Full Metal Jackit Parts I and II, date back to 2004. Gangsta Gibbs followed those up with Live From Gary, Indiana Parts I and II, The Miseducation of Freddie Gibbs, midwestgangstaboxframecadillacmuzik, and Str8 Killa No Filla, the last of which he released in 2010.

This is where we transition perfectly into the actual album you probably came here to read about. Let’s start with “Forever and a Day,” one of the more chilling and honest Gibbs songs released in a minute. I don’t say this often about lyrics: you need to just look up all the words. I’d post them all here but my editor probably won’t let me (editor’s note — he’s right). Here’s a taste, though:

Came up with the crackheads, thugs and the cut-throats
Bloodshot from the blunt smoke
Man I’m so high I can’t even look my own momma in the eyes
Kicked out through the front door
She said the way a nigga livin’, if I die, she won’t be surprised
Tears on the Bible, she prayed for me
This can’t be the life that she made for me
Gotta lie to police when they raid for me
If there’s a heaven will they open up the gates for me?

I should mention this is not a song that shows that growth I’ve mentioned from Gibbs. This is what made Gibbs worth listening to in the first place. The flow, bro — the flow. Mix that with the spine-tingling piano riffs and bone-deep lyrics and you get Nelly’s “Luven Me” after it’s done a few months terms in the county jail.

But no artist can make songs like “Forever and a Day” throughout a whole album and 1) make consistent quality and 2) expect people to want to hear that. It’s emotionally draining. You might enjoy the occasional horror film, but are you going to watch 16 of them in a row? You’d have a nervous breakdown.

Gibbs starts out with “Rearview,” in which he applies a voice inflection we haven’t yet heard. He’s still pounding on the beat, but he’s winking. “Narcos,” which follows, is another dead-eyed Gangsta Gibbs joint. But it still sounds like “stuck in one gear” Freddie up to that point.

Then comes “Careless,” the crown jewel of the whole album. That shit would have Ted Cruz going nuts, bro. It’s Shakespeare re-writing Hamlet after smoking his first blunt. It’s The Wire‘s Omar hitting the two-step after knocking up a trap house. It’s so unexpected. The very concept of lyrics and flow becomes moot. It’s where Shadow of a Doubt kidnaps you, and Stockholm Syndrome sets in.

From there, it’s a wild ride of classic Gibbs knockout cuts like “Fuckin’ Up the Count,” Insecurities” and “Lately,” and some great features from Black Thought on “Extradite” and Gucci Mane and E-40 on “10 Times.” There are some duds, including “McDuck” and “Freddie Gordy,” but they’re few and far between. Also, let’s be real — a the wackest Gibbs tracks would be bangers on many other artists’ albums.

With Shadow of a Doubt, Gibbs has broken through his mid-career stale period, sounding fully re-energized. He had to figure out how to carry the heavy load of an album, and he delivered. Pinata was the breakout of his new style, and Shadow of a Doubt is the continuance of that evolution. Production on the project is tremendous to boot.

Gibbs is taunting us now; he knows he’s good, and he knows he’s figured it out. That’s a fatal inclination for any serial killer, though. It usually spells the end for them. Somehow, I get the feeling Gibbs is just getting started.