Fatherhood hasn’t softened America’s best gangsta rapper. It’s merely made him more armed.
“I had 50 guns, now I have 100,” says Freddie Gibbs, maybe joking but probably not. “I’ve bought two guns for every month that she’s been alive. It’s brought out the protector in me.”
Gibbs credits his newborn, Irie, and his fiancée, Erica Dickerson (daughter of NFL hall of famer Eric Dickerson), for making him a better person. Then he presses play on an upcoming album, which sounds as sinister and nihilistic as any murder music ever plotted. He raps about homicide the way that Hemingway wrote about deep-sea fishing, or Kobayashi eats hot dogs.
We’re sitting inside his spacious studio in North Hollywood, itself a symbol of his come-up. Gibbs previously recorded in a vertical plywood coffin in his old downtown L.A. loft. He now commands an audio war room, with flat-screen TVs and a booth big enough to accommodate an impromptu posse cut.
He owns a home in the Valley, too, where he just picked up a shipment of his latest batch of merchandise. Multiple blunts circumnavigate the room, filled with “Freddie Kane,” his personal strain.
“I’ve been in the streets forever, but got my shit cultivated now … farms up north that I’m fucking with. I’m paying taxes on weed,” he says, laughing. He’s wearing all black; a pair of dark glasses lends him the appearance of a scholarly mob boss. If he weren’t already too famous, you’d cast him as 2Pac in the biopic.
“I want to open up a Freddie Kane lounge where you can come and smoke,” he says. “Make it a tourist attraction.”
Over the last half-decade, there are rappers who have sold more records and received more critical acclaim. But few, if any, have been as consistently excellent. Gibbs has dropped a half-dozen projects, all good to great, culminating in last year’s Piñata, a collaboration with Madlib that sold 50,000 units independently and earned ubiquity in year-end critics’ polls, all without radio or a significant marketing budget.
“Since I was on the XXL freshman cover in 2010, barely a day goes by without a different label trying to sign me,” Gibbs says, a loop of WorldStarHipHop fights thrashing on the TV above him. “I’ve turned down a lot of money, but I’ve made a lot, too.”
If you’ve listened to his music, you know his biography. Raised impoverished in Gary, Indiana, Gibbs won and lost a football scholarship, sold enough dope to earn honorary Colombian citizenship, and eventually took up rapping while bored and competitive at a local studio.
Interscope signed him, dropped him and left him for dead. After more street pharmacy and depression, Gibbs resurrected and rose to indie-rap stardom, dodging both industry bullets and lead ones. Last fall, he survived a shooting attempt after a New York City show.
He’s divided his summer among the domestic and international festival circuit, fatherhood and the studio. There’s a solo headlining set Friday at the Sunset Strip House of Blues. As for his new album, Gibbs tentatively plots to release something in the fall. Much of what he plays me is savage, post–56 Nights music. 808 Mafia supply the cracked-skull beats. Gibbs blasts with finesse and steroidal muscle, alternating between singing and rapping. It’s highly melodic mortuary music.
“A lot of us take rap for granted, but it’s saved me from hell and jail,” Gibbs says. “I’m putting everything in plain view, showing the human side. I’ve lost more homies to jealousy than to the streets lately. Every day I’m still amazed. I had a nightmare that I was mopping floors and that this Freddie Gibbs thing was all a dream. When I woke up and told my homie about it, he looked at me, laughed and said, ‘Yeah, right.’”
Freddie Gibbs plays the House of Blues Sunset Strip on Friday, July 24.
An L.A. native, L.A. Weekly columnist Jeff Weiss edits Passion of the Weiss and hosts the Shots Fired podcast. Find him online at passionweiss.com, follow him on Twitter and also check out his archives.