The contradictions of a single man can be many, and Gary, Indiana rapper Freddie Gibbs has more than most. Lately, he’s been in a tight spot, although he has been in tighter spots throughout his life and career. His profile is getting bigger, but he can’t stop posting about his rivals, particularly Griselda rapper Benny The Butcher. He is extraordinarily pro-Black but has an affinity for Joe Rogan, the white libertarian podcaster who has used the N-word multiple times. He even went on Rogan’s show after that scandal broke out.
As a rapper, Gibbs, born Fredrick Tipton, raps like he is slithering across the African jungle, looking for his prey. He finds angles. He stalks. Gibbs builds momentum until he hits his crescendo. Then, his ad-libs (“different colored hoes, sorry Umar”) aid his rapping: This is a man who grew up listening to UGK, after all. The upside of getting bigger later in your life is you can mostly be known for your music. For your resolve. For your early periods and your creative peak. The downside is that you are carrying demons with you that have yet to be solved. Every Gibbs verse has a hidden depth on top of his surgical dexterity. At one point, they said he could never make it here. He was too hard-headed. The Austrian jail that locked him with only his mind and his Islamic prayers scarred him. Mr. Gibbs has the aura of a man who believes he has nothing to lose. Though, with that mentality – the feeling that no matter how you grind on people, you’ve been through worse – comes a target on your back.
Technically, $oul $old $eparately is not Freddie Gibbs’ first major label album; his 2019 Madlib collab Bandana came out on RCA, and 2011’s Cold Day In Hell mixtape was the product of his brief stint on Jeezy’s Def Jam subsidiary CTE World before Gibbs and Jeezy fell out. But today’s new LP is Gibbs’ first release under a new deal with Warner, the first real statement in his latest era as a major-label artist. Before this, Freddie was a street rapper and an indie legend. When he linked with the reclusive Madlib or the stellar Alchemist, that was two infamously independent virtuosos coming together to create a prestigious rap record. Rarely was there a surprising feature. It was not like when he used to get Gucci Mane and E-40 on a song together. The names were basically underground rap steel: Benny The Butcher, Conway The Machine, Mos Def, Killer Mike. Outside of Tyler, The Creator and Rick Ross, Gibbs was using his sewer pack to churn out rap gold.
Gibbs got wider name recognition and acclaim from those records. He went on a late-career tear like Justin Verlander with the Houston Astros. $oul $old $eparately keeps that streak going, but it’s a different kind of record. It isn’t a prestige rap album for the inside-baseball guys; Brooklyn Nets superstar Kevin Durant drops a voicemail at one point just to let us know the company that Gibbs keeps now. Instead, this a collection of songs paced for maximum pleasure, even as they find Gibbs still thinking about his past. “Lobster Omlette,” featuring a warm Rick Ross, is antsy and reflective: “They laughin’ at me at my school/ So I move like I ain’t got shit to lose.” Gibbs sometimes acts like someone who has to convince you of his greatness even though you’ve already seen it.
$eparately is more in line with Gibbs’ early-2010s work, when he would rap over different production styles and with rappers of multiple regions and dictions. Gibbs is euphoric to start the record. “Couldn’t Be Done” hits you with lines about his rise: “Used to sleep on the air mattress, my bitch strapped on the floor.” “Blackest In The Room” is the pro-Black in him, the Tupac Shakur in him. Gibbs has emotional acuity: “East Gary niggas/ We stick together like dope and soda/ Put that shit on the Nation, my clique on Costa Nosta/ If I smoke him on the side, will I see him when I cross over, damn.” While Gibbs is not known for being especially dogmatic, he does hate sellouts. “Blackest in the room, why can’t niggas hit Clarence Thomas up?” isn’t just a threat, it’s an ethos from a man who has no idea how to be anything but fearless.
Those who were concerned that the Warner deal and the tracklist that came with it would change Gibbs’ intensity can breathe. He’s the same guy. But there are still missteps. This run by Gibbs means the expectations are high. “Pain & Strife” doesn’t quite work because Offset of the Migos isn’t very good. “Zipper Wags” is generic, with Gibbs trying out melodies that are precise but light on soul. On the other hand, “Too Much” with Moneybagg Yo is strong. Gibbs’ legato skips like coins in a Westchester Mall water fountain. Bagg is reliable; he always is. (“Can you point out all the haters? I can’t see them through the Cartiers.”) Wu-Tang Clan legend Raekwon shows up on “Feel No Pain” with an excellent mafioso verse.
Raekwon’s presence is instructive. On this record, Gibbs is still the main character, but he allows others to shine, like Tyler, The Creator on Call Me If You Get Lost or MBDTF-era Kanye West. His affinity for comedians shows on the record too, and not just polarizing anti-vaxxer types. Jeff Ross, a Jewish comedian who wore cornrows, appears on $oul $old Separately. While rappers and comedians have a lot in common – both disciplines are essentially a running monologue with cadences, depth, humor, and immaturity – for some, Gibbs’ compelling kinship with comedy, a genre that has been under fire for many kinds of misbehavior, is a chief strike against him. Gibbs can never see himself as a buttoned-up wizard like Jay-Z, and he isn’t a guy who wants people to worship him like Mr. Kanye West once did. He’s comfortable being on the island with the misfits. His stomach for controversy is strong.
Still, so much controversy will wear on even Freddie Gibbs eventually. On the song that can be considered an apology of sorts, “Rabbit Vision,” Gibbs declares, “Rap shit bringing more enemies than friends, they out to get you/ Talking tough on them social sites, the shit gets you real on the streets.” When he brings up how he regrets the spat with Jeezy (“Me and Jeezy still ain’t spoke in years, but I got love for him/ Could’ve talked it out but I spoke out, I let it get to me”), the words are delivered with a weight of a man who has continued to beef with men that were once his friends. Regrets don’t happen in a vacuum.