Putting a city on the map is one of those horribly overused phrases – but it has seldom been more accurate than in the case of Freddie Gibbs. Growing up in the small town of Gary, Indiana, which for quite a while was solely known for its terrifying murder rate, the son of a cop and part-time singer made his first steps in the music industry out of boredom and a lack of perspectives, as he admits.
However, the miseducation of Freddie Gibbs really got started when he followed the siren call of Interscope and moved to L.A. One of many promising talents that slipped through the cracks of the major industry, Gangster Gibbs partnered up with Young Jeezy’s CTE label for his breaktrough mixtape-not-mixtape Cold Day In Hell. After going Dutch with the Atlanta adlib king, Gibbs built up his own team ESGN (Evil Seeds Grow Naturally), and further honed his impressive technique.
Besides his rugged notes from the underground, there’s something utterly compelling about Gibbs’ ability to alternate between half-time and double-time flows, while keeping his voice calm and raspy all the way through. A next level version of Scarface, UGK and MC Eiht, paired with the lyrical potency of the classic Midwest and NYC MCs, Gibbs has yet again proven his versatility on the 2014 masterpiece Cocaine Piñata, produced by the Beat Konducta himself, Madlib. In this edited and condensed version of a recent RBMA Radio interview with Chairman Mao, Gibbs talks about his history in hip hop.
What are your early memories of hip hop?
My dad. One day my dad got in the car bumping a Geto Boys tape. I was like, “Oh man. That is crazy.” It was Too Short. It was Ice Cube. My dad loved all that music. When he turned me on to gangsta rap, it definitely put something in my soul. It was like, “Damn, Dad.” These dudes is rapping about the crack house, the same crack house across the street. They rapping about the pimps, same pimp down the street. They rapping about the hoes and the drugs. This is vivid. We live in this that they rapping about. As a child, that was amazing.
When did you realize this was something you wanted to pursue yourself?
I never, ever as a child wanted to do any kind of music at all. I loved it, definitely, but I never wanted to sing, rap, dance, none of that. I was definitely more into sports and girls and drugs and things. When I started running into a lot of roadblocks in life in my early 20’s… that’s when I gave it a go. Out of boredom actually.
There ain’t too much that going to scare you when you see murders on a daily. Only thing that really scared me was stage fright.
A lot of my homies was starting to make music. They was putting together CD’s with barcodes on them. I was like, “Wow.” I wanted to be part of that energy in some way. I didn’t know. I didn’t rap at all. Once I started seeing those studios, seeing guys make music... I’m a competitive guy by nature. My competitive spirit, I probably was like, “Hey, I could do that better. I could rap better than this dude. I could do that.” Anytime I see somebody do something, “I could do that. He ain’t doing nothing special.” I took that, and that motivated me and I’m here today. It’s crazy.
You don’t hear that much about Gary, Indiana’s hip hop scene.
You’re looking at the Gary, Indiana hip hop scene, that’s why. [laughs]
What made you go down the path of the streets?
You know what, man? My environment. Boredom. Gang banging. Lack of money. Being lazy. Wanting things the easy way. I can’t make an excuse for anything. Some things I fell into, certain people I was hanging around. It could have been a female I was trying to impress. Like I said, man. I’ve got a competitive nature. You know? Luckily, by the grace of God, I’m not in anybody’s penitentiary and I’m not six feet deep in the ground. I’ve done a lot, seen a lot, and been through a lot. I’m man enough to admit that a lot of those things were totally wrong.
Gary’s the type of town that make you fearless.
I probably got into illegal activity, breaking and entering, selling weed, probably around 13 or 14 years old. Gang banging, all that other stupid stuff. Those hot summers in Gary, man, they get boring. Through the summer, from about like, 7 years old to about that age, 13, I played baseball every summer. When I stopped doing that, them summers was wide open for trouble. I was ready to take anything head on. Gary’s the type of town that make you fearless. There ain’t too much that going to scare you when you see murders on a daily. Only thing that really scared me was stage fright. [laughs] Threats from men, that don’t rattle me at all.
How did you first come to make your first mixtapes?
I had a homeboy making CDs. I was just like, “Man, what is this? How are you doing this?” He was just like, “Man, I’m going to this studio, making songs.” One day I went up there with him. I just was sitting there, watching how this whole process recording and all that. I was like, “Damn, this is crazy.” I just took an interest from there.
I was all like, “Aw, man. These dudes don’t understand me. They don’t like me. F this. F that. F rap. I don’t even want to rap no more.”
I asked him, “Let me get in on a song.” He was like, “What?” I was like, “Yeah, let me get on some, man. I want to rap, too.” He let me get on a song and then my homeboy Figaro was like, “Damn, you can kind of rap.” He’s like, “Come back next week, man. I’ll give you some studio time.” I was off and running from there. I went in there that next Tuesday. Probably made like three or four songs. They was like, long raps that I had already had written. I was going through some things in the neighborhood where I was beefing with some guys. Guys was shooting at me. It was a rough time. Being up there was kind of therapeutic. It gave me the opportunity to rap about that stuff and get it off my chest.
Within a year, my first year-and-a-half, two years of me rapping, I had a record deal. I was signed to the same label as 50 Cent. I was like, “All right. I’m off and running. I told you all I could do this.” Also, in that same year I got dropped from that record deal, too. [laughs] I had to learn a lot. I had to bounce back. I had to pay my dues, man.
That year, I learned so much. When I got dropped, I was 23 years old. I didn’t see what I had gotten, knowledge-wise. I didn’t see how I had grown from a dusty ass dude rapping on low quality mics to a real artist. I didn’t see it like that at first. I was all like, “Aw, man. These dudes don’t understand me. They don’t like me. F this. F that. F rap. I don’t even want to rap no more.” I definitely took it for granted at first. When I sat back, put everything together and put some tapes together, I got myself together and got myself back on track.
The Miseducation of Freddie Gibbs is what put you on the map with a lot of people. When you put it out, what was your mentality?
For lack of a better term, fuck everybody. I was living on my homeboy’s couch, selling cocaine in LA. I’m like, “I don’t have nothing to lose and a whole lot to prove. It’s the only kind of shot I’ve got to do it. I’ve got to leak this out on the internet. I don’t even think I had money to press CDs.” We was robbing, stealing, doing whatever we had to do to make that.
One of the things I think is really special about Miseducation is some of the beats that you chose. Somebody wouldn’t necessarily expect say, for instance, “Flamboyant.” Was Big L someone that you were familiar with before?
Yes. I definitely love and respect Big L and what he brought to the game. That was kind of my way of paying my homage to him. I wanted to show these New York cats, “Look. I can rap just as good as you all. If not, better.” I look at New York as like the mecca of rappers. We’re doing this interview here in New York. I’ve got to do a good show here to be in the conversation with the good rappers. I have to sell records here to be in the conversation. That’s how I look at it.
“World So Cold” is one of the heaviest tracks you’ve ever put out. Can you explain a little bit about what that song is about?
I had a child on the way, and [there was a] miscarriage. That was just me letting it all out on wax. That was something real deep I was going through at the time. It kind of had me down for a minute, but I used that as motivation to get where I am right now. It just wasn’t meant for that to be at the time. I ain’t trippin’, man. God don’t make mistakes. I’m cool.
How tough was it to articulate something like that in your music?
It’s always hard. I don’t even listen to that song no more. At all. I don’t even listen to it. It’s definitely quite difficult. There’s songs on my new record that were quite difficult to make like “Broken,” with Scarface. I love that record. I can listen to it as a fan because I’m such a Scarface fan, but it’s hard listening to my first two verses, man. I’ve got a song on my new record called “Knicks.” I don’t even like listening to my second verse on that. It was so tough making it. I saw my homey got killed by the police in 2006.
How about “Iodine Poison” from Midwestgangstaboxframecadillacmuzik, which is an homage to Pimp C. Like Pimp C, you yourself are very opinionated.
I have to pay homage to the late great Pimp C, man, because it was just too soon for him to go out. He’s one of my all time favorite artists, rappers and just people in general. Rest in peace to Pimp C, man. Pimp C, he spoke his mind, and rightfully so. You’re a man in America. I think you got the right to speak your mind, regardless of how people feel. I think too many people in the gang too politically correct sometimes. I mean, sometimes you do got to be a little politically correct for the sake of your check. [laughs]
Everybody that do business with me know how I am. I’m not going to tear a certain social group down or racial group. That’s not the type of guy I am. You do business with me, you know I ain’t a sexist, or racist, or homophobe. None of that. I could care less about any of that, how people live their lives.
We really have a national campaign against bullying? We America. We supposed to be tough.
I just think that you should be able to speak how you feel about certain things. If you not with something, you just ain’t with it. Not saying that you want to tear it down. I’m just, “This is me, that’s that.” We just, in America, too sensitive right now. All this bullying shit? We really have a national campaign against bullying? Really? We America. We supposed to be tough.
You know, when I have kids, I’m going to be like, “Look man, who fucking with you at school, man? Knock the fuck out of him. Do what you got to do.” We let the damn internet... I’ve seen women look on the internet for tips on things to do with their child, as far as like feeding. You shouldn’t have to do that shit. You should be able to call your mom. Ask her what the fuck she did with you.
We’ve lost that togetherness, that family mentality in America. That’s the problem. You know what I mean? We don’t have that strong bond in our community any more, man. We letting TV and the internet raise our kids. Wasn’t no damn bullying campaign when I was coming up. Bully messed with you at school, you went and got your big brother, your big cousin, or you picked up a rock and knocked the fuck out that bully and went home. We cool now. You know what I’m saying? It’s respect. You got to earn that, man. Too many people out here just want you to give them respect. It has to be earned.
What was your mentality going into making Cold Day in Hell? It was another mixtape officially, but it had pretty much all new material.
At this point, I was fresh off Str8 Killer. Doing shows, on the grind. I think when I did Cold Day in Hell, this was around the time I first got with Jeezy. My mentality was just like, “All right.” I couldn’t really, I think people are starting to recognize me as one of the best rappers, up and coming.
I pat myself on the back, you all ain’t got to do it for me.
I got to put out another project to solidify myself as one of those top underground guys. I just went into it with the mentality like, “Man, I’m about to do.” I looked at it like albums at this point. I already looked at things like mixtapes. That was more so like an album to me. I don’t think I used any jacked beats on it. Everything was all original.
I think that when I dropped that, everybody kind of moved in that direction. The mixtapes sounded like an album. I don’t think I get a lot of credit for a lot of things I brought forth to the game. I think that a lot of labels and a lot of artists kind of looked at my techniques and my moves and they implemented them into their artists’ technique. It’s cool. I’ll get the credit down the line. I ain’t trippin’. I pat myself on the back, you all ain’t got to do it for me.
You mentioned Jeezy. You guys did a song together on this. “Twos and Fews.” When you got with Jeezy, how exciting was that initially for you?
It was very exciting when I first got with Jeezy. He was one of my favorite rappers at the time. It was surreal, actually. I was like, “All right. Jeezy want to rock against the Gibb.” I felt like it was a weight lifted off my shoulder. There was a lot of barriers put in front of me, a lot of people telling me “no.” Simply because I was from Gary, Indiana, man.
When Jeezy came to me and said he wanted to help me get where I needed to be, then it was, “All right. Cool. I really can’t be stopped.” It was like somebody put armor on you. When I was making that record it was cool. CTE was a Southern-based label with all Southern-type artists. Artists like... I don’t want to say “baby Jeezys,” but it was in that type of style. Everybody was in that type of vein. I kind of wanted to bring a more lyrical element to it. That’s probably why I chose to do that record. I like the dope horns on it and all that stuff. I like that record. I still bump that record. I just turn it off when his part comes on. [laughs]
You signed with CTE. Can you just sort of trace through what happened? What are your reflections on that whole experience now?
To say that I didn’t learn anything watching Young Jeezy, I’d be a liar.
Me signing there was ... I definitely didn’t go into it seeing what I could get out of the situation. I didn’t take any advances or anything. I just wanted to go in and get the opportunity to make music with Young Jeezy. I was like, “Aw, man. I think this would be a good opportunity.” I saw the way he worked and his work ethic. It was off the charts. It was definitely off the chain.
He definitely had elements to his songwriting that I looked at and admired. To say that I didn’t learn anything watching Young Jeezy, I’d be a liar. I just took that and add some of that to my bag of tricks. Music was never the issue there. It was more of the way he handled things personally that made me shy away from the situation and eventually leave the situation.
I just felt that I wasn’t getting the proper respect, not as a rapper, but as a man. When I feel disrespected as a man, I’ve got to walk away from it, because it’s going to be violent. It’s going to be an issue, man. Just the way it was handled by them was totally sloppy. It was totally disrespectful. I feel how I feel about it. Until somebody talks to me or apologizes, I’m going to feel that way. I got the right to feel that way because I’m a man.
I ain’t hold nothing against them. It is what it is. I’ve already spoken my grievances about the situation on a track already. I don’t really have to keep... My career ain’t about Young Jeezy, you know what I’m saying? My homeboy told me today, man. With some people it’s just like certain spots in time. You got to leave them right there. That’s what it is.
What was the mentality going into making Baby Face Killa?
I really had something to prove, because Jeezy wasn’t really, he wasn’t rocking with me at the time. We wasn’t really seeing eye-to-eye. I kind of made Baby Face Killa on my own. The relationship was going bad. I was distant from CTE. I just put myself in the mentality, “Look, I’m here, but all I got is me.” I got to go extra hard. Since then it’s been just ESGN, man. I’ve been branding myself and my company and pushing everything since then. That was definitely the springboard for me to do so.
Can you explain the meaning of ESGN? It’s the title of your 2013 album.
Evil Seeds Grow Naturally. ESGN came from me being a sports head. Watching ESPN all the time. Throwing my logo in the ESPN logo. It just came about that way. I formed a movement with it, Evil Seeds. I got a lot of Evil Seeds out there. They all showed up at the New York show last night. It’s growing and growing. My thing with ESGN is like, “America, this is what you made. This is what you planted. You put us in this position. This is the rage of the youth. This is the rage of the streets. This is how it’s going to come across in this music.” That’s my whole main focus with the ESGN thing.
Let’s talk about Madlib and Piñata. How did you guys come together? Where did this project spin from?
Me and Madlib, we got mutual friends. Those mutual friends wanted to see how great it would be if you combine my raps with his tracks. At first, I was definitely skeptical. I was afraid. I was just like, “Man, you think I can really rap on this?” It was a challenge. I’m not MF Doom. I don’t take mushrooms. I don’t do all that weird stuff, you know what I mean?
For me to get with Madlib, I can’t go weird. I’ve got to keep it gangsta. Me and him, we could be so cool. We so tight that we found a way to make this marriage. Hanging around, I learned that we loved a lot of the same things. We loved a lot of the same music, a lot of the same movies. I learned that me and Madlib had way more in common than me and Jeezy did, and that’s crazy.
I learned that me and Madlib had way more in common than me and Jeezy did, and that’s crazy.
This is a guy who was a street drug dealer, the type of element that I come from. You would think that I got way more in common with this guy, but I got way more in common with this guy from Oxnard, California. That alone just made me more comfortable. I brought the streets to the Madlib fans. I brought the gangsta element to his realm of music.
That whole fan base, they never heard nothing like this before. Ain’t nobody ever made nothing like this. Real gangsta, you know what I’m saying? A guy rapping about purple moons and pink stars. Midgets running around. Ain’t none of that. This is the hardcore streets. This is like a Blaxploitation film on wax. That’s what I set out to make, and I think that’s what we made.
You’ve said that he gave you a bunch of beat CDs. This guy is known for making hundreds of beats.
Correct. Thousands. [laughs]
Was it overwhelming to have to go through CDs and CDs of beats? Can you talk about that process?
It was like digging in the Madlib crates. Just going through hundreds and hundreds of beats a day. It was like research, but I felt like that’s what I was doing, trying to put together a puzzle. I got in there with Josh, my homeboy Josh The Goon. We just started breaking things down. It was like The Da Vinci Code or something like that. I think I cracked that motherfucker. [laughs]
What do you want people to remember about Freddie Gibbs’ music?
When I’m done? I want people to recognize that I’m one of the best gangsta rappers of all time. I want to be in that Top 5 conversation. That’s what I’m setting out to do. I want to be mentioned in history with not just the Tupacs or the Scarfaces, but musicians like Count Basie and Miles Davis and Duke Ellington.
I know I’ve got a hell of a long way to go, but when you talk about guys like that, you’ve got to talk about Tupacs and Scarfaces and Jay Zs. They’re just as influential to the culture as those guys were in the past. I want to be spoken on in the light of those greats. I got a long way to go. I’m going to keep pushing as long as I have to, to get to that point.
Introduction by Julian Brimmers; Images: Alexander Richter