On Freddie Gibbs‘ head-turning 2009 mixtapes, midwestgangstaboxframecadillacmuzik and The Miseducation of Freddie Gibbs, the Gary, IN, rapper displayed dizzying technical crispness and a near-unmatched knack for constructing vivid narratives of the hard-knock life. The same went for his last two EPs, Str8 Killa, highlighted by the already-classic “National Anthem (Fuck the World)”, and the Statik Selektah-assisted Lord Giveth, Lord Taketh Away. If there was a congressional medal for the mere act of rapping, Gibbs surely would have been awarded it by now; the guy can spit with the best of ’em.
Cold Day in Hell is Gibbs’ first mixtape since signing with Young Jeezy’s CTE label. Listening to the tape, it’s unclear whether Jeezy is trying to get Gibbs to change anything about his delivery. It is clear, however, that this is Gibbs’ least sonically uniform release yet. Opener “Barely M.A.D.E. It” features flutes, harps, and gentle hi-hats; for a few seconds during the intro, it sounds like the rap equivalent of Astral Weeks or something. But there’s also, say, the J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League-produced, sternum-cracking “187 Proof”. Gibbs has received some flak for rapping over a lot of similarly crafted beats, but Cold Day in Hell shows he’s no one-trick pony (at least not anymore).
Over the course of the tape’s 58 minutes, Gibbs name-drops weed strains, regretfully reminisces about his days of pushing coke, and shares a few deeply personal reflections (“My Homeboy’s Girlfriend” climaxes with an account of a friend’s suicide); lyrically, he’s on his usual stuff. But that’s nothing to whine about, because he turns even the most hackneyed subject matter into truly engaging bars. (Also notable: “Flow stupid like I rode the bus to school with Waka Flocka.”) Moreover, the guest verses here – Alley Boy, Freeway, and Jeezy being the providers of the most impressive – almost always dovetail with Gibbs’ rhymes, which gives most of these songs an admirable unity. All of this adds up to one of the strongest mixtapes of the year, but since we’re talking about the one and only Gangsta Gibbs here, that’s about the furthest thing from surprising.
Essential Tracks: “187 Proof”, “Rob Me a Nigga”, and “Let ‘Em Burn”