Freddie Gibbs should be more famous than he is. He’s had label issues. He’s had distribution issues. He’s been signed and dropped and cosigned and ignored. But Gibbs’ real conundrum is that he’s uncompromising. He didn’t abate when teamed up with creative talent like Madlib. Gibbs’ personality dominated the pair of MadGibbs EPs that the duo released. Gibbs’ drive makes ESGN – Evil Seeds Grow Naturally a bracing record. It also makes Gibbs virtually unmarketable in this generation’s world of rap, which increasingly hinges on musical flexibility.
That said, Gibbs probably doesn’t care about fame after all. The Indiana native carved out acclaim within his niche in a temperamental industry without concessions. In that niche, he’s a staunch workman’s rapper with an impeccable cadence, able to spit polyrhythmic internal rhymes with both alacrity and enunciation. Where with a lesser rapper, “The Real G Money” could turn into word soup. Gibbs’ flow is clean and practiced enough to sound like he’s giving speech lessons. With that inimitable voice, he could easily gain radio play by throwing out a clean-language, mid-tempo track like “Changes” or “California Love”, but when ESGN opens with Lil Sodi using “nigga” in the same way tweens use “like,” it becomes obvious that such a concession isn’t likely.
Part of that may be because of how ESGN in particular and Gibbs in general function as throwbacks. His productions are smooth, insistent West Coast productions that attempt to darken the corners of every Death Row Records album from the mid-90s. Tracks like “Lay It Down” and “One Eighty Seven” are bone-scraped and minimalist, like a soundtrack to Suge Knight’s life.
Gibbs maximizes his skill in service to these tracks as an L.A.-style blunted rapper (“I Seen A Man Die”) and a Midwest-style double-timed spitter (“The Real G Money”). His mic skills are paralleled by few; he can switch between his various modes instantaneously and without sacrificing clarity, a skill only gained with patience, practice, and raw talent. Gibbs’ vicious baritone delivery is the sound of a hood-raised doctoral candidate: clean delivery in the service of dirty deeds. “One Eighty Seven” is a perfect representation, a brutal sex anthem conducted in classic cars: “Hotbox my Chevy we posted up for the smoking section/ Won’t take your chick out to dinner but I eat that bitch for breakfast.”
Gibbs’ EPs and mixtapes tend to run long, and ESGN — at 19 tracks — is no exception. The length is a weakness. The bleakness of Gibbs’ world, even when it’s going well, can leave you gasping. The shock is somewhat lost in the number of tracks. In the scheme of the album, it’s a minor quibble. ESGN digs new paths through rap’s hallowed grounds. It may not be the crossover success that those who ride for Gibbs would love to see, but it doesn’t diminish this excellent record.
Essential Tracks: “The Real G Money”, “I Seen A Man Die”, and “9mm”.