They say when times get lean it’s best to reel it in and stick together. Born and raised in post-industrial, Reagan-approved-crack-era Gary, Ind., Freddie Gibbs gets that. This would explain his grassroots approach to re-inventing a once-promising major-label-approved career into an independent DIY movement.
In 2004, Gibbs signed with Interscope, but, not one for the politic game, he grew tired of waiting for Jimmy Iovine to friend him on Facebook, so he built a team and a sound and began dropping heat himself. Following two underground classic mixtapes, The Miseducation of Freddie Gibbs and Midwestgangstaboxframecadillacmuzik, Gibbs returned in 2010 with Str8 Killa No Filla and a co-starring role in XXL’s esteemed “Freshman 10” list.
A true representation of recession-era Hip Hop, Gibbs reels it in and hits the Midwest for a thorough run of promotion for the Str8 Killa record. Think back to the classic Midwest and Southern folks we used to watch on Rap City and Yo! MTV Raps in the 1990s. Now fast-forward it 20 years into the future and you’ve got the no-bullshit Freddie Gibbs.
CityBeat: One thing I really dig (about your music) is that you have a definitive throw-back, classic ’90s Midwest/Southern sound. I really appreciate your continuation and updating of that legacy.
Freddie Gibbs: I grew up on that sound and all them dudes, too. I really try to keep that alive in everything I do. I feel like it sets me apart from everyone else. Staying true to myself and my roots will always set me apart.
CB: When I saw “National Anthem” hit MTV2 a few weeks ago, it really reminded me of the mid-’90s Southern and Midwestern videos that used to drop from artists folks might never hear from on a national platform again (i.e. Ghetto Mafia, Dayton Family, etc.) in everything from the symbolism to the camera treatment.
FG: A lot of people say that it reminds them of an old Public Enemy video.
CityBeat: Yeah, I can see that. It actually reminds me of OutKast’s “In Due Time” a little bit. Was that a conscious effort on your part to make that connection between eras?
FG: Hell yeah. I wrote the treatment. I really wanted to contrast the two eras: the slavery era and the era today with the police. The song is kind of a story of redemption for me, so I wanted to think of a good story line for the video to go with it.
CityBeat: You’ll be in Cincinnati (by way of Covington) next week, a city known over the years for its hostile relationship with the police. Judging by your video and music, I’m assuming Gary, Ind., shares a similar accord. What do you hope to achieve or change with the statement you made in the “National Anthem” video regarding the fractured relationship between community and police?
FG: Oh yeah, I got people out in Cincinnati. The police out there are brash. Shit, I’ve been pulled over by police in Cincinnati. There’s all type of racist shit that goes on out there. But it’s everywhere. I experienced that shit in L.A. I was just talking to my girl the other day about that. Basically, the police are getting too much power. You know, they murdered Oscar Grant (in Oakland). An officer killed him and ain’t nothing happened to that dude. They murdered Sean Bell (in Queens, N.Y.) and nothing happened.
CityBeat: It doesn’t feel like there’s as much of a response anymore when things like that happen. Not as strong as the ’90s, when NWA was popping and the Rodney King/LA riots went off. Sometimes it feels like people just accept it now, which really isn’t cool.
FG: And Rodney King ain’t have shit on Sean Bell. He didn’t lose his life. But worse shit is happening now and black communities are not in an uproar like they used to be. Nobody really did shit for Sean Bell and Oscar Grant.
CityBeat: Some artists blow at an early age without many years of dues-paying under their belt, but you’ve obviously been doing this for a minute now. Over the past couple years your audiences have grown monumentally and diversified greatly. When did you realize things beginning to move in fast-forward?
FG: Well, I think from the jump, I ain’t wanna fuck off my money and fuck off my time. There’s so many dudes out here rappin’ and I ain't wanna be one of them. I was taught not to respect these Rap dudes. I was taught not to respect these dudes who were just passing out CDs and that’s it, so I tried to go as hard as I could.
Shit, I got my deal with Interscope in my first year of rapping. I figure, you can’t deny sheer skill. If you work hard at something and sharpen your skill, it can’t be denied at the end of the day. So all this is just me staying sharp. I take my time and put 100 percent effort into everything I do.
Freddie Gibbs performs at Covington’s Mad Hatter Saturday with DJ Clockwork. Buy tickets, check out performance times and get venue details here.