FREDDIE GIBBS: A LITTLE BIT OF EVIL
It’s 7 p.m. on a Sunday, and Freddie Gibbs is too drunk to drive and meet me for dinner—which is why I’m sitting at his house in the Valley witnessing an incredibly focused game of Madden NFL between him and his best friend who’s visiting from his hometown of Gary, IN. Even after a day spent downing beers and smoking kush while watching the NFL Playoffs, Gibbs’ intensity hasn’t been blunted. It’s not a big surprise. After he was signed to Interscope in 2006, moved to L.A., recorded his debut album and then unceremoniously was dropped in 2007, Gibbs has gone hard. Taking the independent route when it was still a novel approach, he released The Miseducation of Freddie Gibbs in 2009 and landed on the cover of LA Weekly. Since then, he’s dropped consistently impressive projects and worked tirelessly to keep gangsta rap alive. His latest album, the Madlib-produced Piñata, is a study in constrasts, Gibbs’ unspooling street gospel in a gravelly voice over glitzy soul samples. It does what most albums these days don’t even try to do, create a distinct vibe, conjure up a precise atmosphere. But then again, Gibbs’ whole career has been about doing—and succeeding at—what most rappers don’t even try. This interview by Rebecca Haithcoat.
Tell me about Piñata. It came to you in a dream?
I started on it like three years ago, and just went piece by piece. Madlib is a real eccentric producer, different than any producer I’ve ever worked with or work with currently. It was like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. Every beat I had to figure out where to rap on it, where to sing on it, how to rap on it, what was cool to say on it and what was not cool to say on it. To me it was the most challenging project I’ve done. But I think I did something unique. The type of guy I am, the place I’m from, nobody would expect this. It’s real revealing. There’s a lot of vulnerability on there. It’s my story in a nutshell. It’s like a blaxploitation film to me. That’s how I pictured it.
That’s what I was saying—it sets such a particular tone. It makes you feel fabulous.
When I first started working with Madlib, I had heard how he and MF Doom had made such a classic album. And I was like, man, I think I’m way better, or at least as good, as MF Doom, I can do that too. It started off as a challenge—no disrespect to MF Doom, he set the bar. I wanted something that was gonna sit in rap history. I think that album will sit in rap history. I wanna leave my mark.
How do you think getting older is affecting you as an artist? You’ve always had a maturity—a thoughtfulness about you.
I think I’m more driven and focused on what I want as opposed to what other people want. Doing this whole Madlib album, a whole lotta things took place in my career. I signed to Jeezy, which I don’t know why I did—well, I know why I did, but I can’t say why I did. I left Jeezy. All during that time period, I was making this Cocaine Piñata album. I was looking at this like my escape form the streets. I do what I gotta do to support my family. I looked at the Jeezy thing as my escape from all of that. I didn’t look at him like my ticket, but I looked at this situation as something I could build upon. And since I wasn’t grated that opportunity, I left. A lot of things happened—homies died, went to prison. I was just dealing with a lot of things. And it took a while to make. I think albums like that are great. I don’t like albums that are rushed. I give you a full year, a full spectrum—if I give you a full album in a month, you only know what I’m feeling that month. I think it takes a lot of time. Certain people might say it’s my best.
You’re not about politics. You don’t play them. Even when it would be to your benefit, you don’t sway.
Nah, not at all. I think it’s the Gary mentality. Most people from where I’m from have that attitude. There’s a way I want to live my life. I wanna do things a certain way, and have them come across a certain way. Like Kanye West. He wanna do things his way. People might say he’s a brat or whatever, but it’s obviously working for him. Not to compare myself to Kanye, he’s obviously a genius. I just don’t want to conform. I’m open to ideas, I’ve got a whole team. I just don’t wanna hear any outside people.
Has there every been a time you regretted that?
Yeah. Well, I can’t say I regretted it. [pause] Nah, I didn’t regret it. I was hurt by the pain it caused, but if I would’ve listened to Jeezy, I’d still be miserable right now. Everything makes you stronger.
At this point, how would you characterize yourself?
I’m the most well-rounded I’ve ever been. Not just as a rapper, as a man period. My sword is fully sharpened right now. I’ve been doing auditions, doing this acting thing. I’m auditioning like crazy. I actually read for Paul Thomas Anderson and Joaquin Phoenix. I don’t think I got the part, but I’m making steps. I got an acting coach. I wanna be a powerhouse. Need as little help as possible. I learned that from my mom. She worked at the post office for 30 years. She wouldn’t take a handout, and that stuck with me. My dad wasn’t like that. I got that strength from my mom.
Tell me about your dad.
My dad put me up on Biggie. He played ‘Juicy.’ He’s into that old school music. My dad is a big gangsta rap fan. He’s a g on the low. He was a cop but he got fired from the police force cause he was on some bullshit. My dad doesn’t object to anything I do. He wasn’t the best husband to my mom—he was the worst, actually—but he was a great fuckin’ dad. When it comes to being there and being able to talk, he was a good dad. He’s an asshole sometimes, but he’s definitely a good dad. When I was going through my transitional period in my life, shit in the streets, my dad held me. He assisted me. He knew I was selling drugs. He would tell me what I had to do to be safe. He knew I was robbin’ and killin’. He knew and he didn’t stop me or ridicule me. He knew I was a product of my environment and wasn’t going to try to cause separation between us. He was trying to guide me. What’s the point of us fighting? He might as well try to guide me. On some sides that’s good. On some sides that’s bad. I’m not mad at my dad at all. You choose what you wanna do. You blame it on your dad or mom, that’s not an excuse.
What were you like when you were a kid? When you were seven years old, what were you like?
Real playful. Real funny, I used to like to play around a lot. I liked to fight a lot, cause the kids from my neighborhood used to pick on me a lot. I was real energetic, goofy, class clown—smart though. I was kinda smart. I was mischievous. My uncles, my mom’s little brothers, were only like 8, 10 years older than me. So they were teenagers, watching porn, smoking weed, so I was seeing it and being amazed by that. Like seeing your big brother getting high, you’re like, ‘Whoa!’ That intrigued me.
Do you remember the first time you were in love with something?
Yeah. Sports. The first time my dad took me to a baseball game, just that atmosphere, the feeling of it, the energy that the fans brought to it—I love sports. He took me to a White Sox game when I was probably 9 years old. I just wanna go to every arena, I wanna watch every game, I wanna watch every highlight. I don’t give a fuck if it’s tennis. I wanna see some type of sports all the time. Hockey, cricket, anything. I don’t even know the rules. Probably why I picked this spot right here. They have TVs on sports. I’m addicted to it. SportsCenter, ESPN, it’s probably why I started ESGN. I just love sports. Football and sports, period, give you a sense of camaraderie. Kinda like how rap is an outlet. To get out all the pain and sorrow. For those five, 10 hours on a weekend day, that’s when a man can release. Just relax. It’s all we got.
You think you’ll ever be an analyst on SportsCenter?
Definitely. I could! Sports are about competition. I’m so competitive. It’s about beating the next person. If you were like, ‘Let’s shoot pool,’ I’d shoot pool but I gotta beat you because I’m like that. I can’t play pool that good at all! But I’ll find a way. I don’t gamble though. If I had that in me, I’d be broke. ‘Cause I don’t stop ‘till I win.
Have you ever really lost anything?
Yeah. Hell yeah. I was in Atlanta and I had this car. It was an ’87 Chevy Landau. Two-door. It was rare. And these guys pulled up on me and tried to take it from me. They shot it up. They tried to shoot at me while I was driving. I got away that day. But two days later, they stole my car from in front of my house. That hurt. That hurt bad. But at least I didn’t die for it.
ESGN stands for ‘Evil Seeds Grow Naturally.’ What wins out more often, good or bad?
I think everybody got a little bit of evil in ‘em. It’s necessary. That’s what my mission statement is kinda about. We’re not no devil worshippers. I just think everybody got a little bad in ‘em that they need to survive. They need that to either ease their mind, or to survive. They might need it to combat the evil wherever they’re at. Or they have a little secret that helps them deal with the world. Ain’t nothing wrong with a little bit of evil in you. I just saw that Oliver Stone dropped out of the Martin Luther King movie they were supposed to make because they wouldn’t let him put in that Martin Luther King had a, you know, [mistress]. He was a man like everybody else. Of course he did. He didn’t want to paint him as a saint so they rejected his script. But even MLK did something to ease his mind. I don’t really feel comfortable around people unless they got a little bit of dirt on ‘em. It just makes you feel like they got some authority over you, like they’re better than you. I don’t really fuck with people who are too clean. Not necessarily dirt, but some sort of vulnerability.
If there’s a too-perfect façade, there’s probably something really fucked up they’re hiding.
Hell yeah. You gotta go through something to appreciate [the good]. That’s real. My homeboy asked me the other day if I was ever going to leave California. Naw. To what? Gary? I love it there, I go back all the time, but I’d be stepping backwards. Life is all about progression. I try to get better every day. A better rapper, a better thinker. Better businessman. I’m just a regular guy who’s blessed. To get fuckin’ interviewed? I used to pray for this. I’m not at the point where maybe I should be, top tier rappers, but I make a lot of good strides and I make a lot of money off this. I’m in a real good spot. I think I’m like the Scarface of my era. Everybody in the rap game can’t be Tom Brady. I’m good with my position. I get respect in every lane of the game.
Do you read?
All the time. I’m reading Miles Davis’ book right now. I don’t read fiction at all. I usually read autobiographies or something about history. When I read about someone’s life right now, I’m not really impressed.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years, at 41?
Really acting a lot. Still doing music but more in an executive lane. I wanna be like L.A. Reid. Just gimme mine. Remember me. I know the type of life that I live, or lived, it might not be conducive to the American model, 2 ½ kids and household, and it might not be conducive to me living a long time. There might be somebody who might wanna take me out. I might die behind the culture, behind something I did in the streets a long time ago. But I definitely am gonna leave a legacy. If I do that, then I won.
FREDDIE GIBBS AND MADLIB WITH JOEY FATTS ON FRI., MAR. 28, AT THE ECHOPLEX, 1154 GLENDALE BLVD., ECHO PARK. 9 PM / $24-$26 / 18+. THEECHO.COM. FREDDIE GIBBS AND MADLIB’S PINATA IS AVAILABLE NOW FROM MADLIB INVAZION. COCAINEPINATA.COM.