GEN F: Freddie Gibbs

Photographer Ariel Zambelich
June 27, 2011

Freddie Gibbs was once on his back. He was gulping pills, stranded in Atlanta after losing not just his recording contract with Interscope, but a child to a girlfriend’s miscarriage. This wasn’t where he expected to be. Gibbs is from Gary, Indiana, birthplace of Michael Jackson and a working class steel town whose woes are generally overlooked, if only because it sits just a few miles east of Chicago’s infamously grimy South Side. He did what he needed to do before realizing he wanted to rap in his early 20s—relatively late in the game. Gibbs was supposed to make it, be the voice of his city and take care of his family. But he didn’t, and he gave up. At some point, a friend urged him to get his shit together and try again. So here he is.

Gibbs returned to LA and salvaged the beats scrapped by Interscope to self-release two sturdy and smart mixtapes: The Miseducation of Freddie Gibbs and Midwestgangstaboxframecadillacmusik. Both felt more like albums than anything he could have put out on a major, every scene broadcast from the streets of Gary and Los Angeles in thunderous 3-D. Since their arrival, Gibbs has been pegged as a throwback and a purist, his nod to hip-hop’s forefathers made evident by the brandied beats he selects and the way his many-geared growl recalls the likes of Nas, 2Pac and Bun B. But Gibbs’ commitment is to craft alone, to details. He doesn’t wield Wayne’s brainbending non sequiturs or the lyrical silk of a smoothie like Drake. His is sleeves-rolled-up, steak-and-potatoes rap: speedily delivered and so lean and direct that he’s been able to make believers out of anyone hungry for a new American narrative.

In person, Gibbs is courteous and disarming, someone who seems to know way more than he should, or maybe even wants to. His humility bleeds into his work in a way that’s as palpable as his Midwestern work ethic. “I’m a common dude,” Gibbs says. “I’m not trying to act like I’m Superman or better than anybody else in the game. I’m just telling my story, showing my strengths and weaknesses—as a human, as a person, as a man.” A bevy of new EPs are set to drop over the next few months, effecting what Gibbs hopes will be a grassroots movement behind him. In the video for “The Ghetto,” off his most recent mixtape Str8 Killa No Filla, Gibbs stands in front of a home in Gary, friends and family at his side, telling the viewers as much he can as fast as he can. It wouldn’t make sense to see him anywhere or anyway else.

Stream: Freddie Gibbs, Str8 Killa EP

GEN F: Freddie Gibbs