Freddie Gibbs is evermore a complex character. Public feuds with peers have divided fans; his confidence can be mistaken for cockiness whilst his jabs at those in the industry can be seen as petty and sour. His stomach for controversy has been proven as bulletproof. Banned by Instagram on numerous occasions, Gibbs is known to speak his mind – no matter the consequence. When asked by Complex about his openly confrontational nature, Gibbs responds: “I might be a confrontational person, a competitive person. But I think that’s just me being from Gary, man. I don’t want to lose. I don’t have a choice. We come from nothing, man.”
Whatever the philosophy behind his questionable actions, he prevails and $oul $old $eparately, as Gibbs’ first album on major label Warner, continues to propel him further into the mainstream. Not to be mistaken, Gibbs has been in the spotlight for some time, with the Alchemist-produced “Alfredo” bagging him a Grammy nomination and arguably cementing him as a great amongst his peers. Clever, witty lyricism paired with the aid of opulent beats from A-list producers are expected from the Indiana rapper, and $$$ is no exception. The tracklist is evidently packed with talent: production credits range from James Blake, DJ Dahi and foolproof frequent collaborators, Alchemist and Madlib. But does his major label album match up to the underground projects that preceded $$$?
For 45 minutes, we are transported to the $$$ hotel for the Indiana rapper’s latest project, $oul $old $eparately; a loose narrative holds the project together. Unanswered voicemails ring throughout the project as Gibbs stays holed up in his suite, telling tales of paranoia and wealth, and detailing the themes of crime that inevitably end up weaving their way throughout his stacked discography. These voicemails hail from a rather random list of guests on the album checking in on the rapper, notably comedian Jeff Ross, the controversial Joe Rogan and even street Jesus (yes Jesus).
Getting into the 15 tracks, Gibbs is strong out of the gates, sure of his sound and uses features to his advantage. Opening with “Couldn’t Be Done”, Gibbs partners up with Kelly Price to deliver nothing short of a masterclass – seriously, this is how you open an album. It is Gibbs through and through, reminding fans of his talents, wit and not getting lost amidst the prominent sample. His uncomprimising confidence shines, proclaiming “Dropped another album, CoKain Rabbit got 'em shook again”. The Kelly Price vocal performance stuns, oxymoronically paired with the witty adlibs that Gibbs is loved for, mumbling “Different colour hoes, you know what I'm sayin'? Sorry, Umar”.
Gibbs’ presence on a track is undeniable. He is never overshadowed despite the caliber of artists he has utilised previously: Tyler, the Creator, Benny the Butcher, Mos Def and Rick Ross are a mere few examples. However, Offset does not belong on a Freddie Gibbs track: “Pain and Strife” is fine but feels like the Migos rapper is a mere novelty, a big name to squeeze into the major label project. This misstep can be overlooked, however, as we approach more appropriate features on the album - Pusha T’s spot on “Gold Rings” and Raekwon’s mafioso verse on “Feel No Pain” feels much more matched to Gibbs’ capabilities as an artist.
Gibbs, however, does not need the assistance of his peers to prove himself. A personal standout from the album, the Madlib-produced CIA allows the Gary rapper to deliver one of the most memorable lines from the project: “CIA, they gave us crack, Instagram, and AIDS”. It’s evident that Gibbs shines where he is most comfortable, his pen flows effortlessly over the opulence of Madlib’s jazz-infused beat. The honesty of the track is reminiscent of “Skinny Suge” from Alfredo (another standout), speaking on his involvement in dealing crack whilst wanting to progress in the rap game. He is rid of his ego that is so prevalent on social media, grounding himself to talk honestly without the smoke and mirrors of Instagram.
The album closes with “Decoded”, a DJ Dahi bonus track with a guest appearance from the legendary Scarface. Nothing short of a full circle moment for Gibbs, who claimed that Scarface spits his favourite verse ever on 1998’s “Homies and Thugs”. Scarface acts almost as a prophet on the track, speaking on the failure of the generations that succeed him and the violence that still prevails amongst the youth. It’s almost a display of triumph for Gibbs as he concludes his major label album with someone he holds in such high esteem.
$oul $old $eperately is a soulful progression for Freddie Gibbs, a step in the right direction as he maintains everything he is loved for, not sacrificing his charms and persona for mainstream appeal. Gibbs continues to trailblaze in his lane and this release proves he is armed with the confidence of an artist that's prevailed through numerous battles that fame and controversy presents.