Freddie Gibbs has a reputation as a bit of a loose cannon. A Google Search on him still yields a rather infamous headline from a 2011 interview with Complex.com: “Freddie Gibbs gets drunk, fights with security, and rocks a few shows…” The Gary, Indiana native occupies the rarified space of emcees capable of vividly detailing what he calls the “science of the Street Rap” without becoming a caricature. He neither courts violence nor shies away from it, but the accuracy with which he explains the conditions in America’s crime infested neighborhoods has landed him on tracks with the likes of Scarface, Alley Boy and Spice-1. This spring he added a seemingly unexpected collaborator to that list.
“If you would’ve told me five years before I met Madlib to do a record with him, I probably wouldn’t have did it,” Gibbs says. “I ain’t understand that shit, and I wasn’t experienced enough to appreciate what he did. But now I am. I appreciate it, and I see what he does—the crowds and the love that he gets. He gets the respect. So it’s just like, ‘Alright, I want to set myself apart from the rest of these rappers.’”
Gibbs wasn’t the only one who didn’t quite understand Madlib, and exactly how Madlib plies his trade is still a bit of a mystery to the general public. At the most basic level, he makes eclectic, excellent music with a short list that includes Erykah Badu and Mos Def. The Oxnard, California-bred progeny of musicians has regularly been described as reclusive. He’s arguably his own most frequent studio partner. The character Quasimoto, Madlib’s helium voiced alter ego, was birthed during an encounter with psychedelic mushrooms. Madlib trades bars with himself through some studio wizardry that involves recording at an extremely slowed-down tempo. There’s also Yesterday’s New Quintet. The four-man, New Age Jazz Fusion ensemble all have names—Joe McDuphrey, Malik Flavors, Ahmad Miller and Monk Hughes—but it’s an open secret the “quintet” is solely comprised of Madlib wearing the hats of producer, arranger and engineer. It’s not that he doesn’t like people so much as he’s seemingly oblivious to anything that hinders making music 24/7.
Madlib Explains His Process Working With Other Artists
“I don’t pick anybody out,” he says. “They usually come to me, and it’s usually a like-minded person…people that understand my music, first of all. It’s cats that came along and couldn’t do it, because they ain’t got that human feeling. Even if nobody likes anything, I’ll still do what I’m gonna do. I do it for my health first.”
Their completely different approaches toward creating music hint at the anticipation that surrounded a joint album between Freddie Gibbs and Madlib. Given Madlib’s introverted nature, Gibbs’ sticks out like a bruised, sore thumb with cocaine residue underneath the fingernail among the list of artists Madlib has worked with. Despite the fact that both men call Los Angeles home, they initially crossed paths in Europe. There’s no long, drawn-out tale of mutual admiration from afar, as neither of them were familiar with the other’s music.
“The first thing I heard him do was over my shit—“Thuggin’,” Madlib says. “That was supposed to be an interlude, and my man Lambo was like, ‘You should rap over that shit.’ We got him to rap over it, and that’s my favorite joint still…just the feeling of it. It’s gloomy, raw.”
The self-proclaimed “Raw Addict” honed in on one of Gibbs’ identifying characteristics. And while Gibbs jokes that Madlib refers to him as a bully, he also quickly calls him a friend and a mentor. Some drinking and smoking at undisclosed locations somewhere across the Atlantic Ocean undoubtedly helped, and Madlib similarly speaks fondly of Gibbs. Amid the dusty Freda Payne samples and scattered clips from Blaxploitation movies spread throughout their joint album, Pinata, that aforementioned rawness displays itself, whether Gibbs is questioning a fractured relationship with his father or dressing down former business partner Jeezy.
How Freddie Gibbs’ Mentality Fuels His Music
“My mentality shines through, and that’s what I do to fuel it,” Gibbs says. “People say I do too much, but my mentality is what makes this music. That’s what keeps it going, and this is the heart of it. All the shit I’m saying now—this ferocity and the attitude—that’s what pushes it. That’s what I thrive off of. I can’t make music like no pussy-ass nigga.”
The contrast between Gibb’s perception as being a poster child for revivalist Gangsta Rap and Madlib’s unrequited love from the backpack/underground create some interesting artistic tension between the commonly held assumptions about both men and the material created as they disprove such assumptions. By his own admission, Madlib’s most organic collaborations have come alongside the late J Dilla and MF DOOM. And while Madlib and Dilla had the benefit of some type of Star Trek-inspired, “Vulcan Mind Meld,” non-verbal form of communication beyond most of our comprehension, he says he’s fairly hands-off when working with others. He won’t mention names, but rumors about him being approached to work with various A-listers are well founded and confirmed by Madlib himself. So how did Gibbs succeed where others failed?
“It ain’t easy to rap over Madlib beats,” Gibbs says. “That’s why I wanted to do it—to challenge myself and see how good of a rapper I was. We’re from two different styles, so we had to grind. I had to really come up with concepts for these records, and working with that helped me come with dope concepts for my other records. Working with him just expanded me musically, man.”
The byproduct of their initial European encounter, Pinata, was released on March 18. It finds Madlib at his most accessible, but still possessing all of his signature elements. The obscure, sped-up samples are present, but they’re still not quantized and possess palpable grit. In turn, Gibbs is at his most vulnerable. The combination works in part because Madlib does some truly quirky things to the 30-plus-year-old source material he mines from his four-ton collection.
“As far as producing, my shit’s always improvised,” Madlib says. “I’m just picking anything up and making something out of whatever’s right there. I don’t really think about it, because whatever’s gonna happen will happen. I may take a month off and not do any music—just listen to records. I may take a year, or I might work a week straight with no sleep. It’s always different, and I don’t sit there and think, ‘I have to do this or that.’ It’s natural. I record some music that might never come out.”
And once you stop focusing on the ornate horn arrangements, wind chimes, and other elements, you realize Gibbs is talking about some seriously gruesome subjects. Fellatio is exchanged for crack rocks, there are night sweats induced by cigarettes dipped in PCP, and Gibbs seemingly holds a magnifying mirror up to himself in the middle of the following scorched Earth diss:
“Straight to the facts nigga / I looked up to you, put that on my mama / I signed a deal with you, and never asked you for a dollar / I was down with CTE plus I was gettin’ cheese / I played my fuck ass contract, what the lick read.”
Freddie Gibbs Says Madlib Helped Him Grow Personally & Artistically
One could argue that the subsets of so-called conscious Hip Hop and gangsta Rap were equally plagued by cartoonish exaggerations. The reason why mentioning the symbolism of pairing Gibbs with Madlib doesn’t evoke contrived images of post-Cold War Reagan and Gorbachev with a ready-made “Tear down this wall” quote is likely rooted its organic randomness. It’s rare to hear detailed talk about cocaine and other underworld dealings over such tracks. Intentionally or not, Gibbs and Madlib have united their seemingly disparate fan bases.
“Before we got in the studio or anything, we were hanging out…just drinking and smoking,” Madlib says. “He’s like one of my cousins, and I got family just like him. It’s the same old shit. He’s a comedian; don’t get it twisted. He had me laughing all night. He was singing R&B songs and shit. It was crazy. It’s all about having fun and not taking it too serious.”
Madlib’s rationale of doing music for his health may be most appropriate, as the union between he and Gibbs may pay dividends that extend beyond the recording booth.
“He’s so weird that he probably won’t even work with these Rap niggas,” Gibbs says in regards to Madlib. “I’m surprised that he worked with me, and I’m truly grateful. I’m glad that he gave me the opportunity to work, because this time working with him has definitely helped me grow as an artist and as a person.”