The first time I saw Freddie Gibbs was in April 2011. Crammed into the sweaty blunt-soaked confines of U Street Music Hall, Gibbs came out shirtless and with a barbarity of a musician fighting to never go back to a former life. In April 2011, Gibbs career was on the ascendency; a deal with Young Jeezy’s Corporate Thugz Entertainment (CTE) record label, an imprint of Def Jam, had just been signed, and it felt like the man behind 2009’s The Miseducation of Freddie Gibbs and 2010’s Str8 Killa had arrived. By the time Gibbs departed from CTE in December 2012 with little to show for it, few could have imagined that he’d be at the top of the rap game at the end of 2019. But that’s exactly where he is. His recent performance at The Fillmore Silver Spring was Gibbs personified; simple, direct, funny, and absolutely ruthless.
Beginning with 2013’s ESGN, Gibbs has sharpened his lyrical repertoire to such a fine degree that he exists outside of any trend or moment. His ability to transport you to places you’d rather not go is reminiscent of Nas on Illmatic, and it never feels overbearing in the way lesser gangster rap does. His first album with producer Madlib, 2014’s Piñata, was a revelation of funk-fusion and soulful jazz and showed that his encyclopedic knowledge of violence, drugs, and survival didn’t exist within one lane or one narrative. Four years later, Gibbs dropped 2018’s Freddie, an album that finally unleashed his talent and humor; over 10 tracks the Gary, Indiana rapper came out of the blinding fog of his career sparked by three months spent in an Austrian jail in 2016 for a crime for which he was ultimately acquitted.
Freddie Gibbs in 2019 is still the Freddie Gibbs of 2011. Behind the luster of recognition, more jewelry, more fans, and more peace, Freddie Gibbs is still ferocity personified. His capacity to rattle through complex bars without ever skipping a word or going up for air is like watching a robot programmed to mimic “the best rapper alive.” His live shows also thrive on being pleasantly two-faced. In one moment, he drives a stake through your mental with lines about deceit, fiends, and homicide and in the very next moment, he makes you laugh as he dances on the stage like some sort second-coming of Al Green. Between 2011-2019, I’ve seen Freddie Gibbs three times. Each time, I walk away feeling like I’m watching one of the greatest ever. Freddie Gibbs’ performance at The Fillmore Silver Spring was unequivocally bare of any superfluous stage design. This was a man possessed; accompanied only by his DJ, his entourage, and a catalog that rings true to the journey he has endured.