Over the past few years, the discussion about Freddie Gibbs has always centered around when he would be coronated with the stardom his skill deserves. It seems like everytime Gibbs, a walking reincarnation of an aggressive unfiltered face of hip hop, releases an album that reimagines what his carbureted voice subjugated under triple cadences can do over beats resembling weathered Timberland boots, it feels like his time only comes for a fleeting moment. With every album, Freddie Gibbs becomes even more rapper’s favorite rapper, but to the layperson not scouring Pitchfork reviews or The Fader profiles he doesn’t register. And that’s fine. Freddie Gibbs has not only arrived, he’s been here; slowly building a discography empire in a part of hip hop few occupy.
Freddie Gibbs performs with the swagger of a man blissfully aware that all of it—his career, his freedom, his life—could end any moment. For a brief moment in 2016, when he was facing false allegations of sexual abuse, it almost did. The album immediately following his acquittal, 2017’s You Only Live 2wice, sounded like a new chapter in his career, a chapter where the narrative of seeking Kendrick Lamar-esc stardom ended. His recent performance at U Street Music Hall was a refreshing reminder of Gibbs dualism; moments of candor, shittalking his DJ, and introducing his “white boy” photographer to raucous laughter peppered in between bone-shaking performances of lyrical paintings of violence, drug trafficking, and devotion to a way of life plotting against you.
After the release of 2018’s Freddie, as well as his recent highly-reviewed collaboration album Fetti with Curren$y, there is little doubt of Gibbs’ talent. Acapella renditions of some of his most lyrically challenging songs felt like a flex from an artist who lives in the same “no one can fuck with me” world that J. Cole calls home. His performance at U Street Music Hall suggested that narrative—embodied by Lil Wayne’s swagger during his “Dedication” mixtape years—fuels Gibbs. He performs free-spirited and unconcerned with questions of “when,” focusing instead on never having to answer “why?”