Published Apr 15, 2014Freddie Gibbs has fallen under the radar for years, often securing the title of "Underground King" annually, but 2014 has brought him into the spotlight and there's no turning back. In an unexpected partnership, the street rapper teamed up with adventurous Cali producer Madlib to release Piñata (the album was originally titled Cocaine Piñata, which is how Gibbs refers to it throughout the interview), a self-challenging 17-track album making waves within the hip-hop community. Exclaim! had the opportunity to speak to the Indiana native about the (really) recent success of Piñata, moving forward from his disagreement with Young Jeezy, and the Canadians making noise on his forthcoming album, Eastside Slim.
The album has been out not even two weeks, and the whole hip-hop community is sitting back calling it "album of the year" and a "classic record," but you've also described it as a blaxploitation film on wax. There's a lot of people who don't know what blaxploitation films are, much less how it'd be on wax, so can you tell me what you meant by that?
First of all, blaxploitation film is a film from the '70s — you know, late '60s, '70s, and early '80s, that generally showed blacks in roles that they generally didn't get in Hollywood, so to speak. So [they] put black people in positions that you normally wouldn't see them in films; like bosses, pimps, cops, detectives, things like that, and the black man just being the hero in those films. That's the point I wanted to bring across in Piñata.
So, would you describe yourself as being the hero?
[Laughs] I'm definitely the hero. I've definitely gained success from a place where people say you can't be successful from.
Out of all the beats that Madlib threw at you, you seemed to have chosen very raw instrumentals. What was the method you took going through the hundreds of beats and choosing them?
Really, it was just me feeling out what worked for me and I could work as a rapper. The whole process was like putting together a puzzle, and it helped me fine-tune my skills and sharpen my pen game. I just wanted to choose beats that people never heard me on, and the type of things that gave a bit of a challenge for myself, and showed fans that I was versatile enough to do it.
Did it make you nervous working with his music?
Yeah, I was kinda nervous because I didn't know how people were gonna take it. I didn't know how people were gonna receive it, but it seems like they're receiving it well. You know, I think me and him got a chemistry that can't be matched right now at all, and if it ain't broke, don't fix it, we're just gonna continue to keep working. He's gonna work on my future projects, even if he's not making all the beats, he's definitely gonna arrange and produce my projects.
Having said all that, what's your reasoning for not wanting to make a Cocaine Piñata Part 2?
Because Piñata 1 is so great, why make a part two? There wasn't a Scarface Pt. 2. There was only one Scarface, so why make a part two, even though I didn't die at the end of my movie. [laughs]
Do you think you would want to create another album with one single producer or is there another producer you'd want to work with?
Yeah, definitely. The next guy I wanna do that with is probably Alchemist, because he's my favourite producer. That's probably the next guy that I wanna do that with, but even then we gonna have Madlib and sprinkle his touch on that too, know what I mean, because I trust his ear. I definitely wanna get in with Alchemist, because he's been my favourite producer for years. To me, he's been the most consistent, the most versatile. I don't think he gets all the credit he deserves.
Having said that, what's going on with the Alchemist and Devil's Palace?
Oh, like I said. Whenever I can get in with Alchemist, I'll do that. I've been in Cocaine Piñata mode, but like I said, getting in with Alchemist is on my to-do list. I wanna do the joint with him and Scarface together. I've had so many dreams of dope records that need Alchemist to make come to life.
Looking up to Scarface, did it make you nervous that he was jumping on "Broken"?
Can't say he made me nervous, but I was definitely humbled by the experience of working with him. I admire everything about it, not just as a rapper, but also as a person. So, I just appreciate the total experience period.
Are there other rappers you still look up to that same degree?
Yes, definitely. Jay Z, Too Short, E-40 — you know, guys of that nature, and guys from my area. They're putting down and maintaining their relevance still to this day.
Was "Broken" one of the more difficult records to make for this album? Are they're songs on this album that can equate to "World So Cold" in the sense that you can't play them back too often?
Yeah, I mean, because it's so raw, so real, so personal — yeah, it's definitely one of the most difficult tracks to make, but it flowed out so easy. But it was definitely an emotional rollercoaster. Sometimes I can [play it back], sometimes I can't. I gotta be in the mood for it.
Obviously one of the most talked about singles is "Real," and everything it discusses about Young Jeezy. Has anyone from CTE reached out to you yet?
Don't you just love Young Jeezy? I love talking about Young Jeezy! They ain't gonna say nothing. What can they say? It ain't like I'm lying. If I was lying, they would've said something but I'm not lying. I have no problems with anybody else [in CTE], and hopefully they don't want no problems with me. I have love for those guys. But I don't really have no problem with Jeezy, man. I had a quick disagreement that I spoke on, and I spoke on how I felt pertaining to the disagreement that me and him had. But other than that, I don't have no other personal problem with him. I don't wake up thinking about Young Jeezy. We had an argument, I took it to wax, and that was that. It is what it is. I'm not worry about him dissing me back, I'm not worry about none of that, and I'm definitely not worried about my physical safety. It was just good music. I'm passed that, but I just had to put it on the album, the song's so good.
If he responded back, would that be the end of it?
If he responds back, then we gon' keep making tracks. He don't wanna get into that. He don't wanna get into a back and forth, know what I mean? That ain't what he wants. That's not what I got to it for. I didn't do it to get a response, know what I'm saying? I did it to show how I felt and express my feelings. I didn't do it all "Man, wait 'til he responds" and get into a back and forth, cause he knows that's what that'll go into. That'll definitely go into a back and forth battle, and he can't win. He can't win that battle with me, but we can keep going 'cause I got the energy to make a song every time, but we ain't gonna get into that. It ain't even that type of situation.
Taking from your experiences with major label signings, if you had a piece of advice or lesson you'd have to share with a up-and-coming artist, what would it be?
Always take control of your career. Even through that situation, I had control of my career, that's why I was able to walk away from it and do what I had to do, know what I'm saying? It was always me keeping control of my career. Keep your eyes open. I'm not saying don't rock with an artist or nothing like that, just always have control.
You've said that when you were on that 2010 XXL "Freshman" cover, you were still in the dope game. Has leaving that behind strengthened your focus on the music?
Yeah, definitely. Because I'm making more money in rap, I don't gotta do that shit no more.
It's heavily debated that the XXL cover doesn't always help the artists on it. How important was gaining the publicity off that cover for your career? Did it play a role in your success?
It was great. Shoutouts to XXL for making that jump, and making that move to put me on there because they didn't have to. Pretty much every other artist on there was sign to a major label, except for like, me and Jay Rock or something like that, but everybody on there had a deal. Everybody else on there was straight politics. I was one of the only guys on there with no politics involved. After everything I did in my career, it was all sheer steel. I think they showed that, and the people who voted me on represented that, as well as the editors and the writers there at the time. That was one of the last real covers where they really put guys on there because of their sheer talent, and not because of the little buzz that they're label created or their label bought ads in the magazine or whatnot.
Cocaine Piñata just cane out, but you already have another album near done. What's Eastside Slim about?
Eastside Slim is gonna be like, I don't wanna say a continuation of Cocaine Piñata, but it's gonna be something that's futuristic. It's a different style, but it's gonna be like the story of some guy who has some money, and trying to maintain it. Just walking that fine line of the streets. It's gonna be like a movie on wax — that's the kind of experience I'm trying to bring with all my records. There's definitely gonna be stories about violence, drugs, women and sex, we gonna put all that on wax, and Eastside Slim is gonna culminate that. You know, Piñata took you inside my mind and showed you my struggle, but Eastside Slim is gonna show you the fruits of my labour and the things I got deal with to maintain that.
As far as the album is concerned, what artists/producers are you working with on this?
I'm working with a lot of producers from Canada. My homie Pops, my homie Mikhail... working with Matt Burnett, Jordan Evan. I'm working with Mike Dean... I just went to the studio with Nez and Rio, [and] probably gonna do some things with those guys. I like those guys. And you know, I'll have Madlib come in and do some records on there, and Madlib will probably sequence it and arrange it, and things of that nature. It's definitely gonna be a project. Madlib put that feel on Cocaine Piñata that made it like a movie, and that's the feel we're gonna put on every project here on out. Oh Canada, I love Canada! Canada produced most of Eastside Slim, that's crazy! I can't wait to come to Canada, but I got two gun charges though, that's the only thing. I can't wait to come to Toronto!
Mentally, musically, physically, spiritually, is it safe to say you're the strongest you've ever been?
Definitely, in all aspects of life. I'm the strongest I've ever been, especially lyrically. I don't think nobody can really stop me, you know, with the pen game right now. As far as lyrics, as far as being one of the top spitters, I think I can get there. I'm in that mode right now.
Realizing your rights and wrongs, and everything that's made you who you are, do you have any thoughts on giving back to the community you may have taken from in the past?
I definitely be giving back to the community. I'm gonna be doing a school supplies drop-off with my Mom at the end of the summer. You know I gave brand new shoes to my old high school football team, I do the turkey drive... there's all kinds of things in the community man. I know what I've done and the places that I've been in the community, so I definitely add some positive to the mix at all times.
By the end of the year, what do you want to have accomplished?
I just want Cocaine Piñata to be the rap album of the year. If I can get the credit I deserve — cause I feel like I rapped my ass off on that album. Somebody else may come out with a record that's a little more catchy and whatnot, it might be more mainstream and they might write the song of the year, but as far as flat-out rapping, I feel like I did that the best this year and I wanna be recognized for that.
Who do you want that recognition from? The blogs, the award committees…?
The whole rap community! [laughs] At the end of the day, I don't really care about the awards or accolades, as long as y'all crown me the "Underground King," that's alright with me.