If good things do come in threes, the past six months of Freddie Gibbs' life have been the perfect example. Earlier this year, the rapper from Gary, IN, and his fiancé welcomed their first child into the world, while on the business side, Gibbs released his own unique strain of cannabis in October, dubbed "Freddie Kane OG." Now he's about to drop his second solo album, Shadow of a Doubt, out November 20 on ESGN.
"If Piñata was a term paper, then this shit is like recess," Gibbs tells Exclaim! from his Indiana hometown. "This is that after-school right here. With Shadow of a Doubt, I feel like I got a clip with a million bullets in it and I can't stop firing. That's what this shit sounds like."
While the cold-blooded tales of street life, murder and drug-running that the man built his career around are indeed still present, the positive nature of his recent life events has given him a varied emotional intelligence that is demonstrated on his new record.
Citing Shadow of a Doubt as a project of growth, Gibbs put himself up to taking what he calls "musical risks" by singing hooks with strong melodies on "Careless" and "Lately" and choosing beats that lean heavily towards R&B for "Insecurities" and the AutoTune-laden "Basketball Wives." In the name of progression, these risks have proven worthwhile.
"If you don't evolve, you're going to stay stagnant," he says. "I feel like we get caught up a lot in that with rap, especially gangsta rap because n****s think they got to be hard all the time and they caught up in telling us about the same shit. Of course I'm going to talk about the streets, the drugs, the gangs and the prostitution. But you can't limit yourself to doing the same thing over and over."
Gibbs has also taken strides within his more familiar rap territory, with the record's most rewarding material produced by an equally progressive group of producers. Tarentino of 808 Mafia provides some Southern flavour with the bass-heavy banger "Packages," a beat that Gibbs promptly tears to shreds with a razor-tongued verse. Boi-1da and Frank Dukes connected with BADBADNOTGOOD to deliver the ominous yet peaceful album highlight "Fuckin' Up the Count," a reflection on the grit and greed that comes with drug dealing.
Fellow Torontonian Mikhail flipped Bob James' jazzy "Nautilus" in creative fashion for Gibbs to go bar for bar with Black Thought of the Roots on "Extradite," a record that was cut in what Gibbs calls "one of the greatest sessions I've ever had."
"I feel like [Black Thought] is criminally underrated," Gibbs explains. "I believe he's one of the best rappers outright. In this game, you want to rap with certain guys to see if you can hold your own. With that spirit in mind, he and I made a good record."
Amidst all the recent successes and major labels phoning his team daily to tender recording contracts, Gibbs remains driven by his identity as a successful independent artist to continue to work unsigned.
"I don't have the same expectations placed upon me as other types of artists do, especially those signed to majors with the pressures of first week sales and certain singles," he explains. "All this is fun to me, and we're making a lot of money off it, so I feel like I have the best of both worlds."
But did the self-proclaimed "Baby Face Killa" ever see this kind of success beyond a shadow of a doubt in his earlier years?
"Hell yeah I did," he replies coolly. "And I know you've heard motherfuckers telling you when they get interviewed, 'Oh man, I never saw myself getting here.' Yeah I saw myself getting here, and I see myself getting even bigger. If I didn't see that, then I wouldn't have ever started this shit. It was God's plan and mine together."