Freddie Gibbs is a rapper from Gary, Indiana

So what are you doing in New York?
I got a show at Highline Ballroom tomorrow night. I got a show in Rhode Island on Friday with Wale. Just making moves, get my face out there, get my music out there—that’s my main focus right now. 

It’s picked up a lot. You were even in New Yorker magazine!
I seen the New Yorker magazine when I was like five years old. I never thought I would ever be in it. But it’s a blessing. Shout out to Sasha Frere-Jones. I gotta hit him up while I’m out here.

You put it in God’s hands and anything can happen. People are recognizing my talent and my work ethic and it’s a total blessing. I’m just glad people can see it and understand what I’m going through.

Do you agree with what Sasha-Frere Jones was arguing? That hip-hop is dead?
Yeah. I agree with some of it. I believe the rap game has changed dramatically and it’s a lot of things that were prevalent in the 90s that ain’t present now. A lot of shit is different.

Do you see yourself as a throwback artist?
That’s what people are labeling me as, a throwback artist, because I take em back to the essence of that sound. But I wouldn’t say I’m a throwback artist, I don’t want to become a novelty, just a nigga that people think does old songs, when that’s not actually the case. I think that I’m actually shaping and forming a new flow, a new form of rap, if you ask me. I don’t think nobody rap like me, and if a nigga rap like me, it was probably ten years ago or something like that. I’m a fan of rap, but I’ve never heard a rapper that sound like Freddie Gibbs.

What do you think of the rap game right now?
I think rap kinda went to this trap rap. I wouldn’t even necessarily call my shit trap rap. It’s drug-dealing, that’s represented because that’s part of my life. But that’s not what all my music is about. All my shit is real stories. I’m not no trap rapper, I’m not no heartthrob rapper, I’m just Gibbs.

How much of it is Gary?
It’s all Gary. I’m the voice of Gary, Indiana right now. I think that everything that I’ve experience within that city has shaped me into who I am today.  Without that, I wouldn’t be me. I’d be some other motherfucker. So I always gotta give props to where I’m from and show love to Gary. That’s what made me, that’s what made this whole Gibbs shit go ‘round, the essence of the whole city, be it good or bad. I’m gonna shine lights on the bad parts and I’m gonna shine light on the good things as well.

In that Pitchfork “Murda on my Mind” video, you mentioned that you tried a bunch of different stuff before rapping. What else did you try?
(laughs) Shit. I was big on sports. Sports was my shit. Played ball in high school and I was all-conference in football. I got an opportunity to play football at Ball State. That was really my only love other than with fucking with my niggas and smoking weed in the streets. Sports was my love, I didn’t really have any other set plan other than that. Throughout high school, I carried that mentality like, oh I play football, I’ll always fall somewhere. I never thought about what I was gonna do after high school if I didn’t play sports. When that reality hit me, it hit me like a ton of bricks and I didn’t know what to do with it.  I’m a motherfucker with short patience; I tried working jobs and all that shit but it never fit me.  I was on someone else’s schedule, couldn’t do what I wanted to do.

The thug shit, it’s always been there. When we was little, we was gangbanging and all that shit, smoking, just being young. I always had that background. All my friends are street niggas. So that street nigga shit was always there. It was always there for me to fall into. Football was my outlet. When I stopped playing ball, this other shit just took control of me. I had to do what I had to do.

When did you realize you wanted to be a rapper? Has it been going on a long time?
Nah. I never rapped. I didn’t start rapping till I was 20. It was something I saw some friends getting into so I started doing it too. Once I started doing it, I saw I was doing it at a higher level than the motherfuckers around me. So why am I going to rap and only be known in Gary, Indiana? It’s only 100,000 people. I need to do something to put myself on a higher plateau, a higher level. Thank God that Interscope called me. It was a fucked up situation, but it was a learning experience and a good opportunity. It opened the window for me to do more shit. 

Archie: Artist’s development for two years basically.

Freddie: That’s all it was.

Why is it so hard to get a rap record out right now?
Archie (Freddie’s Manager): Labels don’t really work records. Ever since Payola went away, where you could literally just pay to get your records played, it’s difficult for labels to get songs played. You can’t just say, “Play this fucking record.” You gotta take ‘em to a strip club. You can’t give ‘em a $50 bill and say, “Play this record.” And that’s what they used to do. A lot of rap is very disposable, it doesn’t last very long. So a lot of times they just look for a single; they just want you to have two singles, and put that out. They don’t care about an album because they don’t make money off of albums. They make money off of singles. That’s what it is. There aren’t many A&R’s because they don’t like developing talent. They want you to do that shit, your manager to do all that. Songs goin’ at radio, and once it’s goin’ at radio, they wanna take over. It’s not one thing. But there’s a dozen little things that add up to the fuckery they got up right now.

Freddie: I’m from Gary, and they don’t know how to market an artist from Gary. They look at it like, I’m not from Atlanta, I’m not from New York, I’m not from LA. I’m not from the norm. This is something totally different.

But doesn’t that matter less now?
Freddie: It matters less now, but in the last three or four years it mattered.

Archie: Blogs are like the new cool record stores. As a kid, I’d see all the records and shit, and that’s how I knew about people. That’s how I knew about Master P, that’s how I knew about a bunch of underground acts, when P was underground. You don’t have that nowadays. But the blogs is kind of a new school version of that. I wish we had this shit in ’06.

Freddie: The A&R that signed me didn’t believe in me. My managers didn’t believe in me. Nobody did. All the managers that were with me, they were only with me because of the check. They didn’t know what the fuck they were doing. They didn’t know what they were fucking with. And that shit’s about to hit them like a ton of bricks.

What are the main things you want to pursue as your career unfolds?
I definitely want to keep making quality music, shit that people feel. I never want to get to the point where people are like “His shit’s fallen off.” I don’t think your rap skills should diminish like that. Cats like Jay-Z, he’s still sharp and he’s still doing his thing. I just want to have a lengthy career like that and still be on the top of my game 20 years down the line.

Who do you admire in rap? Is there anybody you see as a peer or as a good musical comparison?
Nobody. It ain’t really fair to me to compare myself to up-and-coming dudes because I feel like I’m the best up-and-coming dude, and it ain’t fair to compare me to Ice Cube or Jay-Z because I ain’t on their level. That’s the level I’m looking for. All these niggas on my level or lower, I ain’t even paying attention to ‘em. I’m trying to strive to get where Cube is at, where Jay is at, or Snoop is at. I don’t gotta drop them in my rhymes to show that I respect them. Definitely Ice Cube. Five years from now, you’re gonna see me in some movies. That’s definitely what I want to move into. Full-blown. Cube’s my hero. I just want to give people real shit. Our region, the Midwest, has been a consumer region. I think that we have to display our talents so everyone can consume our shit. It’s all about getting that good shit out there. That’s what I’m doing. I do this for people that come up to me and tell me that they love the music.

What’s the creative process like?
I just get the beat, sit there for an hour or two, get it done. I never wear myself thin by putting out too much shit, or doing too much shit. That’s definitely possible, when you do too much shit in a short period of time. You wear yourself thin. You burn yourself. You gotta let the battery charge up. Creativity, you can’t just turn it on like a lightswitch. You gotta be inspired.

Every worry about that going away?
Freddie: Not as long as there’s weed.

Archie: Don’t forget the hoes.

Freddie: Oh yeah. As long as the world’s got hoes, I’ll always be able to make music.

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© 2009

Freddie Gibbs Interview

Corban Goble