Breaking Out: Freddie Gibbs

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Freddie Gibbs, shot for SPIN's September 2011 issue by Michael Flores
WRITTEN BY
Amos Barshad

In 2007, Interscope Records did Freddie Gibbs a favor. They dropped the Gary, Indiana rapper before he released a record. Undaunted, Gibbs put out two unflinching mixtapes, midwestgangstaboxframecadillacmuzik and The Miseducation of Freddie Gibbs, influenced by '90s G-funk and largely built on stark, steely beats collected on the major ?label's dime. By the end of 2009, there was a groundswell of critical acclaim that, surprisingly, culminated in a review in the heady pages of The New Yorker. "I used to see that magazine and think I wasn't educated enough to read it," Gibbs, 29, recalls. "And to see myself inside it, with a big-ass picture? Words can't describe it."

Post-Interscope and pre-New Yorker, Gibbs had struggled to pay the bills. So he returned to an old hustle. "You a rapper in your neighborhood and you get dropped by a label, it's embarrassing to go back to selling crack," he admits. "I cut corners, swindled a couple of people. I did whatever I had to do to get what ?I needed. That mentality continues to carry ?me today."

As does his talent. Take, for example, the first verse on his 2010 single, the stirring street-economics explication "National Anthem (Fuck the World)." Gibbs inches into his mournful fatalism, then slides into double time, revving up feverishly before ending with a punchy internal rhyme: "Niggas better keep a vest / Tech at my testicles / They be vegetables / They gonna respect the flow till I'm gone."

One prominent source of support is Young Jeezy, who signed Gibbs to his label, the Def Jam–distributed CTE (Corporate Thugz Entertainment). This month, Gibbs will be touring with the Rock the Bells festival, while also prepping his Jeezy-backed debut, Baby-Faced Killa, due next year. Considering his new boss was largely responsible for the rise of crack rap in the early 2000s, the pairing was only appropriate. While the new school pushes hip-hop in odder directions, Jeezy and Gibbs represent an axis of hardcore gully attitude. It's a vibe that Gibbs has no problem embodying. At one point in our conversation, he vents about unnamed individuals taking credit for his success, promising to "break they muthafuckin' faces when I see them." Y'all been warned.

Watch: Freddie Gibbs, "National Anthem"
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