The chilled-out cult of Madlib embraces a surly gangsta
As of late, the best releases from the Stones Throw/Madlib Invazion camp have been exercises in extremes. They're either big, obnoxious beat-tape tomes like Jonwayne's Oodles of Doodles and Madlib Medicine Show series, or bite-sized, near rip-offs that leave you wanting more, like Homeboy Sandman's EPs (Subject: Matter and Chimera), and the Thuggin' EP from Freddie Gibbs and Madlib, a confusing gangsta/indie crossover that arrived before Killer Mike and El-P. The Shame EP, the latest MadGibbs project, pushes the limit for how little new music you can release and still get away with it: There are two songs here, one of which is barely more then a minute long, plus instrumentals, a cappellas, and a pair of wobbly "Bonus Beats.” All of it adds up to less than 15 minutes of music.
Freddie Gibbs isn't exactly a traditionalist gangsta rapper, though that has long been the way he's been sold — as an interesting, just-new-enough-sounding throwback. Most street rappers tend to be obnoxious hardheads or sentimentalists hiding behind a mean-mug. Gibbs is a cold-hard-facts guy who sees the world as eat or get eaten. Everything is what it is to Gibbs. There are still room for some life lessons, though they are Darwinian, and rarely redemptive. "Terrorist," is a simple tale of a drug dealer ("Young, black, felonious, red-blooded American") redefined as a threat to the nation and then, a few lines in, the lyrics turn inward and it's clear that Gibbs is talking about himself: "Scum of the earth, for what it's worth / I been handling probation well / Smoking blunts, 36 months, and I ain't seen the jail / Making music to make some mail, fuck recognition." There's your grace note. The bitter hustler has become a bitter rapper. Good for him, I guess. "Shame," is about one-night stands and suggests to the female involved that it only has to be regret-filled if you allow it, which is smarter than the slut-shaming that dominates sex raps, now more than ever.
Madlib's a guy who surely can coast and get away with it, though even his most tossed-off production has something that'll reveal itself to you eventually. "Shame" is a big swooping single that's a little more ambitious than either Gibbs or Madlib are used to, complete with a classic soul hook from the blog world's Trey Songz, BJ The Chicago Kid. Madlib seamlessly weaves the Manhattans' "I Wish You Were Mine" with BJ's vocal, and then, there in the background, is another layer of paranoid, bugged-out sounds — a rickety squeak of noises, a distant voice muttering. "Terrorist" is a watery loop of Maynard Ferguson's oft-sampled "Mister Mellow" sped up a little bit, over and out in a minute's time.
The brevity of Shame makes it addictive, though. The instrumentals here are plenty of fun to hear, and so are the bonus beats, and even Gibbs' a cappellas, because his rapping is so up-and-down melodic, are engaging when they stand alone. They're not, well, uncomfortable to listen to like a lot hip-hop vocal tracks. "Terrorist" easily could pass for spoken-word. And for the record nerd, Shame is just a really nice, physical product. The bright red cover with drippy red lips that'll stand out in a stack of wax or look pretty sweet in one of those stupid record frames on your wall. There's a bad-ass back cover photo of an out-of-focus dude holding a shotgun. It's an aesthetic experience. The simple fact that it's a rap 12-inch in the year 2012, with bonus beats, to boot, is worth celebrating. Then again, isn't every Madlib production a bonus beat?