It's Friday night in Pittsburgh, at the city's premier Hip Hop venue, the Shadow Lounge, the location for the the L-R-Generation tour-stop. Opening performances by tourmate The Kid Daytona and heralded local emcee-duo Varsity Squad entertained a comfortably crowded audience, leading to a welcoming response as headliner Freddie Gibbs took the stage.
Gibbs’ guest deejay rocked track-to-track, as Gibbs blessed the mic with his polished flow and controlled the crowd with an eased-yet-commanding stage presence. It wasn't long into his performance that Gibbs revealed his full-back tattoo of Black Panther Party co- founder Huey Newton.
Since signing with Young Jeezy’s Corporate Thugz Entertainment, Gibbs has been acknowledged by HipHopDX as a 2011 "Graduate." With a Scarface collaboration track near completion, and mixtape A Cold Day In Hell on the brink of release, Gibbs sat down with DX in the Steel City to discuss his progression. Never one to bite his tongue, we wanted to take a deeper look into the man known as Gangsta Gibbs.
Freddie Gibbs Breaks Down Gary, Indiana Hip Hop History
HipHopDX: The dopest Gary, Indiana Hip Hop story... You had guys like CCA, Will Scrilla... What defines Gary Hip Hop?
Freddie Gibbs: You just said it... CCA, Will Scrilla, and MCGz they started it and I'm just an extension of that. Gary, Indiana Rap... Most of the rappers are like thug music, it ain't really like a "free-Hip Hop, battle-like" scene. All the niggas that I know that rap is killas, straight thug niggas... It ain't no open mics or nothing to sharpen your craft... It's like, nigga I'm hustlin', I wanna be like Scarface. We bump Scarface.... Scarface like God to us.
DX: Building off that, in the '90s I know there were a lot of rap artists that were heavily involved in the streets, that may have faded from or never broke through the rap scene because they didn't want their faces on camera. How do you find a balance in that?
Freddie Gibbs: You gotta watch what you do. Every street nigga ain't no rapper and every rapper ain't no street nigga. You know? I can't help it that this is the part of the game that I'm good at. Of course you gotta watch what you say and watch what you do and who you associated with cause all that shit can backfire on you. But you know, it's all how you move man. Be smart and you'll be alright.
DX: Can you talk about the influence your mom had on you?
Freddie Gibbs: Yeah, my mom don't take no shit. My mom's from the hood, from 17th and Pennsylvania. In an apartment with 10 mothafuckas, my mom... she's a strong bright woman, she's a model of what a Black woman should be. She's got the best work ethic I've ever seen. My mom definitely gave me my work ethic.
DX: There was a 13-month-old boy who was murdered on the corner of you mom's street...
Freddie Gibbs: Yeah, his name was Josiah Shaw. That's like one of the meanest situations that happened right there. It was a situation where a girl's baby-dad was shooting at her. There was another incident where a guy who killed his baby over some dispute. A lot of that shit, I hate to say it, but that's kinda the norm, kids getting killed. Mothafuckas just too young dying... 25 on down to babies. Really all that does is note that violent tone. When you got a lot of mothafuckas struggling, the violence is gonna increase, cause that's where their mind set is at. They're on the edge already.
DX: In Gary, Indiana there weren't many record labels....
Freddie Gibbs: Not a record label.
DX: Right, not a single record label. Venues... probably limited, if any, that are supporting rap music.
Freddie Gibbs: Very limited. And with the crime rate it's hard to do a show in Gary. People don't wanna come, 'cause you do a gangsta Rap show... I know what I do, and I know the type of crowd that that sometimes can attract, so I understand why some promoters and clubs would say, “Nah man, I don't wanna fuck with that. I don't want a shootout in my club.” That element of it makes it a little more harder, cause a lot of mothafuckas don't know how to act. So, it's definitely difficult to burst on the scene from Gary, even with the Internet. The Internet is flooded, any mothafucka can sit on the Internet now. You gotta sift through that bullshit. You gotta have something special coming out of there.
DX: Do you think that mentality of “this is the way it is here, but I'm gonna break through regardless” is a mentality that you're born with or something that develops over time?
Freddie Gibbs: You just gotta have confidence I think. I said it from the jump that I wasn't gonna do this shit unless I was gonna do it to the fullest. I messed up opportunities before that and made mistakes, so I just really wanted to take this one serious. If I felt like I couldn't compete on a level with the top niggas in the game then I wouldn't have fucked with it. But, I know I can do that. You know, my confidence level is just always high, so in my eyes it wasn't about where I was from, it was just “can I out-rap the rest of these mothafuckas.”
DX: Have you learned more from your failures or successes?
Freddie Gibbs: Both. You gotta learn from that and also pat yourself on the back sometimes.
DX: Dan Hinkel. 2008. Northwest Indiana Times. He said, “Gibbs sees himself moving the Jay-Z kind of album numbers.” In 2011, signing with Jeezy, how will that translate?
Freddie Gibbs: When it's time for me to drop that major label album that they're gonna market and sell in Wal-Mart, then yeah, I think it'll go. It's all about progression, you gotta know what level you want to go to in this game. That statement right there was just a testament of where my confidence is at and the level I compete on in this game. You know, Jay-Z really set the standard to how high you can really go.
Freddie Gibbs Speaks To The Changing Importance Of Album Sales
DX: Do you think album sales are still the best measure of success?
Freddie Gibbs: Nah, not at all. I think...albums, they sell or whatever, but not like they used to, so I don't think that's the best market for success right now. 'Cause there's albums right now that go gold that I think if they would've came out in '96 they would've sold more. You know, with the digital shit and people moving in different ways to get their music, it definitely brought about a decline in the album sales. That's why everybody's making headphones now. So, I don't think that's the best measure. You got a lot of guys making a lot of money in this game whether they sell records or not. It's just all about who's the most consistent I think.
DX: And I think it's about who's listening. A lot of cats brag about download numbers, which you can kind of translate. But, I'd rather have 500 downloads and 500 listens than 10 million downloads and --
Freddie Gibbs: -- Right, and one person listening. Exactly. A lot of these downloads and views and shit be fabricated, man. There's nothing digital that I 100% trust. There's all kinds of tricks to the game to keep mothafuckas popular. I just think we gotta give the people what they want. I think mothafuckas want that raw street element in the music back. You know, there's not too much of that, especially in the commercial market. Everything is so watered-down, milk-toast, vanilla. It's so many vanilla-ass Rap niggas right now, man, just boring-ass mothafuckas. I'm not really interested in their story. Like mothafuckas back in the day, I was interested. I wanted to be like Bun B or Pimp C on their [UGK] record. The shit they were talking about was fascinating to me. And to take it to a whole other level of the game... A Tribe Called Quest, they were some interesting mothafuckas. You know, it ain't all about whether its gangsta or not, its just that the music gotta peak my interest. The way mothafuckas did the creativity, and the artistic thing or whatever, got niggas to go to the record stores and buy those records. If UGK was coming out with an album I would want the CD. I would want to flip through the liner notes. It ain't nothing that's out right now that makes me wanna flip through the liner notes. Talk about No Limit [Records]... you went out and bought all those CDs 'cause you wanted to see what was coming out next, or who made what beat. You used to cherish shit like that. Now mothafuckas just giving you 10 – 15 songs, they're not giving you an experience no more. And that experience is what I'm trying to bring back.
DX: No Limit was like 40 "Coming soon's" [Laughs]
Freddie Gibbs: Right, it ain't an experience no more. It ain't a thrill, no rush. You just like, “Aight, I got the new-whoever CD, I downloaded it.” You see it on message boards, everybody got it, you got it a day early or whatever. And then next week the thrill is gone. You're not enjoying that project, it ain't nothing in it. That's why the record labels is scratching their head like, “how come we aren't selling these albums?” 'Cause you selling a nigga 10 – 15 songs, you're not selling them a lifestyle.
DX: Geto Boys... You did a few joints with N.O. Joe, and you just did a joint with Scarface if I'm not mistaken.
Freddie Gibbs: Yep. I wasn't in the studio, but I sent it to him.
DX: Is that on Baby Face Killa?
Freddie Gibbs: Cold Day In Hell.
Freddie Gibbs Explains Influence Of Scarface And The Geto Boys
DX: What was it like working with Scarface?
Freddie Gibbs: Man, it's a dream come true. We've been talking on the phone the past week. We about to meet up tomorrow. So, it's like...he's definitely one of the reasons I rap. I always speak highly of guys like him and Bun, 'cause they're my favorite rappers. The first time I talked to him I told him, man, [Geto Boys'] We Can't Be Stopped was the first Rap tape that I ever owned. That shit was like the soundtrack to my life. His music raised me. The Diary, The Untouchable, Mr. Scarface is Back... All of that, that was like my daddy in my headphones all day. That was the only mothafuckas talking about everything that I was seeing. On my walk to school... dope house, prostitutes, gang bangin'...everything he was saying was relevant. Sesame Street ain't gonna give you that shit, nigga. You ask most niggas from my area that grew up who their favorite rapper is, they gon' say Scarface. Fa' sho... Willie D.
DX: The Cold Day In Hell cover...It's busy, you got the skulls...
Freddie Gibbs: Yeah, everybody been talking about that shit today. I didn't even drop the song, I just dropped the cover. [Laughs]
DX: Give me some background... You've got the skulls, the dice, bag full of money...
Freddie Gibbs: ...Ski mask. Got me standing about the one Gary landmark, the Palace Theater where the Jackson 5 performed. You got the old industrial steel mills in the background. It's a bunch of fuckin' chaos. It's everything that I think my city is right now, it's chaotic.
DX: Were you around when they filmed Original Gangstas?
Freddie Gibbs: Yeah, they did that shit in my neighborhood, right over on 14th and Carolina. They shot part of it over there in the park. They shot some in East Chicago. Yeah, I seen that shit. I'm glad I wasn't in that movie man. [Laughs] I just watched it all go down. Niggas in Gary liked that shit 'cause Fred Williamson actually came back and did something in the community, know what I mean? We wish Michael Jackson would've came back and did some shit in the community. It's just fucked up that the richest, most influential, music family in music history is from Gary. But you look at that mothafucka and you would never know.
DX: You performed at the first VIA Festival here in Pittsburgh, which is mostly electronic music. Then you did South By Southwest, and from what I understand you were between two indie rock acts.
Freddie Gibbs: It shows I'm versatile, man. You can't really put me in a box. I rap about gangsta shit 'cause that's just what I am. If these mothafuckas over here feel it the way I bring it across then that's what's up. That just shows that what I'm doing, and the way I bring it across, is bigger than just some ghetto shit. It expands over. If a dude in the suburbs can understand what I'm talking about, then shit... I could do them Jay-Z numbers you was talking about.
DX: Reflecting back... from VIA, to Decon Records, South By Southwest, doing the album with Statik Selektah in a day, to signing with Jeezy...
Freddie Gibbs: And I got a secret album with this producer that's crazy.
DX: Secret albums! It's an adventure, man. Music artists are entrepreneurs. You gotta have a passion for this and love the adventure. And going through all that, dating back to the mixtapes that dropped in '04. Can you just describe the adventure of day-to-day progressing.
Freddie Gibbs: Damn, you said '04...that's crazy. The last seven years been crazy. It's been a rollercoaster...went up, a big-ass drop down, and then a climb back up. That's how I look at it. One day I was on my corner, selling dime-bags, and I got a call from Interscope [Records] and I was in California and I had a record deal. A year later, them niggas kicked me out. [Laughs] And I was back to selling dime-bags. Now I'm progressing in the game a little more, and I'm gaining notoriety. So, like I said it was up, then a big drop down, and a climb back up. It's been great man just being able to do something that I love to do, and getting to the point where I can comfortably do it now. 'Cause this shit took a lot of up... late at night, hustlin', stealin', a lot of shit I ain't wanna do just to get money to be able to do this shit...to press up a CD, to pay a promoter to get on a show, or to pay for gas to travel. A nigga ain't have no job...if you really wanna make it in this shit you can't have no job, nigga. You can't really be doing a nine-to-five if you wanna be a rapper.
DX: L-R-G sponsoring this tour now that you're headlining...
Freddie Gibbs: Hell yeah, 'cause I wear that shit. I still be buying that shit. If I got to the store and see some shit they didn't give me, I be like “this some bullshit. Give me that shit.” And I buy that shit, nigga. If you get it from them it fit better. This shit off the rack don't fit the same. So, my shit is tailored to fit me.
DX: Eight-city tour, though... Headlining it...
Freddie Gibbs: Man, 9th Wonder headlining this shit, I'm just up there rapping with him.
DX: 9th Wonder wasn't here tonight.
Freddie Gibbs: I mean, I can do my thing without him. But I'm just thankful to be on it with him, he's a legend. Fucking with my nigga [Kid] Daytona, we about to how fun on this shit. If you can't have fun at work you fucked up, you need to quit your job.