Integrity is paramount to Freddie Gibbs.
Boasting a polished midwestern style that effortlessly shifts from rapid fire to slow flow throughout, the Gary, Indiana native laces his Decon Records debut EP -- Str8 Killa -- with unabashedly gangster tales depicting the consequences and repercussions of hustling for survival, never glamorizing the street life’s unsavory nature. “My homie’s 16 and won’t see daylight till he’s 64 / That’s how we’re living though / With limited opportunity / Twisted off reefer / Parents and teachers could not get through to me,” he raps over the Block Beattaz' stadium-sized production on album opener “Str8 Killa No Filla." The Jay Rock-assisted “Rep 2 Tha Fullest” reinforces Gangsta Gibbs’s intent on showing both halves of the dark side while quickly separating himself from other rappers publicly pimping a life they’ve never lived. “Rap is for dick suckers and divas / I don’t recall these / type of niggas living and breathing where I reside at...so little niggas go to school get right / The shit I’m doing, nigga, you could do life / Before I picked up a mic I earned my stripes.”
Str8 Killa’s highpoint comes on the appropriately entitled, LA Riot produced, “National Anthem (Fuck The World),” where Gibbs details the dilapidated conditions of his hometown, his eventual dismissal from Interscope Records, and the struggle to make music for “the midwest streets that need [his] voice” -- over a righteously anthemic beat designed to rattle trunks rolling down any highway in America. “Personal OG” provides the obligatory salute to the sticky green, while “The Coldest” and it’s radio-ready hook (courtesy of BJ The Chicago Kid) and sublime Kno production adds just as much depth and perspective as any other offering on the EP, proving Gangsta Gibbs can play in the commercial sandbox and still come out clean -- never sacrificing his message for the masses.
And there lies Str8 Killa’s lasting legacy: Freddie’s ability to delve deeper into the psychology behind the gangster life. He attacks each track with enough angst and honesty to force you to relate to his “struggle” without ever experiencing it personally. The visceral nature of his music is what makes him an artist, not just a rapper. Gibbs largely accomplishes this feat throughout Str8 Killa, but never more potently than on the Bun B-assisted, Beatnik & K-Salaam produced, “Rock Bottom :
“If you a man, then put some muthafucking food on the table / That’s what she said / But still a nigga wasn’t able / To get up some bread for the rent, lights and cable / The gas and water / She’s acting like I’m trying to starve her / And I know the baby growing in her belly gotta eat too / Only thing I got left is this gun on my belt / If I can’t feed myself, how am I going to feed you?”
The nine-song EP ends with “Oil Money” , featuring Chuck Inglish, Chip Tha Ripper and Bun B kicking braggadocio raps over the Blended Babies' brooding backdrop and Dan Auerbach’s (of The Black Keys) melancholy hook acutely highlighting Str8 Killa’s underlying theme: “This is a lullaby not intended to make you cry / But to open up your eyes / And in this lullaby / You got to do right before you die.”
From mic to plug, Str8 Killa is a Gangsta Rap album in the historical sense of the classification. It’s aggressive and angst injected, loaded with causality and consequences and lyrical skill, leaving an indelible impression through it’s honesty, vulnerability and solid beats. Besides "National Anthem," none of the productions give Gibbs the tour de force his detailed lyrics call for. This is a breakthrough effort, that still shines as the UGK and Masta Ace-influenced emcee finds his musical canvas to wax poetic best. With what's given, Freddie never glamorizes the lifestyle or the choices made to survive. In fact, he goes out of his way to reinforce the opposite -- that living the gangster life is nothing to strive towards. Excluding the first verse on “Str8 Killa No Filla”, weed song “Personal OG” and his only verse on "Oil Money," every stanza kicked contains both sides of the proverbial coin, the trials and trepidation. Although the Block Beattaz produced “Live By The Game” sonically feels like generic radio mediocrity -- resulting in the EP’s lone skippable cut -- Gibbs still delivers real life raps. His inability to fabricate for the sake of financing shines throughout, making him a modern emcee with throwback sensibilities. And one of the few new rappers capturing the essence of Gangsta Rap specifically and Hip Hop as whole: integrity, or die trying.