Monotony jails growth, but consistency grows legacies. Freddie Gibbs has been rapping since 2004, but he’s ascended from only being unknown among the barz-only set to being arguably the best rapper of 2014 in five years on a torrential wave of vivid tales of his life on the street only matched by Pusha T. He’s a rapper’s rapper who is as good for a “Gangsta Gibbs, hoe” and making “coca cut the curriculum” as Common is good for a “yes, yes y’all” and musings about why love is cool. But, on his latest project Shadow of a Doubt, Gibbs is passed his fixation with “rappity-rap,” as he explained in a recent interview. It’s still Gangsta Gibbs, hoe, but this time with harmonies.
By the time Shadow of a Doubt’s outro “Cold Ass Nigga” fades, it becomes glaringly apparent the album is anchored in two vastly improved traits: singing and song structure. A lot of songs have extended hooks before the chorus with the verse playing more like an equal part in a quintet than the maestro of the entire symphony. Gibbs’s rap ballad about frivolity, “Careless,” is mostly the hook, chorus and a common ending harmony for each verse. By deep in the second half of the album, Gibbs is unrecognizable, more August Alsina than Scarface on “Basketball Wives.” In the interview referenced earlier, Gibbs said he admired Young Thug’s melody work and claimed Drake and Future’s What A Time To Be Alive was the best rap project of the year. If you doubted how serious he was about these assertions, the trapper turnt singer feel of these songs should suffice for evidence.
Here is the uncomfortable truth about the legacy that Gibbs ventures into but never fully succumbs to on Shadow of Death: your foundation will always be where you feel the most comfortable. As noteworthy as his attempts at expanding the universality of his music with an expanded vocal repertoire, sometimes it sounds like he’s forcing the codeine trap Kool-Aid down his throat. The same man who “used to finger fuck her singing Usher” while detailing the perils of lost love on the vivid narrative “Deeper” from his best work yet, Piñanta, is out here making songs like “10 Times” and “Mexico” where lyrics and topics are an afterthought. The Murda Beatz-produced “Mexico” is ripe with common trap rap tropes: rollies, monosyllabic flow, vocally distorted singer comparing cars to women and an uninspired Freddie Gibbs who coasts through the song. This is the lowest point of an album powered on inventive experimentation.
The production on Shadow of A Doubt exists within the spectrum between turnt and somber with soulful tinges permeating through the DNA of a few beats. “Careless” with its
“Fucking Up The Count” is a serious contender for the album’s best song, with Boi-1da and Frank Dukes providing the stuttering drum patterns that lets him deliver a barrage of lyrical couplets married with ominous sounding keys that embolden his dark tales and a brooding bass.
When he ends the album with “Cold Ass Nigga,” the most demonstrably aggressive verse on the album, you realize Shadow of a Doubt isn’t Gibbs flipping to go pop, but a man secure enough in the foundation he has laid to take a leap of faith.