For about five years, Freddie Gibbs has made a name for himself as one of hip-hop’s most prolific and consistent rappers. The Gary MC has been dropping mixtapes since 2004, but he broke out in 2009 with The Miseducation Of Freddie Gibbs tape and ever since, he’s released at least one mixtape, EP or album per year. His lyrics are a throwback to no-nonsense, hard-as-nails gangsta rap.
As the rapper entered his 30s, he’s improved his craft the entire way. His Midwestgangstaboxframecadillacmuzik mixtape still remains a career highlight, but he’s managed to grow and mature his sound. He’s an incredibly versatile rapper. He can hold down a feature-heavy track or keep listeners engaged by himself for long stretches of time. Gibbs is an MC that rarely takes a verse off, making sure that the quantity of his releases is matched with an unmistakable quality.
2014’s Pinata album, completely produced by Madlib, was Gibbs’ most complete project yet. Madlib’s loops were a phenomenal foil to his tales of thugging. Everything was meticulously done, and every beat, verse and feature felt essential to the product. Pinata received a great deal of critical acclaim and numerous accolades, making it a difficult project to follow up.
Yet somehow, Freddie Gibbs’ follow-up album, Shadow of a Doubt, manages to stay right on that same level of quality. If it’s not better than Pinata or just as good, it’s close.
Part of that is because the show belongs to Gibbs and him alone. On Pinata, he had to share the spotlight. Not that there’s anything wrong with that with arguably the greatest underground hip-hop producer of all time, but a release like this allows him to be the sole headliner. On this effort, he proves he doesn’t need someone like Madlib to succeed.
An interesting aspect of Shadow of a Doubt is that it experiments a bit more modern trends. Gibbs isn’t quite a throwback rapper, but where he’s thrived so far in his career is in situations where he can be a classic gangsta rapper over more traditional production. Shadow experiments with some trap beats and even some Auto-Tune. Yet it never feels like a sell-out move and is largely successful (except on the absolutely awful “Basketball Wives,” which is the one moment where you’d wish he would stick to his established lane).
Lyrically, Gibbs continues slinging tales from his life on the streets. “Freddie Gordy” is a dark trip through his life, speaking of his struggles with addiction (“Is you a dope fiend or a dope boy?”) and hopes his daughter won’t see what he’s seen. “F—in’ Up the Count” uses samples of The Wire to help its theme of drug trafficking and the money that comes from it. The samples from the show are used to great effect and Gibbs’ music pairs extremely well with a world as dark and twisted as the drug trade in The Wire
“Careless” is an immediate highlight of the project. His smooth flow on the verse transitions with ease to the melodic hook. Then after he’s done there he’s right back to switch it up to his original flow for the second verse. It’s certainly a surprise, but another highlight of this Freddie Gibbs record is his ability to transition from rapping to singing.
That singing and more melodic sensibility overall is further proof of Gibbs’ adaptability. He can rap over almost any beat. Whether it’s a trap banger, a traditional boom-bap banger or something in between, Gibbs knows exactly what flow and cadence to use to make his voice mesh with the beat. You can put him over any instrumentation: looping pianos, blaring horns, booming bass. He’ll kill the track no matter what style you give him to work with.
Gibbs’ adaptability is also evident in his choice of guests. He sounds just as at-home with the ignorant raps of E-40 and Gucci Mane on “10 Times” as he does with the more “conscious” stylings of Black Thought on “Extradite.” Whereas many rappers will get whatever guest feature they have to just spit the verse they want regardless of content on a track, Freddie Gibbs makes sure he has chemistry with the rappers and singers with whom he shares songs. If you’re on a track with Gibbs, you’re going to fit the theme and vibe of the song. There’s a deliberate feel to a Freddie Gibbs product. Very rarely does anything feel inessential or out of place.
That’s what makes the misstep with “Basketball Wives” all the more baffling. Yes, Gibbs proves that he can work a more melodic style well on other parts of the album, but that entire track is all Auto-Tune and sing-songy. If he’s going to sing, it needs to be balanced off with his trademark hard-nosed rapping. It’s nice to see him step out of his lane a little bit, but the track is a failed experiment that takes away from the quality of the entire record.
Even with that miss, Shadow of a Doubt, much like Gibbs’ entire discography, has an incredibly high batting average. Rappers that take years between releases can’t manage the same consistency as him. It’s amazing that he’s able to produce so many quality projects every year or even every few months. Shadow of a Doubt is yet another great addition to the Freddie Gibbs canon.