In a new collaboration with The Alchemist, Freddie Gibbs has created an ode to the black community, disguised as an album about Italian American Mob culture. In his star-studded collection, Gibbs collaborates with Rick Ross, Tyler the Creator, Benny the Butcher and Conway the Machine, expanding his circle of passionately artistic activists. His work projects the cyclical nature of violence, secrecy and unaddressed trauma within the black community, received with the ease of vintage American soul.
Dropped on the May 29, Gibbs released his work only four days after a huge surge in support towards the Black Lives Matter movement– a response sparked by the death of George Floyd, a black American citizen. It is clear from his Twitter and Instagram pages that this is a discussion between Freddie Gibbs and the public, as the album has been embraced in chants, banners and t-shirt slogans by protestors. Recycling a staple reference throughout hip-hop, the collection glorifies the criminality of the mafia, with the album cover reworked from The Godfather books. The work alludes to the Italian mobs of the 1900s, where racist tensions, conflict and violence mirror the societal state of America today.
While Gibbs grabs your attention with the husky grit of his voice, the album houses an easy-going soundscape, formed from licks of electric guitar, a bumbling bass and a slow head-bobbing drum. The sonic scene is reminiscent of the Mob: dark, eerily calm, awaiting confrontation.
Before you have time to process his aloof lines, the artist is onto the next one, loading every sentence with criticism, debate, and occasionally humour. Slap and tickle is a recurring theme throughout the album, resulting in a work that thrives on shock. In just one instance, Gibbs lightheartedly labels Italian-Americans ‘sweeter than Joe Exotic’, quickly contrasting this with a reference to Assara Shakur, a black fugitive who was wrongly convicted of murder, and is still on the run today.
The opening track takes the listener through a time-warp into mafia-ridden New York, with the title ‘1985’. The song is loaded with allusions to the titular year, blending radio recordings of black activists with Gibbs’ own personal stories; it’s an implicitly political intro to a complex album shaded by nostalgia and memories of watching Michael Jordan.
‘Skinny Suge’ mentions the cult film Back to the Future (1985) giving a pedestrian relatability to what is otherwise quite a dense album, packed in with a play on words. The collection continues to reflect both the future and the past, reiterating the timeless troubles the black community continue to face. Concealed by a gorgeous guitar solo and a smooth pounding drum, it is almost a task to concentrate on these dark lyrics. As one of the most heart-breaking stories of his collection, Gibbs explains he was “literally selling dope to rap” when his Uncle “died off an overdose” from substances he had supplied.
‘Look at Me’ is in a similar vein to Frank Ocean or Miguel, opening with violins, trumpets and angelic backing vocals. Despite its soothing sound, the tune once again houses gritty lyrics, this time about speed: cocaine and fast cars building the trope. Concluding with a sample from the 70s film The Black Godfather, Gibbs clouds the track with nostalgia, whilst shining a light on the dark truth to unfortunately common crime-ridden lives. In ‘Scotty Beam’, a track reminiscent of J. Coles K.O.D album, Rick Ross joins Gibbs for a politically loaded anthem. As arguably the most relevant song of the collection, it is no surprise that Gibbs’ lyrics have been used in BLM protests throughout America and the UK. Evidently addressing the modernity of discrimination, Gibbs bleakly states: “My execution might be televised” due to the “revolution” becoming a “genocide”.
One of the albums clearest statements on equality can be found in ‘God is Perfect’, where the artist promotes a change in mentality from the public: “And all of a sudden you’ll realise I’m on the wrong page. Or I’m on the right page but I’m on the wrong note. And I’ve got to get in sync with everyone else to realise what’s happening in this country.”
The nostalgia of the album leads each cautionary tale to become lost – until you focus on the lyrics. The album provides the listener with an awakening, from placing attention on the pleasant sound of the music to the hard-hitting truth of its vocals. It is a call to arms by Gibbs to dismantle stigma surrounding ethnic minorities, through an unapologetic lullaby.
Words by Harriet Fisk.