Photo by Julia Schur
Freddie Gibbs takes a lot of pride in his authenticity. As he’s said before and he would tell you again, he’s an OG to the bone, be it in street dealings or his music, which is profoundly devoid of gimmicks or radio ploys. The way Freddie maneuvered the Governor’s Ball Skyy Vodka Stage was in co-ordinance with his bare-bones, anti-glitz, pure gangsta mentality. Gibbs came out rocking a red bandana, a “Parental Advisory” tanktop, and shades, all of which he would shed not long after the intro track (the deceptively acrobatic and catchy “BFK”) was over. In person, he has a muscular, yet surprisingly slim frame: Freddie doesn’t have to fight anyone, he lets either the tools or the rhymes do the work.
He’s so hellbent on letting his words be the bottom line, in fact, that nearly every song of the set ended in the Gary, IN rapper spitting acapella. The several peaks of the show’s energy came when Fred revved up into double and triple-time acapellas to close a song, increasing in speed and intensity as he finished. Gibbs knew that even though he played nearly all his biggest recent songs–“BFK”, “Rob Me A Nigga” (prod. Big K.R.I.T.), “Bout It Bout It” (feat. Kirko Bangz), “B.A.N.ned”, “Menace II Society” (feat. Dom Kennedy and Polyester), and “The Hard” (feat. Dana Williams)–most people would not know the words or the melodies. This meant that while his job was still to show the people a good time, it was also about proving himself. For the first half of each song, Gangsta Gibbs let a mixed crowd of the diehards and the clueless dance and vibe to the rollicking beats, and for the second, he gave them memories, talking points to bring home: heaping helpings of his homegrown, dizzying flow. Because the beat was so often cut, Gibbs’ show didn’t roll along the way that any of the other rap acts at Governor’s Ball did. Instead, it was a 45-minute spectacle, a celebration of talent and rap rather than smash success or of music as a whole.
Freddie Gibbs’ attitude is a large part of what allowed for the odd pacing of his set. To the dismay of the tent’s security staff, Fred paused time and again to have the crowd chant “Fuck po-lice” along with him as he took heavy tokes from the massive blunt he had his hype man spark just before “Kush Cloud” dropped. He was confident without being overwhelming, often reminding the crowd with joy that we were “rocking with Freddie fucking Gibbs” and was even funny as he vented frustration that the crowd wasn’t smoking enough weed. Perhaps most importantly, Gibbs gave his mission statement to those who didn’t know, as he asked, “Is anybody out there still fucking with gangsta rap?” before notifying us of what the astute already knew–he’s bringing it back.
It should be noted that Gibbs’ DJ, while occasionally out of sync with the rapper in terms of when to reenter–Freddie was very focused on his acapellas–was a solid piece of the show. From skillful scratches in time with Freddie’s double-dutch flow to simply sounding like a genuine human being (a rare quality in DJs), the man behind the boards was an asset.
After making sure the crowd was hyped up enough to deserve some new material, Gibbs premiered a track off of his upcoming album ESGN. The track was hook-friendly in the way “BFK” and “Bout It Bout It” are but, most notably, it was hard as nails. Gangsta Gibbs isn’t changing. Why would he?
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