Freddie Gibbs is something of a hip-hop chameleon. On the surface, Freddie Gibbs is a hardcore rap purist in the Tupac vein. He produces a brand of old school gangster rap that seems to be fast fading. Despite this, his name is regularly mentioned alongside rappers like MF DOOM or Mac Miller – people ten years his junior, who produce notably varied, softer rap. At 33 and proudly inedpendent, Gibbs knows the importance of staying relevant. From crunk bangers with Young Jeezy to scratchy soulful throwbacks with Danny Brown, Gibbs knows how to adapt.
Touring his second album released on his own label ESGN, Freddie has asserted himself as a king of the underground. Sitting in the green room gearing up for his second ever Melbourne show, we sat down for face to face chat with Freddie us just moments before taking to the stage.
Do you have a pre-show ritual?
Shit. Drink. Smoke. As much as possible.
What about post-show?
Exactly the same man.
Speaking of smoking. The Australian government has just announced that it’s going to legalise growing marijuana for medicinal purposes. Could you maybe describe your own Freddie Kane OG strain to your Australian fans?
Well it’s only grown in California. You know, so you only got to come to California to get it man. It’s definitely one of the most high-powered OG strains in the world.
What’s the best setting for smoking Freddie Kane?
Oh shit. At home. While you on your couch. So you won’t hurt nobody.
Do you think one day we’ll be able to have it over here in Australia?
Man it’s crazy. Whenever we able to uh, you know, ship some over. You know what I mean. If your government wants to make that possible then sure, I want to ship that over and have all Freddie Kane flavours.
Growing up in Gary, did you ever think you’d make it to Melbourne, Australia?
Uhh, not at all. Nah I never thought I’d come to Australia. I never though I’d be here like this. So I definitely don’t take it for granted. It’s a blessing.
Because you never wanted to be a rapper?
Nah it’s just something that came about. I just went about it. I went about it all the way, and all the way hard.
Because you played college football.
For a year. Before I got kicked out of school.
You always knew you wanted to make it out of Gary, but you didn’t know how?
Yeah I just didn’t know which way to go. But I figured it out, and now I got my dream job.
I think that Australians have a real appetite for underground hip-hop. Has being part of that scene given you more of an international presence?
Yeah, because I’m kind of one of the top dogs in that scene. I think that people like to root for underdogs. I just do what I want to do, that’s what attracts me. I don’t follow any kind of music industry rules. I might not be the most popular rapper, but I don’t care. As long as I’m still in the game making millions of dollars.
For sure. And in places like Australia underground rappers are almost more commercially viable than mainstream rappers. Because that’s the sound we like over here.
I think a lot of Australians would have come to your work through Pinata. Did doing that album with Madlib open up a new demographic of fans for you?
Yeah definitely, I would say so. He definitely had a different set of fans that I didn’t have. And bringing what he had to the table, to the project, you know it definitely set me up. I always say that doing that album set me up for the rest of my career.
Absolutely. For an underground album it charted very well. Speaking of which, you have a group of really hardcore fans. How do you get that cult following?
You get that cult following by staying true to yourself. You know, never conforming. Always staying true. The people that support you in the beginning. Those people they watch your growth. The real hard-core fans. They know when we growing, when we trying to change up on them. I just walk that line. Keep that balance.
Do you think you risk alienating your hardcore fans if you do things like chase radio play?
You know what, I don’t really know what that is really, chasing radio play. I just make songs. All that shit is oblivious to me. I just make records. Stay relevant. As long as I’m relevant to the game that’s all that matters. As long as my music is relevant to the game, it’s needed. I’m glad you can never put me in a box.
Well you are one of the most adaptable rappers around. Really versatile career. Pinata was completely different to anything you had put out before. Is there a change in direction on Shadow of a Doubt?
Yeah there’s definitely a change in direction. I didn’t want to make the same album that I did with Pinata. I can only make that with Madlib. Basically, making an album with Madlib made me sharper lyrically.
His beats are so hard to fit.
Right. So I can go in on tracks on Shadow of a Doubt and spit, you know what I mean. I’m the most versatile rapper out. I can do a song like Careless and in turn I can do a song like Extradite.
And you play across both sides of the game. You can do a song with Ransom, and you can do a song with Young Thug. Speaking of Shadow of a Doubt, that album was released on your label ESGN – how important is independence for you?
It’s super important. I mean shit man, I sold crack to get here. I sold heroin to get here. Before everybody closed the door on me. Nobody wanted to help me out. No label wanted to give me a situation. I had to do everything I had to do get me where I’m at. So now I own everything. And now I’m on a world tour. Without a record label. Without a radio hit. Without anything. That speaks volumes to the type of work I do. It’s quality work.
Do you think nowadays it’s better for a musician to be independent? It’s become easier to have independence – having a record deal means less now?
Way less. And I think that I’ve been of the key people, I’ve been at the forefront, of devaluing the record label – so to speak. When everybody wanted to sign me, that was great for me. But who knows, if I had signed – I took hella meetings. Hundreds. In the past 5 or 6 years. Hundreds of label meetings. Every fucking month. But if I was to sign with one of them, I wouldn’t be in the position I am in right now.
The longevity of your career as well. You haven’t burnt out.
Yeah. I could go for another 20 years, all because I didn’t sign with a record label.
On that, do you think future rappers are going to copy the Freddie Gibbs formula of independence?
I think a lot of people already are. Guys like Lyor Cohen and Tod Mascowitz and all, they admire my tactics. They tried to sign me too, so they know my tactics. I think they implement a little bit of that into their record label that they have at 300 [Entertainment] man. The things they do with Fetty Wap, and you know, Young Thug. Like I said, I burst out here you know ’08, ’09 and in 2010 I was on the XXL cover – all of that came from tactics that people are using today. With the Internet. With putting out the free music. I created a lot of that.
Speaking of tactics and sales and independence – was the November release date of Shadow of a Doubt part of a strategy to release outside the normal sales periods?
Me releasing it in November, that was just me wanting to put some music out. At the end of the year, I just think the world needed some more Freddie Gibbs music. And I got a tour off it, so I mean, shit, me putting that out was kind of critical. It’s all about timing. Putting a piece of music out there, as a businessman, it worked out perfectly. The album’s selling well, so it’s doing good.
Talking about Shadow of a Doubt, one track really stood out for me which you mentioned before – and that’s Extradite. At the end of the song you’ve included a sample from a Louis Farrakhan speech given at Morgan State University. I know you’ve got a Huey Newton tattoo on your back. How important is it to have leaders like Louis in America right now?
It’s always important to have leaders. We can do everything that we gon’ do, but we can’t stop that ultimate power man… The government is a filthy beast. And we just got to stand strong.
The traditional hip hop capitals – like New York, LA and Atlanta – have had gangster rap for a long time. But do you think 2016 that the realest struggle and the realest gangsters are actually in the mid-west?
There’s real gangsters in the mid-west. But there’s real gangsters everywhere. West Coast, East Coast. I’ve been living in LA for over 10 years. So I’m kind of part of that scene right now too. I’m kind of from there too.
I’m thinking of Lakers off Pinata – was moving to LA a different kind of hustle for you, to go over there and make your mark all over again?
Yeah, I definitely had to compete with the LA artists at that point. I was a big fish in a small pond, but I had to go to LA and then really I had to become a big fish over there. It’s definitely competitive, but I embraced that. The whole of California. The thing’s that I’ve done with rap, being so versatile, being able to rap with Jeezy, I feel like I kind of erased the geographical boundaries of rap. That’s what I feel. I mean shit, the best rapper in the game, ain’t even from America. He’s from Toronto.
Once there was a distinct southern sound. But now with the Internet a lot of those sounds are combining. Is there a Gary sound?
I don’t make the Gary sound. I make the Freddie Gibbs sound. My sound is very non-geographical.
Speaking of your sound, you’ve sung before, but there are some serious Freddie Gibbs vocals on this album. I’m thinking in particular of Careless and Basketball Wives. When did you realise you could sing?
Hell yeah. I don’t know, it really was just singing in the shower. But I been constructing those kinds of melodies from the beginning.
Did you know you could sing growing up in Gary?
Yeah. But I’m not a singer. I just know how to write melodies and things like that. I had been doing those style records before, they were just not being put on the forefront. I was doing things like County Bounce on Midwestgangstaboxframecadillacmuzik. I was singing because I couldn’t afford to hire a singer for my tracks. I kind of trained myself to do it. Because I do it in such a way that fits today’s style of music. Guys like Nelly, and Bone-Thugs-N-Harmony, they sort paved the way for that kind of style. That to me was the style right there.
I read a quote that said your singing qualifies you to be the 6th member of Bone Thugs-N-Harmony.
Right. That’s what I’m saying. When I do that, the influence is from there.
Again. Growing up in Gary – did you ever imagine one day you’d be laying vocals over the beat from George Michael’s Amazing?
Wow, Nah I didn’t know that! I never thought about that. Wow, that’s crazy – when we did that record, I didn’t even know that was George Michael at first.
No way! So when are we getting some visuals for Careless?
Have you thought about doing a George Michael, and getting some models in to rap the entire film clip?
That’d be tight. That’s a good idea man, hell yeah! Thanks for giving me that. That would be dope as fuck.
You can catch Freddie Gibbs at Golden Plains Festival in Victoria from March 12 to March 14. You can get tickets here.
Freddie’s second studio album Shadow of a Doubt is available for purchase on iTunes and available for streaming on Spotify.