Freddie Gibbs doesn’t exhale. The Gary, Indiana native has spent the better part of the last decade vacuum sealing the grittiest, most unflinching gangsta rap in America. The mixtape dominance is thorough and well-documented: The Miseducation of Freddie Gibbs, midwestgangstaboxframecadillacmuzik, Str8 Killa No Filla, Cold Day In Hell, and Baby Face Killa all hit in a three-year window, and collectively they established him as an unapologetic realist, a specter lurking in the shadows of the industry, waiting for you to slip. This November 20th, he’s back with Shadow of a Doubt, a new mixtape issued through his own ESGN and executive produced by Gibbs, Ben “Lambo” Lambert and Sid “Speakerbomb” Miller.
Shadow comes a year and a half after Piñata, Freddie’s long-awaited, critically lauded collaboration with the Los Angeles-based producer Madlib. “Piñata was a turning point in my career,” Gibbs says, citing the doors it opened up after years of being ostracized by an increasingly political record industry. “It’s like I went in the gym with Madlib to train,” he says, “and now I’m clean and cut, ready to box like Apollo Creed.” That album saw him at his most daringly technical, deploying both a singing voice and never-before-heard cadences over some of Madlib’s most challenging instrumentals. Piñata commanded respect; now Gibbs is ready to use those tools he honed on the LP. As he says: “It’s liberating, man.”
From the first song, Shadow chronicles the long, twisted road Gibbs has taken to the top of rap. There’s the loudspeaker from LAX on “Rearview”; the Midwest native has spent the last decade in Los Angeles, first moving West as part of an ill-fated deal with Interscope. Gibbs sees the city as a crucial part of his process: “ I didn’t have anybody in L.A., didn’t know anybody,” he says. “It’s like God just dropped me off somewhere where I didn’t have anything and I had to make something out of nothing. That city motivates me to make anything and everything happen.”
And that he does. The songs on Shadow run the gamut from heartbreaking confessionals—Gibbs says he can barely listen to “Forever and a Day” in mixed company—to dead-eyed self preservation. If his life story didn’t seem stark enough already, two events have shifted its course in the past year—an attempt on his life in New York last fall, and his daughter’s birth earlier this year. (The Roots’ Black Thought invokes the intersection of those two events on”Extradite,” saying, “Crossfire missed my little daughter by inches.”) The hour-long effort is Gibbs at his most human, his most vivid, his most potent. “I don’t care about being the realest—cause I know nobody as real as me.”