The gleeful rapper isn't just looking to score a hot date but also a big win. Competing against Nas, Royce Da 5'9'', Jay Electronica, and D Smoke in this year's best rap album category, Gibbs is fully aware of the lyrical fervor driving this field -- but remains hopeful of notching his first gold trophy. And if the odds aren't necessarily in his favor, he's more than happy to be representing his hometown of Gary, Indiana, birthplace of one of 20th century pop music's biggest icons. "For me to do this, it's bigger than what we projecting it to be," he says. "We haven't seen it since Michael Jackson."
Billboard spoke to Gibbs about his first Grammy nomination, avenging his Bandana snub, why the culture won with this nomination, and more.
Take me back to the day when you got the news -- what was going through your mind?
I was just as shocked as everybody else. I knew I had the best rap album in my heart this year, but I didn't know if I had enough juice to get nominated for a Grammy. I'm glad they considered me this year. I'm humbled. I'm going to continue to say my project was the best. With this nomination, I already won. They showed me love -- shout-out to the Recording Academy and everybody that supported the album. They gave me the confidence to make Alfredo.
In a mainstream and Grammy sense, do you feel like this nomination gave you any kind of validation knowing you took the unconventional route in your career?
Yeah. I don't think any rapper in the game right now has taken the path that I've taken to get where I'm at. I've definitely carved out a very unique lane to get to the Grammys. I've never been on the radio, I've never been mainstream so to speak -- but I still feel like I get that mainstream respect, because of the work I put in.
I deserve to be there, regardless. I deserve to get that respect. Just because you don't have a top Billboard Hot 100 song, you shouldn't [not] be considered one of the best artists in the game. I think it's a culmination of things in your career. It might take a little longer doing it the way I do it, but it's worth it in the end.
With the nominees that are out right now, talk about the state of lyricism -- knowing that you got you, Nas, Jay Electronica, D Smoke and Royce representing the lyrical rappers?
When I saw the nominees, I was like, "Damn, they really took it a different kind of way this year with the voting." They really was like, "Aight, we really gonna put guys that can really, really rap in there." They started that s--t with Rapsody. When they put her in the top rap categories and Pusha T, I started getting a little bit of hope.
They ain't never been no break or try to conform, but it shows the grand scope of the Grammys was larger than what was being forced down your throat in the mainstream. It's only like three of four real record companies. They're stockholders controlling the s--t and they control the f--kin' music. It ain't really us. When you look at it from that standpoint, you gotta know there's only so many slots to be popular. And if you don't fall into one of those slots, that doesn't mean you can't be great.
If you look at the category, there's some middle-aged rappers up in here, man! What does it say about this class of MCs being able to stand the test of time musically and lyrically?
S--t, I think I'm the youngest one. Me and D Smoke. We're the two youngest for sure. The thing is though -- guys don't have to blow up as a rapper when you're 23 years old. You can keep going and build a career that can last your whole life, instead of [just] your 20s. A lot of rappers want to get rich when they're 20, but we're broke when we're 30. I’ve been doing this thing since I was 20 years old, so I've seen a lot of guys come and go, and I've haven't seen a lot of guys stay.
Longevity is everything. If you can maintain longevity, that beats out everything. Consistency and longevity wins the race. There's a lot of guys that shoot to the top. You could break a record and not be musically relevant today. There's people that have done that. You can have a record-breaking album, and next year they won't care about you. It's all about you maintaining that fan base and satisfying that core. That means more than anything else.
How did the nomination that should've been for Bandana not jade you as an artist?
I think me not getting that accolade drove me to be like, "All right, well these people are gonna pick who they gonna pick, so I'm gonna pick myself always." I know what I'm working with as a rapper, I know where I'm at lyrically, and I know I'm making some of the best music of my career. So when I put it out there and say that's what it was, God manifested it. And now we here.
For me to say I didn't care, I'd be lying -- because I looked at that like, "Damn, there was a project or two in there that I feel like mine could've replaced." I wasn't going to trip, I just prayed about it and had faith in my ability to get right back to it. I'm in a position where I can take it, so thank God for that.
What does a nomination mean in a larger sense for a kid from Gary, Indiana?
R.I.P to Mike, but actually Mike ain't dead. Me and Mike be chilling. We gonna R.I.P to everybody else. Let me put that out there: Mike ain't dead. He gave me the juice and told me what I needed to do to get to this point. He said to not worry about all the popularity. I'm not really into the rap "in" crowd. I'm just about keying in and doing what I do and staying as sharp as I can be as an MC.
Who, as a fan, would you want to see win if you had to pick?
As a fan, I'll probably pick Royce or Nas -- because Nas ain't never got one yet.
Royce said, "It's the culture who wins at the end of the day."
We all won, bro. We make jokes about winning, but we all already won. I don't really feel no kind of way about it. It would really be winning if they let us have a real Grammy party. That's the main thing with me. Let us get a real Grammy party off.
You had the internet buzzing when you tweeted about wanting to work with Pusha T. Are you going to do something with him in 2021?
He did not text me back yet. I'm waiting on him.
He's busy with the baby. He's playing the daddy role right now.
He didn't text me back yet, but we gonna get to it though. That was probably everybody first time hearing us talk about that, but we been talking about that before. If that happen, that would be extremely great. I'm hoping for that.
What about Hit-Boy? Could we get a Hit-Boy and Freddie album?
Yeah, we could do that too. He's definitely one of my favorite producers. I just want to work with whoever wants to work with me and make the best s--t. Right now, I'm on a good wave with Hit-Boy, so I want to continue that.
Is there anything you want to let the fans know?
Shout-out to all my girlfriends. They don't need their names said. They got jobs and other boyfriends.