“Tell Rihanna I’ma holla at her,” says Freddie Gibbs at the end of our 30-minute interview.
It’s a balmy March afternoon at Billboard‘s New York City offices, and Gibbs, born Fredick Tipson, just finished rattling off a list of his long-term goals. One includes winning a Grammy, and the other, well, is forging a long-lasting relationship with the highest-paid female musician in the world (According to Forbes, Rihanna is worth $600 million). While some may consider Gibbs’ goals to be hyperbolic, the 36-year-old has always been the type to make his dreams come true.
After being discharged from the army at 19 for smoking marijuana, Gangsta Gibbs decided to give rapping a try. In 2004, he released his first mixtape Full Metal Jackit, which showcased his grizzled raps and hard-nosed demeanor on the mic. The two-volume series caught the ear of Gibbs’ current manager, Ben “Lambo” Lambert, who was interning at Interscope Records, and in 2006, the Gary, Indiana MC notched first deal with a major record label. Despite landing a recording contract at the age of 22, Gibbs never released a full-length project, and in 2007, was dropped from Interscope.
Twelve years later, Gibbs has the last laugh. His indomitable work ethic in between the years on the independent circuit led to his masterful 2009 debut album, The Miseducation of Freddie Gibbs, as well as his lauded 2014 endeavor Piñata alongside hip-hop savant Madlib and his 2018 joint project Fetti with Curren$y, and now has the rapper primed for stardom. Last March, Gibbs landed a deal with RCA Records/Keep Cool, erasing any doubts about his willingness to rejoin a major.
“Right now, I feel like Kevin Durant when he was going to the Warriors,” Gibbs confidently says in his salmon and blue Champion sweatsuit. “I’ve been doing my shit, and I just haven’t been winning the chips. Me going over with [RCA’s executive president of A&R] Tunji [Balogun] and Keep Cool to RCA, it’s about to be steroids on this shit.”
In hopes of landing his first “chip,” Gibbs has realigned himself with Madlib to release the duo’s forthcoming project, Bandana. Slated for a June 28 release, the 16-track album finds Gibbs performing lyrical gymnastics over Madlib’s haunting beats. Gibbs trounces the competition on “Freestyle Shit,” while cheffing up potent cocaine-coated metaphors along with Pusha T on “Palmolive.”
“This is what we’ve been waiting for and what we’ve been grinding for,” says Gibbs about his joint album with Madlib. “This is an opportunity to compete with the best on the best level. I could run circles around these little independent n—as all day. I want to be up there with the top echelon rappers because that’s what the fuck I am.”
Billboard spoke with Freddie Gibbs about his forthcoming album Bandana with Madlib, the hardest part of fatherhood, working with Pusha T, his favorite memory of Mac Miller and what love means to him in 2019.
I saw you chillin’ at the RCA offices recently. On “Freestyle Shit,” you spoke about your concerns of staying independent.
Now you have a partnership deal with RCA. What is it like now having this machine on your side versus when you were at Interscope back in ‘06?
When I was at Interscope, I didn’t have a release date. I didn’t have a plan. I don’t think I was ready yet, so they weren’t even planning to put my album out. They were just testing the waters to see if I could make music to their liking. It’s a totally different situation [now], and I went into this situation knowing what I had to do and knowing what we wanted to do. It was a mutual thing. Me signing to Interscope, I was just a 22, 23-year-old kid, you know what I mean? I didn’t really have any leverage whatsoever, because I didn’t have anything to stand on. So it was a totally different situation. We answered this situation with mutual respect. It was great.
You’ve been on a rampage last couple of months with Freddie, Fetti — and now you got Bandana. With you wearing different hats creatively with each project, in what ways did your writing process change or evolve with each project during the last few months?
My last five things, starting with Shadow of a Doubt to You Only Live Twice to Freddie to Fetti to Bandana now — I don’t like reading raps off a paper or nothing like that. So I just really been memorizing raps and not really writing them, and it’s just straight off the head. I’ve been doing it like that lately because I feel like it’s more feeling. And if I fuck up, I just can start over. I think that having a more free flowing style and being more loose with my songwriting and rapping, it gives me a better feel with a beat now.
I don’t know, I feel like my style is more loose the last like five projects and I’ve been perfecting that up until right now. And also just the different circumstances that I’ve been going through just my fuel the lyrics for me.
With that kind of mindset, how did you pen records with that amount of freedom and looseness? I could only imagine that transition on stage.
Yeah, I like to be as relaxed as possible making music. I don’t want to be tense. It’s like stretching before you work out. With the stage show, that just goes hand-in-hand. I see a lot of rappers doing shows and stuff like that, but they just be, like, rapping over the track. That shit be so weak. There’s not too many guys that do a real, real rap show. I mean where you’re hearing them rap the lyrics. Either that or it’s too many n—as on stage. That’s only really cool sometimes, like maybe for the last song, or an award show.
With you working with Alchemist on Fetti, what did you take from working with him that you brought over to finish up Bandana?
Alchemist is one of my favorite producers of all-time. I put him and Madlib in that same world, because both of those guys really challenge me lyrically, so it makes me want to rap differently than I rap on any other kind of beats. When it comes to Madlib and Alch, I think that I rap on their beats better than anybody do. It was just a no-brainer. When I get in the studio with either of them, I just treat it the same way.
Where do you think you and Madlib stand as a rapper-producer duo?
I think we up there with like Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth type shit. I think we the best doing it. Gang Starr is another one. I think we the best doing it right now. There ain’t really nothing else like that out right now. You got [Run The Jewels’] Killer Mike and El-P, and I love what they do. I think what me and Madlib do, it stands alone, though.
Since you and Madlib took y’all time with Bandana and with the success of Pinata, while you guys were watching from the sidelines, did you think people were trying to mimic y’all approach?
I feel like that about a lot of things I do. Not just that, but I feel like a lot of motherfuckers borrow from me, but I don’t get the credit. But now that we’re with RCA, I feel like all of that is about to change. I feel like I’ma start getting more of the notoriety and more credit that I deserve. I feel like I put n—as up on a lot of shit, techniques that they use. From selling music to the artwork, all of that shit, n—as was biting my infomercials that I put out last year. N—as just be biting my shit. It’s cool. I think that this year, I’m coming for the respect.
In what sense, though? Because I feel like in hip-hop, we all borrow from each other. At what point is it acceptable to borrow without it being biting?
It’s a couple kind of factors that make it acceptable to borrow. Time is one. Like if I do some shit in June, you can’t do this in July, motherfucker. That’s what n—as was doing. I’d do some shit in June, and they would come around July and August doing the same shit. That’s blatant biting.
And also your level of homage that you pay. If you pay homage to what you borrowed from, it’s a different kind of thing. I borrow a lot of shit from rappers I grew up on, like Scarface and Bone Thugs N Harmony. In the same breath, I’m always giving it up, even those guys in every interview — every time you asked me what I listened and to what I was influenced by, I always giving it up to the guys that I’m influenced by, because if it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be here. I know how they feel when they don’t get the credit, because I got a whole bunch of rap sons right now. I need to start paying child support for these n—as. Taking all my shit. It’s all good.
How was the recording process from Bandana different from when you guys did Pinata?
This process was totally different, because for one, I wrote 80 percent of that shit in my head and in jail. I don’t want to say I rushed it, but I did a lot of shit quick. I thought I was going to go to jail for 10 years for the bullshit. So I did a lot of this shit real quick. Sometimes, that’s just my best shit. Fetti, I did that shit in fucking two days. Sometimes, I can get in my own way if I overthink shit, so I just gotta be a spur of the moment and just go with it and that’s pretty much what I did with this.
Once I made bail, I think I sent like seven songs the first night. I was like, “Bro, I gotta get in the studio now now, now, now…” I heard the beats before, so I knew and I was like, “I like that one. I like that one.” I’d have no music player or anything like that in my jail cell, so all I had was memory. Just remembering the beats, and I’ll think about the subject matter, and all night all I had was myself. So I just played the beats in my brain.
With that kind of approach, if you’re feeling that confident about banging out these verses so quick, do you ever rewrite a verse?
Rewrite?! I’ve never rewrote a verse.
I remember Pusha told me ‘Ye made him write his shit like 16, 17 times over.
I’ve never rewritten a verse. I might redo another take [but] I’ve never rewritten. I be like, “Look, if that shit don’t work for you, it don’t work for you.”
What makes a Madlib beat unique from previous producers you’ve worked with?
It’s always something obscure. I mean, some samples are some shit that I never heard of, or some weird ass drums that are hard to rap on. Ninety-five percent of these rappers would be like, “What the fuck is this?” He gave me the ingredients and I just make the gumbo, man. I tell everybody it’s like putting together a puzzle making a Madlib album. You gotta lock in this piece, this piece, this piece and then I step back and look at it. I’m like, “I got it.”
You just walked me into my next question. Throughout the album, there’s a ton of beat switches. How were you able to keep your level of intensity lyrically knowing that those beat switches were coming?
I pretty much dictated the beat switches. I was like, “I want this beat and this beat together, I want this beat and this beat together.” I want to show n—as I could rap seamlessly on two beats without skipping a beat. No pun intended.
How does that translate on stage?
I haven’t performed these records yet, so it’s gonna be interesting to see. Doing a show is like an athletic thing. You really don’t know until you get out there and really practice the breath control and moving around. There were was some records off of Freddie I was doing on a tour that I’d do and I’d be like, “Fuck, man. I can’t do this whole shit.” I’d be thinking on Freddie, they’re more like easygoing, simple compared to this. But then I went in and was like, “Damn, this shit difficult.” I do everything that I can to make myself sound the exact same way that I sound on the record live. That’s the key.
Last year on Twitter, you named a couple of your favorite rappers. One of those favorite rappers is on the tape. That Pusha T verse. I had to stop the verse midway. I kind of needed to take a second.
That’s one of the best verses of the year.
What impressed you most about his verse and how he attacked that beat?
Shit, [he] was rapping about crack. So I wanted to rap about crack with a n—a that rap about crack just as well as I do. That’s some shit right there. That’s a classic right there, and that’s gonna go down in history. He killed that shit. That’s one of his best verses. He had to rap 24 bars, because I rapped 24 bars. So he couldn’t rap shorter than me.
— Freddie Gibbs Sr. (@FreddieGibbs) October 26, 2018
One of my other favorite joints is “Situations.” You rap about how robbing, killing, and drug dealing are all in your genes. With you being a father now, how do you keep those demons at bay while trying to lead a positive lifestyle?
Really to be honest man, just staying removed from all the bullshit in the streets. As long as I stay in my studio and stay in my house, I don’t even gotta deal with nothing. I’m not worried about no money no more or anything of that nature. I’m just just staying in the studio and staying focused. That’s definitely how I stay away from the streets and just cutting certain people off. I’ll always have homies that are street guys, but you just can’t have the wrong ones around you. I stopped fucking with people that ain’t got nothing to lose.
You spoke about doing the whole potty training thing on “Giannis.” What’s been the hardest part of fatherhood for you?
I just had a new son. The hardest part of fatherhood? Just the time. It’s hard being a father and being a rapper, a busy rapper at least, because there’s a lot of n—as that rap and got kids but they ain’t doing shit. Being a working, busy rapper and being a father is difficult. You miss a lot of time with your kids. I got a show on my daughter’s birthday and I just found out, so I gotta go do that. Just a time factor. But other than that, it’s great. The time that I do get to myself, I definitely try to spend it with my kids.
Another thing that I appreciate about the album — it’s funny because I spoke to Dom Kennedy a couple months ago and he does it a lot, too — is the power of the skits. Why do you feel like skits are such an important tool for album in this day and age?
I just think certain skits make the album stick together. I don’t necessarily like it when they stand alone by themselves. like when a whole track is a skit. I like them when they stitch to the song in some kind of way, because I feel like it glues the album together. That’s why they’re there — and you know Madlib, that’s his thing, so he’ll put some random, crazy shit. He makes the whole overall aesthetic of the album like a blaxploitation [movie]. That’s always what I’m going for when I’m rocking with him, because everything is so dusty, dirty ass samples, and I want to keep it along those same lines.
News came out a few weeks ago that Madlib has an album with Mac Miller just sitting.
I think that’s a rumor, but that would be dope. Rest in peace to Mac, though. Gone too soon.
What’s your favorite memory with Mac?
This was before Mac even blew up. I did a show in Pittsburgh and he opened up. Something had happened, but I just remember him and his little white homies were snapping on a promoter or some shit. I was looking at them like, “These little n—as is wild.” But they were going ham, because the promoter didn’t do something and didn’t give him the right billing or something. I don’t know. I just always remember him as like a teenage kid, man, an innocent teenage kid. So all the other shit don’t really factor in when I think about, man. I just think he’s an innocent kid taken away too soon.
When we spoke in 2012, we spoke about D. Rose. You said at the time that he’s the best player to come out of Chicago. Present day, how would you define his legacy and standing in Chicago basketball?
Legend. Chicago legend.
Still the best player come out of Chicago?
Over D. Wade?
Oh, okay. Now I don’t know.
You did shout out D. Wade in that interview.
D. Wade ain’t ever been MVP, but D. Wade got three championships, has a well accomplished career, Hall of Famer. D. Wade is probably better, but D. Rose is still a legend. Is he a Hall of Famer? Maybe. You can’t forget about Kevin Garnett. Shoutout to Kevin Garnett. That’s the big homie.
Who would you compare yourself to in the NBA?
That’s a good question. Right now, I feel like Kevin Durant when he was going to the Warriors. I’ve been doing my shit, and I just haven’t been winning the chips. Me going over with [RCA’s executive president of A&R] Tunji [Balogun] and Keep Cool to RCA, it’s about to be steroids on this shit.
So you bring up the KD comparison, so you know I got to play devil’s advocate here. KD got hate because he went to Golden State. Are you worried about the purists saying “he’s not real no more” since he left the independent game for a major?
Them n—as can eat a dick. I got kids. Any motherfucker from outside looking into a business could try to tell you how to run it, but they don’t know. They don’t know how to do this shit, because if everybody could do this shit, y’all would be doing it. We know what’s best for us and what we need to do. This is what we’ve been waiting for and what we’ve been grinding for. This is an opportunity to compete with the best on the best level. I could run circles around these little independent n—as all day. I want to be up there with the top echelon rappers because that’s what the fuck I am.
If you could pick one song or album outside of your catalog to soundtrack this part of your life, what would it be and why?
That’s a good fucking question. I don’t know because I feel like everything is the soundtrack to my life currently. Everything I do, it’s like my life is such an open book through the music. Man, it’s difficult. I could be picking songs all day. I could tell you what song speaks to me the most when I think about my life and things of that nature. It’s always the newest shit that I did.
So probably “Situations.” I was telling a couple underlying stories on that song. I was talking about my uncle and our relationship. He had a little incident that I spoke about. I was talking about the correlation between my father [and] this crackhead n—a that he ran over with a motorcycle. It’s crazy because before he ran him over with the bike, dude wasn’t even a drug addict — so it’s like that event handicapped him for life and then turned him into a drug addict, and I eventually ended up selling this n—a crack. It put me in a fucked-up spot, because I’m like, “Damn. I feel like my family fucked up your life and now I’m selling you crack.” It’s crazy. And then like he’ll come to me and always talk shit to me, like, “Your punk ass daddy.” And I’d be like, “Get your crippled ass outta here.”
Another one I like is “Practice.” You said a line about how you should have just stayed at home and prayed about your problems.
I said when I was going through problems at home, I should have prayed more.
What does love mean to Freddie Gibbs in 2019?
I mean, I love my kids. Really, that’s what I’m focused on. I was in a relationship before and about to get married. I kind of got out of that and we just grew apart and went our separate ways. I reflected on that. For some time, I felt this sense of regret for a lot of the things that I did and how I handled it, but now I don’t feel regret. Everything happens for a reason and people come in and out of your life for a reason and they don’t always stay there. You just gotta just keep it moving into what you gotta do.
I love the mothers of my children, and I’ll just keep it at that and keep it respectful. Take care of my kids. As long as I’m a solid father, can’t nobody tell me shit. My kids love me and everything I do is for them. That’s love for me right there.