With ‘$oul $old $eparately’, Freddie Gibbs takes advantage of his cachet
Freddie Gibbs new album, $oul $old $separately, arrives with the prestige and buzz of an artist’s Big Moment. Only Gibbs has been through a handful of those moments before – and delivered with aplomb. Now 40, he sent out an emotionally nuanced record, which is neither a self-indulgent victory lap, nor a retelling of the origin story for newcomers, nor a bespoke embellished project. of beats from a hypebeast icon. Titled after a one-line excerpt from “Education,” a key 2019 track Bandana (“Drugs for free / Soul sold separately”), Gibbs is an amalgamation of all facets of his artistry on this disc: the hustler, the dealer, the street veteran, the effortless gifted MC, the audio guide through the whimsical compositions of a beatmaker. It’s a rewarding listen to an artist still in his prime that leaves questions about what might come next.
Forget what F. Scott Fitzgerald said about American Lives and Second Acts, Gibbs is on his third or fourth by all accounts. What to make of the pride of Gary, Indiana, signed to Interscope in 2006 then unceremoniously dumped without releasing an album, who clung to Young Jeezy’s CTE World label a few years later before acrimoniously leaving to launch his own imprint in 2013. Along the way he tore up a string of undeniable street-rap mixtapes from 2009 The bad education of Freddie Gibbs until 2012 Baby Killa Face. But with the 2014 collaborative album with Oxnard producer Madlib, Pinatalisteners heard Gibbs reborn: a true gangster rapper who could navigate the frayed analog beats of a beloved sampler to universal acclaim.
Gibbs now appears to be opening another act. After successfully reinventing himself for a few key quadrants – from the kind of guy who treats r/hiphopheads like gospel, to a sophisticated listener drawn to the magnetism of tight looping beats from revered indie beatmakers, to the lifelong enthusiast who’s fell in love with the verisimilitude of his older material, but finds this sustained career arc enjoyable – his portfolio is the stuff of indie-rap fantasy. Pinata signaled a shift in focus on Gibbs’ career trajectory: In 2018, he released Fettia collaborative EP with New Orleans rapper Curren$y entirely helmed by blunt bicoastal producer The Alchemist, ahead of a reunion with Madlib on Bandana, an equally famous feature of impeccable rapping amid a perfectly complementary and just-enough-outlandish production. 2020 saw Alfredo, a full solo project produced entirely by the Alchemist that earned him a Grammy nomination, crowns Gibbs’ six-year career as a solo songwriter who could rap about anything and whose new releases were immersions in lush hip-hop vistas. In this part of his career, Gibbs has clearly found some muses without sacrificing an ounce of credibility. These singular albums are all deeply satisfying and not the one-dimensional output of a dilettante.
$oul $old $separately lacks the lyrical and thematic cohesion to truly be a statement or legacy-defining masterpiece above the rest of its distinguished catalog, and it sometimes struggles under the weight of forced progression. The loose conceptual framework of the album – Gibbs staying in a luxury hotel in Las Vegas, ignoring famous friends to hide out and finish the record – hints at a level of paranoia and trauma that is not examined as thoroughly. as possible. (Refer to moments like “The Revolution is Genocide / My Execution Might Be Televised”, from Alfredo for more pathos.) Following Alchemist’s only collaboration on the album, the ferocious “Blackest in the Room,” where Gibbs depicts a barrage of vivid scenes that set the stage for an album of fiery reflection (“My Cousin Lives in Flint, she’s been sick since they screwed up”), the album falters a bit as it tries to balance a hit record with Gibbs’ natural tendency toward dense, unyielding raps. Lead single “Too Much” is a nice attempt at crossover, but Moneybagg Yo steals the show with its nonchalant swagger and charismatic sags; there’s an anonymous Offset verse on the bland “Pain and Strife” on the way. Gibbs acquits himself well on “Lobster Omelette,” but Rick Ross shows up, uncharacteristically languid, failing to live up to the title’s wacky luxury rap promise or capturing the magic of previous collaborations like Alfredo“Scottie Beam” or “Ice Cream” loosie from earlier this year.
But even at his most docile level, Gibbs can never stray too far from the artisanal approach he brings to his music. “Space Rabbit” features an opulent beat from Boi-1da and Gibbs is locked in, offering surgical bars that find him navigating between the fast-paced realities of traffic and soul-searching: “From Sunday night to Thursday, you hit me, I’ I gonna set you up / I wonder if I’m going to hell or my soul is shattered / The neighbor’s kids just hit me, they just sold the fridge.” On “Rabbit Vision,” he soberly discusses his beefy past with former mentor Jeezy. Both of these songs center his bunny persona, evoking his affiliation with a gang of vice lords. is never sentimental, his verses point to a moral judgment but don’t make the inner conflict obvious – he’s so skilled in the cabin you have to meet him halfway to extract penance and grief from the marrow of some of these songs.
His willingness to bend to all accounts for shifts in tone and perspective on the album. “Grandma’s Stove” finds Gibbs contemplating the fallout of a blossoming rap career. A diaristic journey into his come-up, his growing celebrity stature and deep-seated fears, he raps, “I bought a house in Cali, I did it for real / Pop Smoke killed in the hills, that shit gave me chills,” explaining his “way out of Gary” to the growing existential danger of being a rapper anywhere. The comedown is the only track sporting a Madlib beat, the penultimate “CIA”, which finds the man affectionately nicknamed “Gangsta Gibbs” showing his cards (“I made this album on torn pages from my diary” ), looking under the perception of pivotal scenes in its history. He has often rendered thoughts like this exuberant and searing, but here he seems resigned and melancholic. Sometimes you want the levity, or at least the bounce, of off-album singles like “Gang Signs” with SchoolBoy Q or “Black Illuminati” with Jadakiss, but the sincerity can be invigorating, sidestepping the fetish of true hip-hop and conceding. instead that the long road to success is littered with familiar potholes that make an esteemed rapper’s tenure tenuous.
After the breakthrough of PinataGibbs retreated into the murky, streak-laden waters. shadow of a doubt in 2015, the type of album he dropped until this one. But even the deviations from his discography are never so experimental. At their most probative, his records find new ways to measure the characteristics of his personality. Here, Gibbs delivers an excellent album that excels at taking the listener into their headspace, even if it doesn’t reveal memoir-level revelations. There’s a slew of old-school references – memorable appearances from Kelly Price and Musiq Soulchild, hook tweens from Maxwell and Bone Thugs, a sizable sample of “Sippin’ on Some Syrup”, solid features from Raekwon and Scarface. – which seems a long time for a time when a fellow rapper could become a star almost by accident. But it feels a bit like a wish come true for a rapper who’s spent his career ignoring the zeitgeist.
The well-worn reformed mobster mythology isn’t new, but Freddie Gibbs has become the most notable artist embodying a more refined, less late-capitalist view of the aging mogul in hip-hop, a view he didn’t will probably never give up completely. Whether $oul $old $separately wants it all is the cold-blooded precision of Roc Marciano and Alchemist’s collaborative album The bones of the elephant man or the moral struggle of billy woods’ Ethiopias, both from earlier this year. Gibbs continues to work his way up and now he’s just allowed to be himself, armed with the confidence of an artist who’s lived a hundred lifetimes toward self-actualization. $oul $old $separately may not be a slam-dunk thesis statement, the unassailable capper on a stepped arc, but it fits with Gibbs’ other stabs at rap immortality; he knows that after working, legends never die, and Gibbs, the eternal technician, never stops working.
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