“Sex, drugs, and rock & roll, baby!” That is the Freddie Gibbs story, at least according to the man himself. Posted up at a Los Angeles restaurant just hours before his latest album $oul $old $eparately was to arrive, Gibbs was in good spirits, seemingly without a care in the world. He flirted with the waitress, flashed his 1,000-watt smile as he spoke and laughed easily, a stark contrast from the Gangsta Gibbs persona that is sprinkled throughout his catalog.
Growing up in Gary, Indiana (which he proudly pointed out is the same city where Michael Jackson was born), Gibbs’s household soared with the sounds of Motown. Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and The Isley Brothers wove his musical fabric—then he discovered Too $hort and The Geto Boys’s Scarface. He knew then he wanted to do some “gangster shit.”
“I didn’t even know if I had no talent for music,” he said. “One of my best friends, he was rapping and shit and I saw he was making the moves to rap, like making CDs and manufacturing and shit. I was just like, ‘I want to be a part of that some kind of way.’ I didn’t know it was going to end up being rapping, I just took a chance and that just happened to be the direction God pointed me in.”
Gibbs initially signed a deal with Interscope Records in 2004 and was supposed to release his major label debut with the company, but he was dropped in 2006 and the album never saw the light of day. After finding his way to CTE World, he encountered another speed bump when his relationship with founder Jeezy went south. Years of jumping from indie label to indie label followed and $oul $old $eparately marks his return to a major label (Atlantic Records).
“I’m excited but definitely fucking nervous,” he said of the album’s impending arrival. “It’s my first album on a major label, so it’s like everything’s magnified and you under the microscope. My whole career, they’ve been telling me I couldn’t do this and do well doing this. So now, I’m at the point where I’m about to do it for real. I’m about to really do it.
“It’s sad that it took this long to get to this point, but I’m not mad, man. God puts you in a position you’re supposed to be in when you’re supposed to be in it. And I know a lot of guys in this rap game that was here and gone, and I’m still here. I’m talking about over a hundred n-ggas out there that I’ve seen get signed over me, that I’ve seen get deals over me, that I’ve seen get better looks than me. I’m here and they not here now. It’s all about being here in the now. I know a lot of n-ggas that are musically irrelevant. All these n-ggas really ain’t relevant musically. They’re just social media stars, to be honest.”
Gibbs often teeters the line when it comes to social media. With infamous e-battles with media personality Akademiks and fellow rapper Benny The Butcher, Gibbs knows how to get clicks with his relentless sparring. But he also has the talent to back it up, a rare combination in rap’s current landscape. $oul $old $eparately is another example of Gibbs’s staunch commitment to his craft. Although he opted not to employ the production of frequent collaborators Madlib and Alchemist, producers such as Kaytranada, James Blake, and DJ Paul were able to retain Gibbs’s gritty aesthetic, while allowing him to explore new terrain. He wouldn’t mind getting another Grammy nomination for Best Rap Album and would certainly embrace a win.
“Once you get that feeling, that’s just like smoking crack,” he said. “You want to get right back to it, you feel me? People ask me, ‘Oh, do you want to be nominated?’ Of course I do. What the fuck? I mean, did I make an album to be nominated for the Grammys? No. I made an album to make good music. But do I want to be nominated? Of course I fucking do, every time. I want to dress up, take my homies out, I want to take my mom out. Of course I want to be nominated. I want to be recognized for myself. And I think that my hard work is a clear-cut answer to why they put me in the Grammys. I wasn’t in the Grammys or that shit because I had a hit radio single or because I was some pop star, they put me there because I deserve to be there. My album is better than those other albums.”
He continued: “They know I was supposed to win, but they gave that shit to Nas because that’s Nas. I get it. It’s Nas, he deserve that. He deserve a Grammy in his career. He hadn’t won one before. But I wasn’t mad about losing to Nas. If I would have lost to anybody else, I would have been like, ‘Fuck them.’ Nas, they can take that. But everybody else, I would have had to fight them for it.”
Gibbs might not admit it, but he seems to be in friendly competition with Nas, one of hip-hop’s most lauded MCs. He brought him up again when talking about his creative evolution, almost as if he wanted to make it clear he’s aiming to top him. Gibbs samples a Nas classic in his 2021 single Big Boss Rabbit.
“I wasn’t really trying to top Alfredo, I was just trying to progress musically,” he explained. “I could have easily went back to Alchemist and just be like let’s do Alfredo Part 2 right now. But that would’ve been expected, that would’ve been an easy thing to do. That would’ve been like, I mean, shit, no disrespect, but Nas and Hit-Boy did that bullshit where they coming back with King’s Disease II. Nah, my n-gga. Every album with me is a different kind of movie.”
Each album in his catalog does feel cinematic in scope with his colorful tales of his drug-dealing past but on $oul $old $eparately, Gibbs digs deep into the amygdala region of his brain and goes to an emotional place atypical of a Freddie Gibbs album, especially on songs such as Grandma’s Stove and Rabbit Vision.
“It’s the eve of the album and I damn near want to take them songs off because I don’t really want everybody to see me vulnerable like that,” he said. “A lot of that shit is embarrassing. On Grandma’s Stove I’m talking about my issues with my baby mamas and that’s kind of embarrassing. I feel bad about that because I got love for all them. And a lot of that shit that I was expressing on there was anger. I don’t not have no love for the mothers of my children. I love all them.
“It’s just that, a lot of the times, I be caught in the moment and I just be rapping, and I got to get that shit off. It can mean life or death. It’s a therapeutic thing for me. So there’s some things that I say on this album about some people that I don’t necessarily really mean, especially with the baby mom stuff. I don’t really mean to hurt, but it was probably regurgitated energy. She probably said something that hurt me or I did something that hurt her and I didn’t know, but that wasn’t my intention.”
Gibbs at least has the medicinal benefits of weed to calm his nerves. His routine doesn’t waiver—every morning, he smokes a blunt while going to the bathroom then goes about his day.
“When I get up out the bed—I’m old as fuck—I do a hundred pushups and a hundred sit-ups after I have sex to see if I still got it,” he explains matter-of-factly. “Then I get up. I might run like three or four miles. I start the day at like six in the morning. I take my daughter to school at 8:30 a.m. then pick up my son for daycare.
“At night, after I put the kids to sleep at 8:30 p.m., I’m rapping in the studio or writing a script or just vibing out. I got my studio in my house, so I’m just in there really just smoking, man. That shit like a black hole. It’s like all black, black walls. You can’t even see nothing, it’s all dark. So I be in there just creating. I go into my creative mode day-to-day.”
His affinity for cannabis earned him a dishonorable discharge from the Army at 20 years old, right when he started rapping.
“I was selling weed and smoking it,” he said. “You can’t do both. So it was either that or being in the Army. I had to get out of there.”
Gibbs now has a life he never would have imagined—Grammy Award nomination, deal with Atlantic Records, creative freedom and the ability to work with some of the biggest artists in the music business, something he struggles to wrap his head around.
“I can’t believe it sometimes,” he says. “I’m blessed, man. It’s God. It’s prayer. Like my mama said, ‘Favor ain’t fair.’ You God’s favorite if he put you in positions, so it is what it is. I got to give my glory to God. It ain’t me. God gave me the talent.”
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. It was published in the January 2023 issue of High Times Magazine.