Late on a Monday afternoon, rapper Freddie Gibbs sits in the driver's seat of his parked Cadillac, right in front of his Canoga Park residence. He's less than a month away from the release of Piñata, his collaborative album with LA producer Madlib, and the Gary, Ind.-born thug-poet is in ideal spirits. He has just lit up another mid-day blunt, and finally attained the chance to sit down and listen to his new album in his preferred fashion: as a fan sitting in the car, with weed sparked and speakers blaring.
"I tell people every time it sounds like a Blaxploitation movie, like Black Caesar or something; that's the kind of vibe I get," the 30-year old Gary native remarks toward the end of the listening session.
Freddie Gibbs' comparison with the 1973 Blaxploitation flick Black Caesar is probably a pretty accurate observation. At their core, both the old Larry Cohen directed film and the new Gibbs & Madlib record are grimy gangster tales, where the villain's lifestyle is at the center and the backdrop is a soundtrack soaked in soul. Unlike the Gibbs of Black Caesar though, this Gibbs didn't succumb to the streets that created him.
Though his hometown of Gary gave him part of the mentality that drives him, that same city — which he describes as a "ghost town"–could have been what ended him. Gibbs was involved in the same money-making methods of drugs and robbery that plagued his peers, but his mindset was always different.
"I scraped to get the fuck out of there, and I always knew I was going to get the fuck out of there and be somewhere else and go somewhere else with my life. I never limited myself to just what my homies were doing, I always thought outside the box."
Gibbs would go on to leave Gary, and pursue rap as a career. After about a year of rapping, Ben "Lambo" Lambert–then an intern at Interscope Records, now Gibbs' manager and close friend–swiftly orchestrated a record deal with Interscope for him upon hearing one of the CD's he passed out. The deal would end almost as quickly as it came, leaving Gibbs discouraged, but he persevered.
"I took the independent route and got on my grind," he says. "If you look on my wall I got all kinds of covers and accolades, and all that came after the Interscope shit. Every time I walked through my hallway, all that hard work – the XXL cover, LA Weekly cover, the New Yorker piece, all that – boosted my confidence up."
The boost in confidence is well-warranted, as each one of Gibbs' releases from his post-Interscope career, such as 2009's midwestgangstaboxframecadillacmuzik and the new record with Madlib, have been heavily praised. All of Gibbs' records up to this point have been vessels for showcasing his perfect package of Olympic-level rapping ability and near-perfect ear for beats.
"I just want to be one of the best lyricists to breathe; I want to be like the Scarface or Kool G Rap of my time," Gibbs says. "I want to be the number one independent rapper."
All those "accolades" Gibbs speaks of are a huge part of what earned him the right to stake his claim as one of hip-hop's greats. With the release of the Piñata and a new album entitled Eastside Slim in the works, Gibbs is on a fully independent path to continue that streak, and the Gary gangster hopes his new work will cement his place in music.
"I don't give a fuck if it sells or people don't like it, just put me up there with the greatest, just recognize that I could rap over whatever, whenever, and however. I think I made a masterpiece with Madlib…I want it to be best album Madlib did, and if I did the best album he did, I think they'll remember me."
Freddie Gibbs and Madlib perform at The Observatory, 3503 S. Harbor Blvd., (714) 957-0600, www.observatoryoc.com, Thurs. April 3, 8 p.m. $10, all ages.