If not for his talent, Freddie Gibbs would be another example of "when keeping it real goes wrong." At a time when emo-rap has begun to assert itself as hip-hop's dominant sub-genre, the Gary, Indiana rapper stubbornly clutches onto gangsta rap like it's a life preserver and his boat has just capsized at sea. His insistence on not compromising his street pedigree and remaining Gangsta Gibbs is probably why Interscope had no idea what to do with him when they signed him in 2005. It's also probably why, after being dropped from the label in 2007 and taking a short break from rapping, he was embraced so heavily when he came back. His trilogy of mixtapes (The Labels Tryin' To Kill Me, The Miseducation of Freddie Gibbs, and midwestgangstaboxframecadillacmuzik) got him so hot that XXL put the indie heavyweight on their "Freshman" cover earlier this year.
Gibbs has more than adequately capitalized on his buzz, headlining the Pitchfork Music Festival and building anticipation for his upcoming EP, Str8 Killa, which will be his first retail release and is accompanied by a new mixtape, Str8 Killa, No Filla (today's Download It Now). Freddie will have little time to bask in the glow of finally having something on store shelves though, because he's also been recording an album with Alchemist (Devil's Palace), working on songs with a new supergroup he's formed with Bun B, Chuck Inglish, and Chip Tha Ripper, and prepping what looks like will be his major label debut, The Baby-Faced Killa. Based in Los Angeles now, Complex got Gibbs on the phone to talk about his current label situation, the difference between him and Rick Ross, and why he doesn't care for DJ Khaled rapping.
Interview by Toshitaka Kondo
Complex: We heard you initially started rapping while selling drugs at your friend and producer Finger Roll's studio in Gary.
Freddie Gibbs: Yeah, I was hustling in my homeboy's studio. You know everybody was up there selling them buds, selling them pills. A couple of my homeboys was rapping so I just went in. [Finger Roll] taught me everything. How to record, structure a song, everything I know when it comes to becoming a rap artist. I started messing with it, and once I got to a level that people could listen to and appreciate, I was like, maybe I should pursue this. I was 20, 21.
Complex: You didn't have any rap aspirations before that?
Freddie Gibbs: Nah, I never thought about rapping. I never pursued it or anything in that nature. I was always into sports, bitches. I played wide receiver in high school, then I went to college at Ball State and played safety. I loved listening to it. But I never wanted to do it. I always knew that I would be some type of public figure, but I never knew that it would be rapping. 'Cause my dad sang. I saw him deal with the ills of the music industry, just on the outside looking in. He was a nigga with some talent that didn't know how to get it across and couldn't get a break. I didn't wanna deal with that shit. I'd look at him everyday. He'd be unemployed, singing little gigs in little clubs. And my mama had to take care of the whole household. I looked at that nigga like, ain't no way I'd struggle tryna chase some bullshit dream. I always looked at that shit as stupid. I saw my dad go without for years.
Complex: During the time period before that when you were playing the sports in high school, were you getting into trouble in Gary?
Freddie Gibbs: Yeah, a little trouble here and there. I caught my first felony gun charge when I was 19. I got caught with a dirty gun. Getting caught stealing shit, but nothing ever really stuck. Getting picked up and questioned about plenty of murders. Probably over 20. They thought you did it, or knew who did it. Gary is small. Everybody knows everybody. And they only solve less than 10% of the murders. So if they don't got no witness or no weapon, police would come on our block and pick everybody up who's standing outside and beat niggas up.
Complex: Once you left Ball State and started focusing on rapping, you were signed to Interscope in 2005 by the same A&R, Joe "3H" Weinberger, who almost signed Kanye West to Capitol Records. Why did that end up not working out?
Freddie Gibbs: He was a "dickriding-type" dude, so he wasn't into the project. He basically fucked me over and played with my life pretty much. He left Interscope and said he was gonna take me with him to Warner and it didn't happen. I didn't get no big advance. I got like 30 Gs. I was just in a bad situation, so after that little money ran out I had to go back to Gary. He saw the trends of rap starting to shift away from the gangsta shit. He saw more of these fuckboys coming into the game. These "Charles Hamilton-type" niggas making that "bubblegum-bullshit" rap. He saw that and wanted to latch onto that, instead of latching on to what was real. He saw a dollar-sign opportunity. I ain't no racist motherfucker, but it was the Jew in him. He started fucking with Charles and saying rap was dead and he was going in a different direction, but didn't have the nuts to tell me. He was about to sign Charles to Interscope. He was trying to take him to Warner, but Interscope gave Charles a better offer. A lot of people around him thought I was dope. It was the whole "50 Cent" era, and everything was blowing up over there at Interscope. He wanted his own hard gangsta rapper. But it's like me and 50 Cent totally different. We both do street rap, but we both do it from two way totally different perspectives. [3H] was just trying to be like Eminem and Paul Rosenberg. He had a "First Look" deal through Shady and Paul Rosenberg and Eminem had the chance to sign me. I was signed to Interscope for six months, and the parameters of the deal with Shady was within six months of my Interscope deal being signed, they could either sign me or not sign me. They passed on me.
Complex: Did you like actually go sit down with them?
Freddie Gibbs: I sat down with Paul. Eminem heard my music and he didn't wanna take a meeting with me.
Complex: Was that disappointing to you?
Freddie Gibbs: I guess it was disappointing because I saw he signed niggas like Ca$his and I was like, man, get the fuck outta here. These busters can't hold a candle to me. It was a lot of youth in those feelings. I just wasn't in the right state of mind at the time. I felt like they were shitting on me. Like I wasn't dope or something like that. But in the grand scheme of things that just gave me the mentality like, fuck these niggas, I'ma show 'em. I ain't mad at them at all for not signing. It was a blessing in disguise. But once they said "no," my shit was in limbo. And then [Interscope] was trying to stick me with whoever they could stick me with. They tried to stick me with Polow, and that whole Zone 4 shit. Polow passed on it.
Complex: Did they try and stick you with G-Unit?
Freddie Gibbs: I think the whole Shady thing blew that out the water. I ain't really wanna be the 12th nigga on G-Unit at that time 'cause they had like 13 niggas. They had like M.O.P. They signed Hot Rod. They was signing busters too, 'cause Hot Rod a buster. I don't know him, I just think his music sucks. [Laughs.]
Complex: So then you just went back to hustling?
Freddie Gibbs: Yeah I did that in L.A., Atlanta, Gary, all over. Wherever I could make a dollar at. I had a child on the way, so I was real focused. I was in Atlanta hustling. Southside, Northside, Marietta, Westside, all of that shit. I had the homies down there, and we were shipping green to Atlanta from Gary. Getting pills from Atlanta, taking them to Gary. Getting in shootouts, doing all kinds of bullshit. Josh [The Goon] had hit me up, and was like, "I think you need to give it another shot." And I was like, "Yeah, right."
Complex: Once you did start focusing on music again, the mixtapes you released—The Miseducation of Freddie Gibbs and midwestgangstaboxframecadillacmuzik—had material you recorded while signed to Interscope. I heard some of the producers were complaining about you releasing music and not letting them know and also about not getting paid.
Freddie Gibbs: Yeah, a couple of them. They just tripping, but for the most part everybody showed love. They know that I wasn't playing them or nothing like that. Plus most of them producers, they got a front end on them beats. 3H was trying to make buddies with everybody, so he was just passing out checks on my budget.
Complex: Just Blaze had mentioned on Twitter that he wanted a check, right?
Freddie Gibbs: Yeah. [Laughs.] He was like, "Can I get my Freddie Gibbs check?" And I was like, "Yeah, holla at 3H for that one." But I worked with you off the Interscope budget. But yet at the same time, Just, I respect him and everything he do. I don't want nobody thinking I'm taking advantage of them or no shit like that 'cause I definitely wasn't. We made good music together, and I gotta put it out. Shit, he a rich nigga, he understand that shit. I'm trying to get to his level. One fucking song. For a motherfucker to trip like that, then you know. Whatever, I ain't tripping on that. Rap niggas and the niggas in this industry I don't even pay no attention to 'em, cause ain't none of them gonna come whoop my ass. Ain't none of them gonna come say nothing to me. So I just be like, whatever. [Laughs.] Motherfuckers hide behind they computers and say little bullshit all day, but 99% of these niggas ain't 100, man, so I don't really give no fuck. I love Just Blaze music, definitely would love to get back in the lab with him. But I don't owe that nigga a goddamn thing. I don't owe that nigga shit. [Laughs.]
Complex: Were there any other producers that have said anything?
Freddie Gibbs: Hell nah. Everybody else was down with it and they cool. Niggas down to work with a nigga. I ain't taking advantage of no nigga. I ain't trying to get a nigga to do nothing for me for free. He didn't do that shit for free. He got paid. I don't really care nothing about these dudes' feelings on that shit. Like I said: I respect him, I love his work, but I don't owe him shit.
Complex: How much would you say Interscope spent on your project?
Freddie Gibbs: They probably spent over half a million dollars on me and these producers like Polow, Just Blaze. Interscope was putting money back into their own pocket 'cause I was using their studio in the back of the building and they charging us out the budget for studio time. [Laughs.] You know how that situation go. So people, they can be like, yeah, we spent this—but they ain't really spent shit. All Interscope did with the budget is pay themselves. They probably spent a 100 grand. A lot of that shit went in 3H's pockets and my crooked-ass [former] managers and lawyers.
Complex: Who was your former manager?
Freddie Gibbs: This dude named Barry Williams from Violator. He was 50 Cent's manager, too. I wasn't dealing with Chris Lighty at all. It was Barry and this other guy named Mel. They was all cool with 3H. 3H picked the manager and lawyers. It seemed like a good decision at the time, 'cause I had not been exposed to the industry whatsoever yet. So I didn't know who was a good manager. I'm a loyal dude. I tried to follow [3H], as much as possible. They wasn't gonna point me in the wrong direction. You know, we a team. But I was wrong about that.
Complex: Switching topics: One of the hottest rappers right now is Rick Ross. One of your recent tweets read: "Who are you? Rick Ross, Big Meech or Larry Hoover? the rap game is like halloween every day?"
Freddie Gibbs: [Laughs.] That's real, man. That dude makes good records, but I just can't support no bold-faced lying on records. I guess he's entertaining people. It's like a movie, like Scarface. He can have that fake lane. I'll stay in the real lane. We got a non-fiction lane of rap, that's how I'm looking at it now. So you got that fiction lane over there where they're doing all them. I do the non-fiction, the autobiography, the real shit. It's all good. Shit like that just make it easier for me to stand out, and easier for me to put my work in to be highly respected. I'll never ever fabricate nothing or act like I'm something that I'm not or try to be another nigga. I can't do that. I just think you gotta respect the streets and respect this Midwest culture. I mean you can't really trip on him yelling names out. This the same dude that told you he knew Noriega when he first came out, so...
Complex: On the flip side of that, does it make it harder for you because it seems like these days if you make good music, people don't really care whether or not you're being genuine?
Freddie Gibbs: Rap's so fucking watered down right now, you can be a motherfucking C.O., you can kiss a nigga, and as long as you making good music, these niggas don't give a fuck. With me I'ma make good music, be a man of my word, and live how I'm rapping. It's a fine line between artistry and authenticity, and I just think that I just combine all of that, and everybody can't do that. It definitely makes it difficult from a mainstream-radio standpoint, but I can care less. That's only because these dudes have those machines behind them and those marketing dollars behind them to dress their fake shit up. But I'm not trying to fabricate nothing or dress nothing up to be something that it's not. I ain't a nigga with no furs, but I've sold a lot of crack. A lot of pills. But I wasn't that nigga like that. It seem like all these niggas in the rap game trying to tell the boss story when 90% of these niggas was never the boss. I was never no coke boss of my neighborhood. I was a shooter, a corner boy. So that's the perspective I gotta tell you from. I can't tell you that perspective with no nigga that live in those million-dollar houses, I ain't never had that.
Complex: Another tweet you had recently was, "much love to all the real DJs in the game. To all the ones that be tryin to rap and be diddy eat a dick." Were you angry at someone or was that just a general blanket statement?
Freddie Gibbs: I mean it was just a general thing. I wasn't angry at nobody. Specifically I was talking about DJ Khaled, if people wanna know. I don't like what he's doing rapping on records and shit like that, but you know, to each his own. I'm not taking away nothing that he did in the game or the success that he's had, 'cause he's done his thing and made bread, but I just think that so many niggas are making a mockery of this rap game right now. It's like, real MCs doing they thang, putting this real shit down, real lyrics, and can't get breathing room 'cause you got fuck shit like that. I think that shit is garbage. I don't like what that shit stand for.
Complex: Would it have made a difference if you thought his verse was good?
Freddie Gibbs: He got his position, though. DJ Khaled ain't a rapper. Don't matter if you nice or not. Play your role, play your position. No way that nigga can be nice, listen to his fucking voice. [Laughs.] He a DJ. He do his thing. Scream on your records. Say "nigga" and all that shit you like to say. I'm surprised motherfuckers ain't check him for that. Clowns like that in the game I don't really pay attention to. I respect his success, and the way he did what he did to make his paper, but I don't respect his art none whatsoever.
Complex: You don't like any of his records?
Freddie Gibbs: I like some of them records. I like the shit with Plies and T-Pain, "I'm So Hood." That's really it. I liked a couple of the early records. I'm not saying they don't make good records. They just do clown-ass shit. A lot of these rappers in the game be scared to say something about that shit because they wanna get they next check, or they wanna ride dick, 'cause these niggas is making a little bread. Nigga make your own lane and make your own money. Niggas wouldn't be able to do no shit like that in '96, '98. In the '90s. Kid Capri wasn't busting no verse. You don't see Funkmaster Flex busting no verses, my nigga. DJ Premier ain't busting no verses. It's all about respect. Much success to them and I hope they keep doing they thing, but I just think these niggas disrespecting the game because they got the power to do it. The fucking president of A&R of Def Jam, who gon' tell them no?
Complex: Speaking of DJs, DJ Skee hosted midwestgangstaboxframecadillacmuzik and Labels Tryin To Kill Me!. What's his involvement with your career now?
Freddie Gibbs: Pretty much, we were just going in two different directions. I got my direction and things that I wanna do. Anything that come to Freddie Gibbs, I'm the boss of that. I have the final say. I'm the end-all, be-all when it comes to Freddie Gibbs. Certain people don't understand that. DJ Skee is good at the shit he do. He a pop DJ. He don't understand this gangsta shit. So I just let him take his lane and I'll run in my lane.
Complex: It seemed like he'd be your DJ Drama, with you guys coming up the way him and Jeezy came up together.
Freddie Gibbs: Nah, I don't need no Drama, no Skee, none of these niggas. I don't need these DJ niggas to co-sign me. I respect the DJs. Much love to the DJs that play real shit. But a DJ supposed to be a nigga that's gonna break a record. Do what he gotta do and take pride in breaking that record. It wasn't so he had to get a piece of you. If he believed in your record then he'd break your record because that was gonna give him more respect as a DJ. But you got these guys who are like, "If I'm gonna work with you I want this, I want that." But I can't let no niggas eat off of me like that. And DJ Skee was starting to look like a record label to me. I was feeling like I was in the situation with 3H at Interscope.
Complex: On Str8 Killa you have a song called "Oil Money" with your new group that includes Bun B, Chuck Inglish, and Chip Tha Ripper. Have you decided on a name for the group yet?
Freddie Gibbs: [Laughs.] Nah, we still never came up with a name. I think we gonna come up with a name by Saturday 'cause they're gonna be in town and we rocking a show in San Bernardino.
Complex: Are you guys doing a full-length album?
Freddie Gibbs: We're about two, three songs in, so we're probably gonna knock out an EP. I don't know who we're gonna put the project out through. But pretty much everybody's clearable. Everybody down, so there ain't gonna be no issues. But probably when I go with a major somewhere within the next month or two, we'll definitely shoot for that. It's pretty much eminent, I just don't know which one yet. It's to the point where they're gonna make so many offers and they keep going up. I can't say no. They're trying to come correct. I still ain't said "yes" to nobody yet or nothing of that nature. I just been talking to niggas and I think it's gonna happen definitely by the end of the year. It's just gotta be the right situation, 'cause I've stayed indie my whole career. That's gonna be my major label project, Baby-Faced Killa.
Complex: So how far along into Baby-Faced Killa are you?
Freddie Gibbs: Shit, probably like three or four records. I did a new record called "Face Down" that's gonna be on the Str8 Killa No Filla mixtape, too. I did a song with Jim Jonsin that came out real hot. The name of that song is "Let It Go." I'm just getting it in with different niggas and turning out some hot shit. I'm probably gonna get back in there with Bun. I just got off the phone with Hi-Tek right before you called. We bout to do some shit. So that Baby-Faced Killa project is gonna be something to talk about. But the Str8 Killa gonna be better than all you niggas' albums. I approach every project the same, like it's a full-length album. Only reason Str8 Killa is an EP is because we just wanna sell it. And we couldn't sell all the records that was on the mixtape.
Complex: Is Devil's Palace gonna be major-label or is that more of a side project?
Freddie Gibbs: I don't know. We're thinking about that, too, how that's gonna come out. That might come out easy. Me and Alchemist might wanna do it ourselves and get that out there real hard. But like I said, I'm working on this Baby-Faced Killa and the Devil's Palace at the same time as Alchemist gives me beats. I'm pretty much gonna do that all-the-way Alchemist. There's probably like eight to ten joints. And the newer records I've been doing, that's probably gonna be for Baby-Faced Killa.
Complex: You met with Dame Dash while you were in New York. Is he gonna be involved at all with your situation?
Freddie Gibbs: We didn't really get into talks with Dame on that level yet. But it's just cool people that we've been working with. We just worked with Ski Beatz. He did a record that I'm probably gonna use for the Baby-Faced Killa project called "Illegal." We're just working man. I definitely would love the opportunity to work with Dame. We had a real good session at DD172, so you know it's still building.
Complex: Talking to you, you obviously don't seem to have a problem with confrontations. When's the last time you got in a fight?
Freddie Gibbs: Shit, that's a good question. Probably like about a month ago. I wouldn't even really call it a fight. I just beat a nigga's ass for coming sideways at the gym out in L.A. at a pickup basketball game. A nigga was playing basketball talking all crazy. I had to knock his ass out. It ain't really been no fights as of late, it's been more like lopsided victories. I ain't really had to sweat too much fighting nobody as of late. At L.A. Fitness, motherfucker was acting crazy. Motherfucker out here get to popping that "bitch" word too much and I ain't take too kindly to that. Ain't nobody, man or female gonna call me a "bitch" so I had to show him what a "bitch" was. My granddaddy said, "Don't let nobody call you a bitch." In the midst of the game, nigga was foul, and I was talking shit, but I aint call him no "bitch." Once he did that, he went too far and he had to get his motherfucking face cracked.
Complex: So you just stopped the game and laid the dude out?
Freddie Gibbs: Yeah, he was laid out. I mean he was talking shit acting like he wanted to do something, but there was too much blood coming out of his mouth and his nose. So he didn't wanna do nothing. I hit the nigga and left cause I ain't gonna sit there and wait for no police activity to start up. I'm on probation for five years—three years now—for felony gun possession in California. So basically I got two gun charges. I got one in Indiana and one out here in California so I gotta keep my nose clean.