Words are Freddie Gibbs’s life, so it only makes sense that he puts his life into his words. The 34-year-old Gary, Indiana MC’s fourth full-length, You Only Live 2wice, dropped on March 31st and, at just eight tracks, it’s his shortest and most focused effort yet.
There was a reason for this. On June 4, 2016, while on tour in Europe, he was arrested in France, charged with rape. On June 23rd he was extradited to Austria. After three months in jail he was released on September 30th, acquitted of all charges. “I’ve never gotten into any type of situation like this, at all, period,” he says on the phone from his home in California. “I’ve never had any type of domestic situation with a female, any type of thing.” He came home with a bunch of new lyrics, and recorded You Only Live 2wice. It’s got what’s becoming an instantly recognizable Gibbs sound, his smoky flow floating jewel-polished street rhymes over laid-back beats. On this one he gets reflective—but that’s not unusual for a guy whose last project kicked off with a record called “Rearview.”
2wice may be shorter than Gibbs’ previous projects, but it comes from the same place as his earlier albums, from mixtapes like The Miseducation of Freddie Gibbs to Piñata, his breakthrough LP with Madlib. A sequel to that is in the works. “Ain’t nothin’ changed with me, I’m Eastside Gary til I die,” he says. “I’ve been living in California for years so the West Coast is part of me as well. I kinda got duality when it comes to this geographical shit.”
We talked with Gibbs about how 2wice came together, what got him through his time inside, and why he’d never, ever do a whole song about Donald Trump.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
When did the process for the new record begin?
I pretty much wrote everything in my cell in Austria. I just wrote things down, wrote ideas, because I didn’t think that I was gonna be able to rap again. You just never know man, so I just wrote a lot of shit. And when I got home I got production and just went in and pieced it together like a seamstress. Everything that I wanted to say I got it all out in this project. And I think that’s why this was so significant for me.
What was the first song you wrote?
The first record that I probably wrote was “Alexys.” Then I wrote “Dear Maria.” As you can see, it’s a lot of girl’s names. The songs might not necessarily be about the specific females, but it’s elements of my memory of those females that fueled those songs. I dated a girl named Alexys and she was the first girl I got in a foreign car with. Those little experiences like that, those small liberties that you take for granted, you see that when you’re behind bars. I took a lot of people for granted, I took my baby mother for granted, so that’s why I spoke a lot about her on the project. I think this is one of my most open projects. I wrote this album and another album when I was locked up; I wrote the Madlib album too.
This is a shorter album compared to others of yours. Was that by design?
I definitely wanted to keep it short and sweet. As great as it was, my last project might have been a tad bit too long. I could have shortened things a little and it would have been even greater. So I was like OK, let me cut the fat and come with a lean, trim project. You look at where music’s at right now and if you get a project that got like 17 tracks on it—and it’s not takin’ away nothin’ from nobody—but 95 percent of the time I’m only gonna like like six or seven tracks on there. I want you to have somethin’ that you could hit repeat, I want you to keep playin’ this shit back-to-back-to-back-to-back.
Right now with the space that I’m at in my life and music and the way I write, I don’t feel the need for a long project. Shit, Tupac did All Eyez on Me—I think that shit is over and done with. I think that short, concise projects is what you’re gonna get from here on out with me.
You talk about cutting things down, and on the album you talk about cutting off friends or outgrowing friends. Has your circle grown smaller?
Yeah, definitely. Because I had to step back and realize who was valuable to my purpose and who wasn’t. When I first came in the game I had a bunch of homies that rapped that was hanging around me just because I was getting the rap attention and they felt they could feed off of that. And then, when they felt I wasn’t gonna break my time or my process to aid theirs, it became "fuck him, he ain’t this, he ain’t that.” So definitely my circle has gotten a lot smaller.
[There’s] a lot of people that I can’t trust no more and this experience that I went through in Austria shows that. My best friend stopped talking to me in the midst of this. He was the original one charged with the crime. I wasn’t even involved in this, I didn’t even have sex with the girls. He had sex with ‘em—I’m not saying he raped ‘em or anything of that nature, I just feel like if he would have handled his business a year ago with these charges, then myself and my family wouldn’t have went through this, because this is a time I didn’t do anything, I didn’t have anything to do with these females. I didn’t touch ‘em, I didn’t have any type
I just gotta get my name back. I feel like a lot of people backed off of me.
of sexual or intimate contact with these females whatsoever, so for him to put something on my name as heinous as rape is just—it’s outlandish. And in that process a lot of people were scared to deal with me because they didn’t know what was gonna be the outcome of the situation. When somebody accuses somebody of that, it’s just like “whoa, shit, well did he do it?” So even though I was acquitted of all charges, I found myself having to explain myself since I got out. I have to tell people, I have to explain the story. I wish I could just give it to you on DVD. But I gotta tell everybody look, this shit did not happen this way, I didn’t buy my way out of this, I didn’t pay to get acquitted. Man, I got acquitted because I actually did not do this.
I just gotta get my name back. I feel like a lot of people backed off of me because of this shit and that was kind of fucked up. Luckily, by the grace of God and my fans they still support me and they still love me because they know my character. But I had a lot of people—I ain’t gonna say no names, but it was a lot of people that was sayin’ oh yeah “free Freddie Gibbs” and blah blah blah, but then when I came home it was like “oh, whatever.” I feel like a lot of people in hip-hop and shit, they just want to be part of a moment. But then it’s business as usual. But when you in a situation everybody wanna post shit on Instagram—none of these people called me, I ain’t get support like that. The people that supported me, I know who they are. So it’s a lot of fake shit going on with that situation.
You talked on the record about Erica coming to see you and bringing you books—what did she bring you?
Oh man, she brought me a Gil-Scot Heron book called The Last Holiday. I was reading so much shit, man. I read the George Clinton autobiography. I was reading a lot of books when I was on the road anyway—I was on the road prior to the arrest. I felt like when I got in there, fuck, I couldn’t even read a book. I wasn’t even thinking about the iPhone and all of that shit, I was like I don’t have anything to read—not a newspaper, not a letter from nobody, nothing. So it was just like fuck, I’m hearin’ German all day, they’re sending my case files in German, and then I gotta wait three, four days for a translator to get there—it’s all fucked up. The language barrier alone was sickening, man. It was tough. I couldn’t get the things that I needed to get behind bars, because I didn’t speak the language.
Is that when you first started writing, because what else is there?
Right? What else is there to motherfuckin’ read but my own raps? Fuck it, I’m gonna just rap—rap all day, rap all night, write raps. Man, shit, maybe somebody’ll fuckin’ write a book out of these raps or somethin’ that I put out because I might not be able to ever record this shit, I might be in jail for fuckin’ 10 years. So as soon as I made bail, I just found a studio and got all of this shit out. When I made bail I went and recorded all this shit, [then] when I got home, mastered it and put it all together. Me and Lambo and Sid, we put the finishing touches on it—that’s mainly our process. I write, Sid get all the production together, Lambo come with the concepts and the ideas and the art, and then we just put it all together.
Does this make you think twice about touring Europe again, or even going outside the country?
Fuck no, I’m goin’ to get my paper back. I don’t have no quarrels about travelin’ at all because, like I said, I didn’t do anything. So I don’t feel afraid or threatened—I think this was an unfortunate situation that caused me to open my eyes and figure out that the people I got around me I don’t need to have around me. I don’t mind travelling. I’m independent so I gotta get on the grind.
You had that one line about Trump on “Crushed Glass.” Do you think now is a time when everyone is something of a political rapper?
Yeah, I think so. I think that’s it’s good and bad. I think that the political disarray that we’re in in this country fuels a lot of good music. When I heard Pac talkin’ about Bush and Bill Clinton, and all of that, it definitely opens your eyes to a lot of political things. But, on the flip side of that, I think a lot of this shit is just promotin’ a lot of Donald Trump, it’s like Trump Trump Trump Trump Trump. That’s why when I mentioned him I was like, “Damn, I ain’t even really wanna mention that motherfucker on my shit.” I had to say somethin,’ but I’d never make no fuckin’ full song about Donald Trump. It ain’t that serious. I don’t need to make a whole “anti Donald Trump” campaign, I think that’s what got the motherfucker elected.
Your first lines on this record are “my ambitions as a rider.” So many rappers now are talking about Tupac or comparing themselves to him—do you feel like you’re carrying on what he used to do?
For me to say that—I’m gonna have to let y’all writers say that. For me to say that, I think I’d be oversteppin’ my boundaries. I will say he is one of the main influences on my music. To me he’s the greatest rapper of all time, he’s my favorite rapper of all time—him and Scarface are up there neck and neck. I based a lot of my music on guys like him—Jay Z, the DMXs of the world, Pimp C.
I think that the Pac movie comin’ out and niggas just thinkin’ they’re Pac right now, that’s all, so—shit, motherfuckers dressing up like Tupac like it’s Halloween and shit. Social media shit right now, man, that’s all this shit is. Tupac is definitely an icon. There’ll never be another Tupac, so I’m not gonna ever, ever try to fill those shoes. I’m just gonna stay in my lane and be the best me that I can be.
The cover art of this one, there’s a little bit of Makaveli vibe to it.
You know that’s crazy, I didn’t think about that 'til after I made it.
What was the thought behind the cover?
When I was over there in Europe, on bail, I was looking at a lot of oil paintings and shit like that in the museums, and I was like, “Damn man, it ain’t no niggas in none of this shit.” I was reading history books, I’m like, damn, so these historians writin’ us out of history pretty much. All this Renaissance art don’t have no black people in it and if it do we’re like in the most destitute positions, a servant or some dumb shit like that. So I just wanted to recreate a oil painting with black people. The whole godly thing and all of that stuff, yeah, that’s gonna shake up some religious peoples’ heads, but I’m not depicting myself as Jesus or anything of that nature—I think this is symbolism of me rising from my situation. You Only Live 2wice—I rose from something that could have killed my career and changed my whole life, so that’s what I was trying to represent with the You Only Live 2wice. It’s a lot of meanings behind the title, the duality of my personality, all kinds of things that I struggle with. And it’s my daughter’s second birthday right now.
I know that, following you on social media, the birth of your daughter was a major change for you.
It definitely was a major change in my life. An inspirational change. And me being locked up behind bars on Father’s Day, that crushed me. Like fuck, I ain’t get to spend Father’s Day with my child, she fresh in the world. That was a terrible day behind bars. Father’s Day and my birthday was real hard.
DJ Khaled put his son as executive producer. Are you gonna do something like that with your daughter?
[Laughs.] Nah, we ain’t gonna do that with Irie yet, we’re gonna make sure she gets solidified with an education. Shout out to Asahd, that’s what’s up, but Irie ain’t about to executive produce nothin’ yet.
With the name of the record, I feel like you’ve lived more times than that. Do you feel being lucky has outweighed being unlucky?
Yeah definitely man. It’s just God, man. I don’t even know if it’s luck man, I think I got a purpose to be here for something. I’ve turned something that I love to do into a business, and that works for me. To me artists coming up in the game chase fame, when you can just become a smart businessman and monetize everything.
Have you thought about that, how you want to expand things beyond rap?
I’m trying to get into film. My videos have been real cinematic, and I write all the treatments for those, so it’s just like if I could write those treatments I could get into writing scripts. So I’ve been getting into writing scripts and reading different books, just making sure I’m well-versed in the topic before I start putting my creations out there. But I’m definitely about to dive into that.
I go on a lot of auditions, I auditioned for that movie Inherent Vice. I missed the role to Michael K. Williams. Matter of fact, I lose a lot of roles to Michael K. Williams. The film industry is kind of like the music industry—if they’re not gonna let me all the way in then I’m just gonna have to create my own path like I did with music. I’m glad I can put out good projects and get the critical acclaim that I get, because for an independent artist that’s a lot of all we got. I think the only thing that separates me from a lot of other guys is co-signs. Co-signs and major marketing dollars, that’s really it. But other than that I’m definitely one of the best rappers. Definitely in the top five—you can’t name five rappers that rap better than me.
[But] Future’s project is dope, I love his music. Who else? I don’t know, that’s really all I’m really pumpin’. I liked the Migos project when they put that out. But I think that I kinda got my own lane in the game. So what I do, I think I’m the best at it.
I was gonna ask you what you thought the state of rap was right now.
All I know is what I do, I’m the best at what I do. And I definitely got some sons. I’m proud of that. I see their albums come out and I be like, "Hell yeah, that’s dope."
So what’s next for you?
I got a lot of stuff recorded, man, so I don’t even know if there’s a need to get back in the studio. Y’all pretty much know that I’m about to drop the bomb with this Madlib shit. That’s rumored, you know what I mean, allegedly I’m about to drop that—when Otis is ready then I’m gonna drop that. Other than that I’m just chillin’ right now, I’m enjoying life, I’m enjoying my freedom. I’m not taking a day of that for granted no more.