Freddie Gibbs has been waiting for this moment.
“This,” of course, could refer to a number of things: his first Grammy nomination, which he earned for his Alchemist-produced album Alfredo; a major label deal with Warner Records he’s finally comfortable with; or the ability to stop grinding for just one second and appreciate all the hard work that’s led him to this place.
Driving through the hills of Los Angeles, Gibbs’ phone breaks in and out during the beginning of our conversation. It’s a good problem to have; all this success has Gibbs cruising through the Hollywood Hills, rubbing shoulders with L.A’.s elite. But, in only a way Gibbs could have predicted, he saw all this coming. “I’m expecting to be nominated [for a Grammy] every year,” he tells Complex with a laugh.
When his 2019 LP with Madlib, Bandana, wasn’t nominated, he earned the status of a critical darling; an underrated icon too hellbent on his own style to appease the mainstream. But he has managed to find a way to bridge these two worlds. It’s why Warner Records was so excited to ink him and his ESGN imprint to a deal. Gibbs has an artistry that few others do. He keeps his independent spirit alive, but you may also find “Scottie Beam” playing in the clubs. Well, at least after “this COVID shit,” as Gibbs refers to it, ends.
He will never be used to the mainstream, though. When I ask him about a potential, much talked-about Verzuz matchup with Pusha-T, he practically scoffs. “Hell no, I could never do Verzuz. I ain’t got no hits!” he exclaims with a cackle. Sure, his sound veers more toward the eclectic style of underground legends than the immediacy of mainstream rap. But chances are, if you like rap, you love Gibbs. He’s a Gary, Indiana legend with a relentless work ethic, and a willingness to fight anyone that wrongs him, no matter how big or small. He’s banned from Instagram, but his “homie,” Cokane Rabbit is letting him hop on the page for the “occasional” post.
Gibbs is more comfortable than he’s ever been, which would give him the excuse to coast for a while. But “Gang Signs,” his second song and video since signing with Warner, is the sort of release only an MC at the height of their powers could churn out. He invited Schoolboy Q on the track because the two had never linked up before. It just seemed logical. That’s the kind of MC Gibbs is: If you fuck with him, he’ll take care of you, he’ll hype you up, and he’ll expect you to do the same because it’s all love. If not? Well, let’s hope you don’t end up on a diss track, because bar to bar, few can rap like Gangsta Gibbs.
“I haven’t reached my peak yet,” he says. A scary thought indeed.
Complex caught up with Freddie Gibbs for a conversation about “Gang Signs,” his Instagram ban, why he “can never do a Verzuz,” Jeezy, Pusha-T, and more. The interview, lightly edited for clarity, is below.
What made you think Schoolboy Q would be the right MC to hop on this track?
To be honest, it’s long overdue. I was just trying to put something together that was suitable for him. “Gang Signs” is probably the first record I did when I signed with Warner. I walked in the studio, laid it down, and sat on it for a while without having a featured artist in mind. Eventually, I was like, “Man, I’m going to give this to Q,” because we hadn’t worked yet, which seems crazy. It just came together like that. It was super easy.
Were you hesitant at all to sign a new major label deal after all the work you’ve done on your own? Your major label deals haven’t ended particularly well.
I wouldn’t say I was hesitant, but I’m always cautious in everything that I do. I never release anything without intention, and I think Warner knows that. I was ready to do something different. I’ve got some good, familiar people in the building over at Warner and it just felt like a good time to do it. I felt like it was a level up.
What was your reaction when you heard about the Grammy nomination? Were you expecting to be nominated?
[Laughs.] I’m expecting to be nominated every year. Naw, I didn’t think that they were going to nominate me. They didn’t nominate me last year for Bandana so I was just like, “Maybe the type of music I’m making isn’t for the Grammys.” I started thinking that. But they surprised me this year and I’m thankful, I’m humble about it, and I’m glad that I got invited to the party. But now I feel like I should win. I’ve been saying I had the best album from the jump and I think that the fact that the Grammys nominated it proves that. Praise Allah, I got nominated. But now I’m like, “I really want to win.”
“I’m going to drop an album this year because I want to be in the Rap Album of the Year category again for the next Grammys.”
What happens if you don’t?
Oh, man. I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing. Hopefully I’ll be back there in another year. This could be the first of many nominations. I’m just happy my stuff’s getting recognized. So win or lose, I’ve already won.
Was Alfredo the sort of record you knew was a classic while you were recording it?
It’s a tribute to Alchemist, if we’re being honest. I felt like he was really in his bag. Guys like Alc and Madlib, they really bring the best rapper out of me. Once he started rolling out the beats, I was like, “Oh, man.” It was all a layup, man. I promise Alfredo was the easiest album I’ve ever recorded in my life. I feel like people praise my lyrical ability on there, but I’ve been lyrical, I’ve had bars. With Alfredo, I was just sparring and I ended up knocking their ass out. It was like when Buster Douglas knocked out Mike Tyson. People say they’re some of my best raps. I guess I can agree with them, but the competitor in me knows that I got better shit to come.
What is it about working with a single producer that locks you in?
Everything has to make sense when you’re working with a single producer. The lyrics have got to make sense, the title has to make sense, the whole presentation of it has to make sense. There are maybe five—maybe less than five that I would do that with. I know Alchemist and Madlib will be at the top of that list for me. It ain’t that many producers, no disrespect to nobody, you know what I mean? But there ain’t that many producers that I would do a full project with.
Are there any off the top of your head that you would like to do a record with?
I don’t know, man. I’m all-in with Alchemist and Madlib so I don’t really know yet, I can’t really scratch the surface on who I want to do a full new project with other than those two guys.
“I could never do Verzuz. I ain’t got no hits! Verzuz is for n****s with hits and all that type of sh*t, that mainstream type sh*t.”
When you’re doing these one-producer albums, you almost treat your role as a creative director.
Yeah, definitely, man. Me and Lambo [Gibbs’ longtime manager] treat every project like it’s a presentation, not just 10 or 15 songs that you’re streaming. The artwork, the Black hand with the pasta, and the Godfather puppet, I came up with that because we’re going through a fucked up time in America, socially. I was watching The Godfather one day and I was like, “Damn, I always see that white hand with that control and that puppet, I’ve never seen a Black hand have that control.” I was like, “All right, let me motherfucking put this as an image for my album.”
You have Alchemist and Freddie Gibbs, and I was like, “Fuck it, Alfredo.” So I just got on some Black mafia shit with that. And I think the concept of that really stuck with people. It was like, “Damn, I’ve never seen that type of thing.” You know what I mean? I wanted to create a hard image but it’s also a soft image because at the end of the day it’s food. So if you’re hungry, you can relate to it as well. It could mean something different to a lot of people.
Do you have an interest in making more political rap music?
Man, I don’t give a fuck. [Laughs.] I’m going to talk shit about it. I’m going to make jokes about the shit, man. I’m really a comedian. Everybody asks me my political approach and I’m like, “Shit, the same political approach that Richard Pryor and Dave Chappelle and all them n****s got.” The system’s fucked up against us and sometimes you’ve got to laugh to not cry about this shit. I’m not necessarily about to go in the studio and make civil rights tracks. I think that a lot of the n****s that did that shit last year, that shit was corny. Because a lot of them n****s was reaching, and I feel like a lot of them n****s was just trying to take advantage of a time.
I hate when n****s do that with music, when it’s all corny shit, because motherfuckers try to take advantage of a moment or some shit like that. I ain’t ever do that. People were saying that the “Scottie Beam” song was a song for the movement, for civil rights, the social movement, and I’m like, “Shit, I wasn’t thinking about that shit, n***a, I was on that motherfucker talking about selling dope.” [Laughs.] So if it came across to you like that, if it inspired you like that, then that’s great. Bro, I’ve got Huey Newton tattooed on my back, I’ve been aware of the shit that I needed to be aware of, and I’ve been throwing jabs at some of them in raps. So I ain’t about to change to political, I ain’t about to do all of that shit. I’ve been talking about all this and I talk about it from the perspective of a street n***a. That’s the difference between me and a lot of other guys.
You definitely have comedic tendencies, especially on Instagram. You were pushing the envelope before you got banned, but you seem to be popping up again.
Man, you’ve got to be a gangsta ass n***a to get banned from Instagram, man. Shoutout Instagram, man. I want my page back now. Y’all might as well give me my shit back. I’m the best motherfucker on there, on the low. But I think that they said I was doing a lot of bullying and nudity and all that type of shit, but that shit was all out of entertainment, man.
Hopefully they’ll give me my [account] back, but I’ve got a buddy named Cokane Rabbit, I’ve been sneaking on his page.
“You’ve got to be a gangsta ass n***a to get banned from Instagram, man.”
I learned pretty quickly not to open your page when I’m in public.
[Laughs.] Yeah, that’s a no. Don’t do that in public.
I thought you and Jeezy were good for the most part, but then he dropped that song where he calls out you and 50. Where are you at right now with him?
I think that I’m in a good spot, so I don’t really got nothing to prove in that regard anymore. As far as that situation, I think that I’ve proven that I’m supposed to be here, that I’m going to be here, and that’s the only message that I was trying to convey to him. I believe that if I bumped into him, it wouldn’t be no fight or nothing like that. I don’t think it’s a problem.
There are a couple of motherfuckers in the rap game that if I bump into their motherfucking asses, we’re going to have some problems.
Anyone you wanna name?
Jeezy just ain’t one of them no more. Shit, you’ll see who else. You’re going to read about their ass on TMZ. Wait until this COVID shit over with, a lot of n****s get fucked up. Wait until we can really go back outside. I ain’t talking about just in Atlanta and Texas and shit. When we open all the way back up, n****s get fucked up. There’s going to be a lot of n****s getting their ass fucked over. [Laughs.] My bad for the outburst.
There have been some rumors that you and Pusha-T may do a Verzuz. Where are you at with that? Have you discussed doing a Verzuz with him?
Hell no. I could never do Verzuz. I ain’t got no hits! [Laughs.] Verzuz is for n****s with hits and all that type of shit, that mainstream type shit. I ain’t got that. I would never do a Verzuz, and that’s why I said that, because I’m like, “Man, in this social media era, people would be quick to just put shit against the other.” You can compare and contrast me and Pusha-T all day. He’s one of the guys I look up to, so that’s why I was like, “Look, the Verzuz is going to compare us, so let’s get on a project together to see where that goes, and make some money, instead of just empty ass tweets.” I’m like, “Shit, I want to talk to you, bro.” I might as well do a project with him.
Have you heard back from him on that?
It’s just ideas there right now. I ain’t even hit him about it. Maybe he’s seen that shit on the internet, but one day that’ll probably happen. That’d be hard.
Are there any other rappers outside of Schoolboy that you want to work with soon?
I haven’t really done too many other new collabs. I guess with this COVID shit, n****s have just been scared to get on tracks with me. Naw, I’m just playing. [Laughs.] I’ve got a song with A$AP Ferg. I’ve been doing a couple of different features and shit like that, but for the most part, man, I’m just out here floating, doing this Freddie Gibbs shit.
Have you started plotting the Warner debut?
I’ve got a general idea and stuff that I want to do, but I’m not in a rush. I just got fucking Grammy-nominated, man. I don’t really give a fuck. I’m just having fun. I’m going to drop an album this year because I want to be in the Rap Album of the Year category again for the next Grammys, so I’m definitely gonna drop some shit.
I don’t know when that’s going to be or anything of that nature, but right now I’m just dropping these songs, man. Warner is giving me the ability to just drop these records and have fun with it and let things float. I’m just trying to get some plaques this year.