Freddie Gibbs getting a role in a film in 2021—a leading role in his debut feature film, at that—is amazing. The film, Down With the King, is getting its world premiere this Sunday (July 11) as a part of the ACID lineup at the Cannes Film Festival. Gibbs stars as Mercury Maxwell, aka Money Merc, a successful rapper who’s set to start work on his next project. Getting away from city life, Money Merc takes a trip to the middle of nowhere, and starts to contemplate if he’s trying to continue down the path of success as a world-famous entertainer and maintain that lifestyle, or if he should… become a farmer. Seriously.
It’s a wild premise for an independent film but Down With the King, which is directed by Diego Ongaro (from a script Ongaro co-wrote with Xabi Molia), feels perfect for Gibbs, who himself has found acclaim from fans and critics alike for practically the last decade. “I’ve been, not necessarily at the point where I wanted to retire,” Gibbs shares with Complex, “but wanting to quit with the music thing and just the way things are with the atmosphere, with the constant grind, trying to keep people entertained; that’s a difficult thing.” Gibbs isn’t going down that road—he’s spoke proudly of his forthcoming album, Soul Sold Separately—but Gibbs is ready to pursue more acting in his immediate future. And judging by his work in Down With the King, we’re ready to see more of it.
During this conversation, Gibbs speaks candidly about his desire to get into the acting game, the atmosphere of the set and how much of his life in the industry bled into the role of Money Merc. Gibbs also stalks Soul Sold Separately and why he likes it when he’s underrated.
In following you on social media and seeing your personality for years, I wasn’t surprised that you were trying to act, but why now? What was the process of you coming to Down With the King?
This ain’t a “now” type thing, man, I been trying to act probably just as long as I’ve been trying to rap. I just [had] never the opportunities for [the] way that I wanted. It was always hood movies, shit that I ain’t want to be in. No disrespect to nobody [that] do that type of shit, but I just didn’t want to be in that type of shit, I wanted to be in real avant-garde, artistic type of things. And I got turned down for a lot of auditions, just like I got turned down for a lot of record deals. So this independent opportunity came along and now I’m getting other opportunities to shine. Now I got all kinds of other roles calling and it’s a beautiful thing, man. Praise the Lord.
I was really intrigued with the film, especially when I saw that you got a story by credit. Talk about how much you put into this character.
I had to quit being Freddie Gibbs for six months that I had to be Mercury. There’s a lot of flaws that I have as a human being and as a man that I added to him to give it a little more sense of reality. Because I’ve been, not necessarily at the point where I wanted to retire, but wanting to quit with the music thing and just the way things are with the atmosphere, with the constant grind, trying to keep people entertained; that’s a difficult thing. You see a lot of entertainers commit suicide and turn to drugs. I’ve had my run-ins with drugs and mental health and things of that nature, so this was a good way for me to kind of put that on canvas without necessarily kind of talking about it to anybody. This movie was more therapeutic for me than anything, even with some of the music.
When did you work on the film?
Man. You know what? I’ve been working on being the character for all last year. We probably shot for about maybe two months, but I wanted to show the staff, the cast, the crew, and the director, Diego, that I was coming in prepared and I was coming in and ready to work. Soon as I got word that I got the role, my preparation started there.
How was that? You’ve got some really strong actors in the cast in this film. What was that process like? Was it intimidating for you at all?
Oh yeah, definitely. When you step in the gym with guys that’s already been hooping and you the rookie, of course you got a little bit of intimidation, but that also helped me rise to the occasion as well, because I’m working with a cast of seasoned actors. I got a lot of tips from them on what to do and just me being around that really gave me a lot of game. So it was good for me, man and I think I rose to the occasion.
It’s dope to hear that you didn’t want to take on some of the more, I guess, stereotypical roles and go for something a little more avant-garde. Was there anyone that you drew inspiration from?
I knew that this is going to be a difficult task transitioning from a rapper, especially a gangsta rapper to an actor, so I looked at guys that did it to perfection, such as Ice Cube. I looked at a lot of Common. I looked at a lot of the roles that he played. He’s a guy that I study because I want to come into this fully fledged and this is my transition from making music. I know that as I grow in age, this is something that I can do for a long time, and that I love. I don’t want motherfuckers thinking, “Oh, he just getting roles because he a fucking rapper.” Every role that I get, I really go audition for and I really put in the work for. I don’t think nobody ever gave me shit and the shits that’s been given to me wasn’t worth it so I didn’t take, you know what I mean? God been putting me in positions that I need to be in.
I looked at the guys that transitioned from the music to acting, that are real A-list actors. I’m even looking at one of my peers, Joey Badass. I like what he’s doing. I totally respect what he does. It’s difficult, you know what I mean? Coming from music and acting as I think it would be difficult going from acting into music. Just the fact that I know how to entertain carries me over, you know what I mean? I mean shit, a couple of weeks ago, I hosted a fucking comedy show, so I studied guys like Bernie Mac and Martin Lawrence. I’m just here to put the Freddie Gibbs shit on all kinds of different platforms, not just musically. And I hope people can respect that.
It’s interesting you say that because you’re a funny motherfucker. There were some parts of the film that sounded straight out of you roasting your homies on your IG story. There was a lot of what felt like natural laughter and humor between you and your cast members in the film. Was there a lot of improvisation going on with dialogue?
Yeah, it was a lot of improv, and like you said, I’m funny, so motherfuckers was laughing at the shit I would say. We kept it real loose. We didn’t stick to the script too much, but the director, Diego, I look at him as a mentor, big brother, father figure. He really coached me through this whole thing, so whatever accolades or whatever I get from acting, now and in the future, I attribute a lot of that to him because he really gave me that student-teacher vibe and he really helped me through this thing.
The entire film has a looser vibe, and I know it’s a movie, but your character is skinning pigs and there are a lot of blunts being rolled in the film. What was real? Were you really smoking weed? Were you really skinning pigs? Where was reality and where was fiction at?
Man, I got to leave some of that to your imagination. [Laughs] I will say this: I was in the thick of it. If you want to call this shit Method acting, I definitely did that, I became that shit. You know what I’m saying? And it was easy for me to tap into the emotional side of Mercury, because I was going through some emotional shit at the time. You know what I’m saying? My girlfriend at the time was pregnant with a baby, so I just had a new baby.
Thank you. Thank you. So while I’m shooting the movie, my daughters being born, you know what I’m saying? And I can’t go see her because of the COVID shit. So it’s a lot of shit that was going on during that time that was really bleeding out into the character because I was really fucking going through it. I’m in the middle of nowhere shooting the movie. Then I got my other kids. And then I had the success with Alfredo that was going on. I had a whole lot on my plate while I was shooting this movie, so in the times where I needed to be emotional, it came very natural, because I was really dealing with a lot. I was going through… I ain’t going to say a bad mental state, because a lot of blessings and success coming my way, but it was a lot to handle. But my mom always told me, God don’t give you more than you can handle. So I bucked it out. God put me through all of that shit so I can let all of that shine in this role, so I’m grateful for all that.
The other thing I was listening for was the songs in the movie. I was like, “All right, I’m about to talk to Freddie Gibbs. Are these new bars or are these old bars?” Because there’s a lot of rapping. Money Merc has got a number of different freestyles and performances. Was that stuff that you were creating in anticipation of starting the production? Were you working on rhymes during the production?
I mean, bro. I’m going to tell you this. If there was a motherfucking rap hall of fame, I’d definitely be going to that bitch. I’m one of the best rappers of my generation, of all time. Tell my generation I said that. You ain’t never heard me with no recycled bar. So when the director said action, it was new bars. And he said cut, it was new bars. Every time.
You know what it is? Some cats will say, “I’m about to do the movie, let me put my single that’s been out as the song is being worked on.”
Nah man, SSS, my new album. Soul Sold Separately, that’s my motherfucking all fresh shit. The new album is going to be crazy. This is probably going to be the best album I did. I think this one. I think ever since Piñata, I’ve been dropping classic albums, so I’m not going to stop right there. You know what I’m saying? Piñata, classic. Bandana was a classic. Alfredo is a classic. SSS, going to be the same thing. I leveled up on his album. It’s going to be more features. It’s a little more sauce on this one I would say. Alfredo, that was just me rapping with…shit, I barely wrote a fucking hook on Alfredo. I was just showing niggas they can’t rap better than me.
I’m about to say that I’m tired of proving that, but I’m really not tired of it because it actually… The more y’all motherfuckers underrate me and put all these niggas over me, all the dudes, it made me more hungry. Like Complex, y’all got the Best Rapper Alive list and I’m like, “What the fuck?” No disrespect to nobody but shit, I love when y’all don’t put me there. I’m like, “All right, I’m going to get there.” For real though, y’all piss me off with that shit and I was like, “Fuck that.”
While I was recording the movie, that’s all I was thinking about. I was like, “Man, I got to hurry up and get done with this shit, so I’m going to do the best I can do with this shit because I don’t want to have to shoot no extra takes because I’m ready to go to the motherfucking studio and obliterate niggas, dawg.” I’m tired of y’all motherfuckers underrating me. I’m tired of y’all putting certain niggas over me like I’m not the best gangsta rapper out, for real dawg.
I’m tired of that shit. I know niggas got Lil Baby and DaBaby and all them babies and all that type of shit and all these other niggas. I respect all of that, that’s all love. Them hitmakers, I respect that. I can’t get in their lane for what they do for making hits, them niggas do that. Niggas going to stop leaving me out the conversation. And a lot of reasons y’all leave me out of the conversation is because I’m not from a hub. I’m not from LA. I’m not from Chicago. I’m not from Atlanta. I’m not from New York. I’m not from a fucking big hub of music. I’m from Gary. We ain’t even got a mall and a radio station. But the fact that I came out of that shit and in your face right now, nigga, is the facts to let you know who the strongest is. You know what I’m saying? Man, only motherfuckers that came from where I came from is Micheal Jackson, dawg. You know what I’m saying?
I’m going to prove to y’all what level that I’m on with this album. I’m going to prove to y’all how hard I’ve been working to get to a high level with my acting. Because I’m going to get there, too. Just as good as I am at rapping, I’m going to get there with acting, too. I ain’t there yet, but I’m going to get there. I got promise and I got opportunity and I work hard. As a matter of fact, I’m at the gym right now, I’m about to see my acting coach when I leave. I eat, sleep and breathe this. I hear a lot of niggas, I heard [a song] on the way here at the gym when I listen to the radio and I’m like, “I heard this, nigga.” I ain’t going to say his name, but I’m like, “Damn. This song he put out this year sound like the one he [put out] last year.” Then I can pull up three of his other songs, he on this same pattern.
I just feel like niggas ain’t give me nothing. They not giving y’all nothing creative. I mean shit, you a motherfucking writer, dawg. You get up every day…this your hard-earned job you doing right.
You don’t want to go spend your fucking hard-earned money on a nigga that ain’t working hard on the art. You don’t want to come to a show, I’m cheating you. I’m cheating you out your money. You dig? I don’t want to do that and I’m not going to do that. So I’m going to give y’all the best work. And it ain’t about the money for me, my nigga, I’m straight. Before I was doing this, I was selling rock cocaine, bro, so it ain’t a question to see if I can support myself, you know what I’m saying? I ain’t doing this just to support myself. I’m doing this because I want to be great at it. Every aspect of it. It’s going to be a lot of bumps in the road when you’re trying to be great, my nigga. So it is what it is. I’m ready to take all those.