Some people might know just how much I loved Freddie Gibbs’ album Piñata; indeed, I’ve been writing and talking about how fantastic it is since I first heard it, a year late, in 2015. Unfortunately, Gibbs’ effort that same year, Shadow of a Doubt, was a bit of a disappointment for me. It did, of course, include the superb number ‘Fuckin’ up the Count’ (the music video for which was also fantastic), but apart from that, I found it a little forgettable. ‘Careless’ I positively disliked.
Regardless, Gibbs is a skilled enough MC to hold his own against other living legends such as Joey Bada$$ and J. Cole, so you can imagine my schoolboy-high-on-lemonade excitement when I heard he was releasing a new album in March 2017. And I was both relieved and vindicated when it was just as excellent as I thought it would be.
I first heard ‘Crushed Glass’ and was actually quite underwhelmed. It didn’t have the same intensity as ‘Fuckin’ up the Count’, and didn’t affect me viscerally as had, well, nearly every track from Piñata. (But then what could?) Having listened to the album the whole way through now, my opinion has changed. ‘Crushed Glass’ fits perfectly with the theme of revelation and redemption which arches over this record, and is perhaps best exemplified by its music video.
Any album which begins with a track as hard as ’20 Karat Jesus’ and has a levitating halo-adorned rapper on the front is always going to be good. And it just seems to get better; the staccato strings on ‘Alexys’ lead in beautifully to a deeply satisfying bass drop and Gibbs is immediately talking about tasting cocaine at fifteen years old and subsequently slinging it on street corners in his typically unforgiving style.
‘Dear Maria’, my second least favourite on this record, fits the theme well. Unfortunately, Gibbs seems to be rapping so quickly his lyrics blur into an inexorable mumble, which detracts from what could be a great number. The production, as it is on the rest of this LP, is fantastic, but Gibbs, for once in his career, manages to ruin it with his vocal delivery.
‘Andrea’ remains one of my favourite tracks on this record, although it’s difficult to isolate a single song; the whole album blends extremely well. Several things impress me on this track, though: Gibbs sounding genuinely tearful when spitting about Dukie losing his arm in a botched robbery; the huge drop at around 2:25; as always, Gibbs’ relentless flow. But mostly, it’s the incredible gloss on that hook, one of the smoothest hooks on a hip hop tune I’ve heard in a long time.
‘Andrea’ bleeds into ‘Phone Lit’, perhaps my least favourite track on this record, which reminds me somewhat of the commercial sound of ‘Careless’. Something I do respect about Gibbs—or his producer—is his ability to utilise autotune perfectly; not so much that it becomes unbearable (Migos) but just enough to add a touch of atmosphere to his hooks. If it weren’t for this track, combined with Gibbs’ propensity for mumbling on ‘Dear Maria’, this may well be a perfect record.
The album ends with the excellent ‘Homesick’, perhaps the most emotional track Gibbs has ever produced. Gibbs references his daughter, losing his friends, his mother’s disapproval, his responsibility to his family and, of course, thuggin’. But it’s the ending that really hits home: Gibbs talking frankly about giving up his life of crime to look after his family, and telling his family, telling us, simply, ‘I’m back. And I ain’t going nowhere this time.’ After everything Gibbs has been through in the last few years—spending time in a French jail, being charged and subsequently acquitted of two charges of rape—these last few words sound very much like redemption, like Gibbs forgiving himself, and finally finding peace.