Imagine having sketched out the blueprints of both your life and career based solely on the footsteps of your greatest musical idol, and for the lows of their career to begin to bleed into the heights of your own.
For Freddie Gibbs, the course of his life continues to bear an eerie resemblance to that of Tupac Shakur. With the shooting of 2014 that left two of his entourage wounded and the sexual assault charge that hung over him throughout most of 2016, it’s likely that he’s never felt closer to Shakur than in the past few years. Where for Gibbs, 2017 has brought his resurrection into the public space, escaping both death and incarceration, and the release of his fourth album You Only Live 2wice, his idol wasn’t so fortunate. As the public’s gaze lifts from his personal life and returns to his artform, Gibbs takes the opportunity to address just how close he came.
The second coming of Freddie Gibbs is most immediately painted through the album artwork, which presents him as a deity figure, overlooking a social climate of ambitious disciples, heavy-handed police busts and disinterested strippers. Although Gibbs has risen, the snake remains an intimate companion winding itself across his hands and backbone. Celebrated for continuing to fly the flag for Gangster Rap deep into this age, his form of rap unites an ice-cold flow with simple yet hard-hitting lyrics in which the relationship with the sinner has always been a central focal point in Gibbs’ music.
Opening with the self-proclaiming two-parter 20 Karat Jesus, it’s debatable whether it’s his own sins Gibbs is prepared to die for as he splits himself as an ornate Jesus in levitation above the law and the man haunted by his past. He’s open about the physical reaction to his trauma behind foreign bars, "don't sleep, bags under my eyes is designer," and his response to his disengagement with the criminality in his past, "stuck on the respirator / Got symptoms of withdrawal from the fall when I used to ball / I show you how in one summer one nigga could lose it all." Although the pull towards his past may remain, Gibbs is clearly rattled by his experiences and given the chance for his second coming, he makes clear that he intends to channel his gratitude into his music and infant daughter.
BadBadNotGood and Kaytranada link up for the production on Alexys while Gibbs addresses the betrayals and changes in direction amongst his friends, and later the fall in the importance of his crew in balance with his daughter on Homesick. Leading single Crushed Glass sees Gibbs dissect the first life, starting each verse with the manifesto "the future started yesterday" he draws comparisons between his past and present self, "Every minute feelin' different, I am not the same nigga / I admit that I was timid at a younger age, nigga / Daddy asked me what I wanna be, I said, 'A paid nigga' / With them extras out the pot, I gave myself a raise, nigga." The more harrowing experiences during his time spent incarcerated behind foreign bars are also vividly detailed: "Barely eat the food, stress'll make a nigga lose weight / Enter the mental of a nigga that wish he knew his fate / Shit these bitches do to try to get your cash / Erica visit, can't wipe her tears from behind the glass."
However, It cannot be ignored that much of this project feels entirely evasive. Much of Gibbs’ lyrics condemn the sexual assault case as nonsense, "I just beat a rape case, groupie bitch I never fucked / Trying to give me 10 for some pussy that I never touched.” Although it’s good news to have Freddie back behind the mic, using his music as the medium for denial makes for slightly uncomfortable listening at times.
Nonetheless, You Only Live 2wice is a good warm-up project, an opportunity to shed ephemeral light on the dark years in the Freddie Gibbs saga. At a total of 32 minutes, it sits stubbornly between the murky boundaries of the EP and the LP; perhaps the playtime is a comment on this short period in his life, one that Gibbs insists has passed and is not coming back. What becomes clear is that there is a haunted paranoia running riot in Gibbs’ writing now, shaken and hollow having dodged the bullet and the judiciary, with ten toes on the precipice of his career, it’s unclear at this point whether Gibbs will continue to rise or fall.
Words: Charlie Fyfe