For as much as the narrative has been put in place that Kendrick Lamar is the modern-day Tupac Shakur, there is one obvious candidate who much closer fits said comparison. His name is Freddie Gibbs, and although there are some distinct differences, more and more stuff happens to Gibbs that forces us to draw this conclusion.
The most recent example: Freddie Gibbs has spent the last year fighting a rape accusation, where he was ultimately found not guilty in an Austrian court. You can add this to the list of things like: getting shot, being a rapper, being a bonafide gangster, having an album cover depicting yourself as Jesus etc. If that isn’t enough, Gibbs leads off the album with “My ambitions as a rider, nigga.” So yeah, he is definitely an extension of the late Shakur.
His fourth full LP, You Only Live 2Wice, is affirmation of another similarity; Gibbs is a really fucking good rapper, and he sounds really fucking real when he raps. In fact, the whole idea of analyzing a Gibbs project is tough because, if you get good beats, what else can go wrong? He has one of the tightest flows, most engaging deliveries, and most precise lyricism in all of rap. This is why Piñata is so highly regarded. It gave Gibbs the chance to put his extreme potential on display over some of the most exquisite sounding beats of the decade.
But when Gibbs is left to his own devices, there can be some minor flaws which keep him from his peak like bad hooks, bad singing, or mediocre beats. This is what Gibbs sacrificed on 2015’s Shadow of a Doubt. It allowed him to be a bit more personal, honest, and adventurous with his work, but ultimately, the songs were a bit worse.
You Only Live 2Wice is also a bit worse than Piñata, but it improves in areas where Shadow of a Doubt left off. For one, there isn’t a single uninteresting beat (although you could make a case for “Phone Lit”). Secondly, the hooks are generally improved; he either gets rid of them completely and replaces them with a bridge, like on both parts of “20 Karat Jesus” (“I be kickin’ shit like…” and “quarter brick, half a brick, whole brick, holy shit.”); or turns the chorus into a 12-bar verse like on “Alexys”. There are two instances on “Dear Maria” and “Phone Lit” where the songs are made worse by his intent in singing, but it actually works over the extremely smooth second half of “Andrea”.
Otherwise, the highlights stem from the production, which is almost always lush, pristine, and feels like something of a hybrid between 90’s mafioso rap and today’s trap. Take the whirring violins of “Crushed Glass” that sound like they could have come directly out of Only Built 4 Cuban Linx. Other highlights include “Alexys” where BADBADNOTGOOD and Kaytranada team up for a vibrant instrumental; or “Amnesia” which features a demented vox sample as the backbone. No song, however, could match the album’s opener “20 Karat Jesus.” After two and a half minutes of a slow-motion narrative that details his recent court cases (among other things), the beat switches into something utterly divine. It’s a slice of mafioso rap heaven, as Gibbs spits tight bars about dealing cocaine over a fucking gorgeous choral sample.
Of course, all of these beats are made better by Gibbs’ proficiency on the mic – another quality that is reminiscent of Shakur. His ability to switch flows effortlessly, all while dropping extremely precise and clever lines, is what makes this project worth hearing. Lines like “I be kickin’ shit like Solange in the elevator,” or “on some Grayson Allen shit, I’m trippin’ on my niggas,” are among the funniest.
All things considered, good beats = good Gibbs project, and although he doesn’t offer too much interesting introspection into his turmoil in Austria, the production makes You Only Live 2wice worthwhile. It’s good to have Gibbs back, because “sitting in a cell 10,000 miles away from my child for my niggas” doesn’t sound like a good time, but it’s what people like Freddie do because they live lives very different from the ones we do.