Ask Freddie Gibbs
what’s on his iPod, and he’ll inevitably tell you the same thing: early Scarface, Geto Boys and Ice Cube. Occasionally, he’ll mix in some old-school R&B or some 2Pac. But 2Pac’s favorite record was the Geto Boys' “Grip It on That Other Level,” so there’s a consistent theme at hand.
It’s neither a very unique nor diverse play list, but within those artists’ early work you can find detail-heavy street narratives suffused with emotions fit for an Olympian myth: rage, revenge, jealousy, lust and enough illicit substances to fill a bacchanalian festival. The seven deadly sins and then some.
Since emerging with a pair of acclaimed mixtapes last year, the former Interscope apostate has attempted to fill that same void of raw realist rap and haunted emotions. He has plenty of competition, but few can match his unique skill set of perfect cadence and a vengeful baritone.
Pocked by permanent physical scars from a brutal childhood in Gary, Ind., and metaphorical ones from the doubters he’s endured in a turbulent industry career, Gibbs has been named one of XXL’s Top 10 Freshmen and praised by the likes of hipster-skewing publications such as Pitchfork and the Fader.
Currently without a deal, he recently released his “Str8 Killa No Filla” EP on the indie-underground imprint Decon. It was an unusually hardcore record for a label primarily dedicated to positive-skewing rap, but it reflected Gibbs’ widespread appeal to rap traditionalists and anyone who still believes that rapping well with smart lyrics should matter (it should).
Paired tonight at the Echoplex with the legendary GZA from the Wu-Tang Clan, Gibbs has elevated his live show to the point where he might give the grandmaster a run for his king piece -- rapping with the ferocious hunger of someone desperate to checkmate his rivals -- both imagined and otherwise.