Freddie Gibbs’s best attribute as a rapper is that he’s a really good rapper. That’s neither the answer to a riddle nor a plainly obvious statement, as smart storytelling and dexterity on the mike are no longer all that’s needed to become one of the genre’s biggest superstars. Gibbs lacks those other traits — an outsize personality, a star-studded entourage, a multimedia mindset — common in today’s chart-toppers and headliners.
So it would seem that Gibbs is resigned to the fate of being a favorite of rap purists, with his no-nonsense gangsta tales appealing mostly to those who think the genre peaked in 1993. But a pair of new releases show Gibbs doesn’t need to reinvent himself in order to find a spark, he simply needs to keep new company. Mix tape “Cold Day in Hell” and EP “Thuggin’ ” showcase Gibbs in his element — but in slightly different surroundings that freshen up his sound. That’s not immediately apparently on “Cold Day,” which features “Rob Me a [Expletive]” and “187 Proof” among its first tracks, which are clinical if a bit cold, with Gibbs fighting to be heard over imposing beats. But when the soundtrack is less forceful, Gibbs keeps going hard, as tracks such as “B.A.N.ned” and “So Amazin’ ” feature softer beats that don’t compromise his trademark toughness.
Even more promising is “Thuggin’,” a collaborative EP with underground beat master Madlib. The title track finds Gibbs spitting rapid-fire verses that serve the title, but this time over a spare and understated symphonic beat. Gibbs is not a shouter, and the subdued track makes him sound more authoritative and sets up what should be a winning template — give him a stark beat and get out of the way.
“B.A.N.ned” and “So Amazin’ ” (from “Cold Day in Hell”), “Thuggin’ ” and “Deep” (from “Thuggin’ ”)