By Colin McGowan | 21 July 2010
Bear in Heaven probably had some terrible shit yelled at them as they encroached on Freddie Gibbs’ set late on a scorcherous second day of Pitchfork Fest. You see, when I arrived at the shade-protected B stage to see Gibbs, there were already 100 or so ardent fans of the Gary, IN rapper who had sat through God knows how much of some of the lamest folk rock of the festival just to secure their spot in front of the stage for when the gangsta rap revivalist’s performance popped off. These are people who obviously purchased a Saturday ticket to see Rae, Gibbs, and nobody the fuck else. With confidence, I assert that these rap nerds despised Bear in Heaven and their supporters; I wonder how the sunny sing-a-alongers and the backwoods blunt blazers commingled without bows being throwed.
As the Bear in Heaven fans sashayed over to the massive (also sashaying) pack of James Murphy-enablers, Gangsta Gibbs entered stage left, clutching a half-empty bottle of Hennessy and some water that he flung all over the stage as he gesticulated and shook. There was little nuance to Gibbs’ act: just breathless double-time flows, bombastic shit-talking, and the exact variety of banter you would expect from the sneering MC. Before bursting into a smoke-ensconced rendition of “Boxframe Cadillac,” Gibbs implored the crowd to light up, reassuring us that, “[The police] won’t do shit. If they arrest you, I got your bail money.” In between these mini-sermons, Freddie’s flow smoldered like so much blunt paper; fucked up as he was, he never misplaced a syllable, occasionally embellishing his written material with four-bar freestyles. Even the hypemen were clinical on the night, providing emphasis and fat-man dances when Gibbs needed them, falling back and nodding along when he didn’t. So airtight was the set, that when Freddie went into the crowd late in his set he was greeted like a descending messiah. When he told us he loved us, it felt pure.
Mostly, Gibbs’ killer live show felt like an affirmation. When compared to other up-and-comers like Curren$y and Wiz Khalifa, Gibbs is infinitely more exciting, and his clinical set at Pitchfork exhibits his fastidiousness. To posit the Gary native as rap’s next great artist would be too grandiose a proclamation, but the ingredients are there: talent, a devoted fanbase, the lack of major label interference, an insatiable work ethic. And he’s only 25. As a handful of new tracks from Gibbs’ upcoming EP Str8 Killa, No Filla rattled the speakers, the exuberant crowd bounced along adamantly with each raspy syllable streaming from the Midwesterner’s mouth, and the moment felt big. Freddie Gibbs will live to create more moments like that, only they’ll be bigger.