Freddie Gibbs

Midwestgangstabox-<br />framecadillacmuzik Mixtape

(Self-released; 2009)

By Colin McGowan | 5 October 2009

I take no ownership of the Midwest, but even I know Gary, Indiana is a famously desolate landscape of rusted industrial equipment and pungent odor, sitting on the mantle next to Worcester, Mass as one of America’s most famous armpits. Freddie Gibbs seems fully aware of this, both fiercely defensive of his home and candid in his description of his poverty-riddled corner of Gary, occasionally punctuating his weed and gun talk with almost-pleas like “Sixty percent unemployment / Why you think we sellin’ dope?”

Gibbs fancies himself the Midwest Malcolm, but his other persona—Gangsta Gibbs—makes more sense; his insights, though sporadically poignant, aren’t the main attraction here. I can confidently claim ignorance towards Gary’s hip-hop scene, and I’ll shy from generalizations, but Gibbs, at least, is a fascinating amalgam of regional influences. Over the course of an overlong mixtape, he unfurls an borderline Southern drawl, an impressive double-time flow, a flare for multisyllabic rhyme schemes (reminiscent of Detroit’s Finale and Elzhi), and Clipse-esque paranoia. Though he doesn’t approach, say, Bun B’s cool or Pusha’s adamant ambivalence, Gibbs slowly reveals himself to be a different sort of animal altogether.

Whether that animal is a particularly great rapper remains to be seen, but Midwest provides glimpses into what the future might hold for Gary’s native son. While Gibbs is hard to categorize outside the blanket label of “Midwestern rapper,” he suggests on this effort that he’s not quite sure of his identity either: “Bussdown” is a phenomenal “fuck bitches” track with a horrible hook and a beat that aches for a touch-up from the Block Beataz; “I’m The Man” is great but ultimately faceless gangsta shit while “Boxframe Cadillac” is a syrupy, slow ride that leans too heavily on a mediocre trap-hop beat. In fact, since this is a mixtape, it wouldn’t have hurt Gibbs to attempt to tackle “Drop” or “Dead Presidents” or whatever. It’s a tired tactic, but garish 808 beats don’t seem to suit Gibbs, who sounds much more at home on the tape’s handful of more substantial productions.

So, as the bounce of “Higher Learning (Exhale)” gasps and smolders, Freddie Gibbs has revealed so much and still so little. The array of styles and aptitudes he displays on Midwest is impressive, but the method through which Gibbs employs different ideas and mimics influences feels haphazard and sloppy, his brief attempts at narrating his town’s depressing story resonating in a way his above-average shit-talking doesn’t while always buried beneath mounds of that same-y bravado. And this is a mixtape after all—the perfect arena in which Gibbs can work out the kinks in his style without being subject to substantive criticism—so with a bit self-editing and some money for producers, Gibbs could undoubtedly find a way to knead his abundant talent into something remarkable.