In 2009 rapper Freddie Gibbs set out to be the Midwest’s unofficial street poet, releasing a series of mixtapes that were as complex as they were thuggish. Influenced by the likes of 2Pac, Biggie, UGK, and Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, Gibbs filled his lyrics with honest and compelling stories of his hometown’s demise, a steady decline to which he helped contribute while a drug dealer. He dealt out of a Gary, Indiana recording studio, absorbing a steady stream of uninspired rhymes while pushing product. Figuring he could do better, Gibbs began writing his own lyrics and cut some demos that would eventually land in the hands of Interscope.
When the label signed Gibbs in 2006, he moved to Los Angeles and recorded a debut album, but a year later the management of Interscope changed hands and the rapper was dropped. He returned to Gary, and then moved to Atlanta until producer Josh the Goon convinced Gibbs to return to L.A. for one more try. In early 2009 he released the Miseducation of Freddie Gibbs mixtape to critical and message board acclaim. The Midwestgangstaboxframecadillacmuzik mixtape soon followed, as did a feature in The New Yorker that found writer Sasha Frere-Jones declaring Gibbs “the one rapper I would put money on right now.”
Late in the year he released the 81-song mixtape The Labels Tryin’ to Kill Me. As the mixtape’s title inferred, Gibbs had, like Jay Electronica, become a 21st century Internet-age hip-hop star, able to draw press and earn a loyal following via downloads and mixtapes instead of the usual industry channels. He finished 2009 proudly unsigned but in 2010 he made a rare aboveground appearance with the Str8 Killa EP, released on the Decon label.
Two years later he released two collaborative efforts: Piñata with Madlib, an album on the underground producer’s Madlib Invazion label; and The Tonite Show with DJ Fresh, an entry in the West Coast producer’s collaborative series. Gucci Mane, E-40, and Tory Lanez landed on 2015’s Shadow of a Doubt, his first album for the ESGN label.