The corners of my Piñata vinyl case are bending in the backpack I brought to the front of the stage with me as I wait for Freddie Gibbs to take the stage at Rough Trade Brooklyn, just hours before the early morning attempted shooting that put a cap on the day. The numbers were small as the doors opened, but as time went on, more and more ESGN shirts and hats could be seen crowding around The Guardian stage; Gibbs mania was about to reach critical mass in Brooklyn.
Born Fredrick Tipton in Gary, Indiana, Gibbs is currently an independent force to be reckoned with in the hip-hop world as the head of the ESGN family and has been pushing his brand hard and fast for over a decade with mix tapes like The Miseducation of Freddie Gibbs and Baby Face Killa; his come up from the streets of Gary was rough, especially as the son of a police officer, and his experiences from then (and even now) make up the vast majority of his lyricism, and that combined with his hard delivery and smooth cadence, make him something of an anachronism in the underground hip-hop scene: a bonafide gangsta rapper.
He released his first solo studio album, aptly titled ESGN, in June of last year to moderate chart success, but it was the project he made this past March with legendary beat konducta extraordinaire Otis “Madlib” Jackson Jr., Piñata, that brought him the critical and commercial recognition that he deserves. Gibbs’ hard-nosed straight no chaser storytelling doesn’t seem like it would gel well with an eccentric sample-based maestro like Madlib, but they feed off of each other’s energy in a way only comparable to Madlib’s previous milestone collab with MF Doom from a decade ago, Madvillainy.
My personal affection for Piñata had me waiting on baited breath as Gibbs’ first opening act – New Orleans sing-song emcee/producer- Pell took the stage. The early-comers shouted his trademark “Pell Yea!” in between tracks like “Ocean View 2.0” and “Fresh Produce.” He kept the energy level high and displayed a good vocal range through both his singing and his rhyming, which left me ready for more.
The next act up was Worlds Fair member and emerging solo artist Remy Banks, straight out of Queens, NY. He came with a mix of cool style and raring energy as he performed material both old, like “GLDCHN” and “Sammy Sosa” as well as newer tracks like “7th Heaven” from his upcoming mixtape that’s dropping in the next few months. That energy came in especially handy when he brought out the rest of Worlds Fair for a few of their songs near the end of the set. But even as rappers hung from the upper balcony, that wasn’t the peak of the night. It was finally time for Gangsta Gibbs to do his thing.
The Gary, IN native represented hard for New York, wearing a #13 Knicks jersey under his brown overcoat and got right to business with his trademark live call-and-response chant of “Fuck Police!” Gibbs’ set mainly covered staple tracks from ESGN (“Have U Seen Her”), Baby Face Killa (“Kush Cloud,” “BFK”) and of course Piñata (“Thuggin’,” “High,” “Deeper”). Always a showman, aforementioned call-and-response and a cappella rhyming were two motifs of the night, as Gibbs would bob and weave in and out of musical pockets that were only playing in our heads throughout the night. He ended his set with a dedication to New York and Brooklyn in the form of “Knicks,” a tribute to his friend who was gunned down by the police in 2006, which Gibbs fully explained to the crowd. Gibbs brought the energy and the skill and the crowd brought the love for a great night of straight-shooting hip-hop at Rough Trade.