Freddie Gibbs: gangsta rap from the streets of Gary


Freddie Gibbs has rolled with

the punches - and delivered a few. The Gary, Ind.-born emcee began to

nurture his talent while living the life he raps about in his song — dealing drugs,

pimping, doing work he describes as "mostly illegal" in an interview

with NUVO.

Hip-hop offered another path: While selling drugs at a recording studio, he decided that he could rap

at least as well as any of the emcees recording there. By 2005, Gibbs' self-produced

mixtapes had found their way to the right people, and he was signed to

Interscope Records

. But two years passed without an official release, and after his budget ran out and his champion at the label moved on, Gibbs found himself back in Gary.

He still had the beats worked up for him during his time at Interscope, some of which served as raw

material for two album-length mixtapes, 2008's The Miseducation of Freddie Gibbs and 2009's Midwestgangstaboxframecadillacmuzik. Media outlets both underground (hip-hop

blogs like The Smoking Section) and mainstream (The New Yorker, praised the tapes, hailing them as a return to old-school gangsta rap.

Gibbs' work is characterized by a fast patter

over heavy, uncomplicated beats. It's focused on the streets, sometimes taking

the long view (describing Gary, Gibbs rhymes, "Land of lost hope / clouds of

mill smoke / Community devoured by hard and soft dope"), other times fully invested in the life ("Keep my name out in the hood and my dick in the hood bitch / Niggers violate, we slice em and dice em like wood chips").

Gibbs tests the market for his music this month, asking fans to pay for work that was before available for free download. His Str8 Killa EP was released on the independent hip-hop label

Decon Records August 2, a week after a free mixtape version of the same album appeared

on the web. We called Gibbs in Los Angeles two weeks ago; here are the results.

NUVO: Sasha Frere-Jones of

the The New Yorker said that your

work hails back to early gangsta rap, which was all about "unvarnished

reporting delivered with a panache that balanced the pain." Does that sound


Freddie Gibbs: Yeah.

Everything you hear from my mouth is real — there ain't nothing

fabricated or fake about what I'm doing lyrically. I'm rapping my life, just

making my life an open book. I think some guys are watching too much Gangland and Scarface, and they're perpetuating what they're not. I'm

glad that my music can have the impact that it has by touching Sasha

Frere-Jones because I make gangsta rap and he's a white writer from New York.

For my music to reach him and for him to understand it, it says a lot.

NUVO: Are you surprised to

see that indie rock audiences are embracing your work? You played a really

well-received set at the Pitchfork Music Festival.

Gibbs: This is what I work

for — I work for my music to transcend those different audiences, not

just one different audience. I'm from the hood, so it's like, hood

motherfuckers are going to get my shit anyway. It speaks volumes that I can

reach an audience of five thousand or better people that's there for an indie rock

show. For them to be rocking to my show and seeing what I'm doing, that's just

love. I'm definitely humbled by that.

NUVO: When did you realize

you were good at this?

Gibbs: Probably in my

early 20s. Once I started messing with it, it started taking. I was getting

good reception for my music. So that made me go full-time at it.

NUVO: And you did other work

as you launched your career, both legal and illegal.

Gibbs: Definitely. Mostly


NUVO: Do you think it's

easier to change one's life outside of Gary, or can demons follow you anywhere,

so to speak?

Gibbs: The demons can

follow you everywhere. Being out in LA, I handle a lot of business out here, so

it's good for me to be out here. My girlfriend is out here. It's a good thing

for me to be away from home handling my business. But at the same time,

wherever you're at in the rap game, you can fall victim to the pitfalls. Having

good people around me and staying levelheaded is what keeps me going.

NUVO: And like The Jacksons,

do you still have to leave Gary to make it in the music business?

Gibbs: I think you do have

to leave Gary, per se, because there's no industry there. You can do music, but

you won't be in the music industry sitting in Gary. That's what I had to do; I

had to bring that element of the industry back to my city. It wasn't going to

come to me; I had to go get it. There's a lot of rappers from Gary, actually,

chilling in the Indianapolis area, because they know that there's nothing in

Gary. And it's hard for us to get embraced by Chicago. Luckily, as of late,

Chicago's been embracing me heavy. Within that market, I'm going to definitely

make a huge impact.

NUVO: What I like about your

work is that you're an on-the-ground participant and observer, and you also

pull back to look at the political and social forces that shaped the city of


Gibbs: I definitely look

at the history of Gary and the things that happened within the city. Gary used

to be mostly white, and then we elected a black mayor, and you saw what we call

white flight. A lot of whites moved south out of Gary, or to other states. When

they left, they picked up and took a lot of those businesses and jobs with

them. They left our city in a distressed state. That whole domino effect, with

the incoming of crack cocaine, definitely had an effect on my life. And I

dibbled and dabbled in that whole street life, and it was definitely due to the

economics of the city. Everything that happened in the city plays a part in

what I'm doing.

NUVO: What was your

neighborhood like growing up?

Gibbs: I definitely had

some positive examples because my mom was a hard-working blue-collar woman

— don't drink, don't smoke, and all that. Everybody in my neighborhood

knew each other. It was a close-knit neighborhood, yet at the same time, things

in my neighborhood were going on that were scary: murders, crackheads on the

street, ladies getting raped, things that would stretch you out to the point

where you say, damn, I've either got to get out of this motherfucker or I'm

going to end up a victim. Carrying that mentality everyday will push you over

the edge. It'll make you rob, it'll make you get out there and hustle. You see

everybody else doing it, getting their money, so why are you going to sit there

and be broke. Unless you're going to college, there's really nothing left there

for you to do. There's barely a job there for you to get. There's no community

outreach programs, nothing for the children to do. So they fall a victim to

what's out there on the streets.

NUVO: Can you talk about the

Palace Theater?

Gibbs: I ride past that

theater on Broadway downtown everyday. And I'm like, that shit is broke down,

all fucked up. And that's the only landmark in our city. It's one of the only

things that's definitive of Gary. I heard an old lady call it, one day, the

Devil's Playground. So I just combined the two and called it the Devil's

Palace. It's way more than a playground right now. I think the Devil runs

rampant in the streets of Gary right now; in the streets of the ghetto period,

not just in Gary. And that's something I wanted to touch on, so that hopefully

people can look at it and say, damn, we really need to change this shit.

NUVO: When I was there after

Michael Jackson's death, The Jackson Five were on the marquee...

Gibbs: Yeah, Gary's stuck

in 1973 or some shit.

NUVO: What did you learn from

being on Interscope?

Gibbs: It taught me to be

all about me, and not worry about these dudes in the industry because they're

not my friends. To see things for what they were. It taught me that I have to

definitely work hard to be where I want to be. The whole Interscope situation

was a blessing; it was sort of like rap boot camp, so to speak.

NUVO: You aim for a

no-bullshit, no-filler approach in your work.

Gibbs: No imaginary shit

going on in my raps. I'm not going to tell you that I've got 150 kilos of

cocaine because I don't have that — that shit is unimaginable, crazy. Yes

I have sold drugs, I have been in the streets and done everything that all

these guys are rapping about. At the same time, I'm not going to exaggerate or

make it anything that it's not. If you keep letting these kids see something

that's unattainable, they're going to be reaching for it; it's leading them in

the wrong direction. So I'm just getting real.

NUVO: To that point, are you

concerned that some kid might hear one of your tracks and think that you're

glorifying the gangster lifestyle?

Gibbs: Not at all. Because

those that know me know that I'm talking about it from my own point of view.

I'm definitely not glorifying the lifestyle, I'm just looking at it from my own

point of view.

NUVO: When did you start


Gibbs: As soon as I

started rapping. I decided to perfect my pen game, to actually write my shit

down and not go in the booth and just freestyle some bullshit.

NUVO: And how do you write

— on a computer, on paper, every day?

Gibbs: I smoke a whole

pack of blunts and just write in my notebook.

NUVO: Really? Do you have to

get a different state of mind to write?

Gibbs: No, I'm not going

to say I have to get in a different state of mind, because I'm always smoking.

For the most part, I'm getting in my zone and doing my thing, with nobody

around. I listen to the beat and just make that marriage with the words to the


NUVO: Why do you think pot is

such a popular subject in hip-hop?

Gibbs: Because alcohol is

bad for your health; weed is from the earth. No...for the most part, everybody

loves weed. I heard 70 percent of the country is smoking weed. It's something

that a lot of people can relate to. That's why I personally talk about it,

because most of the people that listen to my music can relate to that; they are

weed smokers, such as myself.

NUVO: How difficult is it to

make a living as a rapper?

Gibbs: It's definitely

tough. You've got to do your shows, your guest appearances; things of that

nature to try to generate funds from this. You've got to sell things, whether

it's merchandise or music. I've put my music out there for people to take a

hold. People are starting to recognize me now and like the music. There's a

trial and error period; I had to test the water with my music to see what type

of reception it would get. And it's been getting a good reception, so I feel

like I'm at the point where I can sell some of it...I'm hitting every city I can,

shaking hands and kissing babies, promoting this whole Freddie Gibbs thing.

Promotional video for "The Ghetto" from the Str8 Killa No Filla EP: