After grinding on the mixtape scene throughout his '20s, 31-year-old rapper Freddie Gibbs is making some big waves this year. Not only did he drop his ESGN album, write the theme song for Fuse's first original series The Hustle and make his acting debut on it, but he recorded a collaborative album with cult hip hop hero Madlib.
When did you get into rap?
As far as from a fan aspect, probably from the womb. I've always loved rap. All my mom's brothers were younger than her. They were like 7, 8, 9 when I was born, so I was like their younger brother. So whatever late '80s, early '90s rap they would listen to, I would listen to.
Was there anyone in particular you loved?
Scarface. He really made me excited about rap. I liked Scarface because he sounded like somebody in my family, he sounded like how my uncle or grandfather would talk. He had that tone in his voice that would welcome you in. It felt like you were talking to somebody in your household about the things that were going on in the street that day. He's from Texas and a lot of my family is from Mississippi—they migrated to Gary [Indiana] in the '60s—so those Southern roots are there. When I would hear him rapping as opposed to Eric B. & Rakim or Ice Cube, there was something different. I definitely love their music as well, but there was something I could relate to about Scarface. And by the third, fourth, fifth grade, I was already Geto Boy'd out. Whatever album they were putting out, I was f--king with it.
What about the big question: Biggie or Tupac?
Tupac. I love Biggie and I respect everything Biggie did—he's definitely one of the all-time greats—but Tupac is the best rapper to pick up a mic. It was just everything: The things he said, the way he said them, the emotion he puts behind what he said. And his voice: He has the greatest voice in rap of all time. Nobody can match that voice. Everybody tries. Guys like him, they put you in that mode. I put him and Scarface in my top two.
Speaking of greats, your new album ESGN references Michael Jackson—who was from your hometown—on "Eastside Moonwalker." Can you actually moonwalk?
Aw, hell nah. Definitely not. What I meant by that is that Michael Jackson is from Gary, Indiana, and he's the moonwalker from his part of town. And I'm the moonwalker from my part of town. If I said he wasn’t [a big part of my growing up] I'd be lying. But Michael Jackson was a big part of growing up for everybody. His music speaks volumes.
So ESGN is your studio debut. What made you decide it would be your debut album instead of another mixtape?
I mean, that's the thing, is it my studio album or is it a mixtape? You can label that sh-t whatever you want. At this point I don’t really give a f--k, I'm just making music. Motherf--kers can call it a studio album, they can call it a debut, they can call it whatever they want. I might do another project next week. I got the power to put out music when I want to and garner a large fan base without a major label. I never get any major label support. Everything has been out of my own pocket. So I haven't had the help or same opportunities other guys have had, but I can still garner a solid fan base without that.
And you have a collaborative album coming out this fall with Mablib, Cocaine Pinata. How is that coming along?
That's finished. We were in the studio together for most of it. He did the beats and I was on a roll. It was a good experience working with him. It was definitely a different experience.
How was working with Madlib different than other producers?
Just the samples he uses. I've never rapped on those kind of samples. They're very obscure.
Does that make it harder?
It's harder and it's more interesting. It’s a challenge. I don’t think nobody has ever rapped over his beats like me. Not even MF DOOM. And they made a classic together. But nobody else is going to say the things I'm going to say, because nobody is from Gary, Indiana like me. You never heard some gangsta sh-t over Madlib beats. I definitely think it's going to be a cult classic.
What kind of stuff are you rapping about?
I'm rapping about killing people. Killing n----s. Killing bitches. I'm rapping about selling dope, selling crack, selling heroin. I'm rapping about people getting raped. I'm rapping about the sh-t I've seen since I was a child. I'm definitely not rapping about rapping.
That sounds intense. Are you rapping about experiences you've seen firsthand?
All of it is firsthand. All my music is firsthand. I don’t rap about anything I haven't seen or done. I don’t rap about other experiences, because I can't tell you about it if I don’t know about it. I can tell you about selling drugs because I do that. I can tell you about murder because I've seen that. I can tell you about selling p-ssy. You know what I'm saying? I got a lot of experience in my life. I got a wide spectrum of experiences. I've sat in crack houses selling drugs and last year I was in Russia at the Kremlin, so my life has a wide spectrum. There's the street sh-t, the selling crack, but I've done more than that. My story entails more than that. There's more to Freddie Gibbs than that.
You recently branched out into TV: You did the theme song for The Hustle and did a guest acting spot. How did that come about?
Actually man, my girl, she stars on the show. Erica Dickerson is the star of the show, Ya-Ya. So basically, my whole experience for the show came from her. I think they were talking about Freddie Gibbs—if they could get me for the theme—and she was like, "Uhh, well, I'm with him every day." So they brought me in and I got a role on the show and that was all because of Erica. They f--ked with me so I opted to do the theme song. So I went in there with the producers and did that right up. She dope. Shout-out to Erica.
And your scene was a fight scene. Was stage fighting hard to learn?
Yeah, it was hard not to hit him for real. [laughs] But we worked it out. It was a good experience. Actually one of the guys who trains the fight scenes for Sons of Anarchy trained us in the fight scenes. It was cool. I didn’t know how to fake fight and it definitely took some hours of work. That was my first acting experience. I had hoped to get my feet wet in that aspect of entertainment [before] so it was cool.
Are you eyeing movies next?
Yeah, I definitely go on auditions. Some big auditions. Actually I'm waiting to hear back from some things. It's something I want to work at and getting better at before I go headfirst into it. I don’t want to be one of those rappers who people think, "Ah, he's just trying to get a check," because I actually respect the art form and the acting world. I just want to continue to get better at it and possibly get [a role] that will make a statement.
What kind of roles are you reading for?
I read for a couple of different roles. I can't really speak on them because I don’t know if I'm going to get them or not, but they were interesting characters and I read for a couple big name directors. I just want to continue with my coach and if I get a good role, that's cool. Or something small, that's fine as well. I just want to get in the game—get my feet wet and get some experience.
So you're a Tupac fan. What do you think about Juice?
Oh hell yeah, that's one of my favorite movies. Juice kinda introduced me to what Tupac was. It gave me his full character. That movie was a good thing for his rap career as well. It made me love him even more. Menace II Society had rappers in there, too. MC Eiht, Too Short. They showed me that my heroes in the rap game were also in the movie game. Even more so back then. I don’t see as many rappers in the movie game now, it seems Hollywood doesn’t respect us anymore. And I think that comes from a lot of people disrespecting the game and making bullsh-t movies. For me to get in, I want to get the respect of the Hollywood crowd. I don’t want them to look at me like some ghetto n---- that's just trying to get a check.