Just as college students with Serato dream of becoming the next Gregg Gillis, every corner boy dreams of being the next Jay-Z. Gary, Indiana, native Freddie Gibbs did his time on the corner, and he's come out of it a hard-nosed emcee who is putting gangsta rap back on the map. Once signed to Interscope, Gibbs failed to put out an album on the label because of problems with management. He's since gone independent, scoring major love from deciders such as Pitchfork and the New Yorker. Gibbs doesn't mess around on the mic; he knows exactly how good he is, and his brand of swagger doesn't reflect the current tropes of today's hip-hop. And though his affinity for chronic and gunplay are evident, there's more Tupac in him than Weezy. Gibbs can flit in and out of tricksy double- and triple-time patterns like Z-Ro, though his torqued flows owe equal debts to Bone Thugs and the gilded age of '90s rap.
B-Sides: What have you been up to musically in 2011?
Freddie Gibbs: I've been doing spot dates here and there. But, you know, there's a lot of people scared to put me on the[ir] tour.
Why do you say that?
They don't want me to snatch the[ir] fan base, or they think I'm going to beat them up or something like that. I'm really a nice guy. I get a bad name.
So, have you beat anybody up lately?
Actually, I did — I hit a dude today. He was being crazy. I was walking my dog, and he had a dog, and he was trying to make the dogs fight. His dog bit my dog, so I hit him.
Oh my God!
Fuck it, shit happens.
Did one punch suffice?
I just gave him a wake-up shot. Wake up, wake up now, motherfucker! Watch out! I had to let him know. [Laughs]
You're releasing your first real album this year, Baby-Faced Killa. What else is on deck in 2011?
Baby-Faced Killa, that's my main project. I'm probably gonna get this mixtape out called Cold Dead Hell in March, right at the end of winter. I'm just gonna stay consistent. I'm working on a couple of secret projects, some real prolific yet obscure type of things right now that will set me apart from other guys in my genre. Just working hard, trying to stay sharp lyrically and stay hard in the booth. I don't have no big money machine behind me; everything you see is out of my pocket, out of my back. I don't have a label behind me or anything of that nature. It's my skill level and my hard grinding that've been keeping me in.
How has growing up in Gary affected your sound?
It definitely put a street overtone to everything I speak about, because that's what I'm exposed to. Crack houses, the buildings, the killings, the murders, that's what I grew up around. The music reflects that. I can't write about nothing else. I probably could, but this is what I can describe to you the best.
Is there a particular memory that stands out from when you were hustling in Gary?
It's a lot of things, man. It's a lot of homies getting murdered. I had friends get killed in the past two weeks. Probably nothing as profound as my close friend [who] was murdered by the Gary police. Nothing more painful than that. It was all painful, but nothing was more painful than that. Nobody messed with him in the street, he was fighting the case, he was going to beat the case, and then the police took him out. Shit like that always stands out, and that motivates me to keep doing what I'm doing.
You've said you're a pen-and-paper guy. When inspiration hits, what does that look like for you?
Mainly I just be writing on any fucking thing, on the back of somebody's cable bill or something, whatever I can find. I just like to write. I write the whole idea down, outline it, before I try to rhyme it instead of doing that fake shit that everybody try to do, get in the booth without writing. Everybody can't do that. Not everybody is Jay-Z. That's why music is whack right now. That's why everything sounds the same. "I'm yellow!" "I'm mustard!" You know, bullshit like that. That's the type of shit I stray away from.
Are you still collaborating with Bun B, Chuck Inglish and Chip tha Ripper?
Yeah, definitely, I just got off the phone with Bun B yesterday. Bun B a homey. We all just been rippin' and runnin', they been doing shows, I been doing shows, but we definitely gonna do something. It's in the works.
What sort of role will Alchemist be playing in your new album?
Wow, I was just in the studio with Al, you naming all my friends. We been doing records. Whatever idea pop up, I just did a new record with him and Curren$y. Things are just coming along piece by piece. I've been working with him; I've been working with other guys.
Do you have any words of wisdom for aspiring rappers out there?
Quit rapping and go get a job. Sit down. Nah, you know, if this is what you want to do, you gotta stick at it, you gotta do as much for yourself by yourself without having to lean on anybody. This game is dirty; it's hard to squeeze money out of this rap game right now. There's a lot of underhanded people in the rap game. You gotta maneuver through this the same way you've got to maneuver through the streets.