Redemption is never promised. Some may even go so far as to say that it is a privilege. As a celebrity in the spotlight, your triumphs receive more recognition than your average Jane or Joe working a cubicle job, but that recognition doesn’t come without its drawbacks. The spotlight is a double-edged sword. Any misstep, no matter the gravity of it, will be placed under a microscope and discussed ad nauseam. For Gary, Indiana native Freddie Gibbs, the past year has found a rapper that was predominately known for the quality of his music being discussed for another reason. In 2016, Gibbs saw rape accusations stemming from an incident that allegedly occurred in Austria the year prior brought to the forefront. This put both a promising career and the rapper’s future to a screeching halt. He was later extradited to Austria for a hearing where he was acquitted of all charges. The accusations came as a surprise to some as Freddie Gibbs speaks openly about and acknowledges a troubled past life, but also more recently, about a dedication to his daughter and being a dad. Regardless of the chargges and public perception surrounding him now, Freddie’s latest album You Only Live 2wice is appropriately about redemption and moving on. Gibbs’ music hardly needed a fresh start but with the controversy surrounding his life the past year, it’s evident that he did.
2wice marks Gangsta Gibbs’ fourth official studio release and it is apparent right off the bat that this project is one of intention that delivers no more or no less than what it sets out to achieve. At only eight tracks that run just over 32 minutes, there is hardly any room for fluff or failed crossover attempts. Luckily, Gibbs understands this and delivers one of his tightest, most concise efforts to date. He kicks things off with the two part ’20 Karat Jesus’, a song that’s less reincarnation than it is reflection and progression. As an artist who’s always been a little rough around the edges, the first half of ‘Jesus’ is no different. He speaks on cutting off friends, potentially “losing it all” last summer, and “living next to death cause he lives in the moment”. All of these conclude a prelude that transitions into an almost heavenly instrumental where Gibbs forays into his drug and murder tales. If anything, the opening number is an artist proclaiming his return to rap and his lack of tolerance for fake or scheming individuals. Before he could be reborn, he had to cleanse and get some gripes off his chest. ’21 Karat Jesus’ is just that. Some of these themes continue on subsequent track ‘Alexys’, as he shares personal tales from his drug dealing past. This is another platform that he uses to call out the flaws he sees in others as he admits that the people he’s speaking on are not even his enemies yet. The first few tracks very much showcase a human being that is scarred by betrayal and suffers from a lack of trust. The anger seeps through the bars and into the listeners’ eardrums.
From there, Freddie Gibbs begins to openly discuss the cloud of charges that have followed him over the past year on first single ‘Crushed Glass’. He denies them about as bluntly as one can saying “I just beat a rape case, Groupie b*tch I never f*cked, Tried to give me 10 for some p*ssy I ain’t never touched.” Despite the acquittal, Gibbs, like many artists, still feels the need to explain himself and give his side of the story. Brandishing the labels that people placed upon him after the charges is no easy task and Gibbs’ retaliation is blunt force trauma to the head of the accusations. Despite expressing himself outwardly through the music, the situation as a whole has made Gibbs turn inward. This is most evident on the ‘Crushed Glass’ refrain as a female voice sings “Living this life it’s me myself and I, and if I gotta be by myself I’ma be alright”. The isolation he desires is an arm’s length away, but for now there are still some demons within him that prevent him from reaching it.
That’s not to say that there aren’t still some moments that have a similar bounce and vibe as his past work. Both ‘Dear Maria’ and ‘Amnesia’ balance the aggression and the introspection beautifully. The beats work in tandem with his words to create a visual that many artists try and fail to achieve. It’s easy to underrate Gibbs as a lyricist as lines sometimes slur and blend into one other, but make no mistake; there is an extremely talented rapper behind that syrupy delivery. The only moment that falls a bit flat is the somewhat commercial leaning ‘Phone Lit’. It’s the rare instance where he deviates from the narrative of the album and it pales in comparison to the rest of its pieces. The album and Gibbs are at their best when the beats are more stripped back and allow him room to take the forefront. With a beat that oozes luxury, ‘Andrea’ is the first example of this. He relives armed robberies that left a friend without an arm and reflects on life’s guarantee of death. Closing track ‘Homesick’ is the most honest and open Freddie has ever been on wax. This is where it feels like he truly finds closure from the past year’s events. The maturity permeates through into the lyrics and it works not only as an album closer but as the start of a new chapter. Lines about being 10,000 miles away from his daughter and his girl visiting him despite this distance and the charges that were on table really give you a look into what Gibbs went through. He ends the album with a spoken word outro where he states “I’m back, And I ain’t goin nowhere this time.”
Whether that prophecy reads true is still to be seen. If You Only Live 2wice is any indication, it sounds like Freddie Gibbs has learned from his experiences in the past year and gained a whole new perspective on life. Where he once lived in the moment, it sounds like he now appreciates it. Gibbs is a reborn man who is trying to work on himself by cutting out the things in life that don’t matter while still knowing he is far from perfect. This trimming of the fat that he has applied to the people in his life has been similarly transferred to his music as well. 2wice is what an album should be: A concise representation of exactly where the artist is in that point in time in their life. Gibbs has made great albums before, some probably better than this, but You Only Live 2wice is the album he needed to make.
Repeatable: ’20 Karat Jesus’, ‘Crushed Glass’, ‘Andrea’, ‘Homesick’
Skippable: ‘Phone Lit’
By Scott Evans