When Freddie Gibbs was arrested last year in June, I was genuinely saddened by the news. Being a long time fan of his music, which has undoubtedly helped me in overcoming certain hurdles, it was very disappointing to hear. I was also surprised at the crime he was charged with. Fast forward some time and he was eventually found not guilty. And once vindicated of the crime, he wasted no time in getting back to work, releasing the Harry Fraud produced ‘All Day’, prior to the visuals for ‘Crushed Glass’. A cryptic video was later posted to his social pages indicating that his fourth studio album, ‘You Only Live 2Wice’, was on its way.
Despite my excitement, I was unsure of how the album would turn out. Since returning to the United States, he only had a limited amount of time to create the project, and that’s not to take into account the various other issues he’d have to work through after being in prison. However, his vast mixtape material and various features are testament to his work ethic, and as a true artist, I’m sure he wanted to get his emotions out onto his personal canvas for his fans to see following his ordeal.
He managed to do so with a vengeance of sorts, conveying not only the sadness and stresses of being away from his family, but the anger he also felt towards an unfair system and friends who had let him down during this difficult period of time. A short project, that primarily encounters the issues plaguing him over the last year, he also delves deeper into his past life introspectively, but also doesn’t hold back from making music more suited to his gangster roots. He combines the different topics well throughout, over masterful production, with Sid Miller aka ‘Speakerbomb’, being the most active contributor on the album with respect to beat-making.
The album begins with ’20 Karat Jesus’, a song of two halves, which initially has a sharper tone as Freddie looks back on his past life where he acknowledges that his actions may not have been taking him in the right direction. He instantly takes aim at his friends on the first verse, which would be a recurring message throughout the album. Lyrically as always, he is strong, and uses graphic similes to paint a picture for his listeners. Midway, the song transitions from a melancholic beginning to a gospel like second half. A lot of rappers of a similar background almost glorify going to jail, whereas in his lyrics, Gibbs is so ecstatic and relieved to have been set free, he compares his exoneration to the resurrection of Jesus Christ, assisted by the grace of God.
The tone of the comical outro becomes instantly serious on ‘Alexys’, a song that brims with gangster. The instrumental produced by Kaytranada and BadBadNotGood, is brilliant, and possesses similarities to Madlib’s ‘Thuggin’, one of Gibbs’ most iconic songs. He continues with the reflective sentiment on the song with lyrics such as “the realest n***as that I know ain’t never sold dope”, potentially alluding to his manager and confidant, ‘Lambo’, who has stuck by him through all his struggles. He once again mentions his discontentment with his friends, in this instance, their jealousy of his progression. It seems as if the life-changing experience, has made him realize his ‘friends’’ real intentions and exceptionally wary of who to trust around him.
‘Alexys’ flows nicely into the previously mentioned ‘Crushed Glass’, which again features great production, this time by Speakerbomb, who had a large hand in the overall project. He uses wonderful strings and dark synths, which are accompanied by Brittany B’s solemn hook. It is a lengthy song, where he divides his subject matter, inevitably touching on his case with lyrics like “trying to give me ten for some p***y that I never touch”. He goes onto speak about the stresses he faces, prior to going full throttle with his bread and butter of raw lyrics referencing his past life in the drug game.
‘Dear Maria’ is a bassy track where his trademark flow is unbelievably fluid. Its almost difficult to catch exactly what he’s saying on first listen, but one can gather that he is personifying drugs, similar to ‘Natural High’ off his ‘Cold Day In Hell’ mixtape. The instrumental uses a high pitched sample and the auto-tuned vocals of fellow ESGN member, Lil Sodi, which breaks up the breathless track effectively. The next song, ‘Amnesia’ is arguably the best track on the project, and an early contender for the Trap song of the year. The instrumental is incredible – using a pitched down, classic vocal as the sample with a bassline that reverberates through you. He uses short, catchy lyrics for the chorus, rapped with a controlled aggression. He flows better than the trap artists that primarily adopt this approach in their music, proving his versatility as an artist.
‘Andrea’ is a reality check, and returns the listener to the pain Freddie has experienced as he reminisces on in this particular song. He is philosophical, remembering nightmarish incidents like his friend nearly losing his arm, and once again references his time in jail, speaking about “learning German and Russian”, given those were the languages spoken by other inmates. Previous projects have shown me that he can hold a note, and his decision to sing on the hook give the listener a taste of his Soul influences. His uncle, ‘Big Time Watts’, who features at the end of the song, is a figure who has supported him throughout his trials and tribulations. His recent passing only adds to the pain that Freddie Gibbs has faced over the year, and all the more proves his resilience as an artist to rebound and produce a high quality project. ‘Andrea’ seamlessly transitions into the spacy ‘Phone Lit’, where he again uses a syrupy flow to lay down his verses. He continues with his singing on the chorus, dominating the majority of the song, which in itself possesses the recurrent, conflicting subject matter of his gangster past, and regret of being in a prison cell.
‘You Only Live 2wice’ ends with the emotional ‘Homesick’, probably the most transparent track on the project, as Freddie Gibbs bares all for his listeners. It’s a revealing insight into his mind state when reflecting on his past, over solemn chords on the instrumental. The song ends with him candidly but briefly speaking about his experience in prison, referencing his wife’s efforts to help him during that time, flying over to Austria to bring him books as the prison library’s content was in German. He professes his love for her, echoing the same sentiment on ‘Insecurities’ off his ‘Shadow of a Doubt’ project.
After a long lay-off in music, and a very difficult period of time with his life hanging in the balance, Freddie Gibbs returned with what I think is one of his best projects. The length to me is irrelevant – he had a clear intention with what he wanted to do on this album and he executed it perfectly. He wanted to show the listeners what he has been through, and his thought process during the ordeal. He wanted to share his reflections on his past, and the clarity he has gained on what is most important to him. Musically, he did it wonderfully, with a variety of collaborators, most notably the aforementioned Speakerbomb, who provided stellar production throughout the album. With a combination of his lyrics and excellent instrumentals, Freddie Gibbs managed to create a strong sense of empathy. Long time fans would be able to feel his pain and frustration from listening to his latest body of work, and as an artist, he was able to achieve his purpose of communicating his message to his fans.
It’s fair to say that Freddie Gibbs is one of the most underrated rappers of our generation. His consistency and work-rate rivals that of any other MC, and he has the ability to rap over any type of instrumental, proven especially on his collaboration album with Madlib. He can alter his flow with ease over a beat, and seems to have an endless supply of lyrics with varied subject matter, primarily focused on his past life as a dealer. He doesn’t glorify this life, but rather documents it in his music, painting a colourful picture of what were bleak circumstances for him fending for himself in Gary, Indiana. His authenticity is what separates from the myriad of rappers who talk the same talk in their music, and his willingness to show vulnerability in songs like ‘Homesick’, is what makes him so endearing as an artist. He is not a caricature, or trying to fit a mould, he has lived what he writes about, and he is able to paint a vivid picture of his experiences as an artist. With ‘You Only Live 2Wice’, he has fed us with more high quality material, and he doesn’t seem to be stopping anytime soon. Regardless of whether he drops new music or not, he is one of the underground greats of our time.