During a recent interview with Hot 97, Freddie Gibbs declared that he’s a better rapper than MF DOOM. Is he? A writer makes their case for it.
Even with the respect Freddie showed toward MF DOOM immediately after making the declaration — “I gotta make something as great as he made,” Freddie said, referring to DOOM and Madlib’s Madvillainy — folks still had a visceral reaction to it. Rosenberg himself tried to throw cold water on the statement, saying “That’s MF DOOM, bro. He’s an icon.”
Gibbs’ statement isn’t completely out of left field or even disrespectful. In fact, I’d argue that Freddie is correct: he is better at rapping than DOOM.
Madvillainy is, rightfully, considered a seminal hip-hop album. It features a rapper and producer whose brains and musicality couldn’t be more in sync. The two enigmatic figures built a cinematic and immersive world through Madvillainy, the brevity of the tracks resulting in an album that rap enthusiasts still listen to this day. DOOM takes center stage: he raps with a precision and science that imitators have lost sleep trying to copy, while Madlib crafts infectious and memorable loops like a jazz composer.
Take “Meat Grinder,” for example. The beat sounds like an acid trip built around two notable samples — “Sleeping in a Jar” by The Mothers of Invention and “Hula Rock” by Lew Howard & the All-Stars. Then, comes DOOM: “Tripping off the beat kinda/dripping off the meat grinder/Heat niner, stripping, soft sweet minor.”
There’s also “Rainbows,” which doesn’t get enough credit for the rapping and singing that it has on it. It’s a non-late capitalism version of the combinations of rapping and singing that’s commonplace now.
And, of course, “All Caps,” the standout of Madvillainy. It should be a score in a movie scene set at a carnival disguised at a party. One could see Boardwalk Empire including the song in a scene if they knew any better, those triumphant but menacing horns giving way to DOOM’s memorable opening lines: “So nasty that it’s probably somewhat of a travesty having me/Daily told the people “You can call me Your Majesty!”
DOOM can rap his ass off.
But Madvillainy is not quite as affecting as anything Freddie has done.
Piñata, Freddie and Madlib’s first album together, features what is arguably his best track — “Real.” A sinister and venomous diss track that highlights his grievances toward Atlanta rapper Young Jeezy, “Real” features everything that makes Freddie a top-tier MC. He doesn’t let the beat breathe during the first verse as he pounds listeners with dark and evocative bars every step we go (“Eastside, sleeping in my dope house clothes/run down pair of Jordan’s and some dirty Girbauds”). After Madlib switches the beat, Freddie ramps it up. Where he suffocates the breathe for the first verse, the second one finds him surfing over it, all while spewing some of the most disrespectful words sent to a mainstream rapper that you’ll hear. He not only accuses Jeezy of being fake and being scared of rival Gucci Mane but also implies that he’d be terrified of Freddie too.
“Seen Gucci by himself while we was 30 deep at Magic, and you didn’t bust a grape, was shook from the gate,” Freddie raps. This is a masterful and provocative rap performance; one that DOOM cannot do. It isn’t that DOOM can’t rap, it’s that he doesn’t have nearly the grittiness and the gruff to execute something quite as menacing as this song.
Madlib isn’t nearly as spectacular on Pinata as he is on Madvillainy, but he doesn’t have to be. This time he has a secret weapon: The raw emotion and voice of Freddie Gibbs. There is nothing more important in a rapper than having a voice, and not many this decade — or in any decade — have a better one than Freddie. He’s not just a poet. He’s a beast. He’s been waiting for this moment. Hardships he has gone through in his life give him a voice full of gruff and frustration.
“Knicks,” a song about childhood, crime, and the trials that come with it, features that profoundly. He raps about the cops that shot his dead friend (“If I see that ho, I got a slug for him/I wanna kill him slow like I ain’t got no love for him”) with a weary flow that you feel deep inside. The stakes sound higher on a Freddie Gibbs record than it does on a DOOM record, and Freddie’s vicious and bitter subject matter contributes to this. DOOM is trying to take rap to a higher place, which is good. Rap is a genre that is still not given enough respect. DOOM has helped consumers get into the genre when they wouldn’t normally enjoy it. Freddie Gibbs is trying to take the listener to a place within themselves. The rap music that Gibbs makes sounds like a tightrope between life and death. It sounds like something that you wouldn’t want your worst enemy to go through.
Freddie holds his own alongside rap titans Yasiin Bey — another rapper better than DOOM — and Black Thought on Bandana‘s best song “Education.” He also shows his versatility on “Half Manne Half Cocaine,” a track that begins with a trap beat (which is presumably the first-ever trap beat Madlib has put on wax) before transitioning into a hard-knocking boom-bap beat. It’s easy to imagine DOOM on “Education” but not “Half Manne Half Cocaine.” Earlier this year, he appeared on Open Mike Eagle’s “Police Myself,” a track that speaks on police brutality and its effects on black and brown men.
Although DOOM starts off well on the trap-based track, it’s apparent that he’s not fully grounded on the track, his flow noticeably disjointed when compared to other tracks he’s rapped on. That Freddie can hold his own on trap beats, as well as more traditional Madlib beats, highlights a technical advantage he has over DOOM.
The track Freddie shines the brightest on though is “Flat Tummy Tea.” It’s a song that speaks on so much: The Jackson family, Congress, Big Sean and Jhene Aiko, slave movies, and White Jesus. When it was released, it made me put Freddie on top of my list of MCs of this decade. If it is true that he wrote most of this album in a jail cell while facing a sexual assault charge in 2016 (he was later acquitted), it makes sense. It has the vitriol that sitting in a cell would entail. It made even the biggest DOOM supporter take notice. It’s as zany and creatively rapped as anything DOOM has done.
While it is true that DOOM has some creative wordplay in his arsenal that is superior to Gibbs’ — even Gibbs fans like myself know this — there are things that Gibbs does that DOOM cannot do. Gibbs’ rapping voice, the stakes of his music, and his ability to come up with a sense of inner-city destruction, make Gibbs the better, all-around MC. DOOM wouldn’t be able to come up with a diss track that is re-playable like Gibbs has. Call your friends and cover your ears from the cannon: Freddie Gibbs from Gary, Indiana is the best rapper alive.
Meaning, yes, he’s a better rapper than MF DOOM.
Jayson Buford is a Harlem bred writer that enjoys rap music and movies. You follow him @jaysonbuford.