Still Living: Freddie Gibbs Speaks On Rick James, RTJ2 + More In His Last Interview Before The Infamous Rough Trade Shooting Incident
Still Living: Freddie Gibbs Speaks On Rick James, RTJ2 + More In His Last Interview Before The Infamous Rough Trade Shooting Incident
Photo Credit: Scott Heins for Okayplayer

Still Livin: Freddie Gibbs Speaks On Rick James, RTJ2 + More In His Last Interview Before The Infamous Rough Trade Shooting Incident

Still Living: Freddie Gibbs Speaks On Rick James, RTJ2 + More In His Last Interview Before The Infamous Rough Trade Shooting Incident

Live photos courtesy of Bowery Presents

Freddie Gibbs has been a fixture in music news as of late for the best of reas0ns and also some not-good-at-all reasons. Good news first: last Monday, November 3rd Gibbs put on a mesmerizing performance in front of a sold out crowd at Rough Trade Records here in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Bad news: as he was leaving the venue just after 1 a.m., shots rang out. Gibbs escaped a volley of bullets, but not before two of his entourage were hit, the hooded gunman responsible fleeing into the Brooklyn streets on foot. Gibbs has expressed zero doubt that he was the intended target of the Rough Trade shooting and the NYPD's investigation has revealed that the shooter had hung around him all night, sticking close to his circle during and after the show, apparently waiting for him to exit into the streets before pulling the trigger.

The shooting was officially only the second gun-related incident in Williamsburg this year and was taken by many as nothing short of inevitable, the violent crop of seeds sown by Gibbs's hard lyrics and tough, thuggish attitude. But was it really all that? The real motive may remain a mystery, but to misread aggressive rap lyrics as an invitation for violence is to assume that hip-hop, as a culture, doesn't know the difference. That kind of assumption underestimates fans' ability to differentiate between a song's realistic story and this real, human life. It also implicitly attempts to silence Freddie Gibbs--an MC of brilliant wordplay and inspired rhythms--and turns him into a muted stereotype.

The reality is that Gibbs is in many ways the last thing an outsider might expect: an indie artist who runs his own label, makes his own career choices and raps on whatever hepleases. That night in Brooklyn the Gary, Indiana native put on a visceral display of his skills, turning from barbed wire trap to his more soulful Madlib productions with a poise that's made him hip-hop's most revered (and envied) shapeshifter. As the crowd stood in awe, Gibbs spat verse after gnarled verse, many of them delivered acapella without a second of relent. If you've only heard "Piñata"--brilliant as it is--then you hardly know what he's truly capable of.

In what's now become an eerie transcript, Okayplayer sat down with Gibbs just after midnight at Rough Trade, after he'd finished his show but before the attempt on his life. The conversation focused on the MC's musical process, artistic idols and his ambitious plans for the future. Still, these words now carry a chill that's hard to shake--police reports have revealed that the gunman was there, in the room, during the interview even as Gibbs relaxed and told us "I don't need bodyguards--I'm my bodyguard."

Gibbs told Okayplayer after the shooting "I'm feeling great. I'm getting right back in the lab the rest of the year to finish my album. 2015 is gonna be crazy." So read on and rest assured--Freddie Gibbs is Still Livin'.

Still Living: Freddie Gibbs Speaks On Rick James, RTJ2 + More In His Last Interview Before The Infamous Rough Trade Shooting Incident

OKP: What was it like, working on the new album, with Madlib? How did you two connect and get to work?

FG: [Pauses. Glances at his manager.] Everybody be asking me that shit, man. It wasn't shit, man. People that I knew knew him and we just did a straight record, man. It wasn't even anything crazy. There's a lot of industry politics that keep going on, but wasn't nothing. We just knew each other, did a record, and it came out great.

OKP: People are calling it the record of the year.

FG: You think so? Thanks.

OKP: I think it's you and Run the Jewels 2, neck and neck right up there.

FG: Nah...

OKP: Nah, you got em?

FG: Hell yeah [laughs]. But no, Run the Jewels is cool, and I fuck with Killer Mike. But I don't think anybody did an LP like me, that's just me personally. I went for a different route--I think I've got a real diverse set with a lot of different types of songs on it, and people really do relate to that Cocaine Piñata shit, especially out here. I did that to throw a monkey wrench in the game and show that you can do whatever you want to do.

OKP: S0 do you want to throw a different monkey wrench into it, now?

Still Living: Freddie Gibbs Speaks On Rick James, RTJ2 + More In His Last Interview Before The Infamous Rough Trade Shooting Incident

FG: Yeah, I got a whole different kind of wrench.

OKP: Where are you going next?

FG: I'm just going into different kinds of shit, more melodic-type records. My new album is going to sound a bit more melodic.

OKP: Are you listening to some different, more melodic music to get into that zone, or is it just coming straight out of your head?

FG: Rick James! I've been listening to Rick James and I've been listening to Drake and shit...

OKP: What made you want to go in on "0 to 100"? [note: That night Gibbs rapped for a dizzying 2+ minutes atop an instrumental of Drake's toughest track of late.]

FG: I just like the beats he raps over, he's got great beat selection. I like the beat, so I just rapped on it. I was in London at that n**ga [UK DJ] Tim Westwood's house and I just rapped on that shit, and ever since then people liked it and I've just kept rapping on it. I like that shit, it's cool. It's a dope ass beat. A lot of n**gas probably rapped on that shit, but they couldn't really rap that good. But Drake, he's the best rapper.

OKP: You think Drake's the best rapper, better than you?

FG: Yeah, right now he is. You've got to work up to certain levels. He's on a different level than me, yeah of course

OKP: Would you want to work with him, in a kind of collaboration?

FG: Yeah, he's like the LeBron James of shit right now. He's got all the range.

OKP: How about producers, who's out there that you want to link up with?

FG: I've been working a lot with my homies from Canada, my homeboy [Big] Pops and my homeboy Mikhail, along with Jordan Evans--I've been working with a lot of guys from Canadians. Not just because Drake is my favorite rappers, but because they're the homies.

FG: Of course I want to work with the greats and shit like that, someone like Dr. Dre. You definitely want to work with the top tier producers--n**gas like Mike Will and Sonny Digital.

OKP: Now that you're out on the West coast, do you feel that you're coming at new verses from a Gary, Indiana perspective, or has your mindset become more nationwide?

FG: You know what, I wake up and take a shit in a Gary, Indiana perspective. That's just what I am. Everything's approached from that perspective, but at the same time I'm definitely on a different level. I can't walk down the street like I used to, not in Gary or New York or anywhere. When n**gas be seeing me they're like "Damn, you ain't got no bodyguards?" I don't need bodyguards--I'm my bodyguard. It doesn't really matter, we'll shoot your ass. We won't fuck around. We just had to beat a n**ga's ass in Canada. We've beat a couple n**ga's asses out here, and L.A. too.

OKP: Like, since you got here today?

FG: No, no, in the past and shit. I was about to whoop somebody's ass in the Apple Store today but I didn't. N**gas wouldn't give me my phone--they said I was committing fraud, they said I wasn't Freddie Gibbs.

OKP: Well, did you provide identification?

FG: See that's the bullshit, I lost my ID this week but I had my passport. And the n**gas thought I was doing international espionage or some shit. They didn't want to give me my phone, but we worked it out.

OKP: A lot of people see harder lyrics getting removed from lyrical artistry and complex rapping. But you and Killer Mike, I'd say, are the guys who are able to be aggressive with your content and also be intricate with rhythms. How do you approach writing a verse?

FG: Whatever I hear on the beat, I just rap that shit. It just comes to me when I hear the beat. It's complicated to the average motherfucker--the average motherfucker can't do what I can do. So it might seem complex, but to me it's a given. It's like second nature. It's like breathing. So I just hear the beat and then whatever comes out, comes out. And like I said, I'm a thug-ass n**ga so I can't rap about something out of my element.

OKP:'d be fake?

Still Living: Freddie Gibbs Speaks On Rick James, RTJ2 + More In His Last Interview Before The Infamous Rough Trade Shooting Incident

FG: It ain't about being fake, and I don't want n**gas to be thinking that I think that just cause a n**ga ain't a street n**ga that he's fake. That's got nothing to do with it. This is about just being you--and that's what I do. I didn't change anything when I first started rapping in '06, and I'm not about to change it now. Motherfuckers just got to deal with who and what I am. I built a fanbase, so it don't matter. I've got a following and they like what I do, so I'll always be able to do shows and put out music as long as I remain at my quality level.

 OKP: Well then how does life feel now, versus then in 2006 when you were just getting started rapping?

FG: Well, shit, I don't sell crack anymore. That's a start...

I'm regular citizen with a taxable income now, and I can support my family off of music. That was always the goal, and now that I've reached it's all about taking it to higher levels.

OKP: Concept-wise? Lyrically?

FG: Concept-wise, definitely.

OKP: Is there a Freddie Gibbs concept record in the future?

FG: Well, with shit like that, you wake up and go to sleep with new different concepts and ideas. I might come up with a concept tomorrow when I'm in the shower--I'm all about taking my creativity to another level and I don't have any of the restrictions or timetables of a record label now, so I can do what I want to do and set my own path. I'm kind of like the new Master P.

OKP: Do you admire, then, what someone like Kendrick Lamar is doing in a concept record with characters and stories that almost amount to a 'plot'?

FG: Definitely, of course. He's definitely one of the best, one of the top five. Kendrick's album was a classic. I definitely appreciate good kid, lyrically, it was dope. Like I said, a lot of motherfuckers don't really like where rap is at right now but I love it--because I fell you can do what you want to do. There are a lot of guys creating their own movements off of their mic and their computer and it's a beautiful thing. Nobody's really restricted; we set our own limits.

FG: It's like the wild, wild west. I've been riding around New York all week and I ain't really heard that many New York records. I've heard some, but that's good--it's a mixture. In the '90s you probably wouldn't have heard no shit from anywhere else. You might have heard Outkast on Hot97. But now you hear a mixture of shit and it's dope. I like where music's at.

OKP: Outside of hip-hop, what do you listen to most?

FG: I've been listening to a lot of Rick James. I just read that n**gas book! That should be the best book you read, it's called Glow. I don't like biographies and I don't like someone else telling a person's perspective. But this is him coming from his perspective and all this shit that these n**gas be rapping about now, he was doing that shit a long time ago. A lot of rappers hustle and sell drugs to support their rap career and he was doing that shit in the '60s and '70s. This n**ga Rick James had bricks. But that's not the reason I like the book. To see his struggle from drug addiction and the dope game, trying to get his dreams out, that shit took a lot. That n**ga went to jail a lot, he escaped from jail. I ain't no Rick James, he escaped from federal prison.