Freddie Gibbs has a problem: he’s too good at his job. As a gangster rapper relentlessly opposed to mainstream kowtowing, Gibbs’ single-minded focus has forged this era’s undisputed lyrical thug champion. The issue is that Gibbs is acutely aware of this fact and can’t seem to figure out how to turn the faucet off when good ideas remain merely good ones, causing all of his projects to bloat from laser-cut bangers to slightly doughy menace factories. Tellingly, ESGN was originally meant to showcase Freddie Gibbs’ extended rapper family from Los Angeles and Indiana before his very public falling out with Atlanta kingpin Young Jeezy left Gibbs with something to prove and his friends trapped in the flames of his afterburners. And so here we are, another 20-track release that probably would have been better cut down to 14, in which Freddie Gibbs re-plants his stake in the ground as fans grow increasingly restless for him to drop a truly great project.
For now, ESGN listeners or folks who are still experiencing Gibbs from the periphery can take solace in ESGN‘s streamlining of the Freddie Gibbs street album experience; despite clocking in at a full hour and 20 minutes, the first 11 or so songs actually zip by in exceptionally brisk fashion as many of them cling resolutely to a sub three-and-a-half-minute runtime. Take “One Eighty Seven”, a Problem collaboration in which both rappers manage to make comparing a woman’s vagina to a 9mm (ostensibly a trope of the Gibbs catalog at this point) sound almost endearing, each dropping razor-sharp minute-and-a-half verses with quips like “know it ain’t good for me like snitchin’ to the police / But I just keep callin’ that bitch / Pop a band then I fall in that bitch” and getting out of there before the familiar subject matter has a chance to grate. Similarly, teaser tracks “Eastside Moonwalker” and “Freddie Soprano” paint Gibbs in the most flattering light the mixtape format can provide, disregarding infectious hooks for simple mantras and a whole lot of tongue twisting.
On the production end, Gibbs has benefited from the Corporate Thugz detachment, albeit in mostly subtle ways. Like Baby Face Killa and Cold Day in Hell before it, ESGN is pretty unrelenting in its nihilistic qualities, preferring thunder and malice over some of the breezier, more gravitas-oriented tracks he claimed fame with. But by doubling down on his Los Angeles and worldwide web connections, Gibbs has created a very trap-like album that’s very subtly melodic and sonically interesting. “9mm” is one of those rare songs that’s all things to all people, a Fire & Ice production that interpolates Boogie Down Productions’ “9mm Goes Bang” over a track right out of Three 6 Mafia’s underground oeuvre with just a hint of California’s rolling bassline magic. Names like Cardo, Lifted, Big Jerm, SAP, and Willie B help provide Gibbs with an exceptionally clean canvas to paint in blood and sexual secretions on.
Still, it’s hard not to notice ESGN for the holding pattern it is, particularly when a song like “Freddie Soprano” sneaks in towards the end with a totally refreshing, modern boom-bap kind of vibe or “City”, from his forever teasing Madlib collaboration, leaks onto the net. He sounds exuberant to be surrounded by real friends instead of businessmen again, and it shouldn’t be taken for granted that Gibbs is taking just about everything that worked—and a little bit of what didn’t—during his internship at Young Jeezy’s label and taking a magnifying glass to it, attempting to fill out the little bits and pieces that needed tending to and providing the peak possibilities of that single-minded villainy. For those hip-hop fans forever in pursuit of the latest glass-shattering bass and semi-auto mob rules, ESGN is likely 2013’s flagship release. This is Gibbs’ deep breath; let’s see what direction he takes off running in next.