One of the most exciting new rappers in years (though he's truly been struggling since 2003), Freddie Gibbs takes a move from Drake's playbook by dropping the best EP/mixtape combo of the year.
At this point, criticizing Freddie Gibbs is a fairly difficult proposition. It usually comes down to one of three things: I've heard you say this before. This beat is mediocre. Or your guest is lame. Because when it comes to Gibbs himself, he's reached a point where every bar he spits is somewhat unassailable on its own merits. He spits teflon bars, word mazes that feel immaculate the instant they leave his lips. His talent is constantly put on shine when put up against, say, Chicago's Dipset-aspiring L.E.P. Bogus Boys, or even true pros like Planet Asia. The guy throws words together like a five-star chef, crafting unique delicacies out of familiar ingredients and laying them out like a piece of art rather than just another dish.
Str8 Killa No Filla has a few of the aforementioned problems. "In My Hood", for example, appears for at least the third time in Gibbs' discography, this time swapping local Gary talent for big city Chi-town prospects. The result is a very mechanical, maudlin track compared to the original. There are also some songs like "Face Down", "My City", "Goon Shit" and "Best Friend" that are technically solid, but just don't move the meter much emotionally. This is also one of the first tapes to release after his underground hype reached its apex, so it's got tracks like "Slammin'" that have been floating around since February. I don't generally follow song leaks, so that's not a problem for me, but it's worth noting the tape definitely has more of a, well, tape feel than some might be accustomed to. Gibbs will also let songs ride out and just bluntly end, though, like his "Born 2 Roll" freestyle or "Slammin'".
There aren't a long list of negatives, though. The details in the "Dollar$ 4 Dope" beat are exquisite, and Gibbs continues to sound fantastic over chillwave-esque beats like Statik Selektah's "Serve or Get Served" and "Crushin' Feelin's". "Do Wrong" is another mad dope collaboration with Pill that looks at the flip side of "Run Up to Me", their collaboration on Pill's Refill mixtape. "P.S.A." is another script flip, as Gibbs turns from his straight player persona and opens up to the fact he might eat such an amazing pussy out (if drunk), or even fall in love. Str8 Killa No Filla isn't on the level of his other tapes, but combined with the tracks on the Str8 Killa EP, August 2010 has been about equally as dope for Gibbs as the summer of 2009, and while it's about time he drops that official album, it's really hard to complain about a guy that puts so much obvious work into his craft.
Gibbs explains it best with the EP's opener, "Rep 2 tha Fullest": where most gangsta artists these days use the music as a way to either A) excuse their lifestyle or B) recapture the memories of their youth, it's rare the rapper who uses his gangsta music as an escape from the subject matter. Strange? Sure, but in the '90s, Gibbs' heroes like Bun B, Scarface and 2Pac (until his later days) made a point to point one finger forward as well as backward, accepting the bigger picture that with success would (should) come new goals and social expectations.
It's this ethos that makes Gibbs such a sympathetic figure, but it's his lyricism that brings him to the next level. The guy is able to put seemingly anything together that he wants to, and while his word choice is not that of a bookworm Eminem or cartoon character Redman, it's not a crutch. Gibbs is simply a very direct person, and his statements need no thesaurus; they are what they are. His street album Midwestgangstacadillacmuzik is the only so-called instant classic in the past five to 10 years of rap to boast both a mixtape DJ and no label support.
While Gibbs is still a free agent, this Str8 Killa duo comes courtesy of Decon Records. Both releases do plenty to further Gibbs' momentum, but I do feel like both leave a little to be desired. The mixtape suffers from mastering issues and some of the more bland styles from The Miseducation of... and his earlier mixtapes. And the EP, with a bevy of features and a collection of beats that feel slightly homogenic and certainly less fresh than the stuff on Midwestgangsta, is something that sounds excellent in the car, but just doesn't leave a strong impression anywhere else. "Personal OG" is a major highlight, but it's ultimately just a weed song. And Bun B may have stolen the tape with his verse on "Rock Bottom", something that outclasses everything he's spit in the past year, save perhaps "Trap or Die 2". Gibbs continues to build momentum towards his official debut, and this EP/mixtape combination is certainly very good.
Ultimately, this is the first Gibbs project you can legally purchase in stores. So, you know...you should do that.