Freddie Gibbs follows last year's cold-hearted offering and a pair of Madlib collabs with a sonic ode to Los Angeles, perhaps his most accessible release to date.
Baby Face Killa, like label head Young Jeezy's Real Is Back series, is the classic sort of mixtape that's undeniably trapped in limbo. On the one hand, Freddie Gibbs's brand isn't one that easily attaches to mediocre product, but he's also got an album that's been pending forever and it wouldn't make sense to spoil that party. One only need take a look at the critically positive yet ultimately lukewarm response to Big K.R.I.T.'s Def Jam debut for an example of how too much of a good thing can burn fans out. Baby Face Killa handles that struggle in a few predictable ways while also finding room to experiment and please fans of his pre-Cold Day in Hell work, and while it doesn't always work this mixtape still succeeds mostly because Gibbs is just that good at his job.
The pair of tracks that open the tape couldn't feel more like a continuation of his welcome to the major trap family on Cold Day in Hell, but where the heaviest tracks there proved to be growers "BFK" and "Still Livin'" are plainly unimaginative and constitute two of Gibbs's dullest tracks to date. Luckily, the rest of the tape quickly abandons that route for the most part, opting instead for the airy values of Midwestgangstaboxframecadillacmuzik, which remains his best work to date and a modern day classic. "The Diet" and "Kush Cloud" are remarkably smooth, the latter pulling its sample from something that sounds like Aphex Twin. I can't tell you how amazing it feels to hear Gibbs and Krayzie Bone spitting over a cloud beat. It certainly lends credence to the folks who get angry over gimmicks like Kitty Pryde and Riff Raff snatching up Beautiful Lou beats and laying comical waste to them. Smooth is the M.O. for much of the record, a sort of polished professionalism that lifts repetitive jams like "Money, Clothes, Hoes" well beyond their limited subject matter; if Cold Day in Hell was Gibbs' initiation into Atlanta, then Baby Face Killa finds Gibbs embracing Los Angeles as his primary residence.
That embrace does keep Baby Face Killa from satisfying whatever potential tracks like "Kush Cloud", "Seventeen", street single "Pull Up" and "The Hard" might intimate, however. This is the first Gibbs release that's loaded to the gills with featured artists other than his EPs, and it's also the first that relies pretty heavily on sung hooks and the Beachside Betty macking that most of Los Angeles's most popular artists are best known for. "Walk in Wit the M.O.", for example, is a jazzy kick your feet up sort of track that Dom Kennedy feels way more comfortable laying the mack down on than Gibbs does. He's proven that he can rap to the ladies in the past, but his voice is just so gruff that sometimes it feels weirder than he might think. This more pop-like direction definitely makes for Gibbs' most radio-ready full length to date but at times it will certainly disappoint his hardest fans. "'Bout It 'Bout It" isn't a Master P tribute, it's Gibbs and Kirko Bangz trading off on auto-tune about giving women the business followed by a final superfluous verse about drug dealing. And "Middle of the Night" is awkwardly hilarious, as Wayne Blazed's hook promises a girl he's going to wake her up from a deep sleep with his raging erection and Gibbs' tries to play it off as a gangsta move. As expected, he's way more comfortable on a track like "Go for It", backed by a thunderous beat and getting real misogynist ala "Bussdown", asking as politely as he can to women in his audience, "Now, bitch, scream if your pussy clean."
Still, the lady love only constitutes about a third of the tape, and is pretty par for the course on an appetizer release like this. For the most part, Baby Face Killa is Gibbs' unabashed assault on car stereos, full of sleek riding music even when he reaches into his darker tendencies like "Stay Down", which reminisces on his lesser days in Gary, Indiana. I doubt it proves to be a grower like his last drop was, but it's easily the most accessible project he's ever put out there and could turn a lot of folks who were on the fence about his harder edges into fans. It's not a pop album by any stretch, but in Gibbs' devoutly mid-90s midwest mindset it's without a doubt a pop record in Gibbs's world. If anything, it's reassuring to see he can pull it off about as smoothly as his calling card, even if it can get a little awkward at times.