Music

Freddie Gibbs: ESGN

After freeing himself of any obligation to Young Jeezy's CTE imprint, the Internet's gangster-rap messiah turns to the increasingly indie iTunes to maintain his role as the man who would be king.


Freddie Gibbs

ESGN - Evil Seeds Grow Naturally

Label: ESGN
US Release Date: 2013-06-19
UK Release Date: 2013-06-19
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iTunes

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.

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"Now I am just more tired and poor. So no, I haven't changed. I'm just older and more tired," says French radio journalist and documentarian Sonia Kronlund, as she looks back on the experience of making The Prince of Nothingwood (2017).

Joining Salim Shaheen, the most popular and prolific actor-director-producer in Afghanistan on his 111th no budget feature, Kronlund documents the week-long shoot and the events surrounding it. She crafts an insight into a larger than life persona, yet amidst the comedy and theatricality of Shaheen and his troupe of collaborators, she uncovers the heavier tones of the everyday reality of war and patriarchal oppression. If The Prince of Nothingwood will popularly be remembered for celebrating the creative spirit of its star, it is equally an important communication on Afghanistan, it's culture and its people. Alongside the awareness of the country cultivated by mainstream media news outlets, Kronlund's film offers an insight into a country that can humanise the prejudice and xenophobic tendencies of a western perspective towards Afghanistan.

In October of this year at the UK premiere at the BFI London Film Festival, Kronlund spoke with PopMatters about being driven by questions rather than inspiration. She also reflected on the subjective nature of documentary filmmaking, the necessary artistic compromises of filming in Afghanistan, and feeling a satisfaction with imperfections.

Why filmmaking as a means of expression? Was there an inspirational or defining moment?

Not really, no. I have always done documentary. I used to write scripts and TV series but I only make documentaries myself for radio and television. For this story, I figured out after a while that it deserved a bigger ambition and a bigger screen and that's why I don't very much believe in inspiration. To be honest, I made this film because I had to do something. I didn't have a big project where I thought: I want to make this. I went there and I found a little money and at the end the ambition and the inspiration came along the way. But there was not an urgent necessity to make this film. It fits with a lot of things that I'm interested in, like popular culture -- What does art stand for and why do we go to the cinema? What is the purpose? This is a question I'm interested in, but inspiration, not so much.

Has The Prince of Nothingwood provided you with the answers to those questions?

It has, and I hope it helps people to think about this question. It tells you that there is an urgent need to make images, to make films, even during war,and even if you don't have the money. And even if the films are not very good, they will find somebody who will like them. So something is going to happen, and I think that's very touching. I don't like Shaheen's films, I hardly watched them -- I paid somebody to watch them. But I'm very moved by all these people that do like his films, and it makes you think about the value of art and the purpose of why we make cinema. I used to study aesthetics in London, so it was one of the questions I had and while the film is lighter than this, that's what was in mind.

The film uses Shaheen as a doorway, beginning as a story about one man which becomes a story about Afghanistan, its people and culture.

Yeah, but it's not so much about Afghanistan and it's not my purpose is to say things about the country. There's one guy like him in Iran who makes cowboy movies in the Iranian desert and there's also a guy like that in Tunisia. I mean you have this person with an urgent need to film whatever they have under their hand and since it's war, then it tells you something about the war. But it's not so much interested in him.

There was a lot of editing, 148 hours that you haven't seen [laughs]. Making a documentary is really telling a story and I don't have any idea of objectivity -- it is my point of view on Shaheen. Some people say to me that they would like to show his films, that they really want to see his films, and I say: "You don't see how much I have edited. I show you the very nice parts of his films." People think he's a great filmmaker and that's the story I wanted to tell -- but I could have told another story.

To my mind, objectivity is a human construct, a falsity that does not exist.

Except mathematics maybe, and sometimes physics.

The purist opinion of documentary as objective is therein built on a faulty premise. From the subjective choices of the filmmakers that bleed into the film to the subjectivity of the subjects, it's not purely objective. Hence, it calls into question the traditional dividing line of the objectivity of documentary and the subjectivity of narrative fiction.

Totally! It's the editing, and why you chose this guy, how you film it and what you show, or what you don't show. It's not only subjectivity, it's storytelling. Not many people ask me about this, they take it for granted that it's the real Shaheen. But I'm not lying, I'm not saying things that aren't true, but I am telling a story, a fictional story out of what I filmed. I took scenes that happened one day and I put them with another story that happened three months later and that's why we had seven months of editing with three editors. So it was a lot of work.

One of the striking aspects of the film are the light and comedic moments offset by a darker and heavier sensibility, which include moments when, for example, Shaheen talks about arranged marriages.

We made 70rough cuts and there was one version we tested and you couldn't believe you were in Afghanistan. People would say: "Oh this is too funny. You don't see Afghanistan, it's just a bunch of crazy guys." I then said: "Let's put in a little more darkness." You then have to strike a balance and to me, if it's not perfect, I'm happy.

Shooting the film in a dangerous and volatile part of the world, was the approach that once you had enough footage you then looked to shaping the film in the edit?

It's not when you feel you have enough, it's finding a balance between security and artistic concerns. That's it. You have a plan and you have an agenda. There are things you want to do, but it has to be balanced with security concerns. The real story I was going to tell about Shaheen I found in the editing room and in the end, I only kept five days of the shoot. The whole film takes place in Bamyan (Province), nothing in Kabul, although I had weeks and weeks of footage there that I had to take away.

There's a moment when Shaheen asks if you are scared, which sees him verbalise our silent recognition of your boldness and courage to bring this story to the screen.

It's very difficult and it's not like you are walking in the street and there's a bomb. This is not what's difficult. The difficulty is to cope with your fear and to have rules and to follow or to not follow those rules. There are many foreign people that never go out at all in Kabul -- it is forbidden. You have British diplomats who do not even drive their car from the airport to the embassy -- they will take an helicopter that costs £2,000 each way. Then you have foreign people who walk in the street without a scarf -- these girls get kidnapped.

In between these you have Shaheen, who is telling me all the time that I'm too scared, because it's a man's value to be brave and he's a brave guy, there's no question about that. He was in an attack two weeks ago. There was a bomb in a Shia Mosque and he helped to carry out the bodies. So there's no kidding about the fact that he's a brave guy and he has to be because he's been fighting to make his films. But you are in the middle of this and I'm not a brave person at all and I don't think being brave is a very important question. It is, but I'm not brave, I'm very scared and so in the middle of all of this stress it's enough just to manage to not go crazy, or to not drink too much [laughs].

Salim Shaheen and Sonia Kronlund (courtesy of Pyramide Films)

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