* The ‘full album’ videos below are timestamped.
After dropping the flaking hip-hop instant classic ‘Pinata’ last year, I was intrigued to hear that Freddie ‘Gangsta’ Gibbs offered up another album effort last month, however this time without the aid of peerless beatsmith Madlib on the boards. While not up to the same stratospheric standards of that release, ‘Shadow Of A Doubt’ manages to maintain Gibbs’ image as a credible and diverse gangster rapper – not an easy stance to pull off in the often flaky and glitzy realm hip-hop inhabits in the twenty-tens.
On first listening, I admit to being a tad disappointed with ‘SOAD,’ the formerly super suave Madlib samples now replaced with booming trap bass. However, after a full listen or two, it becomes apparent that a big asset of this release is its addictive hooks – you’re guaranteed to catch yourself mumbling a few Gibbsisms unbeknownst to yourself post listening and be left wondering where the heck did that come from?!
‘Rearview’ is one of the most enduring joints on the album, Gibbs checking his mirror to recount the struggles he overcame to reach the top, including an addiction to tranquilisers and a stint in prison: ‘Pill habit heavy, hella bars I can’t even count / LA county jail, ain’t got my moms here to bail me out.’ Perhaps initially outshone by other ‘catchier’ hits on the album on first listening, Gibbs’ wistful tone, honesty and the sombre, heavy beat coalesce to form a hard-hitting, meditative hip-hop narrative – Gibbs in his element.
In ‘Narco’s,’ Gibbs reminds us he’s still deep in the drug game, using a simile of choice to compare his two professions: ‘Dope game hard / Rap game, rap game easy than a motherfucker.’ He also refers to an incident last year when he was shot at in New York, ‘Some nigga tried to kill me, man it’s hard to trust niggas / But my momma raised a drug dealer, not a fuck nigga.’ A lukewarm effort overall though. ‘Careless’ arrives next, Gibbs flirting heavily with pop here, evident by the sneaky George Michael sample, while risking parody – seriously, how many ‘got a lots’ does he let out?! Still, this stuff is infectious – a track you’ll be slamming the repeat button for a while to come.
‘Fuckin’ Up The Count’ hits next and it sees Gibbs in flying form. Reading as an advisory note to any potential drug dealer about the vital role maths plays in the hustle, – ‘Count be wrong, they’ll fuck you up’ – the tense beat and samples from ‘The Wire’ help create a haunting mood, a harbinger of the hassle you’ll invite on yourself in if you miss out a digit! Gibbs makes it clear he’s a master at maths but only when it’s applied, ‘Teacher told me go get a job, I said where the scale at?’
‘Extradite’ is an interesting one with some silky production courtesy of the contrast between the upbeat, swelling notes of the hook and the dark, eerie James Bond-sampled beat opening each verse before a dirty, dusty drumbreak rolls loose over some cavernous bass.
‘McDuck’ drops next and I’m a bit ambivalent about it… that bass is a bit too heavy, jaysus! Dana Williams provides a beautiful contribution to the hook regardless with Gibbs reasserting his need to keep calm, perhaps another reference to the hop he must have got from that attempt on his life last year: ‘I ain’t got a , I ain’t got a clue, ooh / What the world might do, what the world might do, ooh / I just gotta stay cool, ooh.’
You’ll either hate ‘Mexico’ or you’ll love it – heavy ass trap bass and a Tory Lanez hook proclaiming his riches and surfeit of hoes:
‘New Givenchy coat it’s like we’re selling dope
Since I started pimping I don’t sell no more
I got bitches down to 4-0-1 and 4-1-0
So I ain’t got no time to sit and talk ’bout so and so.’
Gibbs’ lyrics are largely vapid here: ‘I wake up and whip that dope in the morning, threw on my rollie / Just get all my youngsters Glock-9s and 40s, them my lil whoadies.’ A tune high in pop sensibility if that’s your thing but lacking substance.
I find the hook on ‘Packages’ more than a bit annoying – okay, Freddie, you’re doing a lot of wrapping and packing… that’s fine! You have to admit his flow is stunning on his one and only verse here – like a blitz. Not even going to try and rap along! There’s bit of ambiguity over the lyrics – he really is flowing hard – but it seems Gibbs comes up with a gem: ‘Brick of dope on the desk like that nigga Tony / Niggas funny, they kidding, they Nickelodeon.’ Brilliant!
’10 Times’ is another ‘light’ track. Again, beat and hook are catchy but apart from that not a lot else to shout about. And it’s the same case for ‘Lately’ I’m afraid. ‘Basketball Wives’ is an undeniable earworm – a lovely dreamy, drowsy beat is laid down while Gibbs rap-sings ridiculously (a heavy dose of autotune to boot) about his affinity for that poontang while also professing a (no surprise) mistrust of the loose women he loves:
‘Cause these hoes don’t know my struggle
Man these hoes don’t know my pain
They be fuckin’ for the paper
Man they fuckin’ for the fame.’
And just when we’re starting to doubt Gibbs for his ‘realness,’ ‘Forever And A Day’ drops, a record Gibbs himself acknowledges is one of his ‘deepest’ tracks:
‘Man I’m so high I can’t even look my own momma in the eyes
Kicked out through the front door
She said the way a nigga livin’, if I die, she won’t be surprised
Tears on the Bible, she prayed for me
This can’t be the life that she made for me
Gotta lie to police when they raid for me
If there’s a heaven will they open up the gates for me?’
Heavy, personal, stirring stuff, however Gibbs still harbours no regrets, ‘Can’t forget it, don’t regret it, gave a nigga somethin’ to rap about.’
When Gibbs turns up the heat, he keeps it simmering as probably my favourite tracks drops next: ‘Insecurities.’ Another deep one with Gibbs actually acknowledging his desire for women and money to be a sign of insecurity – a brave thing for any rapper to do!
‘Thought that I was chasin’ money, I was chasin’ bitches
But when the Lord gave me my daughter
Helped me paint the picture
Man all the shit I did, I’m blessed the streets ain’t take a nigga.’
The hook too displays a coming of maturity for Gibbs – he has a daughter now and is starting to realise he can’t mess about like he used to anymore:
‘Ready for whatever man
And some niggas, they don’t ever change
I let it go, I let it go
And I remember I was sellin’ things
I was ready for whatever man
I let it go, I let it go.’
The refrain ‘I let it go’ really rings true – he needs to keep his cool and not get caught up in fights and drugs. The outro reinforces this notion:
‘All my daughter want is my attention
All she want is my attention, yeah
So why am I starvin’ for attention?’
A fantastic, brutally honest, soul searching slice of hip-hop. Undoubtedly, the man’s got soul.
‘Freddie Gordy’ is another candid account of the pitfalls of drug-dealing:
‘I hope my daughter never lives this type of lifestyle
Creeping under street lights as a night child
My uncle still can’t put the liquor or the pipe down
Meanwhile I’m in this kitchen whipping up the while gal
Plus I got addictions of my own, boy
The pills into laced blunts got me gone, boy
The Oxycontin & heavy syrup got me looking in the mirror saying, “Is you a dope fiend or a dope boy?’
‘Cold Ass Nigga’ closes the record out, Gibbs fronting up at the finish with a statement of his ruthlessness over an equally hard, zippy beat: ‘So fuck a phone I show up at your home ass nigga / Murder murder on my mind that’s how I’m programmed nigga.’
Overall, I think ‘SOAD’ works well as an album – there are some ‘light’ tracks but at least they are well-produced and there’s none I would skip. Gibbs is trying something different here, turning to a trap style and more blatantly ‘poppy’ hooks. Despite that, it’s an enjoyable effort all-in-all, Gibbs’ sincerity and style stronger in some places than others but still shimmering through the drabness of the current hip-hop climate.