“ESGN”, Freddie Gibbs, 6/20/2013
by Luke Smith-Stevens on July 1, 2013
Posted in: Album Review, Hip Hop
Freddie Gibbs pulled a move rarely seen in hip-hop these days, when he dropped his second solo retail release over 2 weeks early. ESGN, or Evil Seeds Grow Naturally, is Gibbs’s first major project of 2013, as well as his first official studio album. But fans of Gangsta Gibbs’s previous work, including 2009’s excellent The Miseducation of Freddie Gibbs, and his most recent effort, Baby Face Killa, will be pleased to hear that Gibbs has not lost any of his the old-school street sound that characterized his mixtapes. ESGN is a rare creature for its time, a true hardcore hip-hop album, an ode not to the material spoils of dealing drugs, but to the lifestyle itself.
There is nothing glamorous about Gibbs’s portrayal of his business, and unlike some of today’s most prominent d-boys turned MC’s, he does not emphasize his ability to parlay his skills as a dealer into a more luxurious way of life. There are no mansions in South Beach discussed on ESGN, nor Balenciaga kicks, nor even flashy new cars. At a time when hip-hop has made “My Bugatti” the new “My Adidas”, there is no shame in Freddie’s voice when he raps about his classic box-frame Cadillac. Even the title of the League of Starz produced “Hundred Thousand” seems like a modest sum in this era, and Gibbs’s tales achieve a level of reality that escapes many tellers of drug dealing tales and an ability to be genuinely moving, “Youngstas tryna air me out and leave my body cold/ sell my dope on Sunday, came to church, have mercy on my soul”.
At times, Gibbs takes advantage of his credibility in order to relate to us the traumas he has witnessed. On “I Seen a Man Die”, he takes a step back from the role of main actor and becomes an onlooker, offering reflection on the violence around him in his hometown of Gary, “Before I seen a nigga cry I seen a young nigga die, over a Georgetown Starter jacket and some new Jordan fives/ left in this shit, blessed in this shit, question is will I survive/ laid out with a hot gun smokin, on his own blood chokin”.
The most striking aspect of Gibbs’s work, on ESGN or any of his other releases, is his insanely precise flow. His technical skills are pretty much unparalleled at this stage in his career, there seems to be no style or pattern of rapping that Gibbs has not mastered. His superb bar construction and deep, gravelly voice recall Southern greats such as Bun B and Trick Daddy, rappers who Gibbs says, “make him want to make good music”. He uses his repertoire to great effect on “Paper”, an ESGN standout, casually changing speeds and cadences, “Keep that chopped in plastic, gotta find a new place to stash it/ once I ran through that pack, hit the club balled out like a draft pick”. His lines are so intricately crafted (he actually scripts his flow first, decides how the words will come out, before writing the actual lyrics), with hardly any breathing room, that even a seasoned hip-hop listener will find him tricky to follow. As with his past work, I found that I enjoy ESGN more each time I listen to it, as I slowly decipher exactly what Gibbs is saying.
ESGN’s major weakness, however, does not take long to identify; that is, its extremely meager cast of featured rappers. Repeat guests such as G-Wiz and Hit Skrewface are very disappointing, and along with their fellow guests, are the reason that nearly all of ESGN’s most enjoyable tracks are solo Gibbs joints. West Coast vets Daz Dillinger and Jay Rock offer solid verses, but overall, Gibbs dominates. Which, really, he should, seeing as it is his album. But it would be nice to see him collaborate more effectively and broadly, as he has with Madlib in the past. For a rapper of his skill and renown, he appears on a surprisingly low number of tracks with other artists. As long as he’s demonstrating his considerable skills, as he does on ESGN, however, it is hard to complain about Gangsta Gibbs’s output.
Best Line: “Hustlin’, jackin’, murder and mackin’ been such a part’a me/ such an evil seed wonder what will my son ‘n’ daughter be”–Freddie Gibbs, “The Real G Money”
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