Monday, November 23, 2015

Freddie Gibbs - Shadow Of A Doubt Review

In an interview with Exclaim Freddie Gibbs made the differences between Piñata, his 2014 record with Madlib, and Shadow Of A Doubt clear by saying “if Piñata was a term paper, this shit is like recess.” That comparison could not be more apt. While I think his collab with Madlib fell short in some areas, it certainly wasn’t due to lack of effort and work ethic. And from one listen of Shadow Of A Doubt, his third LP, it’s clear recess is in session with a distinct return to his mixtape days of grinding up Gangsta Rap and Trap in a blend that respects both ends. While each half is in overabundance and far from original, Gibbs may have helped lead the merger of both sounds this decade, spitting lyrical intensity over bass slaps, hi-hats, and trap-happy beats. There’s no doubt Gibbs holds this mantle high, but it’s a mantle easily reached, one that doesn’t attain to change the scene or provide a creative force to drive listeners its way. On Piñata, Madlib helped with that in spades, providing a perpendicular sound Gibbs hasn’t been accustomed to, leading to mutual companionship arriving from drastically different viewpoints. Shadow Of A Doubt however doesn’t sway too far from its origins, nearly mimicking its mixtape predecessors, namely Baby Face Killa. When it does veer off the beaten path it does so by mirroring the latest trends, leaving haphazard auto-tune, redundant beat structures, and stale content in its wake. 

The album isn’t without its standouts though. Opener ‘Rear View’ sets a tone that’s never matched, layering hazy female vocals behind weighty bass and rigid drums, a la Cloud Rap. Gibbs’ tenacity though quickly brings the relaxed sound into a cold sweat, commanding the mic like few in the game today. His pacing throughout the track, with come-and-go bass wrapped around his pronounced verses, is impeccable, a great track to warrant any Gibbs love. And thanks to his two-tone excellency, lyrical density can be swapped out for flow-spitting, resulting in the Black Thought-assisted 'Extradite.' The beat takes a backseat, throwing in slight Jazz nod with bouncy percussions and pockets of spacey synths, allowing the two heavyweights to throw explosive verses at each other. And despite biting Killer Mike to start his second verse, Black Thought continues his unblemished track record for tearing up features, a plus for listeners that Gibbs is able to keep up. Unfortunately for much of the LP that perseverance is missing from the Gary rapper, nestling into his comfort zone, a place only other qualified emcees and producers can pull him from. With the who's who of Hip-Hop artists that flooded Piñata absent Gibbs is left to his own devices, ones that peddle in monotony.

And really that's what prevents Gibbs from reaching the status he claims for on tracks like 'Forever And A Day,' the lack of innovation. Technically, he's fierce. With the flow, grit, and verbosity of the most seasoned veterans, Gibbs stands on his own when compared to others who attempt to rap over the same structures. But, much like how Future or Travi$ Scott or Young Thug muddle their sound into dry content based around ritualistic Hip-Hop tropes based out of the south, Freddie does so with street rap. Primary topics here range from braggadocios flaunts to gang banging to bagging petty women, topics that've seen their time cease years ago but still continue on for fear of the unknown. Sure, it's what Gibbs does best, and at times he comes out swinging, but when songs like 'Fuckin' Up The Count' reprise old material from his own catalog you start to wonder if you've heard this album before. Because in many places you'd be remiss to depict this as an album, with little cohesion and no overall theme or motive, Shadow Of A Doubt seems rather lost, indifferent to its existence, unsure as to why it's exactly an album.

Even on a song by song basis the LP slips. When it isn't Gibbs at his most natural, cruising along a beat with little variation, it's him taking supposed risks, ones that follow trails laid out by those in today's limelight. This results in some borderline insufferable duds, like 'Basketball Wives,' where he tries to present a nasally half-hearted R&B sing-a-long with some truly cliche topics. Others ride the Future train close in other ways, bearing similarities to What A Time To Be Alive, with tracks like 'Mexico' and 'Packages.' These fair better, especially the latter with banger written all over it, but they still provide no unique edge, jumping ship from one tried backdrop to another. While Piñata was more inclusionary for obvious reasons, with Madlib's production smeared all over it, Shadow Of A Doubt does reasonably well with the wide cast of producers guarding its premise. Once again, it assumes the role of mixtape better, but in that same sense allows a greater range of sounds to bounce between Gibbs. There's still no denying that both Gibbs, and the overall song, is better when the production sways out of reach, with tracks like 'Narcos' and 'Cold Ass Nigga' prospering thanks to some wild synthesizers that create swelling ruggedness.  

I suppose that's the path of Freddie Gibbs, albums and mixtapes containing a breadth of Hip-Hop tropes that'll keep the diehard and nonchalant fans satisfied with little invention, sprinkled with some tracks that thrive on all cylinders. As was the case with his Baby Face Killa, a record that laid the archetype for this one, replacing the grizzled edge with a more laid back approach, a handful of songs are worthy of placement on someone's playlist. Thankfully Shadow Of A Doubt isn't muddled down with excessive length or filler, the songs are with their purpose, they just lack inherent substance. And what's arguably the worst place to be in in music is mediocrity, without a leg to stand on on either end, which is where Gibbs largely lies. Regurgitated topics won't get you far in today's Hip-Hop world where the most unique of characters stand out. Thankfully for Gibbs he's a more than talented lyricist, capable of holding his own. It's just unfortunate that what he holds doesn't particularly intrigue.

No comments:

Post a Comment