Freddie Gibbs Has Four Joint Projects on the Way, But Being the Best Rapper to Ever Act Is Priority
Candor and comedic flair have been some of Freddie Gibbs' prized attributes both in and out of music. As one of the game's most respected MCs, he's now more serious than ever about elevating his acting career.
Words: Luke Fox
Editor’s Note: This story will appear in the Winter 2022 issue of XXL Magazine, on stands now.
Freddie Gibbs is deep in conversation when a publicist interrupts over the Zoom connection on an early November day. “Let’s skip that question,” pipes the voice. The artist has been asked if he believes he’ll ever squash his beef with collaborator-turned-rival Benny The Butcher. And although the sensitive topic is deemed a no-fly zone by his major label, Warner Records—the machine pushing Gibbs’ superb $oul $old $eparately album, released this past September—Gibbs has never been one to hold his tongue.
“I’ll answer it. I don’t mind,” the Gary, Ind. rapper says calmly from his California home in the Hills. “Probably not. Just because I feel like I’m not on the level of that ghetto rap beef shit. I don’t care enough to solve a beef with a rapper. I don’t care enough. I don’t care about rappers enough. I don’t care about the rap game and what they think about me. I’ll let them care about that.”
“I’m so far removed from that bullshit in the streets,” Gibbs states. “I’m about to be an esteemed actor and a mogul. I couldn’t care less about any of that stupid shit. To me, those guys are like comedy. I make jokes of these guys like that. And that’s why guys like that want to fight because they a joke to me. I don’t even take guys like that serious. So, I don’t care to squash no beef with nobody. You could hate me forever, and that’s fine with me because you insignificant. In general, with anybody. I mean that for any rapper.”
Gibbs, 40, concedes that he didn’t always view the rap world through such a dismissive lens. As a youngster that was infatuated with the greats, regardless of region—Scarface, Three 6 Mafia, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, Nelly, Cash Money, Mos Def, OutKast, Tupac Shakur and Spice 1, to name a few—Freddie craved acceptance by his peers.
He wanted the hot collab. He strived to hang in the booth with his heroes. He also wanted to secure the bag and had an appetite for fame and all its accoutrements.
“Now, so many people know me, I don’t give a fuck who know me,” Freddie expresses of recent times. “Once I got to a certain financial point and knew I could sustain myself and create other entities outside of rap, I was like, Fuck this shit.”
A line from the track “Grandma’s Stove,” off his most recent album, $oul $old $eparately, encapsulates the emotion: “Tryna chase my dream, but I hate the shit that I’m runnin’ after.” Freddie expands on why those lines were important to get across. “Because sometimes this shit get stupid,” he openly admits. “Sometimes I don’t like this shit. I don’t like the violent end of it. I don’t like how everybody feels like they gotta be a fuckin’ tough guy, when these muthafuckas ain’t really tough. So, they overcompensate. They do stupid shit to overcompensate for this fuckin’ rap image they think they gotta push to sell. Because at the end of the day, that’s all they fuckin’ got.
“To me, right now, only being a rapper is one-dimensional. These muthafuckas don’t do nothing but rap, get on TikTok, then, shit, what else they do? Sell weed and shit. Scam other rappers,” he closes, breaking into laughter.
He’s on a roll now, mixing 30,000-foot views with slight jabs and the wisdom of a man who’s been through it. When he dives into dialogue, his riffs and rants are not so far removed from his expertly crafted verses, blending humor with insight, detail with daring.
“I’m not trying to be just a career rapper, dog,” Freddie proclaims. “I don’t give a fuck about that. Yeah, I rap. I’m one of the greats of rap. Hell yeah. I’m great at this, but there is so much more that I can bring to the game. And this rap shit is so fuckin’ small at the end of the day. And we made it small. The business model made it small. It’s still a huge money- making business, but it’s small in the grand scheme of things because muthafuckas is really losing they life over this stupid-ass shit. And it’s not worth it.”
The passion behind his pulpit is palpable. Freddie is aiming to steer clear of beef these days. “I damn near try not to interact with these muthafuckas, man, because you interact with these muthafuckas, and you get in beefs,” he explains. “We just lost Takeoff. I don’t know him, by the way. I’m not trying to talk about him for clout. I’m not in they camp or circle or friend group, but I was a fan of their music, and I see things of that nature like, man, why do I even… I’m me. I got classics under my belt. I did things in rap. Grammy-nominated. I’m about to be touring for the rest of my life. Why would I squander that—all of that—for my kids, just to be hanging around in scene?”
“At the end of the day, the rap game don’t give a fuck about you. They gonna bury you and keep it pushing. And it’s only us killing. Ain’t no country singers getting killed. Ain’t no pop singers getting shot dead and buried. We done buried 15 rappers in the past four years, dog. I make rap music, but I could care less about the muthafuckin’ rap game. I’m not even in it. I’m just doing Freddie Gibbs.”
Ben “Lambo” Lambert and Gibbs were fast friends. He’s Gibbs’ beat selector, manager and business partner. A trusting ear. Lambo discovered Gibbs in 2005, while interning at Interscope Records and the latter was uploading lo-fi demos to now-defunct website SouthwestConnection.com.
Lambo was lured in by Gibbs’ ability and versatility. As raw as his talent was back then, the rhymer was pulling influence from down South, out West and back in the 1990s. Gibbs could spit at triple-time speed and nimbly dive in and out of the pocket with ease, keeping listeners on their toes like cornerbacks.
Gibbs, a then-dishonorably discharged U.S. Army enlistee bumping gangsta rap, and Lambo, a then-University of California, Berkeley student partial to underground boom-bap, bonded over a shared love for the Geto Boys’ We Can’t Be Stopped and UGK.
“I liked how real he kept it,” Lambo shares. “He wasn’t afraid to keep it real on his records. What’s made him unique from the rest of the rap world is that he kinda always operated on the outside of it. His peers were his real friends. It was never political. It was always like, make a song with people that he’d hang out with anyway. I don’t think he ever really lost that. The music industry can be very exhausting. It can be very political. So, I totally understand that sentiment. He’s never really been in the politics. That’s probably my job.”
Gibbs describes Lambo as the Phil Jackson to his Michael Jordan. The artist doesn’t hesitate to refer to his brilliant joint projects with Madlib (2014’s Pinata, 2019’s Bandana) and The Alchemist (2018’s Fetti, 2020’s Grammy-nominated Alfredo) as banners in the rafters. $oul $old $eparately, which reached No. 11 on Billboard 200 in 2022, is not only his highest- charting project, it’s his favorite, his most versatile, his most commercial and, in Gibbs’ opinion, his best. As such, the MC says he’ll tour forever, like the Grateful Dead, but he’s under no stress to reenter the studio and create content for the sake of staying relevant. “You can’t force Picasso to paint,” Lambo maintains. “He’ll do it when he wants to do it.”
So, while Gibbs will tease his audience with a loose plot to drop four joint projects with “at least four different people,” he refuses to stamp any release dates. He’s got stages to rip, plus ideas to open a restaurant and wine bar. His wish list of future collaborators is tight. Kodak Black and Future are his current favorites, and he’d love to one day trade verses with Jay-Z and Lil Wayne.
“I’ma hit y’all with some shit that y’all thought y’all was ready for, but you really ain’t ready for,” he reveals. “Alchemist and Madlib ain’t goin’ nowhere, so keep that in mind. And me and Boi-1da in the studio now real, real, real heavy. I’m making the best music of my life, so it’s no reason to stop. And I’m the king of R&B, so I gotta do that album as well.”
So, right now, Freddie Gibbs is “gonna have fun.” A film junkie who is about to launch a production company with Lambo, the Grammy-nominated lyricist is a Goodfellas fan who views his albums as soundtracks to movies that have already played in the theater of his mind. This explains why Gibbs’ primary focus has shifted to fulfilling a childhood dream of acting and producing. While the pandemic paused all concerts and put a damper on Gibbs’ tour earnings, the lockdown also provided him time to audition and delve into the actor’s craft.
“I’m going into this thing full force because I really think I can be the next Don Cheadle, the next Samuel L. Jackson. I can really dig into that world,” Gibbs affirms. “I’m studying. I’m working, taking my classes. I’m doing what I gotta do to be the best at it. I want to be considered one of the best. I don’t want to just be some goddamn rapper in some hood movies. That ain’t me. I need to be up there with the Mahershala Alis.”
Gibbs auditioned for director Paul Thomas Anderson, alongside Joaquin Phoenix, for a role in the mystery comedy Inherent Vice in 2014, according to Lambo. He came close to securing the role of Tariq Khalil, landed by Michael K. Williams. 50 Cent nabbed Gibbs for a role on Power Book IV: Force. The lyricist also appears on Peacock’s Bust Down. Director Diego Ongaro helped refine Freddie’s raw acting chops on the set of 2022’s Down with the King, which earned a Critic’s Pick nod from The New York Times.
“I’m just the guy that knows how to be coached,” adds Gibbs, who went to Ball State University on a football scholarship. “You put a task in front of me, I can carry it out. That’s what I’ll be showing these producers and these directors. And I think I’m doing a decent job.”
Comedy, drama, Broadway musicals, Gibbs is eager to tackle it all. “My goal is to be the best rapper-transition-actor ever, of all time,” he conveys. “That’s my mission right now. I think I can accomplish that if I sink my teeth into the acting world the same way I did in the rap world. I look at guys like Ice Cube, Mos Def, Common, even Joey Bada$$, 50 Cent. Damn, those guys are an inspiration to me.
Even Eminem when he did 8 Mile; I want to channel some of that energy.” Energy is the perfect adjective when discussing Freddie Gibbs, a throwback artist whose sense of humor was first groomed in the early 1990s by crack-ups like Robert Townsend and His Partners in Crime, Martin and Def Comedy Jam.
“Freddie has the soul of a Richard Pryor or a Rick James more than a modern rap artist,” Lambo says. “Just way he lives his life—not the hard drugs or something—but just how he is unfiltered. He’s the center of attention. A life-of-the-party personality. His views on things are more like that of a comedian or soul artist from the ’70s. He’s super funny, man.”
In the face of a crotch-grabbing, ice-grilling industry, Gibbs, a self-proclaimed “entertaining machine,” reached back to the OG Playboy logo and aligned himself and his own brand with the image of a cartoon, a floppy-eared pink bunny, which could be endearing or comical to some people.
“It’s sweet, it’s cuddly,” he details. “That’s me. I’m fast. I’m in and outta there. Big Rabbit, dig what I’m sayin’? I’m not trying to scare people away from the brand. I don’t want to make this shit look tough. I want to make this shit look cute.”
While his goals are quite serious, Freddie Gibbs is never taking himself as such. He aims to bring on the laughter, whether it’s through his album rollouts or acting.
“Rappers take theyself too seriously,” he tells. “They think they so tough. Then when I make them look stupid, they want to fight me and shit. These niggas ain’t really who they say they are. I just like to laugh and make a parody of everything in this game because this shit is too serious. Niggas is dying, and these niggas goofy. At the end of the day, these people selling this music we make, they don’t give a fuck if you die or not. Muthafuckas need to take that into consideration. So, I just try to bring a little of joy to this shit, ya know?”
Buy the winter 2022 issue of XXL magazine on newsstands now or online at the XXL store.
Read Freddie Gibbs' interview in the winter issue of XXL magazine, on newsstands now. Check out additional interviews in the magazine, including the cover story with Pusha T as well as conversations with Chance The Rapper, Ab-Soul, G Herbo, DaBaby, EST Gee, Murda Beatz, Morray, Ice Spice, Jeleel!, Armani White, Destroy Lonely, producer Dez Wright, singer Kiana Ledé, actor Shameik Moore, plus a look at hip-hop's love for wrestling, a deep dive into how new artists get on in hip-hop these days, the ways in which women in rap succeeded in 2022, the rapper-run podcasts the game has grown to love and a tribute to rappers we lost in 2022.