Freddie Gibbs Wants to Set the Record Straight

Freddie Gibbs Wants to Set the Record Straight

On a warm Monday morning, I turned off all notifications and made my way into the city to meet Freddie Gibbs at Lucien, located a short walk away from New York staple Katz’s Delicatessen. The still East Village air hung over me as my mind raced with all the possibilities I could think of for why Gibbs would scoff at my presence. In my anxious state, I walked right past the French restaurant’s unassuming exterior. I returned to try the doorknob and it didn’t work. All I could think in my mind was “strike one.”

I didn’t pull the door hard enough, so a customer helped me. Everyone wasted no time, sitting me in front of Gibbs with our profiles on full display out into the busy street. An assortment of drinks and a lone half-eaten crab cake sit between us as his posse’s laughter fills the air. Gibbs is a commanding presence despite being cradled in his booth seat against the window and the collage of famous guests smiling behind him. His baritone never has to go above a normal level to reach across the table, and his large smile catches the light in the corner of my eye.

After ten minutes of near-silence and toiling over my menu choice, I lean over and confess that I was nervous. Instead of comforting me, he furrows his brow. I think about the rickety wooden door behind me and how I didn’t pull hard enough. Like following a terrible allegory, I try to go deeper.

“I’ve been listening to you since I was 11 years old.”

“Wait, what?”

His large brown eyes reflect the light so that they almost look green and we share a brief moment of silence. “Most people don’t listen to what they liked when they were younger,” he says. “That’s real.”

The Gary, Indiana rapper’s story begins in the early 2000s. By a twist of fate, he was dishonorably discharged from the Army after being caught smoking marijuana. While working in a mall, he met local hip-hop producer Finger Roll and began rapping. His unique, bassy voice quickly caught the attention of label execs, mainly those at Interscope who also signed New York rap powerhouse G-Unit, helmed by 50 Cent. In the middle of recording his debut album, the label dropped him in 2006.

Luckily, the internet picked up the pieces. In particular, 2009’s Midwestgangstaboxframecadillacmuzik and his debut EP Str8 Killa released a year later continued his momentum. From rising profiles to Adult Swim Singles, a spot on the XXL Freshman List to signing with Jeezy’s CTE Records, Gibbs’ hard work and excellent mixtapes paid off. Even when his relationship with Jeezy soured and he left the label, he had the tools in his pocket to continue his success independently.

It has been close to two decades of making music, and it still feels like Gibbs is just getting started. He was initially a rap nerd’s best-kept secret, but his 2014 collaborative album with Madlib, Pińata, catapulted him into a critical darling. He met his match with the legendary producer, whose extensive sampling creates the perfect scrappy collage for Gibbs to use as his canvas. Whether it be interpolating Master P and Erykah Badu, paying homage to Teddy Pendergrass or embodying the sensual scruff of Tupac, the rapper contains multitudes. He raps about sex with a confident cockiness a la Plies in the same breath as he makes chilling revelations about street life much like the Geto Boys’ psychological thriller hit, “Mind Playing Tricks on Me.”

Gibbs is also a renaissance man, reaching an even wider audience with his dark and abrasive sense of humor that has landed him on podcasts, movies and television shows. His Instagram, which at one time boasted over a million followers, eventually met its demise after a series of content violations. When he’s not promoting an album, he uses his Twitter as an unfiltered glimpse into his mind. Unfortunately, it has also landed him in a fair amount of trouble.

MF DOOM once rapped, “Beef rap could lead to getting teeth capped” on the intro of his 2004 record MM..FOOD. It’s a dangerous game. What has expanded far past the East Coast and West Coast feuds of the ‘90s that claimed the lives of Tupac and The Notorious B.I.G. mere months apart, social media has made it easier than ever to ignite conflict – and watch it too. People such as Akademiks and DJ Vlad have capitalized off of reporting on the uglier side of rap music, using crime and death as clickbait. While Gibbs and I sat down for our conversation insulated from the outside world and our phones, PNB Rock was murdered and Twitter exploded, immediately pointing fingers at possible motives. In between bites of the scallops Gibbs picked off the plate between us, he said, “Being a rapper is worse than being a n****r.”

Gibbs himself has been involved in a number of disputes, most notably with ex-label head Jeezy. Only a year after being signed to the Southern rap legend's CTE Records in 2011, he left. According to Jeezy, Gibbs was difficult to sign as labels weren't interested. In an interview with Elliot Wilson, Jeezy recalled telling his former protegé, "I'll help you all I can, but I can't fund it anymore." For nearly a decade, fans watched as the beef would occasionally bubble to the surface, most recently in 2020 when Jeezy referred to Gibbs by name on "Therapy For My Soul." The Gary, Indiana rapper has taken steps to clear the air since then. However, people still have questions, suspicious that a decade-long feud could end amicably.

For Gibbs’ latest offering $oul $old $eparately, it arrives as his major label debut after almost two decades of independence. He just turned 40 in June. His youngest child is approaching her second birthday. He’s been in a long-term relationship with The Fit Mami, and the model documents their travels on her Instagram. After years of being in the headlines written by voyeuristic eyes who want to know what makes Gibbs tick, it’s time for him to set the record straight so he can move on.

Across the album’s 15 tracks, Gibbs explores every inch of his futuristic space casino as he stomps over a wide collection of beats ranging from Madlib to James Blake, DJ Paul to Kaytranada. His wicked sense of humor is a bit more muted, instead relying on the wide cast that leave voicemails at the end of some songs. Joe Rogan leans into the DMT jokes and Jeff Ross relentlessly roasts Gibbs when he doesn’t pick up the phone. In one of the hardest voicemails to hear, Gibbs’ mother asks if he’s okay at the end of “Grandma’s Stove.” Left in the void of an answering system, the static envelopes her voice and she cuts out. $oul $old $eparately is Gibbs’ crash landing to Earth, finally free of the drug dealing and fighting. He's a father, a son and a devoted partner. He is present, secure, and most importantly, happy.

Freddie Gibbs wants to make sure you understand him. He’s only going to say it once.

This album seems to have a lot of intention behind it, especially with the aesthetics. What is the concept?

It's a space casino because life's a gamble. I want to do a comic book with the space theme where you get abducted by a spaceship and get dropped into some Vegas-type stuff. While recording the album, I just wanted to beam up and be abducted. Then I was like "I'ma crash," which is why the ship crashed on the cover. It's really a layered concept.

What's your favorite festival you've ever done? I'm guessing a European one.

Fuck yeah.

I heard mixed things about Europe from rappers who go to play shows, especially dealing with racism.

It's what you make of it. I ain't about to be Lil Wayne right here and say "I don't experience racism!" I may not experience the same level of racism that somebody in a different position do because they be revering me because of the art. Maybe if I didn't make it, they'd probably dog the fuck out of me. Then again, I probably wouldn't even be over there if I didn't make it.

Do you feel like they see you from a fetishistic perspective or an appreciative one?

I think it's an appreciation. I think that everywhere is racist, so for motherfuckers to be like "Europe is a super racist place," n***a you're in America! What are you talking about? This is the most racist you can get. America is the most aggressively racist place I've ever been to, other than Russia. I feel like if I wasn't a rapper in Russia, they would've done something to me. Austria too. It's the birthplace of Hitler. Going to jail over there was a bad experience. All the guards looked down on me.

How was prison overseas? It's already shitty here.

It's shitty too. The shittiest part was getting commissary, visits and your family has to take a 13 to 15-hour flight. Maybe they fucked me over but it took me two weeks to get commissary. I was borrowing shaving cream. The American embassy didn't help me for shit. They came in there and said, "You okay in there? You breathing? Alright, bye." Fuck the U.S. embassy. I go to other countries and see they got an American embassy and I'm like "why?" If something happened to me, nobody will help me. I'm Black. Even in this country, they won't do shit.

It doesn't help that you're a rapper. It's an extra target on your back.

Being a rapper is worse than being a n****r. That's the new n-word. A n***a is cool! It's cool to white guys. It ain't cool to be a rapper, though.

I feel like social media made it even worse.

I feel like I’m a little bit uncancelable. I just be playing.

I got a lot of people into your music by making them follow you on Instagram, but then I’d get screenshots of people asking why you’re posting fight videos and titties.

That’s what got my page taken away! All the fight videos and naked girls. They said I was bullying.

I miss your uncle on your page.

Big Time Watts! He died about two years ago. He raised me. I grew up with my mom and dad and all that shit but when I wasn’t in school, I was with my uncle. Whatever he was doing, I was trying to do. That was like my dad. He passed of a drug overdose. That was a real hard thing, especially when I was at a point in my career where I was financially secure and I can get off the streets and people feel like I belong here–

Did you only feel secure recently?

I was in the streets all the time.

You have a lyric on $oul $old $eparately about how you only recently stopped selling crack. That was true?

Yeah. I was on the cover of XXL but I was still selling crack. That's weird to me. Maybe it's not weird to the young guys. That was awkward for me. J. Cole wasn’t selling crack. Wiz Khalifa wasn’t selling crack.

But it’s a failsafe. When you grow up thinking anything could be taken away at any time, you get scared.

Very. Just the mental health aspect with the anxiety in not feeling good enough for the rap game. It isn’t glamorous to me. If I didn’t do it, I probably wouldn’t even rap about it. I don’t even like it at all. The only reason I rap about it is because I did it. If I was a butcher, a baker or a candlestick maker, I’d write about that. [laughs]

[Freddie’s phone dings]

Do women message you a lot?

Ever since I started fucking with Destiny, all of them started cutting their hair off. I was like, “Damn, you too?” They be sending me bald selfies.

You two are so cute. How long have you been together?

She’s so great and I love her. She gets on my fucking nerves but it’s worth it. Probably like a year, almost two years. We’ve known each other for about three. We got a good, open, fluid relationship so it works out good. We’re very good friends. She’s at our hotel right now waiting on me.

You’ve been in some other public relationships before and it seems like you’re really, genuinely free and happy.

You gotta have somebody that understands you. I have to be me. I come from a certain environment where, I wouldn’t say men act a certain way but. . . yeah they do. All the men in my environment had a lot of women. I don't really know no other way to be. I don't really look at that as a bad thing.

So long as you’re open about it, that’s not a bad thing at all.

Exactly. It’s about trust. You can find someone that loves you for that and you can be good with that. I think that’s what I got with Destiny and I found my match. I can be me and she can be her. She does porn! I was the first motherfucker that she ever came around that never judged her for that. I’m in the rap game. I’m not going to ask you to get out the ass game! I don’t expect you to get out of shit.

I like girls and she likes girls too. We both like ass. It is true though that girls choose when to get freaky and when to get jealous with other girls.

It is a risky game to play. How have you been exploring being nonmonogamous?

There's a book I'm reading right now. It's called The Ethical Slut. You should read it! It’s changing my life. You gotta be a slut with ethics. Life is about having ethics and class. You got to be clean and open with your shit. I like to look more than touch.

The tension is often more rewarding than a person’s reality.

I don’t want to know what you look like with your clothes off! Once I go that far, everything could get fucked up. The exterior is great! I like you but I don’t want to change my life for you! I already got a girl I’m doing lifetime shit with!

What is “lifetime shit” for you?

Buying property, buying big-ticket items together, being together and stuff like that. Life is fucking financial. That’s how you know when you’re fucking with a bitch for real, it’s when you’re spending your money there. If I got you sitting in my million dollar property or million-dollar car, I have to think. That’s harder to uproot. I just like everyone being happy and cool. I’m a low-confrontation type of guy.

Were you married to your ex?

I never got married.

Would you get married?

I don’t know. I’m 40 now. I feel like I’m 25. I don’t want to mix the financials and stuff. I got three baby mamas. Money causes issues. I've seen it cause issues in my parents’ marriage. I used to sit and think, “Wow, my parents might still be together if they had more money.” I never want money to get in the way of any of my relationships, whether it be a woman or with friends. I’d much rather be straight up with you. Money is what people kill over and die over. It breaks up the closest bonds.

I think that I could’ve stayed with Erica if I was in a better financial position at the time. I was still in the streets and hustling. I talk about it on my album. The thing with that was I was feeling real marginalized by her family.

I remember people being so confused when you two got together because they couldn’t imagine someone like her with her family’s stature being associated with you.

I used to feel like a piece of shit when I’d go around her family and friends. It ain’t a slight to them. They just weren’t used to something like me. I love her. That was the love of my life. That was the first girl I was ever in love with. I still love her to this day! I don’t like a lot of the things that went down or the way she treated me at times, but I probably love her more than I love anybody.

And you can’t blame someone for not being used to something like that.

Exactly. I gotta move forward. I gotta do what I gotta do. To be honest, after the whole case, I think that was the straw that broke the camel’s back with us. At the time, I was feeling like she felt like I did it. I feel like her family thought I did it. I felt like she wanted to know the details because she wanted to know if I really did it. I didn't feel like she believed me, and that was sad. That fucked me up.

Her family must’ve felt some type of way because they didn’t want it attached to them.

Exactly, but I really didn't do it. When I needed family the most, I didn't have it. That’s really what fucked that up. When I came out of that, the wound was still open a little bit. We were engaged to be married and I felt like I wasn’t getting the right companionship. I was also a natural cheater. I don’t think I was ever meant for monogamy. When I was with her, I was lying to myself because I loved her so much. I should have been more honest about that.

I think that’s why some men cheat because we feel like we can’t just talk to women about liking other women. You think you can’t get a woman if you feel that way because we don’t think that it’s acceptable. I think being open about it is safer. If you want to be monogamous, then go be monogamous. I’m not a double-standard guy. Women should be able to do what they want to do too. The jealousy element should be gone. You can ask any woman I’ve ever dealt with if I’ve ever been jealous and they’ll say no.

I tell every girl I know this story. The last time I was jealous about a girl was in the sixth grade. [Redacted]. She was fine as fuck. We used to get $10 on lunch money for the whole week. $2 every day, that's all you get. I saved all my lunch money. I didn’t eat for this bitch. I gave her my whole $10 at the end of the week on some pimp shit like “I fuck with you.” She took that $10 right out of my hand and gave it to another n***a at the store. After that, I wasn’t jealous of girls. That took it right out of me. My heart turned cold right there. I still love you but at that moment, I wanted to jump out the fucking junior high school window. I wanted to run in traffic, but I didn’t want to fight that n***a because he would’ve fucked me up.

It feels like you’re very confessional on this album, just like how you are in real life. From our talk, you are clearly not the person these people try to portray you as on social media and the headlines.

You got guys like Akademiks that try to paint a certain picture of me and immediately try to make me like this controversial guy that don’t do good music or something like that. To those little guys, they’re trying to be on my level. It’s a media ploy. The biggest fucking problem in the rap game is that these n****s need an adversary and I'm the easiest one to pick because I'm not affiliated with Jay-Z. I’m not affiliated with Dr. Dre or whoever. I’m an easy pick. I’m famous enough for you to get a little notoriety but it's easy because you don't have to worry about anybody because I’m by myself. You ain’t gonna get a Jay-Z lesson or a verse. If you fuck with me, you ain’t going to worry about not working with Dr. Dre or whoever. All these other n****s in the rap game are under somebody else’s umbrella except me. I’m the only one. I did everything alone, so motherfuckers feel like “I can be controversial with him because I ain’t got to deal with nothing behind him. He’s by himself.” All of that shit is a ploy. They need an enemy.

We don't do the same things. We don't go to the same places. We're not in the same tax bracket. You should have a problem with me. How can I have a problem with a n***a like Warren Buffett? I don't do what Warren Buffett do.

So this is your major label debut and it’s just amazing how you’ve been independent for this long. Is this new platform part of why you approached this album differently?

I don’t know. Shit just happened when it was supposed to happen. I think that I've been independent this whole time because I needed to be. These were lessons in life that God wanted me to learn. I ain’t never peak out. I feel like a lot of my peers hit their peak already.

I know some people who thought you hit your peak with Piñata.

I think I get better every project. I think being consistent is better than peaking. So many guys have peaked and they’re just trying to get back to that spot again. We’re in the business where guys chase big records and big hits. I ain’t never have to do that to be “good.” I just always made music to satisfy my core and my fanbase hoping that it will grow. When it grew, I thought that maybe I could get out of the streets. Once I was able to get out of the streets from making music, why would I look back on that? Why would I throw that away trying to go commercial? This is probably my most commercial album but I didn't try to be commercial.

Speaking of commerciality, we have to discuss your samples. One of the earliest introductions I had to interpolation was you referencing Master P’s “Mr. Ice Cream Man” on “The Hard” from Baby Face Killa. You reference Bone Thugs-N-Harmony’s “Foe Tha Love of $” on “Pain & Strife” on $oul $old $eparately. I love how much you love bringing new life to these samples.

What shines through is the music that I listened to my whole life. I was listening to Bone and shit like that growing up. So it was just like, how can I make music using some of the elements of the music that I grew up on? That is where I come from. It’s no way that I could make songs without thinking about how Bone made songs, how Tupac made songs, how DMX made songs. These are things that I gotta reference before I make songs. I'm pretty sure LeBron James looks at a Michael Jordan tape before he plays basketball. To me, this is a way of paying homage and being sharp. I always know where I came from and my history.

Also, for people that are younger than me like yourself that probably didn’t get to experience that shit, you hear it from me and are like “What’s that?” I discovered a lot of music from the old school that way, like Jay-Z sampling [sings Rene & Angela’s “Imaginary Playmates”]. I got to credit Jay-Z for giving me samples that I wanted to go back and listen to. That made me want to do an album with Madlib and come with even more obscure samples. I’d try and pick samples that you didn’t even know yet. It’s like a puzzle to me.

And you take a lot of cues from what you sample from and the scenes you listened to. Those old labels like Suave House, Rap-A-Lot and No Limit gave birth to incredible music without major backing. I see a lot of parallels between you and Tela [from Suave House] with your love of that groove. Plus you’re not afraid to sing.

I love Tela. That song where he just said his name throughout the whole thing? That shit was jamming. Tela wasn’t like a great rapper. He was a jammer. He knew how to jam and pick beats, melodies, all that.

I’m the king of R&B! I didn’t get to sing the way I wanted to on this album, but I did what I had to do especially when I got with my boy James Blake. It was like magic walking in the studio. He’s like Paul McCartney. The song we did [“Dark Hearted”] is one of my favorites on the album.

This is easily your most collaborative record. You have different producers on every track, features, even the skits.

Definitely the most collabs I ever did on an album. And I did that really to display my versatility. I feel like a lot of people try to pigeonhole me in that Alchemist/Madlib kind of genre of music. Those guys are great producers that made me a greater rapper, but that ain't all I rap on. I rap on a lot of different things. I think that we all make each other greater. I never been set on one style of music. If this ain’t the most versatile album in the rap game this year then you’re fucking crazy. No n***a can have a Madlib beat and a DJ Paul beat on the same album.

I’ll admit I freaked out when I heard DJ Paul on the album. That man is one of the most influential producers of our time.

That was one of the best musical experiences of my life. In Gary, that’s all we’d listen to: Three 6 Mafia, Twista, Bone Thugs-n-Harmony. In the Midwest, we never listened to a lot of East Coast shit. But I did, and I think that spread my palate out a little bit and made me a better rapper because I listened to everything from Kool G Rap to Three 6 Mafia. That’s what made me want to rap all these different ways because I listened to all this different music.

[Freddie’s manager, Lambo, shows me a cellphone video of a camcorder video of DJ Paul and Gibbs in the studio]

Lambo: We got the whole session on VHS and someone broke into my friend’s car and stole it. These are the only videos.

Would you say you have a lot of idols?

Fuck yeah.

You’ve worked with almost every single legendary rapper that’s still alive, from Bun B to Scarface to Krayzie Bone.

I worked with damn near all of my top five rappers. Only rappers I haven’t worked with in it are Tupac, Jay-Z and Biggie. I rapped with Bun B. I rapped with Scarface a couple of times. These are rappers that I grew up listening to and idolizing. These are the legends of the game. I'm standing on their shoulders right now.

That's why I don't give a fuck about the rap game. That's why I don't give a fuck about no rappers. I don't give a fuck about what no rappers think about me. I really don't give a fuck because I already rapped with the gods. That might hinder me in some ways from a collaborative standpoint, but they can suck a dick and their momma can too.

[A passing fan looks through the window and waves at Gibbs]

Do you get recognized when you walk down the street often?

I can’t really go out no more. I thought that when I had my Instagram, I had like a million followers so I thought I was famous. It’s been two years since I lost it. I don’t feel famous – that’s an arrogant thing to say. I feel like people know me more and I feel more mysterious not having social media. I’m kicked off Instagram and Facebook. The metaverse don’t fuck with me.

I had to get off Facebook because that was the ground zero of local beef. Facebook is where n****s get killed. It ain’t the ‘gram, it ain’t Twitter. For Chicago, it’s Facebook. When they be meeting up, it’s Facebook Live. At home they use it. Once my momma started using Facebook, I was off of it. Aunties started popping up like “Hey baby!”

There are definitely some rappers, and musicians in general, who get upset when you don’t bow at their feet.

Yeah, I don’t want them to bow at my feet. You know why? I want to go to the grocery store. I want to take my kids out. I want you to respect me when I walk down street, but I don’t need all that shit. I want to be a regular person. I don't give a fuck about none of that shit. I want to go to the goddamn grocery store. I don't need 30 n****s in the grocery store with me. I'll take a picture here and there, but I don't need all that attention Nicki Minaj and Megan Thee Stallion get. I can’t even twerk!

Not with that attitude.

Maybe I can. They say a man twerks when he's doing missionary but that's a whole ‘nother story. I must be the biggest twerker.

[raps “Body” by Megan Thee Stallion and “W.A.P.” by Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion]

I’m the missionary twerker. Put that in the article!

I love Cardi B!

I love her. I remember when Cardi B would come to Secret Sundays. I knew she was a star then. She was a beast then, she was a beast now. I want to do a song with Cardi B. She's probably my favorite female rapper. My favorite rappers now are Cardi B, Kodak Black, Lil Durk because he be talking that gangster shit, and me.

[Gibbs orders a drink and remembers his uncle]

Big Time Watts. I miss my uncle bro. He the type of n***a to sit at this table and pee on himself and fuck your whole day up. You have to go buy him pants and he’ll cuss you out the whole time. One time, he pissed on himself before my show and I had to buy that n***a a whole outfit.

Both of your parents are still alive?


You rap about your father having stomach cancer on this album.

Yeah, he beat it though! Strong ass n***a. He quit eating that bullshit and he’ll be alright. I notice when you eat poor n***a food a lot, you get sick. I be doing meal prep for that n***a. He cool now.

It must’ve scared you into taking care of yourself.

You gotta stay in shape. I drink a lot and I eat a lot of beef. I eat like a fat n***a to be honest, I don't eat good at all. But I worked out a lot. when I'm not on tour, I work out like crazy.

How do you take care of yourself on tour?

I can't really take care of myself so I just train for tour. I work out for tour. Tour is like the season. When I'm in the season, I'm playing the game.

Redveil opened on your tour and he has a bright future.

Guys like him, J.I.D., Kenny Mason, they’re going to be okay. They give me they give me hope.

Do you want to be a mentor?

Fuck no. I’m already a mentor. I don’t gotta be like “Hey man!” I don’t have to do all that shit. N****s know when they see me it’s all love, but I’m still doing my own shit just like you! They don’t need me to be a mentor. They got J. Cole. He’s better suited for that. If I had a son who wanted to rap, I’d say to rap like J. Cole. Don’t be like me.

What do you mean by that?

Not in the aspect of my past and all that shit. First of all, my son’s a suburb dude. He can’t handle the shit that I went through and I don't want them to! They shouldn't have to. I crawled so that he could run. I want him to be smarter than me. I want him to be better. That's what I mean by that. I want them to be a better version of me, and they already are.

Have you told your kids about your past and what you talk about in your music as they get older?

Hell no. They too little for that. All they know is daddy smokes a little bit, he be chilling and he’s always smiling. They don’t need to know nothing bad about their dad. Let them be kids. I be letting them hear the music and shit. My oldest daughter doesn’t really ask questions about it. She might ask her mom that though.

I think my kids got respect for me and they know not to ask too much. My children are very inquisitive, especially my daughter. As a man, that’s what I’m most delicate about. I watch how I am around my daughter. My son too, but I’m real extra about how I am around my daughter because eventually, they have to choose a man or a woman or whatever. I just try to be a good example and show her the shit that she should not go for because her dad don’t do that. You have to be real delicate with your girls these days.

Women also need to be tougher than ever because it’s rougher on them. My daughter is in karate and all that. They know. They don’t get that tough spirit from their father. I’m delicate about raising my daughters and being super attentive with them. I don’t want to show them that I don’t love them, same with my son too. It’s different raising a daughter in 2022. I really have to carve out a space for my girls.

Going back to the record, there’s a different energy you bring to it.

I definitely feel like this is the most personal album I’ve ever done, the most collabs I’ve ever done. I think it sounds the best. I have DJ Paul, Boi-1da, James Blake, Jake One, Alchemist, Madlib. Sheesh, even Anderson .Paak. He’s one of the dopest rappers. People don’t give him his credit but if I was him I wouldn’t even give a fuck! I’m going to quit this shit and join Silk Sonic! I’m asking him to put me in the band. I’m going to join Silk Sonic this year, and then I’m going to leave the group, get on drugs and then I’m going to come back. That’s the goal. Life is my ashtray.

Speaking of drugs, I love “CIA” and how it stands for Crack, Instagram and AIDS. I know about crack and AIDS, but how does social media fit into it?

I didn’t mean Instagram per se. Honestly, I didn’t even really mean crack. I just meant drugs in general. For Instagram, I meant social media in general. For AIDS. . . it’s just AIDS. All these things were implemented into our communities to fuck us up. Crack fucked us up in the crack era. Now it’s the “clout era” fucking us up with Instagram.

I’m glad we’re here to talk about this so that I can talk about this on a platform instead of just tweeting it: I go on Instagram Live right now with two bad bitches in the back of me bouncing that ass. Great, right? You’d like to see that, wouldn’t you? They be touching their titties. Same time, a n***a can go on live like in Memphis. He shot six n****s on live. They didn’t cut his live. Now if I got two girls bouncing ass on live right now, I’d get shut down. This man can kill six people on his live for ten hours and the police can’t catch him, but I can’t have an Instagram?

Want to know when my problems started happening with Instagram? I took a picture with Farrakhan and I started getting flagged. Then Farrakhan’s Instagram got deleted and mine did soon after. They said he was anti-semitic. People in this game thave tried to put that anti-semitic shit on me. That’s fake as fuck. I’m gonna tell you the truth. I didn't even know what a Jewish person was until I met him [points at Lambo]. I knew about the Holocaust, but I just thought that was something in Europe. I didn’t know what else was going on. I had to educate myself. We had a lack of education on things. The city I’m from is 99% Black. It ain’t a Jewish person in sight. You have to go to Chicago for that, and if a kid who grew up in a 99% Black city goes there, you just see white people. I can’t decipher different white people! I didn’t know that. For them to put the anti-semitic badge on people, that'd be just to get you out the paint. It’s some people that is, but not me. I love everybody. I ain’t anti- shit.

I feel like I can make jokes on everybody. I should be able to joke about Jewish people, gay people, Black people. I talk about everybody, even myself, because I feel like we all gotta fucking smile and love each other, man. Ain’t nothing above laughter. I just did a comedy show in Austin and I talked about every motherfucker and I let them talk about me. I’m stepping in that space too. I’m trying to be like Martin Lawrence.

It’s easier to pretend you like a song than it is to pretend you like a joke.

I learned how to be a better rapper by looking at comedians. It’s really about studying the stage. I study guys like Robin Harris, Martin Lawrence, Bernie Mac. I was a Def Comedy baby. The key to doing a good show, it don’t matter what it is, it’s all about not having no dead spots in your show. I got to be talking or they got to be talking. If I feel any dead air, I’m going to start talking. Somebody got to do something, even if there’s a pause whether that be joy or laughter. You have to be able to improvise as well.

Do you ever get in front of crowds and are worried they won’t like you?

At Afropunk I didn’t think that they’d like me. I’m not their demographic, but I’m still going to rap. I loved it. I didn’t know there was that many Black hippies!

I’m sure it was a nice change of pace to have a predominantly Black audience since I’ve been to a lot of your shows and there’s a largely white audience. It also wasn’t as rowdy as some other shows get.

It was great! It was different. And that wasn't like just a regular Black audience. They were hippies!

I like a rowdy crowd though. I like that shit. I don’t really see color when I look at the crowd. I just see supporters. I don’t give a fuck who out there whether you're white or Black. I set out to make this music. I didn't just make it for Black people or for white people either. I just make shit I like and whoever likes it and can relate to it, by all means. I ain’t Dr. Umar! I’m a Black man by birth, but I love everybody. I’m really that kind of guy and I believe in power to my people and all marginalized people. If anybody’s oppressed, I believe they should have power. That’s what I believe Malcolm X and Huey P. Newton believed in. Power to the people that’s lacking it, that’s why I got Huey Newton tattooed on my back.

I wanted to bring up the lyric on “Space Rabbit” that goes “Record labels said I sound like Buck, they had the Rabbit Man fucked up.”

The G-Unit era is one of my favorite eras of rap. I love 50 Cent and what he brought to the game. Around that time in 2006-2007, that’s when I got signed to Interscope. They was on Interscope and they was booming. We had mutual people like this guy named Barry Williams and a couple of other guys, so I always wanted to be with them n****s. I was on this first look deal with Shady Records where, if they wanted to fuck with me, they could. When I was on Interscope, 50 was the biggest shit in the world. He was one of the reasons I rapped because of the way he based things and how he ran his label. That was the dream situation for a rapper to have, especially for a n***a coming off the street. Of course, I wanted to be in G-Unit and I thought that I could be a big piece of that shit, and then they signed n****s like Hot Rod. Hot Rod was getting signed to G-Unit. He probably working at a Capital One bank right now, no disrespect to him. They signed a n***a from Arizona but they wouldn’t sign me? I was about to quit because I thought I wasn’t rapping good enough. They won’t give me no love. That made me be more gangster. That dejected me. No disrespect to Arizona, but yeah. It ain’t Gary, Indiana.

Barry Williams said they wouldn’t sign me because I sound like Young Buck. He actually told me that and I was like “But I like him!” I believed in myself more than that, so I didn’t give a fuck how long it was going to take.

You brought up feeling lonely a lot. Do you think that not having that label support and being the outcast was part of what set you on this path of independence?

I think that every affiliation in the industry that I tried to make didn't work out because I was meant to be by myself. I tried to be with 50 and that wasn’t for me, I wasn’t good enough for that. I tried to be with Young Jeezy but you got two Alpha dogs in the room but I guess that didn't work. I love Young Jeezy.

I’m glad you brought up Jeezy in the album because people, as you said, need an adversary. They need a bad guy. They wanted you two to continue hating each other.

I ain’t never wanted that shit at all. Young Jeezy was one of the gods. I never wanted that shit. At the time, to be with Young Jeezy and for him to stop fucking with you is embarrassing. I felt embarrassed and like people didn’t respect me. If I go quiet about it, they’d forget about me and I’d be done so I had to voice my frustration. I feel like I could’ve handled that a little different.

Looking back, I wish I never had a rift with one of my favorite rappers. I’m bald because of Young Jeezy! I had hair when I started fucking with that n***a. he came into the studio and was getting shaved. That’s how you know how much I admired him and looked up to him. I said, “Cut my hair just like that.” I ain’t have hair since and that was in like 2009. I wanted to be on stage with him and show solidarity. I ain’t never told anyone that either.

Fat Joe said some shit the other day on a podcast that opened my eyes. He said, “I’m a great boss because I know how to be number two.”

It’s hard to take a step back and admit you don’t have to be the boss of everything.

Exactly. I know how to play my position and that’s what I was doing when I was with Jeezy. I think that the problem that lied in there was I saw him and I was trying to be — you see, I saw a lot of the guys that was around him and they was jealous of him and what he had. A lot of the people he stopped fucking with was because of jealousy. I was never jealous. I loved him and would’ve laid my life down for him. It was never jealousy, and that’s the way that people tried to paint it. I ain’t never take nothing from him. It wasn’t nobody owing nobody nothing. It was frustrating because I was so passionate about my music and my craft and I felt like it was bad communication. We didn’t talk about things that was getting in our way in the correct fashion. We just let it bubble over and it got to a point where we separated. I love Young Jeezy and I learned a lot of the game from him. I wouldn’t be where I’m at if it wasn’t for that experience. I always got to pay homage no matter what. He could get on this motherfucker and say “I can’t stand him. Fuck him,” but I’m always going to still pay homage. I’ll be like “Fuck you too, n***a,” but I’ll always pay homage to him until the day I die. I’m not Freddie Gibbs without him. The things I learned fucking with him made me a better businessman, a better rapper, a better writer, all of that. I can’t shit on him. I be mad at my uncle, my brother, my big brother, my family. My own sister didn’t talk to me for a couple of months. With Jeezy, that was some family shit that spilled over into the internet.

And it was at the perfect time because it was as social media and rap became intertwined with these gossip blogs and other sites that documented these things.

It shouldn’t have been like that. We could’ve talked about that shit and worked it out better than that. But, he in a good space, I’m in a good space.

This album is something special. You made something special.

I hope I did. It’s hard to come off Bandana and Alfredo because people put that in such high regard. I like when people study me backward. A lot of people heard Alfredo and go backward and realize I’ve always been good. I don’t want to be known for one song. I want to be known for being great.

Photography courtesy of Nick Walker