The great irony of Freddie Gibbs’ widening underground fame is that 15 years ago, he would have been looked at as just another regional response to the gritty street journalism of Tupac, Nas, Jay-Z and many others. But now, grimy, no-hook-having chronicles of passing Spam hand-to-hand get you dropped from major labels and left to work the mixtape circuit. Gibbs’ backstory is especially egregious, since he was shuffled out of Interscope when the label decided to throw its lot in with emo-fied rappers who have since imploded (Charles Hamilton) or just plain stink (Shwayze). But there’s little doubt that the blogs have been kinder to Gibbs than any A&R man has been: The Gary, Ind., rapper is a rising star, releasing his first official release — following two 2009 mixtapes, and one from a week ago, Str8 Killa, No Filla — the solid Str8 Killa EP.
Str8 Killa is probably the best entry point into Gibbs’ charms for the uninitiated: There’s the double-time flow about slinging (“Live By The Game”), the reality-charged tale of his life as a hustler (EP highlight “National Anthem (Fuck The World)”), a hazy, sing-song, things-can’t-get-any-worse grinder (“Rock Bottom”) and a song about smoking kush (“Personal OG”). There’s also some modest concessions to the standard debut: There are a bunch of features on Str8 Killa, including the great all-star posse cut “Oil Money” with Bun B, Chick Inglish, Chip Tha Ripper and Dan Auerbach from the Black Keys all popping in.
But Gibbs is still the undisputed focus, as his gravelly, alternately lively and hollow voice and his unrelenting commitment to authenticity (“Live By The Game” has a novelist’s attention to detail) make Str8 Killa more than just an eight-song EP. It’s a splendid coming out party for one of the more promising MCs in hip-hop right now. His mixtapes still might be better (especially Midwestgangstaboxframecadillacmuzik), but Str8 Killa is the first step toward Gibbs regaining the label contract that is so rightfully his.