Prolific rapper Freddie Gibbs makes a return to the music industry after dealing with a truly unfortunate situation. Gibbs jumped into the public consciousness after the widespread critical acclaim of Pinata, his 2014 collaboration with experimental producer Madlib. The rapper has been removed from the public eye recently due to being falsely accused of sexual assault, being extradited to Austria and held in custody for 4 months, putting his career on hold. Now that the charges have been dropped, Gibbs sounds as urgent as ever on the mic, which was already one of his best qualities. He specifically addresses his anger at the situation and the many inconveniences it caused him on the brief 8-track project.
However, the project seems rapidly cobbled together and lacks cohesiveness, and the mismatching of musical elements often fails to make this collection stand up to his previous works. Wanting to quickly put your foot back in the door is understandable, but calling You Only Live 2wice an album takes away from the strength of Gibbs’ discography.
The instrumentals here are actually very strong, featuring more complexity than the average rap instrumental, but Gibbs’ performance over them is often out of place for one reason or another. The majority of the album sounds like what you might expect judging by the album artwork which was chosen. There is a heavy usage of choral and orchestral elements, aiming for a My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy-esque grandiose sound.
There is also a strong influence of jazzier elements, creating backdrops which are often beautiful in their complexity but perhaps too complex at times for Gibbs’ straightforward, hard-hitting flows. The best instrumental comes on a song which is far from being the project’s best overall, “Alexys”. The song features contributions from experimental electronic artist Kaytranada and jazz quartet BADBADNOTGOOD as the only larger names associated with the project.
Gibbs always sounds like he is out for blood, and his real life situations only exacerbated this. He is also very technically skilled, frequently breaking out into double-time triplet flows, even if these cease to be a surprise after using the same technique on almost every song. The conviction in his voice always helps with his lyrical delivery – and they are characteristically strong here with the transparency with which he speaks on his situation, and some clever punchlines and pop culture references as well.
Unfortunately, the instrumentals don’t click very often but when they do they are absolute gold – this often results from a beat switch which injects new energy into the song. Gibbs is naturally gifted at simply knowing how to flow on a beat to the best of his ability. He sounds like he is giving everything he has to the performance, and yet makes it sound incredibly easy for him at the same time. When the instrumental is as triumphant as Gibbs’ energy, like on the 2nd half of “20 Karat Jesus”, it makes me wish the rest of the album was equally polished.
This lack of finishing touches are the underlying problem of the album. The instrumentals and Gibbs are both actually quite strong, but at times they seem mismatched for each other, or issues of mixing and mastering are present. There are certain moments when the energy of one side changes, but not the other. Gibbs’ voice and flows are very dynamic – at times he can get strained and desperate, turning his flow more straightforward with more downbeats, and the looping instrumentals of soaring orchestral sounds behind him stop fitting so well. Sometimes one side overwhelms the other, the instrumental tending to overpower and muffle Gibbs’ more introspective and quieter vocals.
The song concepts are also rather half-baked here. The hooks are frequently underwritten and feature muted female vocals – Anthony Fantano actually put it best when he said they sounded like placeholders for a better idea that didn’t come in time. When Gibbs does take over a hook, it actually tends to be even worse. The wave of singing rappers is not something that he should have jumped on, often sounding too monotone or less interested than in spitting his menacing bars. “Phone Lit” is a very low point on this project for this reason.
The perfectionist in Gibbs likely saved this project from being a complete disaster, bringing the characteristics that got him here to the majority of tracks and reminding us that he’s capable of creating some truly great rap albums. Hopefully Gibbs takes some time before his next major release and delivers something just as strong as before.
Favourite Tracks: Andrea, 20 Karat Jesus, Amnesia
Least Favourite Track: Phone Lit