Freddie Gibbs – $oul $old $eparately

It’s a little unfortunate that Indiana rapper Freddie Gibbs had to stir up so much online drama in the last few months in order for his latest project to sell well above his usual projections – he repeatedly proves that he deserves to be in this spot without all of the surrounding silliness, and $oul $old $eparately is no exception. While his collaboration projects with legendary producers like Madlib and The Alchemist have cemented themselves as modern hip-hop classics – 2020’s Alfredo even getting him some Grammy recognition – Gibbs’ solo albums haven’t often reached the same level of quality. While I’ve always respected Gibbs’ flair for dusty boom-bap and dexterous flows, I’ve never been blown away by an album he appears on either. That all changes with this one. Combining his natural affinities with some more modernized features and beats, while simultaneously touching on some bigger issues and letting the same kind of personality that makes him an expert-level Internet troll shine on a couple tracks cements it as a perfect middle ground to show off his skills. It’s easily one of the year’s best rap albums.

It’s always a good sign when a rap album starts off with a track that only makes you picture the arrival of royalty, back to claim their rightful place at on the genre’s throne. “Couldn’t Be Done” is certainly one of those. With a great soul sample celebrating the achievement of the impossible, regal pianos and the cataclysmic crash of horn section stabs, Gibbs descends upon the track to assert his dominance. As rattling trap beats peek for a couple brief moments to complete the picture, Gibbs failing miserably to sing along with the sample just adds to the charm – like he himself can’t believe that he made it this far. Kelly Price comes through to add some stellar vocals to the end before things switch up for “Blackest In The Room.” Toning things down for a second to say something real before the energy picks back up for the rest of the album, Gibbs sends some shots at the Supreme Court and nods to the history of racism with some great bars about Black Panthers and Sam Cooke. With a jazzy loop that switches up into some borderline G-funk, the track’s subject matter switches into some good old flexing as well, Gibbs’ flow incredibly smooth the whole time.

The tracks “Pain & Strife” and “Zipper Bagz” get some of the only moments that aren’t top-notch out of the way early, but there’s still a lot to love about Gibbs’ performances. The former recruits Offset for a verse, and his Auto-tuned flows can’t measure up to Gibbs’ technicality at the track’s outset, while the Bone Thugs interpolation of a chorus feels like a dip in energy as Gibbs is far from the greatest singer in the world. Still, the classy piano-trap beat carries the energy well. “Zipper Bagz” is another melodic track where his wavering vocals make him sound a little inebriated – which I suppose is the track’s subject matter – but again Kaytranada steps into the mix to provide a great beat that skips and cuts out playfully to match Gibbs’ flows and keeps listeners on their toes with some eerie choral samples.

Lead single “Too Much” was certainly chosen well. With a guest appearance from Moneybagg Yo – who essentially sounds mostly indistinguishable from Gibbs himself on the track – the two take a glistening and synth-heavy trap beat and run with it, both displaying some of the most impressive flows on the project. The chorus is catchy and ready to be yelled at shows, and Gibbs never takes a breath throughout as he delivers a barrage of rapid-fire syllables. As the beat slows down and transitions smoothly into the next track, “Lobster Omelette,” it reveals an almost bossa nova flavour. Rick Ross drops by the booth next with one of the project’s weaker features, but it doesn’t matter too much because any time he’s around you know that the beat is going to sound expensive. Opening with the sounds of a fancy dinner and some freeform guitar noodling, it drops into a boom-bap rhythm with synths like a cascade of diamonds. Gibbs has the same kind of deep-voiced, laid-back attitude to thrive in this environment alongside the Maybach Music boss. “Space Rabbit” keeps it going with a shorter track backed by virtuosic piano arpeggios while Gibbs appropriately discusses mafia rituals in front.

The man they call the cheat code feature appears on the track “Feel No Pain,” as Anderson .Paak once again delivers with a hook. Over a beat with some vaguely Egyptian energy, .Paak’s chilled-out sound can often sound deceptively cold and desensitized with the right kind of sinister beat in the background. This one is just the right amount of uncanny as he sings about his kingly reign. Gibbs himself lets some Kendrick-style voice cracks creep into his flow with some paranoid bars, while Raekwon brings his timeless mic presence to the end of the track and honestly drops the best verse against two monsters. He’s not the only rap titan that appears in the back half, as DJ Paul of Three Six Mafia provides a beat and a verse to “PYS,” a track that definitely emulates their classic sound. With big inflections, a heavy dose of charisma and a couple comically overtop bars, these two are kindred spirits. In between these two tracks is “Rabbit Vision,” a track with the same kind of opulent beat we’ve heard earlier but elevated by Gibbs simply going in with an extended, focused verse – a verse, naturally, about focus. Listing the things he’s overcome, he signs off with a great line – “it broke my heart, but it fixed my vision.”

Gibbs keeps things going strong until the very end. “Dark Hearted” is the best track with a melodic angle by far, even featuring none other than James Blake on production to bolster Gibbs’ titular lyricism with his trademark wispy, ethereal soundscape and mournful pianos. “Gold Rings” saves a knockout-punch feature for the end, as two of hip-hop’s biggest mob bosses link up when Pusha T appears to drop a verse – introducing it with an offhand “these are the days of our pies.” “Grandma’s Stove” gives Gibbs an opportunity to speak on his controversies and perception over a calmer and more introspective beat, while “CIA” closes things out with a clever acronym for the government agency.

$oul $old $eparately should essentially provide something for almost every kind of rap fan, as Gibbs shows off more of his versatility than ever. While this one might not be as critically acclaimed as some of his other projects, this is the moment where he shows that a rapper in his 40s with a colder edge can still hang amongst the superstars of today.

Favourite Tracks: Too Much, Feel No Pain, PYS, Dark Hearted, Rabbit Vision

Least Favourite Track: Pain & Strife

Score: 9/10

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