The last ten years have left the music industry and hip-hop in a strange place. It used to be if you were great, you’d drop a crazy label debut like Nas’ Illmatic or Jay-Z’s Reasonable Doubt. Now if you have talent and ability, it’ll be displayed on mixtapes and web only tracks. Not only that, but these mixtapes and individual tracks – as in the case of B.o.B., Kid Cudi and to this point Freddie Gibbs – have shown some of their best material.
On the Str8 Killa EP, Freddie Gibbs goes 8 tracks deep, with a slimmed down version of his Str8 Killa No Filla mixtape, with one of the better debuts we’ve seen in years. This shouldn’t come to a surprise to anyone though, as he’s been on fire since last year, and it shows here as well. By avoiding dropping this on a mainstream label, he had the freedom to do exactly what he wanted, and luckily for listeners it wasn’t chasing ringtones or club rap.
This album has the hardworking sound of the Midwest, the type that drives MCs like Kanye, Common and Rhymesayers label, but still keeps it slightly southern with a haze and open approach to production that is reminiscent of UGK or Outkast.
Gibbs explodes out of the gates with “Str8 Killa”, rapping hard over haunting synths and setting the stage for the rest of the album to come. “Rep 2 the Fullest” and “National Anthem (Fuck the World)” are the point where the album really begins to take off. Rapid fire spitting over the chilled out, meandering beat of “Rep to the Fullest”, along with the strings on “Fuck the World”, show that Gibbs is at home over a wide variety of sounds. Most importantly fellow XXL Freshman Jay Rock doesn’t even touch Gibbs on his own shit.
The album continues with “The Coldest” and an arguable album low point, “Personal O.G.”, both which are solid, but not standout songs. “Live the Game” follows, which covers well tread territory, but Gibbs effectively makes it resonant than the average MC.
The last two tracks both feature a guest spot from Bun B, an appropriate teammate for Freddie Gibbs, as both are smart, street MCs. On “Rock Bottom” they rap over what could very nearly be Dr. Dre beat circa 2001 and make it their own. The album standout though is “Oil Money”, featuring Chip The Ripper, Bun B, Chuck Inglish, and Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, the latter who sings the chorus over drifting piano keys, sparse drums and organ stabs.
This EP was only a one off through Decon. While most artists currently signing one off deals are prolonging their eventual disappearance from the game, it’s clear Freddie Gibbs is going to be around for a long time to come, and we can only hope he gets his 20 years in like Bun B.
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