If hip hop were judged by confidence — as well as talent, determination and raw, street vibes — Indiana-born rapper Freddie Gibbs would snag the gold.
Forever a darling of the underground mixtape set with frenetic, hardcore collections such as 2010's " Str8Killa” and 2011's 81-song mixtape " The Labels Tryin' to Kill Me. " Gibbs, now 33, touched down on vinyl with a Madlib-collaborative album, 2014's " Piñata," before dropping his own artist debut, " Shadow of a Doubt" in 2015.
Ask him about growing up hip hop in Gary, Indiana, and Gibbs just chuckles. "Man, that scene was minimal, very minimal, know what I mean," he says. "There wasn't a whole lot." The Gary of Gibbs' youth was filled with "guys on the street, gangsters, mostly selling drugs," looking to afford studio time to record their tracks. "You had to be on the street, doing what you had to be doing, in order to record," he adds.
Sports and smarts kept Gibbs hustling in all aspects of life. "One of my high school football coaches told me, 'Play smart, not harder.' That stuck with me in everything I did," the rapper says. "If you want to be in a healthy mental state, know how to get around your shortcomings."
And that meant sacrificing things to Gibbs — friendships and relationships — in order to meet his goals. "People don't always like the new rules you set for yourself. It is what it is. I wanted to get somewhere with my music, put time into vocalizing. I didn't want to be like other guys, just rapping."
Gibbs admits he didn't have that same determination or attitude when he got signed the first time around, at age 21, to Interscope. "I didn't take it seriously back then; was just some fluke." It took being dropped from the label to get Gibbs going.
"When I got the deal, I was green to the game," he admits. "Once it didn’t work out though I had to figure out a way to do this on my own. I mean, I was around 50 Cent and Eminem, that level. I certainly couldn't go back to Gary. So I came up with the notion that I didn’t give a damn about what anyone thought about me, told my truth, and that's who I am now."
Gibbs attributes the love of his daughter, Irie Jane, for getting to business, as well as the influence of Bones-Thug-n-Harmony, 2Pac and the long-underappreciated Pimp C for pushing his brand of artistry.
"Props to Pimp C," huffs Gibbs. "He had more than just great technical rapping skills, he had feeling. He sang all of his hooks. He knew how to make records, was a great overall musician and had one of the greatest voices in hip hop. I take a lot of tips from him in my flow — Biggie and Scarface, too. Those are my greats. I hope to one day be thought of in the same breath as them."
If you go:
April 26 at 8 p.m.
431 W. 16th St
The Middle East Downstairs
472 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge
1024 Spring Garden St., Philadelphia