Freddie Gibbs - You Only Live 2wice
Resurrection motifs are nothing new in rap. After all, Biggie was ready to die even before the album was dropped. Pac’s disciples have long heralded his return, even as Kendrick suggested he was Makaveli’s spirit incarnate. But more than most, Freddie Gibbs seems to embody the spirit of rebirth. After haunting sexual assault allegations landed him in an Austrian prison last summer, it seemed Freddy Corleone may have finally gone the way of his namesake. But here, duly acquitted on his fourth full-length album, he emerges from behind the stone with a clean conscience and a set of eight concise, meditative bangers to clear the air.
Gibbs has never been coy about his drug affiliation. And like the Mario Puzo novels that inspire his monikers, album opener “20 Karat Jesus” drops us straight into the action. There are no Madlib beats to be found on this project, but over a woozy snatch of soul Gibbs brings us up to speed fast on past cocaine smuggling rendezvous and scattered bits of advice from his Gary, Indiana upbringing. It’s a potent cocktail of ideas, full of holy water, his mother’s reminders that living in the moment means living “next to death” and just generally “kickin’ shit like Solange in the elevator”. Gibbs has always been a touch inflammatory, but the prospect of being locked down clearly kicked him into overdrive. The hilarious, god-baiting outro sets the tone nicely for what’s to come. After what Freddie’s been through, he can use a bit of Black Jesus.
Elsewhere, however, the concise nature of the project leads to re-treaded territory. “Alexys” bangs with a chilly, ethereal beat from Kaytranada and BADBADNOTGOOD, however the Baby Scarface tale is vintage Gibbs, well-worn coca bars straight from his 2011 mixtape A Cold Day In Hell. “Crushed Glass” plays out similarly, with Freddie rapping so fast his syllables nearly leave him tongue-tied. It’s clear Gibbs is in love with the freedom of language, though like previous songs on the record it’s such a potent blend of “get money / fame / sell drugs / locked down / my daughter”, that none of the subjects ever truly get their due.
A tiny moment in “Alexys” rings true when Gibbs contemplates his “first time in a foreign whip”, but those moments never build to much on a dusty cut like “Dear Maria”. In fact, while Gibbs does often engage with his own past mistakes and mythos, as on “Andrea” and “Amnesia”, Gibbs seems stuck as an observer to his own actions. The acquittal may have freed his conscience and soul, but he’s still the type of guy that will drop Weezy-esque bars like “give me the pussy once and I always got it like the wi-fi, bitch” without a second thought. Likewise, Freddie’s description of his “type of bitch” on “Phone Lit” sours a lot of the supposed rebirth he claims to have gone through, particularly given the nature of last year’s allegations. These songs show us shards of who Gibbs is, or has been, but without much resolution or clarity for the two. A brief outro, in which Gibbs speaks with a female confidant, makes this especially clear. “See I don’t even know this person” she accuses, listless. And at 7 tracks in, amidst a collage of possibilities, neither do we.
Thankfully, on “Homesick” Gibbs finally channels his inner Pac to give us some truth. “All the books in German and shit”, he admits that prison nearly ended him over a delicate, spacey beat with contributions from executive producer Speakerbomb. Gibbs read George Clinton. Gil Scott-Heron. Even saw his partner, Erica, long enough to keep him sane. It’s hard, at times, to reconcile this introspective man who can “donate money to children” but is “still sellin’ drugs”. You Only Live 2wice is too short, and too disjointed, to fully engage or resolve those contradictions. And Gibbs has already teased his long-anticipated follow up to 2013’s masterful Piñata. We’ll have to wait our turn for that experience, but for now Gibbs is content just to be home, to have written and finally be rapping. Last year he was 33, his Jesus year. After that trial anything seems possible.