Written by Jourdan-Reiss Russell
When you look at the art of Gary rapper Freddie Gibbs’ latest album, You Only Live 2wice, you may be surprised and offended by the blasphemy of “reimagining” the Ressurrection. Maybe you’re an old head and noticed parallels to Tupac’s infamous Makaveli album art. Or maybe you just thought it looks cool. One thing is for sure; Freddie underwent a kind of rebirth these last 18 months, displayed candidly here and on the album’s 8 tracks.
It really feels like rebirth. Having to beat a rape charge which could’ve been 10 years in prison wiped out a year he was spending touring, reaping the success of fantastic two LPs Piñata and Shadow Of A Doubt. In moments, his momentum was gone. It’s in this context that we receive You Only Live 2wice, and the sense of urgency is immediately evident. 20 Karat Jesus opens with a melodramatic instrumental – a chord progression which sounds almost filmic- which morphs as it adds booming bass to complement Gibbs’ gravely delivery. Rapping with a now trademark variation of double-time flow, Gibbs sets the tone with compelling detail. In two couplets, he manages to set such the tone for the whole project (“My ambitions as a rider, n*gga/ Survival off that powder, n*gga / Currently smokin’ that kill, in the hill/ Where you can’t find a n*gga”), expertly expressing his current state of mind, his doubts over his inner circle and his introspectiveness in short verses, allowing the song to build tension and release with the triumphant, I-can’t-believe-it-isn’t-Kanye second beat and spacier flow. Freddie Corleone has always been a gifted storyteller, his skills especially accentuated on the unorthodox opener.
However, the album doesn’t shy away from more traditional rap songs. The brilliant Alexys is one of this year’s best singles; the instrumental simultaneously steady and urgent, the quality of lyricism and the style is astounding. It’s so good, I was contemplating posting the lyrics and saying “go buy this” as my review as the song’s excellence is a microcosm of the album’s quality. Everything from the pliable flow to the quotables are fresh (“Felt so pimpish when Alexys put me in that foreign whip”). Gibbs even uses Rakim’s technique of going past the bar line to emphasise his rhyme scheme. Then, there are songs like Dear Maria, where Freddie Kane showcases his ability to set a scene with lyrics and takes us back to 2010 when he was making a way into the rap industry while trapping and in a relationship. The beat and raps aren’t over complicated, allowing the directness to drag us into the story of Freddie’s tumultuous life. Not to say the instrumentals become stale; the expansive soundscape is one of the album’s defining features, songs sounding markedly distinct and mixing well into each other, keeping me engaged through multiple listens. For example, the seamless transition from the mellow and soulful Andrea to the Trapsoul-inspired beat on Phone Lit helps build momentum to the end of the relatively brief album, even as things shift down a gear.
If you’re wondering why I’m using Freddie’s aliases, it’s to show how many hats he wears not only here, but on any project. He’s built his career trying to be master of all trades, and while he is versatile, he doesn’t match his ambition. He’s at his best when he plays ‘classicist emcee’ or ‘storyteller’ , not ‘trap banger rapper’. Hence, the sole disappointment Amnesia sounds bland and lacks the lyrical finesse which pervades the album.
After all, Freddie Gibbs’ watershed moment was the Madlib collaboration Piñata, an unlikely partnership turns underground classic. It proved to everyone that this understated and complex production not only fit his gritty, terse yet smooth lyrical style but enhanced it, and it left us clamoring for more. Not to be pigeonholed, however, Baby Scarface always seeks out new sounds and challenges, and You Only Live 2wice stands not only as a successful experiment with a multitude of new styles and directions, but a triumphant return for one of rap’s most hardworking and talented artists.
Check out You Only Live 2wice below!
Credit: Freddie Gibbs