Every step Freddie Gibbs takes is historic. Few artists can match the kind of career the 40-year-old rapper has charted for himself. He’s gone from a fledgling label signee to an indie darling and major label success in the span of a decade. “I’ve had the most unique career path of any rapper on my level because I slugged it out so many years independently,” Gibbs tells Rolling Stone over a zoom call. “I had to put so much of my own time, effort, and money into it. Not being able to get a deal, being blackballed. I compare my career to the boxer, one of my favorite boxers of all time, Marvin Hagler. That nigga had to fight 43 fights before he got the title fight.”
Thanks to the strength of culturally lauded work — 2014’s Pinata and 2019’s Bandana, as well as the Grammy-nominated Alfredo with Alchemist — he’s now once again a major label artist. Gibbs’ Warner Records debut Soul Sold Separately is out today. With every accomplishment, he’s redefining what the rewards for perseverance can be for MCs in an increasingly unforgiving hip-hop climate. For Gibbs, the rap equivalent of that title fight isn’t sales numbers or awards but the feeling that he’s having fun. “I probably been having fun rapping the past five years, but before that, I was rapping for a necessity, because I had to,” he said. “I don’t want to do this shit because I have to no more. I like doing it like this.”
When Gibbs’ newer fans heard that he was signing with Warner in June of 2020, they may have gotten worried that a major would water down his sound. But Gibbs says he was intent on having the creative freedom to do as he pleases on Soul Sold Separately without “commercial reaches” via uncharacteristic TikTok ploys or chart-manipulating gimmicks. “I feel like a lot of motherfuckers in my position would’ve did that, but I think that I just made great records,” he says. “And if the public perceives them as commercial or whatever the fuck, then cool.”
Gibbs has bet on himself over the past several years, and he’s put together a catalog that rivals anyone’s post-2010 output. Soul Sold Separately is for his new fans, as well as those who’ve supported Gibbs from the Baby Face Killa days. That balance is at play throughout the record. He trades trap barbs with Pusha T on “Gold Rings,” but also shows off his cadences and melody with Offset on “Pain & Strife.” The album gets gloomy as he chronicles his past, but it’s also buoyed by comedic skits from celebrity friends Joe Rogan and Jeff Ross. There’s a little bit of everything, and it’s all true to the Gibbs experience.
The rap game is obsessed with categorization and yet Gibbs defies any rigid definitions. He’s just as humble about his setbacks as he is ready to let you know how much better he is than the competition. He delves into an incisive, extended analogy of Marvin Hagler’s late-blooming career, relating the two as overlooked fighters, then jokingly concludes by pointing out that both he and Hagler “got bald heads.” Gibbs’ charisma has brought about opportunities as an actor: He starred as a disillusioned rapper in Down With the King and plays a Gary gangster on the Starz series Power Book IV: Force. He says he has three more acting roles coming up, including a vampire movie. Gibbs is also writing screenplays and ideating a sports-based podcast. And through it all, he’s having fun.
Freddie Gibbs spoke to Rolling Stone about Soul Sold Separately, the transition from an indie to a major, and his entry into movies.
How are you feeling on release week? Does this one feel any different than previous ones?
I’m definitely feeling different than any other release week that I’ve ever had because this is my first time dropping on a major label. I feel like it’s a lot more weight on my shoulders with this one. It’s a lot more people depending on this one. So I mean, I’d be lying to you if I tell you I wasn’t nervous. I’m nervous as fuck. I got the jitters, I got the shakes. And I know I did the job. I know I delivered. If I ain’t nervous, then something must be wrong. Maybe I’m just excited. But I’m super-duper excited. I’m just ready to go. I’ve been sitting back watching everybody else drop their music all year. And I feel like I’m geared up and I’m ready to go right now.
Is that weight based on the expectations you have of yourself or is that a matter of wanting to meet a certain metric? What goes into that weight that you’re feeling?
It ain’t really the number thing for me. It’s just making sure the project’s well received. I got classic projects under my belt, so I got to make sure I continue that. That’s really the main thing with me. As far as everything goes, I don’t give a fuck about the other shit. But mainly, I’d love to keep my work on the same level where I left off or get better. And I feel like I challenged myself on this album and got better as a rapper.
In what ways do you think you challenged yourself?
Musically. It would’ve been just easy to just do another Alfredo or another Bandana and the critics love the project or whatnot. But then everybody would’ve looked at me as a one-trick pony. So I’m glad that I was able to show my versatility on this project, work with different producers, work with Madlib, and Alchemist, and at the same time work with DJ Paul and guys like that as well.
Those first two singles, “Too Much” with Moneybagg Yo and “Dark Hearted” with James Blake, what made those the right singles for you to release?
Well, the Moneybagg Yo record, I think that record was a really fun record that we wanted to do to set the tone. And I just wanted to show people that I was having fun making this record. And that was probably the most fun record that we did. And it had some good energy to it. I ain’t never really made no records per se for the radio or the club or anything of that nature. But as a collective, making this album, we wanted to go forward with that one first because really I was on some R&B shit when I made that song. I was on that El DeBarge sample and IV just flipped it. And it came out to be a good record. I dropped “Dark Hearted” along with that just to let motherfuckers know I wasn’t playing either. Shit is cool and it’s great. I’m celebrating where I’m at in my life right now because it took a while and it took a lot of literally blood, sweat, and tears to make this project and to get where I’m at mentally, physically, and emotionally as a man. So like I said, I came with “Dark Hearted” to show you the journey to a record like “Too Much.” The things I had to do for a nigga like me to even start making records like that.
How do you feel about the fans who met you at Bandana or Pinata, and then they hear these recent singles and they’re like, “We’re not used to this from Gibbs,” not realizing that in your previous discography, you’ve always been versatile?
You know what it is? I love how people discover my discography backwards. I think that’s the greatest thing ever because people would hear stuff from me and they’d be like, “Well, damn. What is this?” Or, “Where should I start?” I see that a lot. “I just got on Alfredo. Where should I start?” And that’s crazy to me being at this stage in my career that people are still getting turned on to me and things of that nature. So with that said, I just continue to grow and I just hope that my fans could grow with me. And even if they can’t grow with me, I’m still rapping like my life depends on it. So you can’t really deny the music. No matter who produced it or what beat it’s on, breakbeat, soul beat, trap beat, I could rap on anything. And I think that’s the beauty of what I do. I could probably count on one hand in the rap game other guys who could rap the way I rap and rap over the beats that I rap over. Like I said, to take the musical risks that I take. “Dark Hearted” was an unexpected record for people from me.
How do you feel like your career path speaks to the tenuousness of labeling an artist “underground?”
I came into the game when motherfuckers were still selling CDs. I still got CDs for sale to this day. But I’ve had the most unique career path of any rapper on my level because I slugged it out so many years independently. I had to put so much of my own time, effort, and money into it. Not being able to get a deal, being blackballed. I compare my career to the boxer, one of my favorite boxers of all time, Marvin Hagler. Because Marvin Hagler, that nigga had to fight 43 fights before he got the title fight. And people was scared of him. They were scared to box with him. They didn’t want to fight him, but they knew he hit hard and knew he knocked out. One time Marvin had a fight and made $40,000 and Sugar Ray Leonard made $10 million the same night. That’s bullshit. That’s how I feel when I walk into buildings with Kendricks and Coles and niggas like that. I feel like they got their title shots early and I always had to slug it out. But I love them because they always kept me motivated to get to a certain point. I knew it was a certain point that I could get to if they could get to it. So I feel like even later in my career, I feel like I’m not doing nothing but getting better. And that’s how I feel like Marvelous Marvin Hagler was on the same shit. And we both got bald heads.
I was at your listening party in New York and you made a reference to the album title being a play on life being a gamble. I was wondering if you could go into that a little bit more.
I had to take a lot of risks to get here. And Soul Sold Separately, I just feel like that just culminates all the risks that I took. I feel like that culminates all the risks that I took to get where I’m at in my career. The gambling theme was just perfect for that, what I was trying to get across because I feel like the theme and the art and all of that got to match the message. That’s why it’s so important. That’s why we put so much time and effort into bringing that across.
Did you have that album title and theme in mind early in the process, before you started making a lot of the music?
Oh yeah, definitely. That got to come first. I mean, you know shit. Steven Spielberg don’t start writing ET before he knows what the fuck he wants to write about. So it’s like, that’s how I feel every time. Bandana, Pinata, Alfredo, I had the concept of the whole movie before I started writing the movie. I already knew what it was going to be. I don’t know how niggas work like that just go in there and do songs. Nah, fuck that. That’s why my albums probably be better than these niggas’ because they be focused efforts from the jump. It ain’t just, “I just got a playlist of shit.” It’s a collective effort of good music that’s meant to go together. I had one of my producer friends get mad at me because he was like, “Aw, man, I can’t fuck with it because ain’t none of my beats on the album now.” This is someone that I frequently collab with. I ain’t going to say his name or nothing, but he was mad about that. And I’m like, “Look, man, I don’t make music just to be… When I’m making my album, it ain’t no fucking wasted motion.” Not saying his music is wasted motion, but everything got to lock in together. It ain’t just about if that’s a good song. I can make 10 great songs that don’t fit on Soul Sold Separately. It’s about making everything lock up and getting everything together correctly, and I think that’s what we did with this project.
I saw that previously you said that you feel like this is your best-produced project to date. Do you feel like that because you worked with multiple producers on this one?
I had to look back at my older albums, the Bandanas, Alfredos, the Pinatas, and Shadow of a Doubt, and shit like that, and be like, “All right. Well, what did I do right and what did I do wrong here?” And then I just brought all of that to SSS. It ain’t it no reaches on this shit. Ain’t no commercial reaches. I feel like a lot of motherfuckers in my position would’ve did that, but I think that I just made great records. And if the public perceives them as commercial or whatever the fuck, then cool. I just made music with good people that I was organically fucking with. I’m really proud of the record that I got with Offset. I love his music. I’ve been a fan of him and Migos for a long time, so to work with him was great. I just got off the phone with Scarface. He forgot that he was on my album. So I just got off the phone with him for like an hour. We chopped it up. That’s one of my mentors. This was a dream project for me. I worked with the guy that I view as the best rapper of all time. The first voice that I ever heard as a rap recorded was Scarface and Too Short. Rapping with Pusha T was big for me. Another guy that I highly respect. Shit, man. Making this album was a dream. We got to go to a lot of places, do a lot of things. It was fun. It was a lot of pain in this album as well, but for the most part, we did what we had to do.
This is your first major album after years of being indie. What do you think the biggest benefits have been of working with Warner and [Warner Records senior vice president of A&R] Norva Denton? What’s been added to the process that you haven’t had previously?
I mean, me and Lambo, we can’t do everything. So it’s strings that Norva had to go in there and pull. At this point, we had exhausted all our efforts doing everything that we could with my career. Norva just helped us level it up. And it wasn’t like the process was different in making the album. We still grinded it out the same. We kept it thorough. It’s just all about having good taste, and we all got good taste. So when you combine that, you can’t lose.
Where did you record the majority of the album and how long did that process take?
I probably been working on this album two and a half years, something like that, but I was recording in L.A., I was recording in Miami. I was recording anywhere I got inspired. At my house, at the studio in LA. Wherever I got the inspiration, that’s where I was going.
What’s a typical Freddie Gibbs studio session? Or is there no typical session?
A lot of motherfucking weed for sure. I gotta have some alcohol in there. I really don’t like a whole lot of different people in the studio when I’m in there until I got the finished product. For the most part, I don’t really like too many people looking at me work. I got to really trust you for you to look at me work. I don’t even like my girl looking at me work. I’ll sit there and listen to the beat all night, wait for everybody to leave, and then I’ll record. I mean, it’s only certain people I like that can watch me record, like Lambo and Norva. But for the most part, I don’t really like people watching me record my songs. I’ll be feeling like niggas be trying to take my sauce.
And you’ve always been like that?
Yeah, I’m always like that. Sometimes it be hoes in the studio. I be trying to impress them hoes. I be rapping crazy. You know what I’m saying? I ain’t gone lie.
Oh, it depends on the mood of the record, I guess.
Yeah. If you got hoes around, man, I might motherfucking ride a goddamn unicycle and rap at the same damn time. You know what I’m saying? I’ll be black flipping in that motherfucker.
What do you think are some of the most memorable studio sessions from this album?
The most memorable studio session was the DJ Paul session, for sure. That was like black boy joy. It was like, damn, bro. It’s like, on this album I got to work with niggas that I grew up listening to and they still fire. Because when you rapping for a minute, in this rap game for a minute, you can get discouraged, like, “Man, is this shit passing me by? Is it too much for me now? Am I getting too old for it?” But bro, I got to rap with Scarface and DJ Paul. These the motherfuckers I grew up listening to and they still fire as fuck. So I was like, nigga, I found the fountain of youth. I could do this for another 20 years if I want to. I’ve already mastered the art of not falling off. I could do this forever. Jay-Z still rap. Til I die, til you put me in fucking grave, I’ll always give to make a fire verse. That ability will never leave me. I was born with that.
What do you think the Jeff Ross and Joe Rogan skits added to the album and how did they come together?
Just a good break. And I love comedy, so I just fucked with some people that I fuck with in the comedy world, Joe Rogan and Jeff Ross. And they’re just funny motherfuckers, and they’re my real homies. So it was just acting silly and it was a good break. It broke the album up a little bit. They did them in the studio. Jeff Ross, he lives in L.A. I went to Austin to get that shit from Joe Rogan.
Another song you referenced earlier, “Gold Rings” with Pusha T, how did that come together? Did y’all record that together?
Me and Push, we planned on doing another record after we did “Palmolive” but we was working on our albums at the same time. So I was like, “All right, let’s try to get a couple in.” I wish we would’ve got another one in on his album, but I’m glad that we got this one in and it’s crazy, I think that we both going to be up there with best albums of the year.
You said you have three movies in the works. Is there anything that you’re able to say about those projects right now?
Yeah, they’re just in the works right now. I’m probably about to start shooting at the top of next year. It’s a couple of things I can’t really speak on yet, but it’s going to be some big shit. Everything I’m doing is going to be like nice, good roles. After playing the lead role in Down With the King, I feel like every role I play got to be an important one, whether it’s supporting or lead. So I got some dope shit in the works with some dope people. I talk to Don Cheadle every day, so I’ve been getting a lot of good advice from him.
What do you think is the best advice he’s given you so far?
Really just what roles to pick and what roles to audition for. Trying to basically seal my career path, you know what I mean, to where it needed to be. Taking the right career steps in acting. It’s always good to get that from a seasoned vet like that.
You’ve talked about being interested in writing screenplays. What kind of genres do you feel like you’re most interested in writing?
Right now, I’m developing a couple of things. I don’t want to make run-of-the-mill street movies. That’s what everybody expects from me. I’m writing a sports screenplay right now. I’m working on a skit show similar to Chappelle’s Show. So I got some things in the works. I love the comedy lane. I love the dramatic lane as well. So I’m going to step in both of those lanes when it comes to developing films.
DJ Drama tweeted about your 2012 mixtape Baby Face Killa, and you tweeted some interest in maybe doing it again.
I might fuck around, and give you all a Gangsta Grillz, depending on how well the album gets received. I might step in the booth if people calling me to rap. I might just do that, just to fuck around for a minute. Maybe Christmastime, or something like that.
What made you choose the Amerie beat for that Funk Flex freestyle?
Because nobody really rapped on that beat. I wanted to steam these niggas on an R&B beat.
I know you’ve talked about different ventures you’re exploring outside of music. I’ve seen a lot of artists finding ways to collaborate with the sports world, is that something you would be interested in pursuing? Since you’re such a sports fan.
Yeah. Definitely, man, I want to get into that, man. Maybe when I get done doing music, I might get into podcasts. I want to make my podcast about sports, something like that. I want to get into that world. I think I could be a good home court commentator, and things of that nature. I think that’s my lane.
Would you like to use this space to make a statement to Mark Zuckerberg and Instagram about constantly taking your accounts down?
Yeah, man. You all some haters. Metaworld, metaverse, you all some haters, man. But, I’m going to start the niggaverse, so it’s all good, man. You can’t delete me in the niggaverse, so it’s all good. I ain’t even tripping, man. They be targeting me, really for no reason, man. But, it’s OK, man. I got love. I don’t even need Instagram, and my albums going to do better than most of these rappers, so I ain’t even tripping.