During a summer internship with Interscope Records in 2004, executive Joe Weinberger told Freddie Gibbs’ current manager, Ben “Lambo” Lambert, “If you can find me a rapper to sign that’s not from Los Angeles, Atlanta or New York, I’ll give you an A&R job when you graduate.” Lambo, then a sophomore at UC Berkeley, scoured the internet with the hope of finding rap’s next best thing. It was during this time that Lambo discovered a gruff-voiced, 22-year-old rapper from Gary, Indiana, Freddie Gibbs, who at the time was very raw but had an uncanny ability to communicate his gangster-rap tales akin to Spice 1 and Bone-Thugs-N-Harmony.
Gibbs, the self-reliant hustler-turned-rapper, first generated buzz as part of XXL’s Freshman List Class of 2010, and released his debut album ESGN to moderate success which helped him garner a loyal fanbase. After leaving Interscope due Joe Weinberger’s departure to another label, he spent a couple of years in hip-hop purgatory.
After the release of his 2011 mixtape Cold Day in Hell, recorded prior to his separation from CTE, Gibbs began to form creative partnerships with producers, and record collaborative albums—with him on the vocals and the producer crafting the beats. In 2014, Gibb released Piñata, the first of two collaborative albums with legendary producer Madlib. He received even more attention after the release of their second project, Bandana. More recently, with the release of Grammy-nominated Alfredo, Gibbs appears to have identified the creative formula needed to climb rap’s Mt. Olympus.
Gibbs first appeared on an Alchemist beat on the standout track “Scottie Pippen” off of New Orleans rapper Curren$y’s Covert Coup album, also a collaborative project with The Alchemist. It is this type of strategic collaboration that has allowed Gibbs to develop loyal underground rap fans, but also fans who have a particular ear for beats that bring back memories of hip-hop’s Golden Era, when artists formed organic partnership with producers, and let them craft the sound for an entire album. This formula definitely bore its fruit with Alfredo, and The Alchemist, who handled the album’s production, was as much a key contributor as Gibbs.
Legendary producer The Alchemist first rose to fame producing beats for Dilated Peoples and Mobb Deep. With these groups residing on two separate coasts, The Alchemist was able to capture the ear of backpack rap fans across the country who had an affinity for soulful beats with a gritty backdrop. With a career spanning more than two decades, The Alchemist has produced for rap heavyweights such as MF Doom, Kendrick Lamar and Nas, to name a few. While The Alchemist has contributed individual songs to some of hip-hops most timeless albums, he has also maintained relevance among the underground through collaborative albums with some of the game’s most respected independent artists.
The one producer-one rapper formula is nothing new. Eric B. had Rakim, Juvenile had Mannie Fresh and hip-hop fans hungry for descriptive lyrics consisting of storytelling, vivid imagery and clever word play highly anticipated the Alfredo project after the announcement that The Alchemist would be behind the boards on the production.
This anticipation was on full display at Friday’s sold-out concert at 1015 Folsom in San Francisco. Prior to the main attractions, fans were able to experience local DJs playing classic hip-hop anthems in a setting reminiscent of ’90s-era hip-hop when Mobb Deep and Wu-Tang Clan reigned supreme.
After the throwback jams concluded, the headliners graced the stage close to 1am. Gibbs initially performed fan favorites from his previous releases, most notably Bandana. After providing back history to his fans on how he and The Alchemist formed their creative partnership, he dished up a full track-by-track serving of the Alfredo album. Throughout the performance, the brotherhood between Gibbs and The Alchemist was evident, with Gibbs frequently giving respect and thanks to The Alchemist for an impressive career and creative genius on their project, while also providing comedic commentary. As a bonus, Gibbs closed out the concert performing his more recent single, “Gang Signs.” With nightlife and music venues starting to finally cautiously re-open, Gibbs joked about his rusty performance skills. But judging by last week’s crowd, he dusted off the cobwebs with ease.