A few days ago, I mentioned the XXL Freshmen list and its tendency to predict the success of up and coming rappers.  Last year, Freddie Gibbs was on that list.

While he’s yet to reach the superstar status that fellow classmate Wiz Khalifa has achieved, the rapper’s not doing too bad.  Gibbs’ most recent mixtapes were met with critical acclaim and he recently released a song with supergroup Pulled Over By The Cops, featuring talented peers Chuck Inglish and Chip Tha Ripper.

Last year, I saw Gibbs open for the legendary GZA of Wu-Tang fame and, honestly, the Gary, Indiana MC stole the show before GZA ever took the stage.  He was loud and energetic, rarely pausing as he burned through his slew of catchy songs.

A few months later, and Gibbs is already headlining his own Hollywood shows.  He performed at the famous Troubadour in West Hollywood on Wednesday with the assistance of professional live backing band The Park.

Gibbs has always been an interesting character because he’s often labeled the savior of gangster rap…. but he also appeals to hipster types, receiving high scores from Pitchfork and even performing at their annual music festival.

With his choice to include live backing band The Park on Wednesday, Gibbs demonstrated the unique balance between the two widely varying groups that he’s working towards perfecting.  His lyrical content and stage presence showed off his gangster side, the talented backing band and their numerous guitar solos and  musical jams showed off his more hipster-appealing side.

Gibbs’ accompaniment simply featured a drummer, a guitarist, a bassist, two keyboardists and two backup singers.  There was no DJ and, except for a few samples from the keyboards, the music was entirely produced live.

This arrangement led to some interesting results.  Gibbs’ popular songs such as “The Ghetto” or “Queen” were highly altered in order to fit with the much softer, different live arrangement.  Some songs, such as the crowd-pleasing “National Anthem,” would have been nearly unrecognizable without Gibbs’ rapid-fire lyrics.

At first, the new versions of the songs were jarring and somewhat disappointing.  The best part of Gibbs’ performance style is always the energy he puts into his loud and overpowering, hard-hitting beats, and the live band took away much of that charm.

After a while, however, the altered versions of the songs grew on me.  They were more relaxed, definitely more musically complex, and Gibbs’ energy level was as high as ever.  He repeatedly thanked the band and demanded that the audience show them respect through applause, demonstrating he appreciated the musical collaboration.

“Ya’ll ain’t seen gangsta shit set to live music… at least not in a long time,” Gibbs said in between songs.

He’s right.  The whole dynamic was strange and unusual, in a good way.  The Park came off as a type of superstar wedding band, extremely talented musicians that probably won’t have rock star careers but will impress anyone that hears or sees them play.  With the ever-gangster Gibbs behind the microphone, the whole performance looked out of place and unordinary but worked extremely well.

One can only wonder why Gibbs decided to switch things up and trade in the DJ tables for guitars and drum sets.  Perhaps he wanted something more musically-oriented and memorable, suitable for a headlining gig at a famed venue like The Troubadour.  Or perhaps he wanted to impress his mother, who was proudly in the balcony watching her son perform live for the first time.

“All these cuss words and shit… I learned ‘em from you,” Gibbs joked with his mother from the stage before blowing a kiss her way.

Cussing might not have been the only bad habit Gibbs learned from his mother.

“I just told my mom today I’ve been smoking since I’m 14,” Gibbs said before diving into an altered rendition of his smoking anthem “Personal OG.”

Then, as the rapper led the crowd with one of his continuous chants of “Fuck the Police,” the venue got hazy.  Gibbs continued talking openly about his drug habits, flashing gang signs and leading anti-police chants, reaffirming his label as the savior of gangster rap despite his less than gangster, but immensely talented backing band.

Overall, Gibbs made a smart choice performing more laid-back versions of his songs with the help of The Park.  It wasn’t necessarily better or worse than his other more traditional performances, but it definitely catered to the entire spectrum of his fan base, from the most ghetto to the most hipster.  Even if the live band won’t be permanently integrated into Gibb’s live performances, his decision to bring in the band made his immense creativity and tendency to do things differently shine through. Anticipation for his debut album continues to grow….

Will Hagle
Author, Earbits.com
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