When Gary, Indiana’s Freddie Gibbs signed to Young Jeezy’s CTE imprint earlier this year, it was hard to ignore the irony: Jeezy seemed like a poor choice to put out an album from the famously label-stymied rapper, given his recent struggles to release his own album. (Thug Motivation 103 has been delayed for a full two years now, for those keeping track.) It may be a while, then, before Gibbs finally releases his proper full-length debut, but at this point, that no longer seems like such a bad thing. It was not being able to release an album, after all, that allowed Gibbs to begin making free mix-tapes that played like albums. In the three years since Interscope Records dropped him, he’s issued five substantial mix-tapes, and his latest, Cold Day In Hell, is his most dynamic yet.
Though it isn’t a drastic departure from the steely gangsta rap of Gibbs’ past releases, Hell is quicker on its feet, darting from one in-the-moment street tale to the next. Its production is flashier, too. Several tracks are built around the slick choruses and hard-bounce synthesizers of ’90s G-funk, while others thunder with the heaviness expected from beats constructed by Jeezy’s inner circle.
Rapping, as always, in the deep growl and emotionless cadence of a death-row inmate twice his age, Gibbs colors his rhymes with the usual grim details from his deprived home city, but this time, he allows his storytelling to take on a more sensational edge. In a solemn twist on the rap tradition of bragging about bedding taken women, Gibbs remorsefully chronicles a tryst with a friend’s lover on the Sade-sampling “My Homeboy’s Girlfriend.” He spends verses hinting at the affair’s dire aftermath, which he only reveals at the song’s end: a murder-suicide. On “Rob Me A Nigga,” Gibbs is driven by compounding debts and an empty stomach to plot a potentially lethal assault. He announces this song’s twist up front: His mark is an old friend. Gibbs doesn’t glamorize criminal acts, but he doesn’t apologize for them, either. Instead, he details the circumstances that spur such desperate measures.