It’s time for breakfast at the Tick Tock Diner in the heart of Manhattan, and Freddie Gibbs is reminiscing about the 1990s over a plate of eggs, toast, turkey bacon, and a side of bottomless pineapple mimosas. When he thinks about what made the decade so special, he says that the first thing that comes to mind is the 1991 drug epic New Jack City. We throw a few of the movie’s funniest lines back and forth—“See ya, and I wouldn’t wanna be ya” is a mutual favorite—and he tells me that the film is being adapted into a play. He quickly whips out his phone to show off the flyer, featuring Big Daddy Kane and Treach of New Jersey rap group Naughty by Nature. “Is Big Daddy Kane playing Nino Brown?” he asks, laughing. (He isn’t.)
New Jack City is just one example of what made the decade a better time for art, in Gibbs’ opinion. “Growing up in the ’90s was different,” he says. “I feel like the entertainment was better; it was more pure and less for clout-chasing and for clicks. I feel like motherfuckers were tryna make dope shit more than anything.” That hunger and desire for authenticity has fueled Gibbs’ music over the years; he’s spun styles and pulled references from the South (Scarface), the West Coast (Tupac), and the Midwest (Nelly) into a gruff tone all his own.
Gibbs is a native of Gary, Indiana who was chewed up and spit out by the major label system before building an independent empire and staking his claim as one of the best and most consistent rappers around. He first gained traction with his 2009 mixtape The Miseducation of Freddie Gibbs before signing to Atlanta rapper Jeezy’s CTE World label, eventually earning more fans with 2011’s Cold Day in Hell and 2012’s Baby Face Killa. By 2014, his collaborative album with Madlib, Piñata, granted him new exposure that he was eager to use to his advantage. Over the last eight years, he’s also acted in both film and television and become a cheeky and contentious presence on social media. There have been hardships, too: fallings out with Jeezy (the two have recently made up); multiple attempts on his life; and a brief stint in an Austrian prison on rape charges that he was acquitted of in 2016.
Once the only XXL Freshman in his 2010 class without a record deal, Gibbs secured a spot at Warner Records in 2020 and released his major-label debut—the thoughtful and versatile $oul $old $eparately—this past September. Now, as he sips on a mimosa and looks back at the songs that have soundtracked his life, he seems to realize all the potential that still lies ahead. “I’m 40 years old and I feel like I’m just getting started.”